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More about behaviour 

  • Julie de Vaan

Changing behaviour in the long term: push more than just one button

Updated: Apr 11


There is no on and off switch for behaviour. Our behaviour is determined by a whole set of buttons in our head. To really change behaviour, it takes more than pressing a single button.

Although behaviour sometimes seems simple, there is more to it than you might initially think. People have a whole network of buttons in their heads. Pressing those buttons causes certain behaviour. It would be easy if we could look at these buttons separately. Take "fear" for example. Most people fear the consequences of climate change. But do people always act environmentally friendly?

No, because it's not that simple. Other buttons in the network are also important, and they can reduce, cancel out, or even reverse the effect of our fear for consequences of climate change on our behaviour. For example, because of our "preference for direct rewards", we stand in the hot shower longer than necessary. Our "opinion about a messenger" determines whether we accept or ignore its message about climate change. And if we don't "feel able to make an impact", we will not change behaviour because we think it's useless, or worse, we will no longer care about the climate at all.

So there is a whole network of buttons in our head. The way those buttons are pushed, ultimately determines our behaviour. There is no on or off switch for desired behaviour. It is a whole system of buttons that must be set up properly to really change behaviour. So don't focus on a single button, but take all important buttons into account. This requires more commitment, but also really results in a long-term behavioural change. And that is exactly what we need to tackle important issues such as climate change.


Changing behaviour effectively and in the long term is complicated. To make it easier, we develop Behavioural Maps. They make psychological knowledge and behavioural science more understandable, manageable and applicable. Click here to read more about this.

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