What influences Behaviours?

A notable resource is the Communication and Behavior Change Report, designed primarily for governments communication. The report discusses how governments can influence behaviours and change them to the better, it identifies what influences behaviours and some behavioural theories than can be adopted.

After identifying the behavior(s) to be changed, analyzing influence of that particular behavior would be the starting point to develop a behavior change strategy. Behaviors can be influenced on many different levels. There are some factors that can change a behaviour without one’s even noticing. In social psychology most factors that influence human behaviour can be classified under 3 broad levels; personal, social and environmental. It is essential to identify factors on all 3 different levels without excluding any before applying any change strategy.

Personal Factors

Personal factors are all intrinsic factors that are solely based on the person committing the behavior and not at all affected by others.

Knowledge and awareness

Everyone has a different level of knowledge regarding a particular subject based on which they may take action. Rationalizing our actions is the first step to doing a behaviour in which one would consider how can personal profits be maximised and personal costs be minimised. This is called rational choice theory. So by offering information and increasing people‘s awareness one may influence behaviours. If information and statistics that people were not aware of are provided, for example about the safety hazards of not putting on a seatbelt, the behaviour of some will be greatly influenced. However, awareness campaigns may not be sufficient for changing ones behaviour, as many other factors can override our rational mind, but it is a good starting point.


Attitude is ones general way of thinking. Continuing with the seatbelt example, in some countries, some drivers might refuse to put on a seatbelt arguing that it is more dangerous to abide by the rules in a place where no one does. This is a way of thinking, an attitude, which shapes many driving behaviours. The theory of cognitive dissonance suggests that a behaviour can alter ones attitude. The theory explains how one deals with the gap formed between ones actions and believes, drivers want to arrive home safely every day, but at the same time they don’t want to put on a seatbelt knowing that it is a safety hazard. This forms an internal conflict, followed by reducing this dissonance by either changing the behaviour into putting on a seatbelt, or providing excuses that would justify ones behaviour.

Habit and routine

Habits and routines are behaviors that are frequently repeated till they become automatic as explained in an earlier post. Putting on a seat belt is a type of behavior that many seek to make habitual. The act of getting inside a car is habitual of itself, hence the key to influencing the behavior of putting on a seat belt is to understand and examine ones habits of getting inside a car, and fitting this new habit along.


Self-efficacy is ones belief level of the ability to successfully accomplish an action. It greatly deals with self-confidence and the perceived level of behavioural control. To tackle this issue one can simply show examples of how others accomplished changing, starting or stopping a behaviour.


Fear, happiness, sympathy are all very strong emotions that greatly influence peoples behaviours on both conscious and sub-conscious levels. It is important to note that influencing behaviours using emotions are not applicable for all behaviours and do not necessarily sustain the change in behaviour.

Social Factors

Social factors are influences that are driven by how other people view ones action in accordance to their beliefs attitudes and actions.

Descriptive and Injunctive Norms

Social psychologist Robert Cialdini introduced two different types of social norms. Descriptive norms are comparing ones behaviour with others to determine whether ones action is acceptable or not within a group, they are ‘rules’ apposed by a group, society or community that group members abide to, fearing getting excluded from the group if otherwise.

Injunctive norms, are actual rules, laws and regulations that instruct us on how we should act. Tim Jackson gives an example of motorway driving “if other drivers around him are driving over the speed limit, he may be likely to do the same (following the descriptive norm). If he sees a police car up ahead, he is likely to reduce his speed; the police car performs a focusing function, making the injunctive norm salient.”

Social Proof

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume that others know more than them. Thus if they are present within a social group they will not take an action unless someone else already did; proving it is the right thing to do.

Diffusion of Responsibility

Diffusion of responsibility is a theory that explains why people may not take an action or feel a sense of responsibility during situations when it is most needed. It implies that people assume others have taken an action, or are more responsible. It is unlikely to happen when a person is on his own, and the diffusion would increase as the group increases.

Environmental Factors

Environment factors are factors that are beyond an individual’s control, these cover both local (‘exo’) environmental factors, for example the region in which a person lives and local shops and facilities, and wider (‘macro’) environmental factors such as the technology or economy.

In his book the tipping point, Malcolm gladwell has a whole part explaining the power of context and how they can influence our behavior individually and as a society and can produce a tipping point in ‘spreading an epidemic’ as he puts it; meaning achieving a change in behavior or creating a trend on a global level. Gladwell explains, “We are actually powerfully influenced by our surroundings, our immediate context, and the personalities of those around us. Taking the graffiti off the walls of New York’s subways turned New Yorkers into better citizens.”