Learning from Behavioural Changes That Fail: Trends in Cognitive Sciences
The behavioural change enterprise disproportionately focuses on promoting successes at the expense of examining the failures of behavioural change interventions. We review the literature across different fields through a causal explanatory approach to identify structural relations that impede (or promote) the success of interventions. Based on this analysis we present a taxonomy of failures of behavioural change that catalogues different types of failures and backfiring effects. Our analyses and classification offer guidance for practitioners and researchers alike, and provide critical insights for establishing a more robust foundation for evidence-based policy. Behavioural change techniques are currently used by many global organisations and public institutions. The amassing evidence base is used to answer practical and scientific questions regarding what cognitive, affective, and environment factors lead to successful behavioural change in the laboratory and in the field. In this piece we show that there is also value to examining interventions that inadvertently fail in achieving their desired behavioural change (e.g., backfiring effects). We identify the underlying causal pathways that characterise different types of failure, and show how a taxonomy of causal interactions that result in failure exposes new insights that can advance theory and practice.