Graham King

Solvitas perambulum

Behaviour Change Toolkit

As part of my work with Good Energy I have been learning why people behave the way they do, and what tools we have to help them change behavior. My focus is on sustainability behaviors, especially pro-environmental (green) ones.

Here are all the tools I know with which we can assist, persuade or coerce people into living more sustainable lives.

This is a work in progress.

Introduction: A Behavior Change Toolkit

Human behavior is guided by three kinds of consideration:

  1. Personal
  2. Group
  3. Environmental

reference Theory of Planned Behavior

All three go into producing a final behaviour.

A person who believes very strongly in something will overcome social and environmental barriers to perform that behaviour. Personal considerations dominate. Vegans, for example, often have to work quite hard to avoid animal products.

An atheist living in a very religious neighbourhood might attend a local church for social reasons. If they don’t have a strong view on the matter, and the church is convenient, the Group considerations dominate.

Someone without a strongly held view on recycling, who doesn’t know what most people do, might recycle because mixed curb-side collection makes it as easy as disposing of trash. Environmental considerations dominate.

There are behavior change tools that target each set of factors.

Behavior can be changed through coercion or persuasion. Both involve an outward change in behavior:

  • Persuasion creates an internal change in belief, where the individual privately accepts and internalizes the position. A persuaded individual maintains the behavior alone. A television advert is persuasive.
  • Coercion involves only a public behavior change, not a private belief change. A coerced individual only performs the behavior whilst it is enforced. The law is coercive.

Although we are focused on broad sustainability-related behaviours, the main areas of behaviour-change research have been sales (selling products and services), and health and education interventions. Many of the examples used come from these areas.

Table of contents

  1. Introduction: A Behavior Change Toolkit

  2. I. Personal – Attitude

    • Central processing – Aristotle’s Logos
      • Information. What is the behavior you want me to adopt? Why?
      • Incentives / Rewards
      • Commitments / Pledges
      • Socratic questioning: Deep probing questions
    • Peripheral processing
      • Cognitive dissonance
      • Emotional appeals – Aristotle’s Pathos
      • Vividness and Salience: What we notice and remember
      • Pleasure, games, aesthetics
      • Framing
      • Contrast principle
  3. II. Group – Social norms and their enforcement

    • Social proof
      • Make the social norms explicit
      • Role models today are often television characters
      • Communicator credibility – Aristotle’s Ethos
    • Other
      • Reciprocity
      • Hawthorne Effect. We maximize what we measure
    • Obedience to authority – Coercion
      • Law, Free market Environmentalism
  4. III. Environmental – Self-efficacy and Outcome control

    • Protection-Motivation Theory
    • Self-efficacy: Can I do it? Is it easy?
      • Training, Modelling, Visualization
      • Prompts. Remembering to do it
      • Convenience. The desirable behavior is the easiest
      • Market controls. The desirable behavior is the cheapest
      • Government regulation. The desirable behavior is obvious
    • Outcome control: Will it work
      • Direct action. Civil disobedience
  5. IV. Designing a campaign

    • Select specific desired behaviour
    • Find out why the behavior is not being practiced
    • Segment population according to dominant consideration
    • Design the campaign, targeting each segment
    • Pilot, refine, deploy
    • Evaluate, reinforce, consolidate.
  6. Conclusion


These are givens, which are either difficult (values) or impossible (age, gender) to change. They affect how receptive we are to different tools.

We consider them already expressed in an individuals current behavior. Appealing to someone’s values will not tend to work, because they are already expressing those values at a level they are comfortable with in their current environment.


  • Ideals. Overarching goals that people strive to obtain, such as freedom, equality, wisdom. Or honesty, broad-mindedness, responsibility.
  • WWF on their website “There is a large body of empirical evidence that the values people hold and the goals people pursue are critically important in motivating ambitious change.”

Societal structure. Individualistic or Collectivistic

  • Collectivistic societies tend to be less affected by the fundamental attribution error (see later).

Genetic pre-disposition

There is evidence from studies of identical twins reared apart, and from studies of adopted children, that many personality traits have a ~50% genetic determinant. These include IQ, mental and perceptual speed, danger-seeking, depression, authoritarianism, extroversion, neuroticism, self-control, hostility, and several others.

reference Martin Seligman, What you can change and what you can’t

Demographic variables: Age, income, etc

Disposable income will affect people’s ability to perform certain behaviors.

