Can Using Digital Media Lead to Behavior Change?

A Review of Research on Theories of Behavior Change Shows That Considering Socio-Cultural Context Is Critical

by Christina Shane-SimpsonJennifer DixonJoanna Laursen BruckerJohn FraserKate FlinnerTawnya Switzer
May 18, 2018

Key Findings

Many programs and services try to spark behavior changes in their audiences, often with the goal of equipping people to realize their full potential. Behavior change can be described as modifying activities or tasks that can occur from the individual level to global society. Theories of behavior change make broader statements about why or how behavior changes over time; these theories can help leaders design programs that are more likely to produce their behavior change outcomes.

In a review of behavior change theories, we found that a variety of factors that are critical to consider, which include:

  • A person’s preparedness for change, including the individual’s attitudes, beliefs, and intentions;
  • Level of self-efficacy (belief in one’s own ability to achieve an action and shape the world around themself);
  • Social norms in which the individual is embedded;
  • Behaviors across varied environmental levels and barriers that may prevent change;
  • Communication strategy for behavior change.

Across these considerations, we found that behavior change for an individual does not happen in a vacuum; context must be considered. Even if a person feels confident and able to change their actions or habits, they will also likely need support from their family, community, and surrounding environment to enact change. Moreover, bridging actions online to actions in other parts of a person’s life is a complex process.

Let’s Put It to Work

Leaders who are designing online interventions with the goal of sparking behavior change can learn more about the mechanisms that are part of the behavior change process. Behavior change theories identify different factors to consider, such as steps in a process (e.g., the Transtheoretical Model) or a person’s sense of self and control over their outcomes (e.g., Social Cognitive Theory). On top of this program leaders should be aware of the social norms surrounding their target audience. You might ask, What things might program audiences see as barriers? Are families able to support the behavior change? Is changing this behavior safe for program audiences?

Interested in learning more? Download the report and read Chapter 1.

More about This Study

In 2017, the Knology team partnered with Girl Effect on a synthesis study of research on digital media activity and its relationship with behavior change among teens. We produced From Browsing to Behaviour Change: How digital interventions influence offline change among adolescent girls, a publication that explores current research on behavior change processes, with specific attention to the context of digital trends and opportunities. To understand this complex issue, we drew from research in a wide range of disciplines to illuminate both the opportunities and limitations in everything from theory to applied work. Girl Effect is an international NGO that build youth brands and mobile platforms to empower girls to change their lives.

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