Learning from Behavioural Changes That Fail

Trends Cogn Sci. 2020 Dec;24(12):969-980. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2020.09.009. Epub 2020 Oct 28.


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.

Keywords: behaviour change; behavioural interventions; causal analysis; failure; nudge; policy making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Cognition
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Treatment Failure