Behavioral Determinants Framework

The Behavioral Determinants Framework (BDF) overlays the foundational theories from social psychology and behavioral economics onto the core challenge of marketing – identifying the factors that are influencing what people do.

BDF divides direct influences on behavior into 12 categories. Prescribed questions, along with a doer/non-doer analysis, identify which categories are active for specific actors, actions and contexts. The framework then offers guidance on how to address these influences. Interventions are not aimed directly at behaviors, but at the determinants of those behaviors. Essentially, with BDF, we are influencing the influences on behavior.  

The roots of BDF go back to a “theories workshop” hosted by the National Institute of Mental Health in 1991. The subject was the AIDS epidemic. The participants included some of the biggest names in social psychology – Albert Bandura (social cognitive theory), Marshall Becker (health belief model), Martin Fishbein (reasoned action), Frederick Kanfer (self-regulation, self control) and Harry Triandis (subjective culture and interpersonal relations). The three-day workshop ended with a list of eight “variables” that “appear to account for most of the variances in any given behavior.” Susan Middlestadt, the meeting’s research consultant, incorporated these variables into her research at the nonprofit Academy for Educational Development, where others, including Peter Mitchell, who would later found Marketing for Change Co., began organizing these common behavioral determinants into a framework for designing interventions. In subsequent years, the framework was expanded to 12 common behavioral determinants to capture, among other things, the bias and heuristics insights of Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky and others in the field of behavioral economics and the social identity work of Dan Kahan, Dominic Packer, Jay Van Bavel and others. BDF is a living framework that is adjusted periodically with the state of behavioral science.

At the heart of BDF are its 12 categories of influence – consequences, risk, emotion, skills, efficacy, environment, investment, control, social norms, self standards, social identity, and bias and heuristics. These realms of influence are drawn from a wide breadth of social science literature going back several decades, including Bandura’s social cognitive theory, Fishbein’s theory of reasoned action and Becker’s health belief model, as well as elements of more recent work by such academics as Kahneman, Kahan, Packer, Van Bavel and BJ Fogg of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. A BDF intervention requires formative research built around a suite of questions that both identify relevant actor needs states and tease out which influences separate doers from non-doers. Strategists then use specific methods drawn from research in the active influence realm to adjust the relevant influence and, in turn, change the game around that behavior. 

Marketing for Change has been applying, incubating and popularizing this approach since its founding 17 years ago, short-handing the framework as a way to make what’s good for society also fun, easy and popular for an individual. We promote the approach through our blog at FunEasyPopular.com and developed a card game around it called “Change. The Game.” A one-pager describing the 12 common behavioral determinants can be found at funeasypopular.com.

1Fishbein, M. & Triandis, Harry & Kanfer, F.H. & Baum, A. & Revenson, T.A. & Singer, J.E.. (2001). Factors influencing behavior and behavior change. Handbook of Health Psychology. 3-18.