There are many studies about the relationship between gender and receptivity to persuasion. They found no significant differences between sexes.

Breaking the habit

Past behavior predicts future behavior, yet we are often not conscious of our habits and behaviors. To adopt a new behavior we must first become aware of our current one.

Some behaviors, such as transport choices, seem to not be automatic, so an awareness of changed circumstances (higher gas prices, more frequent buses) can be sufficient to trigger a re-examination of our behavior.

Other behaviors become habits, so we are no longer aware of them. Those need bringing back to conscious awareness.

Communication to Behaviour in six steps

From McGuire’s (1985) communication-persuasion model.

Presentation > Attention > Comprehension > Yielding > Retention > Behavior

  1. Presentation. Exposure to the communication
  2. Attention. Attending to it. Liking, becoming interested in it.
  3. Comprehension. Comprehending it: Learning the ‘what’. Skill acquisition: Learning the ‘how’.
  4. Yielding to it. Attitude change
  5. Retention. Memory storage of content and / or agreement
  6. Behavior
    1. Information search and retrieval
    2. Deciding on basis of retrieval
    3. Behaving in accord with decision
    4. Reinforcement of desired acts
    5. Post-behavioral consolidating

The process does not always (usually?) proceed so orderly. This model is intended as an aid in analyzing a behaviour. For the behavior we are attempting to change, what happens at each step? What tools could we use to help or hinder a specific step?

An attractive person delivering the message might increase Attention (step 2), but could interfere with Retention (step 5).

Leaving a prompt in the environment (a sticker by the taps to conserve water) can assist Information retrieval (step 6.1). Other people doing the behavior (social proof) can assist in deciding (step 6.2). Behaving in accord with the decision (6.3) depends on self-efficacy.

I. Personal – Attitude

Do I want to do this?

Research Fields: Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology. Behavioral Economics.

When we talk about attitudes, we are talking about what a person has learned in the process of becoming a member of a family, a group, and of society that makes him react to his social world in a consistent and characteristic way, instead of a transitory and haphazard way. We are talking about the fact that he is no longer neutral in sizing up the world around him: he is attracted or repelled, for or against, favorable or unfavorable. – Muzafer Sherif, 1967.

People can be persuaded when being thoughtful or when being mindless. The strategies to use in each case differ: Central vs Peripheral processing.


What conditions are most likely to lead to peripheral rather than central processing – in other words when do we rely on heuristics and shortcuts, instead of carefully strutinizing the message?

  1. When we do not have time to think carefully about an issue.
  2. When we are so overloaded with information that it becomes impossible to process fully.
  3. When we believe that the issues at stake are not very important.
  4. When we have litte or no other knowledge or information on which to base our decision.
  5. When a given solution / product / etc comes quickly to mind – the Availability Heuristic

Compared to attitudes arrived at by peripheral processing, attitudes arrived at by central processing have cost use more cognitive resources, and we are more confident in our judgement. We have ‘made up our mind’. Those attitudes persist longer, are more resistant to counter-persuasion, and correlate better with behaviour.

Attitudes arrived at by peripheral processing are often a feeling, a hunch, a general not-easily-explainable preference. As such they are not usually strongly held. They do not define us, and they do not correlate well with behaviour. As the attitude component is not strong, the Group or Environmental components tend to dominate.

Central processing – Aristotle’s Logos

We use central processing when we are being mindful. Central processing persuasion requires a careful detailed presentation of the information, that will stand up to head on scrutiny.

A good example of central processing persuasion is the all-American speech in a Hollywood movie. By the strength of his arguments (logos) and power of his personality (ethos), the hero persuades the mob.

Cognitive Response The listener in a central processing persuasion attempt does not just sit there listening and absorbing. They are actively counter arguing, derogating both the points being made and the speaker. We should picture the persuasion attempt as an argument, where one side is vocal and the other sub-vocal.

####tool Information. What is the behavior you want me to adopt? Why?

The most common behavior change strategy used by environmental organisations. When asked in surveys why they are not ‘greener’, people often say they lack information.

