Stages toward a change in behaviour

[This post is about the stages taken for a change in behaviour to take place.  It may be particularly useful for social marketers working on influencing their audience’s behaviour.  It contains references to social marketing literature.]


Success in social marketing campaigns can be harder to establish and pinpoint.  Prochaska and DiClemente’s (1983) Stages of Change model however illustrates how a social marketer can aim to shift the target audience from one stage to another, in a bid to eventually influence beliefs sufficiently for a change in behaviour to also take place.

Stages of change model

Specifically researching addictions in research participants, Prochaska and DiClemente (1992) identified a number of stages through which individuals move.

These stages range from the first stage of pre-contemplation – when people could be unaware of their problems, or do not yet consider them as such – to the last stage of maintenance – which involves resilience and the formation of a strong character to avoid falling back into bad habits (Atkins, 2009).

The figure below clarifies this concept better, and the table following summarises the main points in each stage of the change process.

Stages of change model - Atkins

Stages of change table explained

The spiral pattern of change

After further research, Prochaska et al (1992:1104) realised that when addictions are concerned, “relapse is the rule rather than the exception”.

Consequently, the stages of change model started to be defined as a spiral process and no longer as a strictly linear one.

Even though participants may have a strong desire to overcome their addictions, chances are they will at some stage experience a reoccurrence of their previous habits, and may travel through the cycle “several times before achieving long-term maintenance” (Sutton, 1996:191).

The spiral model, presented in the figure below, was consequently designed to keep this reality in mind.

Spiral change - Prochaska & DiClemente

One can note that even after having reached the Action stage, victims of addictive behaviour may relapse back as far as the Pre-contemplation stage, and then have to move back again through the intermediate stages.

Especially with addictive behaviour, Prochaska et al (1992:1104) discovered, linear and steady progression from one stage to another is “a possible but relatively rare phenomenon”.

Social marketers working on attracting their audiences’ attention and eventually aiming to influence their behaviour have much to learn from research on people’s attitudes to change.

Although most of Prochaska et al’s research centred around human addictions such as smoking, alcohol and substance abuse, I believe their studies on the various stages of change can be applied to a wider spectrum of social concerns.


One comment

  1. Paula Mason · · Reply

    Acceptance of bullying, domestic abuse

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