What Does “Behaviour Change Science” Study?

This is an introductory post about this paper. The paper introduces to the object of study in “behaviour change science”, i.e. complex systems – which include most human systems from individuals to communities and nations.

In a health psychology conference many years ago (when we still travelled for that sort of thing), I wandered into the conference venue a bit late, and the sessions had already started. There was just one other person in the hallways, looking a bit lost. I was scared to death of another difficult-to-escape presentation cavalcade about how someone came up with p-values under 0.05, so I made some joke about our confusion and ended up preventing his attendance, too. Turned out he was a physicist recently hired in a behavioural medicine research group, sent to the conference to get his first bearings about the field. Understandably, he was confused with a hint of distraught: “I don’t understand a word about what these people talk about. And I’ve been to several sessions already without having seen a single equation!” (nb. if you don’t think this is funny, you’re probably not a social scientist.)

Given that back then I was finding my first bearings on network science, we had a lot to talk about during the rest of the conference. I don’t remember much about the conference, but I remember him making an excellent point about learning: The best way to learn anything is to talk to someone who’s just learned about the thing. While not yet mega-experts, they still have an idea of where you stand, and can hence make things much more understandable than those, who already swim in a sea of concepts unfamiliar to you.

In a recent paper about behaviour change as a topic of research, we tried to do exactly this. I know I’m crossing the chasm where I’m not yet the mega-expert, but am already losing the ability to see what people in my field find hard to grasp. I presented the paper in a research seminar and people found it quite challenging, but on the other hand, I’ve never seen such ultra-positivity from reviewers. So maybe it’s helpful to some.

This impeccably written manuscript provides a thorough, state-of-the-art review of complex adaptive systems, particularly in the context of behavior change, and it does an excellent job explaining difficult concepts.

– Reviewer 2

Here’s a quick test to see if it might be valuable to you. Have a look at this table, and if you think all is clear, you can skip the piece with good conscience:

I also made a video introduction to the topic. If you’re in a rush, you can just run through a pdf of the slides.

If you’re in an even bigger rush, the picture below gives a quick synopsis. To find out more, check out this post: www.mattiheino.com/besp.

5 thoughts on “What Does “Behaviour Change Science” Study?

  1. […] Meanwhile, I finished a manuscript which started out as a collection of notes from arguments about study design and analysis within our research group, when we were doing a workplace motivation self-management / self-organisation intervention. The manuscript demonstrated, how non-linearity, non-ergodicity and interdependence can be fatal for traditional methods of analysis. It was promptly rejected from Health Psychology Review, the flagship journal of the European Health Psychology Society – on the grounds that linear methods can solve all the issues, which was exactly the opposite of manuscript’s argument. That piece was later published in Behavioural Sciences, outlining the foundations of complex systems approaches in behaviour change science. […]


  2. […] Kaiken kaikkiaan, muutos ei tapahdu yksinomaan yksilön tasolla. Yhteisö, jossa yksilöt elävät ja toimivat, on myös otettava huomioon. Olenkin kuvan COM-B -malliin lisännyt muiden ihmisten käyttäytymisen korostaakseni sitä, että kun yksi ihminen toimii jollain tapaa, hän luo, poistaa tai ylläpitää samalla muiden ympärillään olevien ihmisten sosiaalisia tilaisuuksia toimintaan. Ja se muiden käyttäytyminen, jota tällä tavoin vaivihkaisesti vahvistetaan, taas vaikuttaa omaa käyttäytymistä koskeviin sosiaalisiin ja fyysisiin tilaisuuksiin. Kudelma, jossa monet erilaiset toimijat jatkuvasti sopeuttavat käyttäytymistään muuttuvassa motivaation, kykyjen ja tilaisuuksien toimintaympäristössään, kantaa nimeä kompleksinen järjestelmä. Tästä blogista löydät paljon aiheeseen liittyvää materiaalia, mutta jos asia ei ole lainkaan tuttu, aloita vaikka täältä. […]


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