  • People with shallow knowledge of a subject are best influenced by a one-sided presentation. Otherwise they will come away confused, concluding that ‘experts disagree’.
  • People with deep knowledge of a subject are best influenced by a two-sided presentation. They expect to hear the arguments for the opposing view, and ideally your refutation of them.

####tool Incentives / Rewards.

Reward someone for adopting the required behavior. Used successfully by litter control programs. Incentive can be:

  • money: Bottle deposit schemes.
  • advertising: Adopt-a-Highway schemes.

Downside of incentives: If we adopt a behavior to gain a reward (taking a job for the salary), we tend to cease the behavior when the reward is withdrawn (would you still go to work if they stopped paying you?). The behavior never becomes internalized.

Background: Incentive schemes come from traditional economics (we weigh the pros-and-cons of each action), and from behaviorism (we respond to appropriate stimuli).

####tool Commitments / Pledges

Ask someone to promise to adopt the behavior. This tool is commonly used by behavior change websites: One Million Acts of Green, Power Pledge, Yahoo Green, Stickk, etc.

Commitments are most effective when they are:

  • Public: Forces us to stick to it to look consistent. Especially effective for those whith lots of pride or public self-consciousness.
  • Active: Perform some action to take the commitment, such as writing, swearing an oath (also public), etc.
  • Effort-full: The bigger the price the bigger the commitment. Hazing / initiation ceremonies. Extract a bigger effort with foor-in-the-door technique.
  • Freely chosen: Avoid threats, or any external reward such as prizes. The commitment must feel freely chosen for the person to accept responsibility for it, it must feel internally motivated.

reference Robert Cialdini’s Influence – Commitments

Background: Who are we? Sometimes we find out who we are by watching what we do. “I pledged to take the bus for a week. I guess I must not be very attached to my car.”

Self-sell: Role-play the commitment Persuasion research has shown that self-generated persuasion – whether induced by group discussion, by getting someone to role-play an opponent’s position, or by asking a person to imagine adopting a course of action – is one of the most effective persuasion tactics ever identified.

Get the target audience to role-play their way into committing to the behaviour. This could be done by asking them to write an article or deliver a speech supporting the behaviour.

Free-trials of products and services allow you to role-play owning that product. High-pressure sales people will occasionally even ask you to fill out a survey, with instructions to “pretend you are ordering today”.

reference The power of self-persuasion

Foot-in-the-door An individual is more likely to comply to a second, larger request when he or she has agreed to perform a small initial request. This works best when:

  • Request is pro-social: The request is generally perceived to be a good thing, and does not directly benefit the requester.
  • Initial request is moderate: Too large and people will refuse to comply. Too small and the individual will not feel committed.
  • Few external justifications or rewards: Rewarding the behavior allows the person to think they did it for the reward, and removes the commitment. See Downside of incentives above.

Low-ball Getting someone to commit to a purchase at a low cost, then raising the cost. A behavioral variant might be to promise to reward a behavior, then remove the reward after the person is committed. This technique is ethical questionable, and popular on second-hand car dealerships.

####tool Socratic questioning: Deep probing questions.

Questions can be about:

  • The Idea itself: Why do you say that?, Can you give me an example?
  • What came before the idea: What assumptions are you making?, What causes this?
  • Consequences of the idea: Then what would happen?, What are the consequences?
  • Viewpoints: How are x and y similar?, Who benefits?, What might z say about this?

reference Socratic Questions at

Peripheral processing

We use peripheral processing when we are being mindless, conserving our cognitive energy. It is based on simple cues and instincts. Modern media is almost exclusively peripheral: Many short messages, little content, no time to think any one of them through.

Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

It works best on high self-esteem individuals. When not behaving in a way they think they should, high self-esteem individuals experience greater dissonance between their image of themselves and reality.


####tool Emotional appeals – Aristotle’s Pathos

Fear appeals. Most common emotional appeal in behavior change campaigns.

  • Fear appeals only work if immediately followed by a way to remove the fear. (Take this easy step and you’ll remove the cause of fear). Otherwise dissonance reduction kicks in.

  • Fear appeals with high levels of threat (you are susceptible to the severe disease AIDS) and high levels of efficacy (you are able to effectively and easily prevent AIDS by using condoms) produce message acceptance.

