The Fogg behavior change model says that an individual’s behaviors are a function of their motivation, ability (how easy it is to do something) and any prompts that influence their behavior. The model is popular in social media product design and similar areas.

Summary by The World of Work Project


The Fogg Behavior Change Model

BJ Fogg’s behavior change model is primarily an influencing model designed to initiate specific behaviors in individuals. It is often used to increase consumer engagement with digital products. The model’s general theories often play a key role in product design within industries such as social media.

A diagram showing the curve described by The Fogg Behavior Change Model

The Fogg Behavior Change Model states that B=MAP, or that behavior (B) is a product of three factors, motivation (M), ability (A) and a prompt (P). It’s particularly the use of prompts (AKA triggers), which are often an environmental factor, that helps make this and similar models so popular in the digital environment.

More specifically the model says that:

  • The higher an individuals motivation is, the more likely they are to act,
  • The easier something is to do, the more likely someone is to do it, and
  • That individuals can be prompted to initiate an action or a behavior, and that different prompts are more or less effective depending on an individuals mixture of ability and motivation.

Just remember MAP then think: Motivation, Ability and Prompt.

Motivation

Motivation is a large and complicated subject in its own right, and for the purposes of his model, Fogg breaks it down into three core factors: sensation, anticipation and belonging.

Sensation

Sensation refers to the physical drivers of motivation. Individuals can be motivated to pursue positive physical sensations, or motivated to avoid negative physical sensations. Consumption and physical activities often lead to sensation outcomes. For example, running releases endorphins that make people feel happy, as does eating chocolate.

Anticipation

A child looking with anticipation, one of the key parts of The Fogg Behavior Change Model
One thing that can keep us hooked is anticipation.

Anticipation refers to the emotional drivers of motivation. Individuals can be motivated by their expectations of the future. They can hope, look forward to and pursue positive outcomes, or they can fear and seek to avoid negative outcomes. Whatever anticipation types and levels people feel about the future will affect how they behave in the present.

Belonging

Being appreciated helps us feel we belong.

Belonging refers to the social drivers of motivation. Humans are fundamentally social beings. We are all influenced by social drivers such as acceptance, respect, status and praise. We all want to do things that will increase our sense of social capital. Likewise, we all will generally avoid activities and behaviors that they think will reduce their social capital.

Ability

When Fogg refers to ability, he’s not simply speaking about the capabilities that an individual possesses to do things. He’s instead thinking about both their capability and their opportunity. This includes a series of environmental factors that influence how easy it is for someone to do things. Individuals may have huge amounts of personal capability, but if their environment or society makes it difficult for them to initiate that activity, then they can be said to have low levels of ability. Fogg considers six factors that constitute ability: time, money, physical effort, thought, social deviance and “non-routine” nature (see habits for more on this).

Time

Time is a scarce resource for everyone. Whatever we choose to do with our time means not doing something else with it. There is always an opportunity cost associated with time. The more time a behavior is expected to take, the less likely an individual is to do it.

An hourglass representing time, a key part of The Fogg Behavior Change Model
Time is precious. The longer things take, the less likely we are to do them.

Money

Just like time, money is also a scarce resource for most people and always has an opportunity cost. The more money is associated with any given behavior, the less likely individuals usually are to pursue it.

Physical effort

Physical effort always involves a cost. The body and mind are designed to preserve our scarce calories. We tend to avoid physical effort in most situations (unless the cost yields a high benefit of another form, such as endorphin release).

Thought

Thinking, at least our focused and conscious System 2 thinking, is effortful and tiring. We also can’t do it well for very long. People naturally prefer to live on “autopilot”. The more we have to think to do something, the less likely people we to do it.

Social deviance

We all want to fit in with our peers

We are social beings. It’s historically been hugely important for us to fit in and belong for our very survival. This means that we can’t help but feel risk in swimming against the flow of society. The more a behavior involves deviating, the less likely we are to do it. We can think of social deviance as the opposite of social norming, which you can read more about in our post on 10 useful nudges).

Non-routine

Routines are easy for us to adhere to. They reflect habits and they are behaviors and activities that tend to require less thought. The more routine we can make our behaviors and activities, the more likely it is that we will adhere to them.

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Prompts

When Fogg refers to prompts, he’s talking about external influencing factors that can initiate a behavior in an individual. These prompts can be from people, they can be from objects or environments, or in the digital world they can be things like notifications and icons. In his work, Fogg has identified three categories of prompts that influence individuals with different levels of motivation and ability.

Would you like a cookie with that coffee? A classic up-sell prompt to breakdown motivation.

Sparks

Sparks are prompts that are designed to initiate a behavior in individuals with higher levels of ability, but lower levels of motivation. They provide a boost to motivation with the intention of triggering an action or behavior.

Facilitators

Facilitators are prompts designed to help individuals with high levels of motivation, but lower levels of ability. They act by making a behavior or action easier for the individual. They’re designed to facilitate (make it easier) for individuals to initiate a behavior.

Signals

Organized runs let people know when they can register / sign-up for them

Signals are prompts that are more about information than anything else. In some instances individuals are both able and motivated to undertake an action, they simply don’t know that the action is available or permissible. In this instance a signal will initiate action.

Learning More

Lewin’s behavior model has some similarities to this model. The behavior change wheel is another good way to think theoretically about structuring behavior change. From a consumer influencing perspective you might enjoy reading about Nir Eyal’s Hook model.

From a personal change perspective it might be worth looking at the change curve, bridges model or transtheoretical model.

Habits are also an important part of behavior. If you’d like, you can learn more about them in our podcast on the subject:

The World of Work Project View

The Fogg Behavior Change Model is a useful way to think about individual behaviors and actions, and how they can be influenced. The introduction of the “prompt” variable explicitly calls out the ability of external factors to influence an individual’s behaviors and actions. We know that an environment, which includes things like prompts, affects an individual’s behaviors and it makes sense to call this out.

While we’ve not designed interventions or products using the Fogg model, we can see evidence of its effectiveness all around us. Behavioral interventions frequently use prompts similar to those detailed by Fogg and many website and applications use a range of factors to vary motivation and ability in such a way as to drive behaviors, most typically purchasing, recommending or engagement.

While we agree with what the model says, we think that it’s often used in ways we disagree with or dislike. Just because it is possible to create an experience that drives particular behaviors such as continued use or consumption, doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing to do. If you’re planning on using this model to design something, just be clear on your motivations before you do.

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This post on The Fogg Behavior Change Model is based on content originally produced by BJ Fogg. You can read more about at his dedicated behavior change model website.

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