Understanding behavioural theory

See how this type of theory can help structure effective interventions.

Behavioural theory is simpler than you think

Human behaviour is usually influenced by different factors, often making it complex.

Thankfully, psychologists have defined models that help to break behaviour down into smaller parts, helping to make it simpler.

Using a behavioural theory when designing an intervention can help you see what area needs to be changed to lead to an adjustment in behaviour.

What influences behaviour?

Behavioural theory looks at changes in behaviour over time to see how it’s influenced by psychological, social and environmental factors.

The models that have been created can help you look at the processes and influences that result in a behaviour.

The ideal framework

You can use behavioural theory models as a framework to help you identify the motivations of your target audience.

Changing a behaviour is often easier when you break down the influences. Using a model can give you more specific objectives and help with the content and messaging.

Different models available

There are quite a few behaviour change models that can help when you’re designing an intervention.

Here are a couple of good examples:

RAC Foundation research by Dr Fiona Fylan

This research provides:

  • an overarching model and a comprehensive guide
  • examples of how to define the aims, objectives and outcomes
  • suggestions for ways to learn from other interventions



This is a simple and popular model that can help you design interventions.

It simply states that to change a behaviour (B), you need to change one or more of someone’s:

Capability to perform the behaviour
Opportunity to perform the behaviour
Motivation to perform the behaviour

Using an example to see COM-B in action.

Here we’ll use the example of an intervention focused on seatbelt use by young people.

  • It can be assumed that they have the capability to put a seatbelt on (i.e. it’s simple and doesn’t need training)
  • All vehicles have seatbelts (so there is plenty of opportunity)
  • This means the intervention should focus on the motivational aspects of wearing a seatbelt (or, why some people are motivated not to wear one)
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