    In contrast, fear appeals with high levels of threat (lung cancer is a severe disease that you are susceptible to because you smoke cigarettes) and low levels of efficacy (it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to quit smoking cigarettes, and it’s probably too late to prevent lung cancer anyway) result in message rejection.

reference Putting the fear back in fear appeals

Basic needs / Identity. Mass-media advertising does a lot of this.

  • Connect the behavior to feelings of Love, Safety and Security, Convenience, Health, etc.

  • Buy the product, get the personality. Example: Apple’s ‘Think different’ campaign.

  • Often used visually, rather than verbally.

    Example: Animal rights organizations will use pictures of cute baby animals (love), often interacting with healthy looking human children (health, family).

Vividness and Salience: What we notice and remember

To change a behavior, we need to remember we’re meant to be changing it.reference

Salience explains short term improvements after information campaigns. People are thinking about the topic.

The general principle here is the Von Restorff Effect: We remember things that stand out.

tool Primacy and Recency effects

We tend to remember the first and last items in a list. Make sure those are the ones you want people to remember.


tool Availability heuristic

To be considered important, our examples must be vivid, easy to visualize, and easy to recall.


An effective counter-intuitive use of the availability heuristic is to ask people to list 10 (or 5, or …) arguments against the behaviour.

Unless they know the subject very well, they will struggle to find 10. When opposing arguments are not easily available, they will conclude they are either non-existent or not important, and increase their support for your behaviour.

This is why we see advertising slogans such as “Why buy from anywhere else?”.

tool Stories, Feature writing style

Stories are much more memorable than data, but the data also needs to be presented.

Magazine feature style has three parts:

  • starts with a human interest angle (story about an individual) or an anecdotal lead (intriguing moment or event): “Jane will always remember the day she learnt she had breast cancer”
  • then widens out to the data: “Breast cancer is the number one cause of death in woman over 45”
  • then narrows back to re-incorporate the introduction: “Luckily, Jane caught her tumor early, and has made a full recovery.”


tool Exposure, Familiarity, Repetition We develop a preference for things we are familiar with. Repeated exposure is often sufficient to generate that familiarity.

This is why TV adverts repeat. Repetition also helps us remember something. Repetition can bore an audience, so for long term campaigns vary the message around a central repeated theme.


Pleasure, games, aesthetics

If the behavior is a pleasure, we are much more likely to pursue it. This can be because it is fun, because it is pleasing to look at or interact with, and so on:

  • People often state that they prefer organic fruits and vegetables because they taste better.
  • Re-usable shopping bags look better than disposable plastic bags. They are more fashionable.
  • Shopping at a local farmers market can be a more pleasurable activity than shopping at a supermarket: There’s a local band playing, you meet your neighbours, you talk to the farmers about the produce, you buy a snack afterwards and sit on the grass, etc.

tool Professionally designed marketing materials (website, flyers, etc)

They tend to inspire greater trust, and be more esthetically appealing.

tool Games

  • Product marketing websites (a new beer, a fast-food snack, etc) will often include games to induce you to spend more time on their website. The game typically involves interacting with the product.
  • Jane McGonigal has created several sustainability-themed games, often ones you play in the real world: AvantGame
Background: The idea that we pursue pleasure and avoid pain is rooted in Behavioral Psychology.


tool Pre-persuasion

Setting the parameters of the debate, how the issue is structured. Establish “what everyone knows” and “what everyone takes for granted”, so that the discussion does not center on those topics. Persuade before they think you have started.

tool Anchoring

People always evaluate things relative to other things. We can influence what that anchor point is.

tool Re-framing

Change how someone thinks of an issue:


Background: Framing comes from Cognitive Psychology. It has proven very successful in reducing anxiety and preventing panic attacks.

####tool Contrast principle

Two different things presented together or sequentially will feel more different than they really are.

Sell the expensive item first, as the other items will seem cheap after that.

Good cop / bad cop is about creating a contrast between the two, to increase liking of the ‘good cop’, and increase fear of the ‘bad cop’.


####tool Length means strength

When we believe that the issues at stake are not very important (a low-involving condition), we often use the length of the message and the number of arguments as a heuristic for the truth of the message. A longer message, which makes more points, seems more convincing.

II. Group – Social norms and their enforcement

Do other people want me to do this? What will they think of me if I do?

Research Fields: Social psychology.

Fundamental Attribution Error: We tend to over-value personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors.

