The Evo-Eco Approach to Behaviour Change


Behaviour change is a ‘hot topic’ with policy makers, marketers, educationalists, health promoters, business managers, sports psychologists, city planners and web designers all seeking to influence our behaviour. Behaviour change is often seen as ‘difficult’, yet humans are changing their behaviour all of the time. Within the world of public health a great deal of research is conducted among target populations to help develop interventions to change behaviour. While research approaches designed specifically to understand how to change behavior exist, none are underpinned by a comprehensive theory of behavior change and little evidence exists for their effectiveness in helping to design interventions in the face of the huge scale of the challenge.

Over the past few years, a team at the Hygiene Centre has been developing a novel approach to behaviour change, the Evo-Eco approach. This webpage is devoted to providing web-based resources associated with this approach developed for those interested in the science of behaviour change, as well as those needing a practical tool-kit to help develop health promotion projects.

Evo-Eco in overview

Evo-Eco is a new approach to understanding behavior change. It is called ‘Evo-Eco’ because of its intellectual roots in evolutionary biology and ecological psychology. It is based on the insight that brains evolved to provide adaptive behavioural responses to rapidly changing or complex environmental conditions. From this foundation, we have developed a model with three basic components (see Figure 1):

  • The environment, which presents a challenge or opportunity to the individual;
  • The brain, which produces potential responses to that challenge;
  • The body, which engages in interactions with the environment (i.e., produces behaviour) that changes that environment.

Further, the behaviours of interest to behaviour change professionals typically occur in particular contexts, within which these basic components interact. These contexts are called ‘behaviour settings’ (following the work of Roger Barker during the 1950s and 60s), and are considered to strongly affect the everyday behaviours we typically want to change.

The team at the Hygiene Centre have been using this approach to develop effective behaviour change (BC) programmes (see below), as well as to make novel predictions about behavioural causes (i.e., placement of new target behaviours within a routine) which have proved to impact on the ability to change a behaviour. (Judah et al., 2012)

Figure 1: Evo-Eco Model

Behaviour Change Diagram


Those interested in learning how the approach has been developed by incorporating the latest scientific findings about behaviour can find the argument in an academic paper.
The approach also includes an evolutionary approach to understanding motivation, with an exhaustive list of human motives.


Tools for using the approach to develop projects or programs dealing with a wide variety of behaviour change problems are also being developed at the Hygiene Centre. For example, there is a Powerpoint-based presentation of the approach, with examples, for those seeking to learn the basics. (WARNING: large file size, 50MB).
Students at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine can also participate in a short-course presentation of this approach by taking the Tropical and Environmental Health module at the School.


The Hygiene Centre has made use of the Evo-Eco approach when implementing projects for some time. Examples include the following:

Lifebuoy way of life campaign

Staff at the Hygiene Centre have worked closely for many years with the Lifebuoy soap team at Unilever. Much of the recent interest in habit formation and injection of handwashing into everyday routines in Lifebuoy marketing comes from the Evo-Eco approach drawing attention to these non-cognitive aspects of behaviour change.  Since Lifebuoy has recently adopted the goal of reaching one billion consumers with handwashing messages by 2015, this campaign should have a very large-scale impact.

SuperAma campaign

Recently, members of the Hygiene Centre designed and directed a village-level randomly controlled trial, funded by the Wellcome Trust, to promote handwashing with soap in rural India using the Evo-Eco approach. This campaign, built around the aspirational figure of a ‘super-mom’, proved to be successful in increasing rates of handwashing with soap at crucial junctures during the day (e.g., after contact with faeces, or before eating) from a very low base rate of 2% to 30% on average. Further, this behaviour change appears to have been sustained (Biran et al., submitted).

GAIN Indonesia campaign

The Evo-Eco approach is currently being used to develop a campaign to promote infant supplementary feeding in Indonesia. This project is being led by GAIN, an international NGO. Results to follow.

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