Use of natural language to represent behaviour-change theories has resulted in lack of clarity and consistency, hindering comparison, integration, development and use. This paper describes development of a formal system for representing behaviour-change theories that aims to improve clarity and consistency. A given theory is represented in terms of (1) its component constructs (for example, ‘self-efficacy’, ‘perceived threat’ or ‘subjective norm’), which are labelled and defined, and (2) relationships between pairs of constructs, which may be causal, structural or semantic. This formalism appears adequate to represent five commonly used theories (health belief model, information–motivation–behavioural skill model, social cognitive theory, theory of planned behaviour and the trans-theoretical model). Theory authors and experts judged that the system was able to capture the main propositions of the theories. Following this proof of concept, the next step is to assess how far the system can be applied to other theories of behaviour change.
Access optionsAccess options
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.67 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Green, L. W., Hiatt, R. A. & Hoeft, K. S. in Oxford Textbook of Global Public Health (eds Detels, R. et al.) 218–233 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).
Vlek, C. & Steg, L. Human behavior and environmental sustainability: problems, driving forces, and research topics. J. Soc. Issues 63, 1–19 (2007).
Davis, R., Campbell, R., Hildon, Z., Hobbs, L. & Michie, S. Theories of behaviour and behaviour change across the social and behavioural sciences: a scoping review. Health Psychol. Rev. 9, 323–344 (2015).
Glantz, K., Rimer, B. & Viswanath K. Health Behavior: Theory, Research, and Practice (Wiley, 2015).
Craig, P. et al. Developing and evaluating complex interventions: the new Medical Research Council guidance. BMJ 337, a1655 (2008).
Glanz, K. & Bishop, D. B. The role of behavioral science theory in development and implementation of public health interventions. Annu. Rev. Publ. Health 31, 399–418 (2010).
Lippke, S. & Ziegelmann, J. P. Theory‐based health behavior change: developing, testing, and applying theories for evidence‐based interventions. Appl. Psychol. 57, 698–716 (2008).
West, R. & Michie, S. A Guide to the Development and Evaluation of Digital Behaviour Change Interventions (Silverback Publishing, 2016).
Armitage, C. J. & Conner, M. Social cognition models and health behaviour: a structured review. Psychol. Health 15, 173–189 (2000).
Gebhardt, W. A. & Maes, S. Integrating social-psychological frameworks for health behavior research. Am. J. Health Behav. 25, 528–536 (2001).
Kirscht, J. P. Preventive health behavior: a review of research and issues. Health Psychol. 2, 277–301 (1983).
Michie, S. et al. Making psychological theory useful for implementing evidence based practice: a consensus approach. BMJ Qual. Saf. 14, 26–33 (2005).
Garnett, C. et al. Reported theory use by digital interventions for hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption, and association with effectiveness: meta-regression. J. Med. Internet Res. 20, e69 (2018).
Michie, S., West, R., Campbell, R., Brown, J. & Gainforth, H. ABC of Behaviour Change Theories: An Essential Resource for Researchers, Policy Makers and Practicioners (Silverback Publishing, 2014).
Prestwich, A. et al. Does theory influence the effectiveness of health behavior interventions? Meta-analysis. Health Psychol. 33, 465–474 (2014).
Dombrowski, S. U., Sniehotta, F. F., Avenell, A. & Coyne, J. C. Towards a cumulative science of behaviour change: do current conduct and reporting of behavioural interventions fall short of best practice. Psychol. Health 22, 869–874 (2007).
Michie, S. & Prestwich, A. Are interventions theory-based? Development of a theory coding scheme. Health Psychol. 29, 1–8 (2010).
Cane, J., O’Connor, D. & Michie, S. Validation of the theoretical domains framework for use in behaviour change and implementation research. Implement. Sci. 7, 37 (2012).
Fisher, W., Fisher, J. & Shuper, S. Social psychology and the fight against AIDS: an information–motivation–behavioral skills model for the prediction and promotion of health behavior change. Adv. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 50, 105–193 (2014).
El-Sayed, A. M. & Galea, S. Systems Science and Population Health (Oxford University Press, 2017).
Vries, H. D. & Mudde, A. N. Predicting stage transitions for smoking cessation applying the attitude-social influence-efficacy model. Psychol. Health 13, 369–385 (1998).
Painter, J. E., Borba, C. P., Hynes, M., Mays, D. & Glanz, K. The use of theory in health behavior research from 2000 to 2005: a systematic review. Ann. Behav. Med. 35, 358–362 (2008).
Rosenstock, I. M. Historical origins of the health belief model. Health Educ. Monogr. 2, 328–335 (1974).
Fisher, J. D. & Fisher, W. A. Changing AIDS-risk behavior. Psychol. Bull. 111, 455–474 (1992).
Bandura, A. Social Foundation of Thought and Action: A Social-Cognitive View (Englewood Cliffs, 1986).
Ajzen, I. The theory of planned behaviour. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 50, 179–211 (1991).
DiClemente, C. C. et al. The process of smoking cessation: an analysis of precontemplation, contemplation, and preparation stages of change. J. Consult. Clinic. Psychol. 59, 295–304 (1991).
Hastings, J. in The Gene Ontology Handbook (eds Dessimoz, C. & Škunca, N.) 3–13 (Springer, 2017).
Pearl, J. Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).
VandenBos, G. R. (dd). APA Dictionary of Psychology (American Psychology Association, 2007).
Oxford English Dictionary. OED Online (2nd edn.) https://www.oed.com (accessed March 2008).
We are grateful to the theory authors and experts who commented on the construct definitions and theory representations: I. Ajzen (TPB), J. Annesi (SCT), C. DiClemente (TTM), W. Fisher (IBM) and V. Strecher (HBM). We are grateful to K. Sheals for assistance with coding the theories and drafting the paper. We are also grateful to M. Johnston for early discussions about this piece of work and to M. Marques, A. Wright, C. Garnett, A. Direito, H. Groarke, H. Walton and T. Revenson who assisted with the drafting of the paper. This work was also supported by a grant from the UK Medical Research Council (grant number MR/L011115/1) and by a National Institute of Health Research Senior Investigator’s award held by S.M. The contribution of R.W. contribution was partly funded by Cancer Research UK. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.