The psychology of health has been gaining more and more strength over the last few years. Matarazzo (1980) was one of its driving forces, defining what health behaviour was. On this occasion we will know Becker and Maiman’s Health Belief Model .

This model includes an important cognitive/perceptual component in the assessment of the possibility of disease. But what does it depend on if we adopt healthy habits or behaviors? We’ll get to know it in this article.

Health behaviors

A health behavior is, according to Kasl and Cobb, a behavior aimed at preventing a disease. According to Matarazzo, such behaviors decrease behavioral pathogens and increase behavioral immunogens . The variables that influence the adoption of health behaviours are: the social context, the perception of the symptom, the emotional states and the beliefs about health.

Health Belief Model: Characteristics

The Health Belief Model was proposed by Becker and Maiman in 1974. These authors formulated the model, although around the 1950s a group of specialists in social psychology in North America had already developed the first hypotheses, seeking an explanation for the lack of public participation in early detection and disease prevention programs.

The model states that a person’s willingness to adopt a health behavior will be determined by two factors: the perception of susceptibility to illness and the perceived severity of the consequence of the illness .


The Health Belief Model consists of three groups of elements or components. Let’s see what they are.

1. Individual perceptions

These, in turn, are made up of two elements already commented on: the susceptibility to illness (or the risk of becoming ill) and the perceived seriousness of the consequences of the illness. These perceptions directly influence the threat perceived by the subject himself .

In relation to the perception of susceptibility or risk, studies with adolescents have concluded that certain people who carry out behaviours that favour HIV transmission, such as unprotected intercourse, (risk actions) are not perceived as being at greater risk of contracting AIDS than others who do not carry out such actions. This is quite alarming.

On the other hand, and also in relation to HIV/AIDS, some studies have shown that the belief that modern technology will soon be able to find a cure for HIV/AIDS has a direct correlation with the practice of risk behaviour, which is also alarming.

Thus, we see how the perception of risk to which one is exposed or has been exposed can be a conditioning factor in behaviour. This perception can be related to one’s idea of one’s partner and what fidelity means, and will be influenced by age, sexual tendency, self-image, cultural and intellectual factors, etc.

All these elements can be identified and adequately addressed in psychoeducational interventions .

2. Modifying factors

These factors are made up of two types of variables : the demographic and psychosocial variables (e.g. where one lives, age, sex, etc.), and the beliefs that are key to action (e.g. preventive campaigns, advice, etc.)

Like individual perceptions, modifying factors influence the subject’s perceived threat of illness.

3. Probability of action

The probability of action (i.e. the likelihood of acting, of adopting a health behaviour to prevent the disease) depends on the benefits and the costs or barrier involved in exercising such a behaviour or not.

In this way, in addition to perceiving a threat to their health and the seriousness of the consequences, the person must also believe that they are capable of producing certain changes or modifications in their behaviour , and that such initiative(s) will produce greater benefits than inconveniences or harm (derived from the effort to achieve them).

Premises of the Model

To summarize, we can group the three basic premises of the Health Belief Model:

  • The belief – or perception – that a certain problem is important or serious enough to be taken into consideration.
  • The belief – or perception – that one is vulnerable or susceptible to that problem .
  • The belief – or perception – that the action to be performed will produce a benefit at an acceptable personal cost (i.e., greater benefits than costs).


Let’s think of an example: the case of tobacco addiction. In order to adopt a healthy behavior, we must first perceive that we are susceptible to illness (for example, when we cough a lot when we take a puff on a cigarette) and we must also perceive the severity of the consequences in case of illness (for example, dying from lung cancer).

Thus, health behavior would be quitting smoking, and the more powerful the perceptions (of susceptibility and severity) we have, the more likely we are to adopt the health behavior.

Health Motivation

Becker and Maiman then add a new factor to the Health Belief Model: health motivation, which is directly related to motivation theories.

Model applications

The Health Belief Model has been used as a psycho-educational tool in the population in preventive interventions against HIV/SID and other pathologies .

Bibliographic references:

  • Matarazzo, J D. (1980): Behavioural health and behavioural medicine. Frontiers of a new health psychology. American Psychologist, 35, 807-817.
  • Johnston, M. (1990). HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY: EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES. Roles of the Psychologist, 1, 46-47.
  • Soto, F. Lacoste, J., Papenfuss, R. and Gutiérrez, A. (1997). THE HEALTH BELIEF MODEL. A THEORETICAL APPROACH TO AIDS PREVENTION. Public Health Specialist,71(4).
  • Friend, I. (2012). Manual of Health Psychology. Madrid: Pirámide.