Knowledge Base‎ > ‎

Reading List

This is a list of the articles and topics that I've found most useful in providing insight into understanding and generating behavior change.

Relevant fields include: clinical, health, social, cognitive, developmental psychology, neuroscience, education, public health, public policy, economics, sociology, anthropology.

General Overviews & Introductions

Transtheoretical Model of behavior change
It is very widely applied, and the basic idea is to categorize people as being in particular states of readiness to change. Interventions can then be focused on moving people from one stage of readiness to another, or tailored to be most effective for the particular stage someone is in.

This website provides an overview of the Transtheoretical model of behavior change:

(This pubmed link is for a more comprehensive review:

Generating behavior change by targeting people's implicit theories of whether personality traits are fixed or malleable.

One of the most effective ways to change behavior may not be targeting the behavior directly, but instead changing people's implicit underlying assumptions about whether behaviors or personalities in general are fixed or malleable.

It may seem obvious – or at least most would agree once it's pointed out to them – that people will be more likely to change a behavior if they believe it can be changed. But many interventions to change behavior don't make this a central feature. It could be argued that it is more important to retain the typical focus on making people more motivated or providing instruction on how to change a specific habit and behavior. Beliefs about whether a behavior change can be achieved can then follow suit.

The key value of the work on implicit theories is explicating what form this knowledge takes, how it can be changed, and what the impact is. For example, for a brief overview see:

Some studies have revealed extremely impressive findings: teaching middle school students and undergraduates that intelligence is malleable (rather than fixed) can improve their actual grades. Very few interventions impact such an important and broad measure, despite using far more time and resources. They are also often restricted to just one content area or set of skills. Little work has examined how changing mindsets can result in greater behavior change, but there is a great deal of potential.

Theories of Reasoned Action & Planned Behavior:

 Provides an introduction to the construct of "utility" or the value people assign to an action/outcome, and how one can understand different factors (e.g. personal attitudes, social norms) as influencing people's evaluation of how good/bad an action/outcome is.
 People often respond automatically to situations, and making specific plans to engage in a behavior (such as implementation intentions) can have substantial effects on actually changing behavior, as opposed to simply expressing a desire to engage in such a behavior.

(Montaño,   D.E.   &   Kasprzyk,   D.(2008).      The   Theory   of   Reasoned   Action,   Theory   of   Planned   Behavior   and   the   Integrated   Behavioral   Model.   Chapter   4   K.   Glanz,   B.K.   Rimer,   &   K.   Viswanath  (Eds.)  Health  Behavior  and  Health  Education  (4th  ed)  (pp.  68-‐96).  San  Francisco,   CA:  Jossey-‐Bass.)

Motivational Interviewing
It is extremely difficult to change people's behavior when they are not motivated to do so, and they can often react negatively to arguments that they "should" change behavior or pressures to change, even in cases where they desire the change. Motivational interviewing refers to a set of techniques that can be used to help people come to the conclusion that they want to change and recognize their personal reasons and values for change, rather than prescribing change to them.
It can also be useful even with people who express a desire to change. Articulating the reasons they personally want to change and tying the benefits of change to a person's core values can make them more likely to maintain attempts to change, than simply them attempting a course of behavior change because they think they should or want to try it out, and haven't fully considered why it is important to them.
This article gives a brief summary of motivational interviewing: "What is motivational interviewing?", Rollnick & Miller 1995, Behavior and Cognitive Psychotherapy.

A set of Google Scholar search results on Motivational Interviewing
A review of 29 randomized controlled trials using Motivational Interviewing
Dunn, C., Deroo, L. and Rivara, F. P. (2001), The use of brief interventions adapted from motivational interviewing across behavioral domains: a systematic review. Addiction, 96: 1725–1742. doi: 10.1046/j.1360-0443.2001.961217253.x
Very brief interventions in doctor visits that use motivational interviewing techniques
Negotiating behaviour change in medical settings: The development of brief motivational interviewing
This assesses the effect of a program to train clinicians to use motivational interviewing, on their actual implementation of its practices
A Randomized Trial of Methods to Help Clinicians Learn Motivational Interviewing
Related concept of reactance: tendency to resist a perceived restriction of behavioral freedoms – which even personally valuable behavior change can be identified as.

Mindfulness and Acceptance-Commitment therapy

These approaches are becoming a greater part of cognitive behavioral therapy approaches. A key idea is that people often automatically and unquestioningly respond to negative events (e.g. anxiety or stress leading to smoking, eating or substance abuse). Practicing mindfulness and awareness of personal thoughts and sensations, and accepting the presence of negative feelings, can reduce impulsive behavior and improve mood.

(Kabat-‐Zinn  J.  (2003).  Mindfulness-‐based  interventions  in  context:  past,  present  and  future.)

Social context of behavior change:

(McAlister,   A.L.,   Perry,   C.L.,   Parcel,   G.S.   (2008).   How   individuals,   environments   and   health   behavior  interact:  Social  Cognitive  Theory.  Chapter  8  in  K.  Glanz,  B.K.  Rimer,  &  K.  Viswanath   (Eds.)  Health  Behavior  and  Health  Education  (4th  ed)  (pp.  169-‐188).  San  Francisco,  CA:  Jossey-‐ Bass.    

Heaney,  C.A.  &  Isreal,  B.A.  (2008).  Social  networks  and  social  support.  Chapter  9  in  K.  Glanz,   B.K.  Rimer,  &  K.  Viswanath  (Eds.)  Health  Behavior  and  Health  Education  (4th  ed)  (pp.  189-‐210).   San  Francisco,  CA:  Jossey-‐Bass.)

Behavior Modification Techniques

Cognitive Behavioral Techniques for Behavior Change

"Cognitive Behavioral Therapy" refers to a diverse range of techniques used in psychotherapy, but a key idea is helping people to recognize how their feelings are generated by the beliefs and evaluations they automatically make about events. Here is the link to this site's page on it.

Altering choice sets and choice architecture to guide people's decisions

Thaler & Sunstein, Nudge. A book for the general public.

Positive psychology

Duckworth, A. L., Steen, T. A., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Positive psychology in clinical practice. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1(1), 629-651. 

Automatic habits

Use of Technology

Delivering health interventions online, E-health

Delivering of interventions and logging of mood through traditional mobiles and smartphones

Text messaging reminders.

Use of games and gamification principles

(Case study: Kees)

Behavior Model (BJ Fogg, Stanford University)