Social proof

Making the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation than us, we often deem the behavior of others as appropriate or better informed that ours.


People believe that if the crisis were so serious then addressing climate change would be the subject of major government spending and profile and that government would be more pro-active in making businesses do more. – DEFRA Jan08

Social proof works best:

  • on low self-esteem individuals (task specific self-esteem). They have low self-efficacy, so social norm becomes more important. I’m not sure I can do it – what is everyone else doing?
  • on individuals who value group membership but do not feel entirely accepted yet.
  • when the group or individual is trustworthy and credible.

####tool Make the social norms explicit

What constitutes good behavior in this group? What does most of the group usually do? How do we enforce good behavior?

####tool Role models today are often television characters.

The Harvard Alcohol Project’s National Designated Driver Campaign got designated drivers written into the scripts of 35 prime-time TV series during the 1989-90 season.

The Campaign broke new ground when television writers agreed to insert drunk driving prevention messages, including frequent references to the use of designated drivers, into the scripts of top-rated shows such as “The Cosby Show,” “Cheers,” and “LA Law.”

Short messages, embedded within dialogue, were casually presented by characters who served as role models within a dramatic context, thereby facilitating social learning.

The National Designated Driver Campaign represented the first successful effort to mobilize the Hollywood creative community on such a scale, using dialogue in prime time entertainment as a health promotion technology.

####tool Communicator credibility –

Aristotle’s Ethos. The following are perceived as more credible than average:

  • experts

  • people that look like experts: “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV”

  • high-social status individuals (celebrities) or groups (including the government)

  • people like me (so point out the similarities)

  • attractive people.

    The halo effect is when we judge people higher on one trait because they score better on another. For example attractive people are often judged more intelligent.reference

Trust in the communicator is very important. There are perceived hypocrisies when the following advocate individual behavior change:

  • celebrities with a high-carbon lifestyle
  • governments who subsidize high-carbon economic sectors (resource extraction, fossil fuel use, etc)
  • organisations with significant investments in high-carbon / high-pollution industries (mining, oil drilling, etc)


####tool Reciprocity.

A Hare Krishna devotee presses a flower or a copy of the Bhagavad-gītā into your hand, or a store gives you free samples, and you feel awkward about taking it for free. You end up giving money or buying something you don’t want. That’s the norm of reciprocity at work.

Door-in-the-face We also reciprocate to concessions. Start with a large but not unreasonable request (‘Go Vegan’), which gets rejected, then ‘retreat’ to the more reasonable target request (‘Meat Free Mondays’). People who comply after this technique has been used on them feel more satisfied with their decision than those who agree straight away, because they ‘bargained’ for it. They shaped the outcome, so they feel ownership for it.

Works best when both requests (the initial large one and subsequent reasonable one) are made by the same person, one shortly after the other. Like Foot-in-the-door, this also works best with pro-social requests.

This technique also benefits from a contrast effect (See Contrast Principle above). The second request seems smaller in comparison to the first one.

Some charities send a free stamp or free pen with their request for donations. We feel we owe them, so we donate in return.


####tool Hawthorne Effect. We maximize what we measure.

If someone knows they are being measured on a given criteria, they will tend to optimize that one criteria, at the expense of the un-measured ones.

Simply by informing people that certain behavior is being tracked will tend to increase that behavior, if that behavior is generally perceived as positive, or reduce it, if it is perceived as negative.

This relates to Social Norms and to Salience.


Obedience to authority. Coercion.

Most people obey figures of authority. The trappings of authority (uniform) are often sufficient.


This requires constant authority presence (or the threat of it), as the behavior does not get internalized into an attitude. This is the flip side of Incentives.


tool Property rights

Prevent Tragedy of the Commons by having a single owner. Nature Conservancy and Ted Turner use this approach.reference

tool Tort law

Sue the polluter. Rarely works in practice.

III. Environmental – Self-efficacy and Outcome control

How difficult is this behavior? How likely is it to succeed?

Research Fields: Economics. Public policy.

Protection-Motivation Theory

Our behavior is a result of the perceived:

  • Magnitude of the threat
  • Probability of occurrence
  • Self-efficacy (can I do it)
  • Outcome-control (will it work)


Initial seat-belt use campaigns in the USA relied on a fear appeal based on the risk of death. Most people do not believe that they are likely to die in an automobile accident, they thought the probability of occurrence was low, and hence that the threat was not credible. The fear appeal failed.

