Digital Behaviour Change Interventions to Break and Form Habits

Charlie Pinder, Jo Vermeulen, Benjamin R. Cowan, and Russell Beale

ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), volume 25, issue 3, June 2018, pp. 15:115:66.


Digital behaviour change interventions, particularly those using pervasive computing technology, hold great promise in supporting users to change their behaviour. However, most interventions fail to take habitual behaviour into account, limiting their potential impact. This failure is partly driven by a plethora of overlapping behaviour change theories and related strategies that do not consider the role of habits. We critically review the main theories and models used in the research to analyse their application to designing effective habitual behaviour change interventions. We highlight the potential for Dual Process Theory, modern habit theory, and Goal Setting Theory, which together model how users form and break habits, to drive effective digital interventions. We synthesise these theories into an explanatory framework, the Habit Alteration Model, and use it to outline the state of the art. We identify the opportunities and challenges of habit-focused interventions.