Tip #794: Change Behavior With COM-B

middle aged businessman

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” Plato

If you’re interested in changing behaviors, you may want to explore the COM-B model. It emphasizes that, for a behavior to occur, people must have the capability, opportunity and motivation to perform it.

Capability is the knowledge, skills and abilities to engage in the behavior. There are two components to capability: psychological (knowledge or psychological strength, skill or stamina) and physical (physical strength, skill or stamina).

Opportunity is the outside factors which make the behavior possible. These opportunity factors may be physical (environmental-time, locations, resources) or social (societal-cultural norms, social cues).

Motivation is the brain processes that direct our decisions and behaviors. Motivational brain processes may be automatic (desires, impulses, inhibitions, etc.) or reflective (plans and evaluations).

Health researchers have used COM-B in studies to encourage people to use hearing aids, lose weight, stop smoking, be more physically active, etc. They have used the Behavior Change Wheel to determine what interventions might be effective.

The Behavior Change Wheel is based on COM-B. It consists of three layers. COM-B is the hub. Opportunity is divided into social and physical sections. Motivation is divided into automatic and reflective sections. And Capability is divided into psychological and physical sections. The understanding is that interventions need to change one or more of them in such a way as to put the system into a new configuration and minimize the risk of it reverting.

Surrounding the hub is a layer of nine intervention functions to choose from based on the particular COM-B analysis that has been made. These functions are: Education, Persuasion, Incentivization, Coercion, Training, Enablement, Modeling, Environmental Restructuring and Restrictions.

The outer layer, the rim of the wheel, identifies seven policy categories that can support the delivery of these intervention functions. The policy categories are: Guidelines, Environmental/Social Planning, Communication/Marketing, Legislation, Service Provision, Regulation, and Fiscal Measures.

You can see the wheel in Figure 2.

The Behavior Change Wheel provides a systematic way of identifying relevant intervention functions and policy categories based on what is understood about the target behavior. General intervention functions can be translated into specific techniques for changing behavior.

How could you use the Behavior Change Wheel?

May your learning be sweet.


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