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Why understanding motivation can successfully influence behaviour change

Here at Hopscotch we love running regular HopMeet sessions, where a member of the team shares something interesting with the rest of us. This week, our intern Rosie shared her insight into understanding how motivation can successfully influence behaviour change. Below is a write up of the session.

At Hopscotch we are driven to create content which inspires and changes behaviours. We do this through co-creation with teachers, parents and students. By doing this we can truly understand what would motivate and engage our audiences. Understanding motivations behind behaviours can be key to driving behaviour changes.

What is motivation?

 There are multiple definitions for motivation, including behavioural or cognitive meanings. Motivated behaviour is generally seen as goal-directed and purposeful. This makes motivation a significant part of determining behaviour and therefore, an important factor for us to consider when trying to achieve some sort of behaviour change. Understanding behavioural science is a great way to influence the behaviour of your audience, and one of the easiest to be successful in that aim.

Commonly, motivation is separated into two categories; intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is a form of external motivation – Behaviour is typically reward-driven and in the school of behaviourism, this could be referred to as operant conditioning. Rewards and other incentives (like money, fame or praise) are useful motivators for specific activities. However, the reward doesn’t necessarily have to be a tangible; It can also be abstract too. In most cases, the reinforcement of extrinsic motivation only boosts productivity in the short-term and could become negative in the future.

On the flip side, intrinsic motivation is what drives us to do things for the sake of doing them. Here, motivation for completing a task comes from within the individual themselves. According to Daniel Pink’s book Drive and the self-determination theory, intrinsic motivation is based on three key factors: Autonomy, mastery and purpose. He looked specifically at these factors for changing employee behaviours, but this can be applied to other contexts too.

Let’s break these three factors down:

  1. Autonomy

This is the need to direct your own life and work. To be motivated you must be in control of what you do, who you do it with and when you do it. According to Pink, autonomy motivates us to think creatively and helps avoid the need to conform to strict rules. Thus, to sustain behavioural change, try not to enforce a hard change on an individual. Convince them to do so out of their autonomy. This is where the importance of co-creation may come in, by including the key groups of people who the programme may affect it adds the element of autonomy. It gives the sense of autonomy and control through including people and giving them choices.

  1. Mastery

This is the sense of being competent and relishing challenges that come your way. A strong motivator for people is the need to feel competent and skilled, particularly for complex goals. This could be positioning things as a challenge, rather than a change which could appeal to people’s pride for great affect. So, how could you flip a behaviour change you want to induce into a challenge for people to achieve?

  1. Connection (purpose)

We yearn for meaningful connection to others and what they are doing. Having a sense of purpose can lead to higher performance, enjoyment, satisfaction and dedication. When positioning a behaviour change, try to boost the connections between yourself and that person. Consider the benefits of the change and the ultimate reasons for them. For instance, asking why something might matter to someone, and the benefits of the change. Make the behaviour change something that is personal and practical for the individual.

There is no one size that fits all and Pink only offers one example of the many theories cited on behavioural change. People’s intrinsic motivations could be dependent on their characteristics, but are also affected by the context which they are in.

References: Pink, D. H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Penguin.

About the author

Rosie Feng

Rosie joins Hopscotch as an intern, having graduated with a BSc Psychology degree from the University of Warwick. Since joining, she has been working on several exciting projects for a range of clients including DfE, HS2 and DP World. Rosie is excited to work on projects that will meaningfully contribute to the lives of young people, and looks to implement her experience of behaviour change.

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