Does data change behavior?
Data is information, and information (if consumable) increases knowledge. Knowledge alone does not change behavior. The classic public health equation is K + A = B (Knowledge + Attitude = Behavior). Of course, it’s not that simple.
I decided to randomly ask a few people (friends of mine, not colleagues) in San Francisco, “do you believe data changes health behavior?”
Person A. Adult female, Type 1 diabetic, chiropractor.
“Data absolutely changes behavior. Any time I see a number indicating my blood glucose levels, I make decisions about my diet, insulin pump, etc. I need that data to stay alive and live well……”
Person B. Adult female, disease free, self-declared obsessive compulsive.
“Data sometimes influences my health decisions….if I’m just reading an article about a new health study, or if I find out a food I like has too much fat, I probably won’t change my behavior…..if I weigh myself and notice that I’m losing weight, I try to understand what is at the source of my stress and make changes. Because anytime I lose weight, it’s because my stress levels are too high……”
Person C. Adult male, recovered addict (sober 3+ years), full-time student.
“Data can change behavior for sure….I think there are two categories of behavior: satisfaction-based and fear-based. Most Americans try to do fear-based behavior change – meaning, they try to quit smoking because they are afraid to get cancer, or they go to the gym because they are afraid to get fat. Fear-based behavior change is high on the motivation scale but low on the sustainability scale. So data for those people triggers them to change in the short term. Satisfaction-based behavior means going for a run because you enjoy running, or cooking health meals because you love the taste of healthy food…..athletes are an example of satisfaction-based behavior change makers. For them, data absolutely will change their behavior, if they want to get stronger or faster…..satisfaction-based behavior change is high on the motivation scale and high on the sustainability scale….”
Answer: It depends.
Person D. Adult female (that’s all I know about her).
“Data can change behavior if a person seeks out the data. Anyone seeking specific health information is already motivated, so most likely they want to change, and knowing on a regular basis what their data says will help with sustain that motivation…..”
Data alone may not change long-term behavior, but if designed right and placed into a meaningful context, data can change behavior. Who is receiving what data when? Understand the psychology of your consumers before you deliver data. And be very clear about what you want them to do with the data.