The table below shows 5 possible approaches to modify health behaviors that are consistent with principles of Two Minds Theory. This theory provides a possible framework for understanding why interventions derived from many different traditions are efficacious.
Behavioral economics is a newer approach to behavior change that has already won its originators two Nobel prizes. Daniel Kahneman's work on behavioral economics was an important source for the development of TMT. In a blog post, we explored how the TMT concept of "immediacy" might be able to more parsimoniously explain the range of findings included in behavioral economics.
Skinnerian behaviorism (operant conditioning) is a well-validated approach to shaping behavior through its consequences. These techniques to train the intuitive system work without regard to people's conscious thoughts, and have been used successfully with children, adults, and non-human animals. Our blog post on behaviorism includes a link to one of Skinner's videos, showing pigeons that he trained to play ping-pong using operant conditioning methods. It also addresses some potential critiques of behaviorism.
Cognitive reframing is a widely used technique that involves trying to think differently about events in order to get a different result. In our view, reframing is a type of training that involves the Narrative System. Because the Narrative System operates too slowly to affect behavior directly, thinking differently can never get you different results in the moment. But a new habitual pattern of thought can become one of the inputs considered by the Intuitive System when it selects behaviors, and can even lead to perceiving things differently than you might have before. Cognitive reframing therefore can work to change behavior, but like the Narrative System itself this strategy is slow and indirect.
Motivational interviewing is a well-validated counseling approach that has been studied in many different health behaviors. The strategy is derived from empirical observations and its underlying theory basis has been a subject for speculation. In a blog post, we explored how TMT may help to explain motivational interviewing's effects. For example, conversational strategies like reflective listening and open-ended questions may minimize the Intuitive System's natural defensive reactions. At the same time, the "spirit" of motivational interviewing involves an attitude of hope and empowerment that may help people imagine new patterns of behavior using the Narrative System.
Mindfulness is another popular approach to behavior change that has been described from many different theoretical perspectives. In a blog post, we described how TMT may explain the ability of mindfulness strategies to focus attention (an aspect of the Narrative System) to bring about changes in behavior (produced by the Intuitive System). Because the Narrative System cannot affect behavior directly, mindfulness strategies need to be practiced until they become a habitual response to new situations. Some interesting new sensor technologies may inform future research on mindfulness and help us to develop a better understanding of mindful states.
Problem-solving approaches engage both systems, producing better results by utilizing the strengths of each one in combination. Examples abound in everyday life, including creative thinking and artwork, the use of various techniques to get at truth in the criminal justice system, and the role of Narrative and Intuitive thought in religious experiences.