A later campaign focused on the risk of getting a ticket for not wearing a seat-belt, a much more credible threat, and was more successful.

Similarly, dying of cancer is not a credible threat to teenage smokers. They perceive the risks as bad breath, loss of concentration, losing friends, and trouble with adults. To them, those are the threats with a high probability of occurrence.

toolRole play to credibility

To make a threat seem more real, role-play as if it had happened.

For example, a smoking cessation intervention asked participants to pretend they had gone to the doctor for a bad cough, and that the person leading the intervention was the doctor. That person told them they had a malignant tumor in their right lung which required immediate surgery. The participant was asked to express their thoughts out loud.

Self-efficacy: Can I do it? Is it cheap and easy?

Behavior change is more effective if a behavior is perceived to be easy to perform. In the same way that water takes the easiest path down a slope, we often choose the easiest behavior as our default.

What is the price of the behaviour, in monetary terms, but also in cognitive load (thinking is hard), time, physical effort, and so on?

####tool Training, Modelling, Visualization

Showing someone how to perform a behavior, and encouraging them to either try it directly, or imagine themselves doing it, increases their feeling of control and estimation of success.

Whenever we watch someone else do something, including on television, they are (often inadvertently) modelling a behaviour. As any parent will tell you, advising your children to “do what I say not what I do” never works. Fiction writers know this, hence their admonition of “Show, don’t tell”.

See the Social Proof section for a great modelling example from the Harvard Alcohol Project’s National Designated Driver Campaign.

####tool Prompts. Remembering to do it.

Remembering is often a significant barrier to sustainability focused behavior change. We buy re-usable bags but forget them in our house. We intend to buy ‘green’ cleaning products but forget when we are in the store. Examples:

  • Distribute a sticker for people to put in their car window, reminding them to take their re-usable bags out of the trunk, and into the store.
  • Call / Email people on a regular (and previously agreed upon) basis to remind them to exercise. Associate agreeing to prompt with taking a pledge.
  • Attach stickers to store furniture made from endangered tropical hardwoods.
  • Ask store owners to stock some white vinegar with the cleaning products. It reminds people that it’s an alternative, and legitimizes it.

####tool Convenience. The desirable behavior is (often) the easiest.

The further they live from a liquor store, the less alcohol people tend to drink.reference Philip J. Cook: “Paying the tab: the economics of alcohol policy”

Giving buses a dedicated lane on freeways increases their convenience versus driving a car. You are less likely to get stuck in traffic.

On the other hand, whilst making something more difficult to obtain makes us less likely to obtain it, it makes us value it more once we have it. This is the Endowment Effect.

One way of making a product more difficult to obtain is to create an artificial scarcity.

Market controls. The desirable behavior is (often) the cheapest.

tool True cost

Price externalities back in.


tool Pricing levers

Price controls work for alcohol and cigarettes.

reference Philip J. Cook: “Paying the tab: the economics of alcohol policy”

tool Tax credits

The tax credit must actually lower the difficulty of the desired behavior. For example, a tax credit for insulating your house still requires you to find a contractor, manage the project, pay them, and remember to claim the tax credit at the end of the year. There is no real change in self-efficacy.

tool Price as a proxy for value

If a good is difficult to value objectively (e.g. wine, jewelry, art, etc) we often use it’s price to tell us it’s value. A higher price can make certain items, or behaviors, more desirable.

Re-usable shopping bags, for example, are fashionable items in some markets. A high-priced designer shopping bag will probably get more use than a generic free one. Paying a high price for something commits us to it.

Government regulation. The desirable behavior is obvious.

tool Choice edit

Remove least sustainable products and services from marketplace. Legislate minimum standards.

tool Labeling

Require product labeling, to support and prompt consumer choice.

Background: Many self-efficacy tools are rooted in Behavioral Psychology. They make the desirable behavior easier and the undesirable behaviors more difficult.

Outcome control: Will it work

There is also some disbelief about the scale of the actions people are being asked to undertake in relation to the magnitude of ‘global climate change’. People do not believe these small actions will have a significant effect on tackling climate change. – DEFRA Jan08

####tool Direct action. Civil disobedience.

