The rising use of the Internet and information technology has made computerized interventions an attractive channel for providing advice and support for behaviour change. Health behaviour and behaviour change theories are a family of theories which aim to explain the mechanisms by which human behaviours change and use that knowledge to promote change. Among the best-known of these theories are the Social Learning and Social Cognitive theories, the Health Belief Model, the Theory of Reasoned Action and its successors the Theory of Planned Behaviour and the Reasoned Action Approach, and the Transtheoretical model. We discuss three examples of how behaviour change theories have been applied in computer-based interventions: a system to aid users to quit smoking, a decision aid for choice of breast cancer therapy, and an internet-based exercise program for reducing cardiovascular risk. We also discuss misapplication of theory, and reflect on how these theories can best be used. Behaviour change theory can be applied in health informatics interventions in several ways; for example, to select participants for a particular intervention, to shape the content of the intervention to effectively influence behaviour, or to tailor content to individual needs. Application of these theories to provide personalized advice (“decision support”) is a young but promising area of research, and could inform other decision support interventions, including those that provide support for clinicians.
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