Social and Behavioral Theories

4. Important Theories and Their Key Constructs

Health Belief Model

The Health Belief Model (HBM) was developed to help understand why people did or did not use preventive services offered by public health departments in the 1950’s, and has evolved to address newer concerns in prevention and detection (e.g., mammography screening, influenza vaccines) as well as lifestyle behaviors such as sexual risk behaviors and injury prevention.  The HBM theorizes that people’s beliefs about whether or not they are at risk for a disease or health problem, and their perceptions of the benefits of taking action to avoid it, influence their readiness to take action. 

Core constructs of the HBM:

  • Perceived susceptibility and perceived severity
  • Perceived benefits and perceived barriers
  • Cues to action
  • Self-efficacy (added more recently)

The HBM has been most often applied for health concerns that are prevention-related and asymptomatic, such as early cancer detection and hypertension screening – where beliefs are as important or more important than overt symptoms.  The HBM is also clearly relevant to interventions to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Figure 1

Health Belief Model

Source: Glanz K, Rimer BK, Viswanath K, eds. 2008. Health Behavior and Health Education:  Theory, Research, and Practice (4th ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.