Reduces the outcome control of an anti-social group, such as a heavy polluter, by directly blocking the undesirable behavior.

Tools include sit-ins, strikes, sabotage or theft or materials. Advocated, in the past or currently, by the Salvation Army, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, C.N.D., Greenpeace, and many others.

Often the self-efficacy reduction of the anti-social organization (polluter, etc) is only the proximate goal of direct action, the ultimate goal being media attention, as part of an informational campaign.

[How do we increase an individual’s perceived outcome control? How do you convince people that the behavior will work?]

Designing a campaign

The tools need to be used in a coherent and focused campaign.

These steps are adapted from Doug McKenzie-Mohr’s Fostering Sustainable Behavior.

Select specific desired behaviour

Do you want people to compost their green waste? Take the bus to work instead of driving? Take a summer vacation that doesn’t involve flying?

The behaviour must be achievable yet challenging.

Advocating a behavior that the group mostly already does is waste of resources. In Canada, for example, most people already recycle.

Advocating a group that is going to require a massive life-style and infrastructure change (‘grow most of your own food’) is similarly a waste of resources.

Be specific

If left vague (“care for the environment”) consumers will have different preferences (often recycling, an easy behavior) than policy makers (often energy conservation).

reference [Behavioural Responses to Climate Change](

Find out why the behaviour is not being practiced

This is a critical stage. As we saw in the introduction, there are three groups of considerations affecting people’s behavior. They might not want to do it. It might not be socially acceptable for them to do it. Or they might not be able to.


  • Brainstorm: Ask yourself
  • Literature review: What have other people tried.
  • Ask the target audience:
    • Survey
    • Focus group

In a health setting, a survey might include the following questions: – Are you likely or unlikely to (perform the behavior)? [Intent] – Do you see (the behavior) as good, neutral, or bad? [Attitude] – Do you agree or disagree that most people approve of/disapprove of (the behavior)? [Subjective norm] – Do you believe (performing the behavior) is up to you, or not up to you? [Perceived behavioral control]

reference Health Promotion Practice pdf

Social judgement theory

  • Some ideas we are prepared to accept (our latitude of acceptance), some we will not accept (latitude of rejection), and some lie in between, we haven’t made up our minds.
  • We over-estimate both our agreement with ideas within our latitude of acceptance, and our dis-agreement with ideas within our latitude of rejection.

Is this an idea they will accept? Will they reject it outright?

Antecedents, Behaviors and Consequences: – What comes directly before the behavior? Behavior Chain Analysis. – What does the behavior look like? – What comes directly after the behavior? Function Behavior Assessment. What function did that behavior serve? New behavior must also fulfill function.

Other factors

Is the behavior automatic (a habit) or conscious? If a habit, you might need to make people aware of it.

Are people’s current attitudes about the behaviour mainly affective (emotional, gut feelings) or logical? Affective attitudes should be easier to change than logical attitudes. They may respond best to peripheral appeals, logical attitudes to central appeals.

Where is this behavior performed? At home, at work, in the store, in transit?

What is the specific call to action? It must be clear and unambiguous.

Segment population according to dominating considerations

In the previous step you will probably find that different people have different reasons for not performing the behaviour. Those are their barriers.

A segment which values group membership, but does not yet feel entirely accepted, will be more sensitive to a social norms approach. Similarly, an individual who is not confident that they can perform a given behavior (low self-efficacy), will watch what others do, and attempt the behavior only if most of the group also does.

A ‘recalcitrant’ segment, that is refusing a common behavior, will probably be more affected by an attitude based approach.

The limiting factor on most green behaviors is often environmental. ‘Being green’ is rarely our main goal. When we go to lunch, our goal is not to reduce our carbon footprint, our goal is to eat. We don’t wake up in the morning and decide to reduce our energy consumption, we wake up and decide to take a shower.

Design an intervention for each segment

Pick tools from relevant section.

A multi-tool campaign works best, as the tools supplement and reinforce each other . For example a drunk-driving campaign would supplement a media campaign with a visible increase in police spot-checks.

Pilot, Refine, Deploy

Try different interventions in small pilots to find which works best.

Evaluate, Reinforce, Consolidate

Need to support behavior long term, until it becomes both a habit and a cultural norm. Variable reinforcement schedule


To be written