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BJ Fogg model explained

By | Behavioural Science

Excerpt: this is a reference page on which you can find an explanation of the Behavior Model as developed by professor BJ Fogg who founded the Standford Persuasive Tech Lab. His model shows that it takes three elements to be present at the same time: motivation, ability and a trigger to be able to change behaviour. It’s such an elegant and easy to understand model that we use it on a daily basis to come up with solutions that will lead to positive behaviour.

 

BJ Fogg model

On this page, we want to give you an introduction to  BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model. Professor Fogg is one of the grounding fathers of the scientifical research in behavioral psychology. Maybe you have heard of the concept persuasive technology or even persuasive design. The BJ Fogg Behaviour model is a smart and easy-to-use tool in this field of expertise. It explains which three buttons you need to push to be able to persuade someone into doing something. Or as BJ Fogg explains it himself three elements that have to be present at the same time to change behaviour: motivation, ability, and trigger.

Important side note to this is that BJ Fogg is a very strong advocate of using insights into human psychology for good. And so are we. Our founding mission is to unlock the power of behavioural psychology to nudge people into making positive choices in work, life, and play. Behavioral psychology or behavioural design is a very powerful tool for changing people’s behaviour, let’s all use it for helping people to engage in a better behaviour.

This isn’t so much an article, but more a reference page that you can consult whenever you want to know more or reread about the BJ Fogg model. To make your life a bit easier we have created page sections, so you can easily jump to a particular subject that is of particular interest to you. We also have included links into this page to more detailed information if you want to dive a bit deeper. The page sections:

BJ Fogg Behavior Model explained
Trigger
Motivation
Ability

BJ Fogg Behavior Model explained

We love working with the Behavior Model because of its elegance. There’s a lot of research on behavioural psychology, and there are a lot of models on behaviour change out there, but things can get pretty complicated. BJ Fogg has made understanding what triggers people to change behaviour very simple. This makes his model very easy to use on a daily basis. What does the model look like?

Bottom line is this: Behavior = motivation x ability x trigger. When the desired behaviour does not happen, at least one of those three elements is missing. The most important implication of this is that using the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM) as a guide; you can quickly identify what stops people from performing behaviours that you seek. Also known as the desired behaviour.

If a sufficient degree of motivation to perform a behaviour is matched with the ability to do that behavior, all that is then needed for the behaviour to occur is a trigger. Illustrated in the model as the activation threshold. Triggers placed on the right-hand side of the threshold will lead to behaviour change, triggers to the left will probably show no behaviour change.

What makes the model so easy to use in practice, is that anytime you want to understand better why a behaviour isn’t happening, all you have to do is ask yourself three simple questions to spot what is lacking for behaviour change to happen:

  1. Is someone motivated enough?
  2. Is someone capable of performing the desired behaviour?
  3. Did we remind them/ask them to perform the desired behaviour?

Let’s discuss an example. Think about quitting smoking. If someone doesn’t want to stop smoking (low motivation), you can trigger him all you want, but nothing will happen, as quitting smoking is very hard to do (low ability). You’ll end up on the lower right side of the model. If someone is very highly motivated to quit smoking, it is still very hard to do (low ability). So, you should think about how you could make it easier for this person (higher ability). An answer could be by thinking about baby steps. Making the desired behaviour easier by breaking up the desired behaviour in easier to perform steps. For example putting a button (trigger) on a stop smoking website to easily order free ‘stop smoking patches’ (easy to do, or higher ability). Someone can quickly start with sticking on these patches, and from there on you can persuade him or her to do something harder (example reducing the number of cigarettes smoked on a day).

In the next sections, we will explain the separate elements of the model in some more depth, starting with triggers.

Trigger

A trigger is easily put a cue or call to action that causes someone to perform a certain behaviour. A trigger should be noticeable and actionable. In other words, you should be able to spot the trigger (could be with one of all your senses), and you should know what to do when seeing the trigger. A very known trigger is a traffic light. You see it. You know you have to stop when the light is turned red. You know you can drive when the light is green.

Another trigger that probably sets yourself in action multiple times a day is that little red notification on your mobile. You see it, and you know what to do: check your email.

But if someone comes up to you and reaches out his hand to you, that’s a trigger too. You see it, and you know it is meant for you to shake his hand.

What’s important to remember is that if you want to change behaviour, you have to trigger the behaviour. Without a trigger, someone can be very motivated and have the ability to perform the behaviour, but there’s simply no call to action.

BJ Fogg has a beautiful expression; he says that our job as a behavioural designer is ‘to put hot triggers in the path of motivated people.’ Which brings us nicely to the next section: motivation.

