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B.5 Motivators and Barriers: Motivation, Attitudes and Beliefs

Motivation is the reason that a person acts or behaves in a certain way; it is a pre-condition of behaviour change. The motivation to change behaviour is based on a particular attitude, which itself is formed by a wide range of beliefs. 

The beliefs may be about how beneficial the new behaviour would be, or how good or bad it would feel to perform it. Beliefs can be ‘false’ and might include elements that are inconsistent with the facts. Perception is highly selective and people often favour ‘evidence’ that confirms their beliefs and reaffirms their actions. All the beliefs that form an attitude need to be in favour of the desired behaviour for a person to act. Attitudes are developed individually, but originate in the culture, traditions or values considered to be acceptable or normal in a given context. Attitudes can change over time or they can persist, even if they prove to be misconceptions.

Attitudes and beliefs can contain emotional and cognitive aspects. For example, an attitude towards toilet use consists of feelings or emotions about using or not using a toilet (such as comfort, shame or disgust) as well as cognitive beliefs about how safe the toilet is for women or children to use and how costly it would be to construct. An attitude might also be formed by beliefs, such as women and men should not use the same toilet or that using a toilet will lead to infertility. To plan successful HP activities, a good understanding should be developed of existing beliefs (both emotional and cognitive); useful methods include Focus Group Discussions T.14, KAP Surveys T.24 or RANAS F.20 surveys. 

Past experience, such as poor treatment from an agency can also shape attitudes to WASH and therefore what people are prepared to engage with. The way that a programme is carried out is often as important as the programme itself.  

Process & Good Practice

  • Assess people’s current attitudes and beliefs; address them if they do not support the desired behaviour. 

  • Target emotional beliefs or attitudes through: 

    • Framing the desired behaviour as enjoyable or something that can make people feel happy or better
    • Describing the consequences of not performing the desired behaviour as unpleasant or something that causes people to feel bad
    • Starting a discussion about how much participants would actually like to perform the desired behaviour and how much they would regret not doing so 
  • Target cognitive beliefs or attitudes: 

    • Discuss how much each participant would need to invest to comply with the desired behaviour and weigh up those costs with the benefits he/she would receive. 
    • Discuss what the future costs or benefits might be if the desired behaviour was not performed. Include non-monetary costs (labour, time, effort) and benefits (social status, health protection, safety) 
    • Discuss with participants how they could reward themselves each time they practice the desired behaviour or include rewards as part of the HP plan. 
  • Design culturally appropriate methods of making attitudes visible with the use of drawings, Role Plays T.41, pictures or even Songs T.47 and discuss the different beliefs and feelings connected to the behaviour as described above.



To determine and influence the likelihood that an individual will change their practices or adopt new behaviours, with a particular focus on motivation, attitudes and beliefs.


  • Hygiene promotion (HP) uses behavioural determinants such as attitudes, beliefs, misconceptions and feelings to better understand how to influence change. 

  • Motivation is a pre-condition for any behaviour.

  • Attitudes are made up of different beliefs; attitude is the basis of the motivation for behaviour change.

  • Positive or negative attitudes can be very powerful barriers or motivators for behaviour change.

  • Assessing these motivators and barriers helps to plan health and hygiene promotion activities accordingly.


Social and behaviour change guides containing more information on attitudes

Pezzullo, L., Corna, F. et al. (2013): ABC - Assisting Behaviour Change. Designing and Implementing Programmes in ACF Using an ABC Approach. Part 1. Theories and Models, ACF

Petit, V. (2019): The Behavioural Drivers Model. A Conceptual Framework for Social and Behaviour Change Programming

A list of practical techniques to tackle attitudes

Mosler, H., Contzen, N. (2016): Systematic Behavior Change in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. A Practical Guide Using the RANAS Approach Version 1.0