The Evo-Eco Approach


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 there are many research approaches designed to understand how to change behavior, 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.

The Evo-Eco 
Evo-Eco is a new approach to understanding behavior change. It is called ‘Evo-Eco’ because of its intellectual roots in the fields of 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 (as seen in the diagram below).


These components are:

  • 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, as well as to make novel predictions about behavioural causes (i.e., placement of new target behaviours within a routine) which have proved effective in changing behaviour (Judah et al., 2012).


Behaviour Change

  1. Aunger, Robert and Valerie Curtis (2014) ‘The Evo-Eco approach to behaviour change’. Applied Evolutionary Anthropology, ed. by David Lawson and Mhairi Gibson. Springer.
  2. Biran, Adam, Wolf-Peter Schmidt, Divya Rajaraman, Kiruba Sanker Varadharajan, Katie Greenland, Raja Kumar, Robert Aunger, Mario Vas and Valerie Curtis (2014) ‘Effect of a behaviour-change intervention on handwashing with soap in India (SuperAmma): a cluster-randomised trial.’ The Lancet Global Health, 2(3), e145-e154. 
  3. Curtis, Valerie, Lisa Danquah and Robert Aunger (2009) ‘Planned, motivated and habitual hygiene behaviour: an eleven country review.’ Health Education Research 24(4): 655-673.
  4. Sniehotta, Falko and Robert Aunger (2010) ‘Stage models of behaviour change’. Health Psychology (2nd edition), edited by David P French, A Kaptein, K Vedhara and John Weinman. Oxford: Wiley/Blackwell.
  5. Aunger, Robert (2010) ‘Three roads to cultural replication’. Evolutionary Psychology and Information Systems Research: A New Approach to Studying the Effects of Modern Technologies on Human Behavior,edited byNed Kock. New York: Springer Verlag, pp. 341-354.
  6. Curtis, V. (in press). Disgust. In V. Ramachandranagain (Ed.), The Encyclopaedia of Human Behaviour (2nd ed.). Oxford: Elsevier.
  7. Curtis, Valerie and Robert Aunger (in press) ‘Motivational mismatch: Evolved motives as the source of – and solution to – global public health problems’. Practical Uses of Evolutionary Psychology, ed. by Craig Roberts. Oxford University Press.
  8. Judah, Gaby, Benjamin Gardner Sood, and Robert Aunger. ‘Forming a flossing habit: An investigation into the psychological determinants of habit formation’. British Journal of Health Psychology.
  9. Formative research for hygiene promotion in Kyrgyzstan. Biran A, Tabyshalieva A, Salmorbekova Z. Health Policy and Planning. 2005 Jul; 20(4):213-21.
  10. Creating demand for sanitation and hygiene through Community Health Clubs: a cost-effective intervention in two districts in Zimbabwe. Waterkeyn J, Cairncross S. Social Science and Medicine. 2005 Nov; 61(9):1958-70.
  11. What causes sustainable changes in hygiene behaviour? A cross-sectional study from Kerala, India. CAIRNCROSS S, Shordt K, Zacharia S, Govindan BK. Social Science and Medicine. 2005 Nov; 61(10):2212-20.
  12. Evidence of behaviour change following a hygiene promotion programme in Burkina Faso. CURTIS V, Kanki B, Cousens S, Diallo I, Kpozehouen A, Sangare M, Nikiema M. Bulletin of the World Health Organisation. 2001; 79(6):518-27.
  13. Hygiene promotion in Burkina Faso. CURTIS V, Kanki B. Africa Health. 1998 Jan; 20(2):9, 11-12.
  14. Behavioural Indicators of Household Decision-Making and Demand for Sanitation and Potential Gains from Sanitation Marketing in Ghana. JENKINS M, and SCOTT B. 2006.
  15. Serotonin-a link between disgust and immunity? Rubio-Godoy, M., R. Aunger, and CURTIS V. (2007). Medical Hypotheses 68(1): 61-66.

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