 

Motivation

There are a lot of theories of motivation out there, most of them explain how motivation is the key concept needed to change attitude, which then leads to behaviour change. What is so interesting about behavioural psychology is that it has unraveled the fact that it works the other way around. People tend to change their attitudes to be consistent with the behaviour they have performed. In other words, if you can trigger certain behaviour, you can change attitudes.

This has everything to do with our brains constantly working hard for us to lower our cognitive overload. And being consistent is one of the mechanisms that help us do that. If you’d like to get some more in-depth insights into the workings of our brain in decision making, make sure to check out our post about system 1 and 2 thinking of Kahneman.

But let’s get back to motivation as used in the BJ Fogg model. Motivation in his model is also not about changing attitudes; it is all about changing behaviour. As a person, you can be highly motivated or low motivated. BJ Fogg has identified three core motivators. But the key idea to remember for now is that when motivation is high, you can get people to do hard things. But once motivation drops then people will only do easy things.

Just think about a situation you might have found yourself in. Have you ever had the intention to eat all day healthily? You’re highly motivated to do so. And then it is 4 pm. You start to get hungry. Someone comes in a puts a bowl of potato chips just within your arm’s reach, and your motivation starts to drop. Before you know it you catch yourself eating the chips. It was made so easy; you have performed the behaviour without you even discussing it with your motivation anymore. But the same goes if someone had put a bowl of cucumber slices near you. You would have eaten the cucumber. Nothing to do with your motivation, but with easy to do things.

Dr. Fogg himself recommends to always start with making the desired behaviour easier instead of starting at motivation. Our brain prefers simplicity, which brings us to ability. But do you want to really grasp the concept of motivation? In this post, we tell you all about motivation as researched by BJ Fogg. We use Cialdini’s persuasion principles to boost ability.

Ability

To perform the desired behaviour, a person must have the ability to do so. That seems obvious, of course. But designers of persuasive experiences sometimes assume people have more ability than they do.

There are two paths to increasing ability. You can train people, giving them more skills, more ability to do the target behaviour. That’s the hard path. The better path is to make the target behaviour easier to do. BJ Fogg calls this simplicity. In his model, he sometimes replaces ability with simplicity. By focusing on simplicity of the target behaviour, you increase ability. There are six simplicity factors:

  1. Time: If a target behaviour requires time and we don’t have time available, then the behaviour is not simple.
  2. Money: For people with limited financial resources, a target behaviour that costs money is not simple. That link in the simplicity chain will break easily. For wealthy people, this link in the chain rarely breaks. In fact, some people will simplify their lives by using the money to save time.
  3. Physical effort: Behaviours that require physical effort may not be simple.
  4. Brain cycles: If performing a target behaviour causes us to think hard, that might not be simple. This is especially true if our minds are consumed with other issues. We all are busy trying to lower our cognitive overload as explained by Kahneman. We generally overestimate how much everyday people want to think.
  5. Social deviance: What is meant by social deviance is going against the norm, breaking the rules of society. If a target behaviour requires you to be socially deviant, then that behaviour is no longer simple.
  6. Non-routine: People tend to find behaviours simple if they are routine, activities they do over and over again. Also referred to as habits or the autopilot. When people face a behaviour that is not routine, then they may not find it simple. In seeking simplicity, people will often stick to their routine or habits, like buying groceries at the same supermarket, even if it costs more money or time than other options.

One of the most known examples of an ability intervention is the 300 million dollar button story. The story is about Amazon.com. In the early days of the launch of their online shopping platform, they used to have a check-out form that consisted of two fields (email address and password), two buttons (login and register) and one link (forgot password). You would say this is simplicity.

But it turned out this form was preventing customers from buying products. They found out that new customers didn’t want to register right away, and returning customers often forgot their inlog and/or password and gave up after several failed login attempts. What did they do? They did an ability intervention. They took away the register button and replaced it with a button that said ‘continue’ accompanied with a simple message: “You do not need to create an account to make purchases on our site. Simply click continue to proceed to checkout. To make your future purchases even faster, you can create an account during checkout.” The story goes making the desired behaviour easier simply by changing the button, boosted sales with 45% ($ 300.000.000) in the first year.

 

To sum it up

The BJ Fogg Behavior Model is a very useful model that derives from human psychology and is very recommendable to use for everyone who is involved in human-centered design or persuasive design. If you want to change behaviour three elements have to happen at the same time: motivation, ability, trigger. Also known as B=MAT. Advice is to start at ability. Making the desired behaviour easier to do, or the undesired behaviour harder to do.

We have looked at all three elements of the model; BJ Fogg explains the Behavior Model himself in this 2 and half minute video if you’d like to do a quick recap:

 

Would you like to learn more?