Scale weighing apple against a cheesburger icon

Diffusion of Innovations

Like fads in fashion, innovative health products and practices can spread like viruses among members of a social system. New things are more apt to be “contagious” if they:

  • are viewed as an improvement over the status quo but compatible with one’s existing lifestyle or setting,
  • are easy to adopt and can be tried out before a permanent commitment is made,
  • have positive consequences that are clear to an observer,
  • are adopted by cool or respected people first, and
  • are publicized through the right channels to the right people at the right points in the change process.

For a while, a slowly increasing trickle of people adopts a new practice or product, but then the rate of adoption suddenly skyrockets. In other words, there is a “tipping point” in the rate of adoption of the practice and its penetration beyond opinion leaders into the mass audience. After reaching that point, diffusion is much easier.

Scale weighing apple against a cheesburger icon

Extended Parallel Processing Model

People are highly motivated to make scary risks less scary. If they know how to reduce a risk, they take the appropriate steps. On the other hand, if there is nothing they can do to reduce the risk, they reduce their fear instead by distancing themselves from the risk emotionally or denying it. Consequently, health messages in the form of fear appeals that don’t explain how to reduce a risk can backfire.

Scale weighing apple against a cheesburger icon

Health Belief Model

The basic idea of the original version of this model was that, if people know about a serious health threat, feel at risk of it personally, and think that the benefits of taking an action to avoid the threat outweigh the costs of the action, they will do what it takes to reduce their risk. Two additional predictors of the behavior were added later:

  • a person’s confidence in his or her ability to take the action,
  • and reminders to act.
Scale weighing apple against a cheesburger icon

Planned Behavior/Theory of Reasoned Action

The original insight of the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) was that people do what they intend to do. Intentions result from attitudes towards a behavior, and from what people that an individual cares about want him or her to do. When confidence about being able to perform the behavior was added to the model, TRA became the Theory of Planned Behavior. Factors like personality and ethnic background factors were influential only in their impact on attitudes and social pressure and confidence. An even later version, the Integrated Behavioral Model (IBM) (Fishbein, 2000), went beyond perceptions to add actual environmental barriers and skills and abilities to the model. IBM is not ranked by TheoryPicker, but may help you think about your behavior challenge more broadly.

Scale weighing apple against a cheesburger icon

Social Learning/Cognitive Theory

People and their social environments affect each other. The major insight of Social Learning Theory, the earliest version of Bandura’s theory, was that individuals can learn why and how to change their behavior vicariously, by observing what happens to other people who behave that way. Later, in Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), Bandura began to unpack what goes on in the minds of observers of behavior and its consequences, adding new constructs to his theory. The first and best-known of the new constructs is self-efficacy, the idea that an individual (through observation and perhaps trial and feedback) begins to believe that a behavior will result in good things, and that he or she is capable of taking the action if it is attempted. Over the years, SCT has been expanded further and further, and is now quite complex.

Scale weighing apple against a cheesburger icon

Trans-theoretical Model

People don’t change all at once. Instead, they go through a process that can begin before they have made any specific plans to change. The process ends with the change having been solidly established for more than six months, but there can be slips and relapses along the way. Moving audience members at the early stages of change (which involve more thinking) would involve different strategies than would moving them through later stages (which involve more doing).