UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Theories and Techniques of Behaviour Change

Developing and testing a methodology for linking behaviour change techniques to mechanisms of action


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Principal InvestigatorProfessor Susan Michie (UCL)

Professor Marie Johnston (University of Aberdeen),
Professor Alex Rothman (University of Minnesota and National Cancer Institute, USA),
Professor Mike Kelly (NICE),
Professor Marijn de Bruin (University of Aberdeen) 

UCL team membersNiall Anderson,
Dr Rachel Carey,
Dr Lauren Connell,
Hilary Groarke,
Silje Zink
FunderUK Medical Research Council - Methodology Research Programme
Project start and end datesMarch 2014 - August 2017
Project website


New resource for the behaviour change community!   


We have now launched the Theories and Techniques of Behaviour Change Heat Map tool - our interactive resource, which provides easy access to information about the links between behaviour change techniques and their mechanisms of action.  


Project aims

  1. To identify and integrate hypothesised links between (i) BCTs and MoAs and (ii) BCTs and behavioural theories.
  2. To generate an online, freely available, searchable resource to support theory-based intervention development and evaluation.


Project details

The effectiveness of behaviour change interventions depends on good understanding of the links between behaviour change techniques (BCTs) and their mechanisms of action (MoAs) i.e. the processes through which they affect behaviour. Considerable progress has been made in developing a method for specifying BCTs. The aim of this research is to develop and test a methodology for linking BCTs to their MoAs.

Study 1: To synthesise evidence of links between 93 BCTs (from the 93-item BCT taxonomy, BCTTv1) and their MoAs, data will be extracted from published intervention papers. The frequency, explicitness and precision with which each BCT is linked by authors to each MoA will be reported.
Study 2: Behaviour change experts will identify links between BCTs and MoAs in a formal consensus development study. They will be asked about 26 MoAs, 12 frequently occurring in theories of behaviour change and 14 from the Theoretical Domains Framework. The data from Studies 1 and 2 will generate matrices of links between BCTs and mechanisms.
Study 3: Agreement between the matrices from Studies 1 and 2 will be evaluated. A new group of experts will be consulted to discuss and resolve discrepancies. An integrated matrix of BCT-MoA links, annotated to indicate strength of evidence, will be generated.
Study 4: To identify whether groups of co-occurring BCTs can be linked to theories, groups of two or more BCTs that work together (i.e. BCT ‘clusters’) will be identified from the Study 1 literature corpus. A consensus exercise will be used to rate strength of links between BCT clusters and theories, generating a matrix of links between BCT clusters and theories.

The development of a formal methodology for linking BCTs to MoAs has the potential to make a substantial contribution to the development and evaluation of behaviour change interventions. This research is a step towards developing an ‘ontology’ of behaviour change that specifies the relations between BCTs, theoretical mechanisms, modes of delivery, population, setting and type of behaviour (see https://www.humanbehaviourchange.org/).


Next steps

An ontology of Mechanisms of Actions is currently being developed as part of the development of a formal Ontology of Behaviour Change Interventions (see https://www.humanbehaviourchange.org/), which will allow us to better evaluate, report and replicate behaviour change interventions.


Key publications

  • Michie S, Carey RN, Johnston M, Rothman AJ, de Bruin M, Kelly MP, et al. From theory-inspired to theory-based interventions: A protocol for developing and testing a methodology for linking behaviour change techniques to theoretical mechanisms of action. 2016.
  • Connell LE, Carey RN, de Bruin M, Rothman AJ, Johnston M, Kelly MP, et al. Links between behavior change techniques and mechanisms of action: an expert consensus study. 2018.
  • Carey RN, Connell LE, Johnston M, Rothman AJ, de Bruin M, Kelly MP, et al. Behavior change techniques and their mechanisms of action: a synthesis of links described in published intervention literature. 2018.
  • Johnston M, Carey R, Bohlen LC, Johnston DW, Rothman A, de Bruin M, et al. Linking behavior change techniques and mechanisms of action: Triangulation of findings from literature synthesis and expert consensus. 2018.

Study Protocol

  • Michie, S., Abraham, C., Eccles, M., Francis, J., Hardeman, W., Johnston, M. (2011). Strengthening evaluation and implementation by specifying components of behaviour change interventions: a study protocol. Implementation Science, 6, 10. doi:10.1186/1748-5908-6-10

BCT Taxonomy v1 (BCTTv1) development paper

This paper reports on the different stages of the BCTTv1 project and presents the BCTTv1

  • Michie, S. et al. (2013). The Behaviour Change Technique Taxonomy (v1) of 93 hierarchically-clustered techniques: building an international consensus for the reporting of behaviour change interventions, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 46, 1, 81-95. Go to paper

Other associated publications

  • Groarke, H., Marques, M., Carey, R. & Michie, S. (2017, March 28). What does it take to change your behaviour?. Atlas of Science. Retrieved from Go to article
  • Wood et al. (2016). Reporting behaviour change interventions: do the behaviour change technique taxonomy v1, and training in its use, improve the quality of intervention descriptions? Implementation Science.  Go to paper 
  • Johnston et al. (In prep). Communication of behaviour change interventions: can their reporting and interpretation be improved using the Behaviour Change Technique Taxonomy v1.
  • Michie et al. (2015). Behaviour change techniques: the development and evaluation of a taxonomic methods for reporting and describing behaviour change interventions (a suite of five studies involving consensus methods, randomised controlled trials and analysis of qualitative data), Health Technology Assessment. Go to report
  • Abraham et al. (2015). Reliability of identification of behaviour change techniques in intervention descriptions, Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Go to paper
  • Michie, S. & Wood, C. (2015). Health Behaviour Change Techniques (pp 358-389). In P. Norman, M. Conner (Eds.), Predicting and Changing Health Behaviour. Berkshire, UK: Open University Press.
  • Cane, J. et al. (2014). From lists of behaviour change techniques (BCTs) to structured hierarchies: Comparison of two methods of developing a hierarchy of BCTs, Health Psychology. Go to paper
  • Wood et al. (2014). Applying the behaviour change technique (BCT) taxonomy v1: a study of coder training, Translational Behavioral Medicine. Go to paper


BCTTv1 Coded Interventions