What is the Health Belief Model?

Health psychology has gained momentum in recent years. Matarazzo (1980) was one of his supporters for defining health behavior. On this occasion we will learn more about Becker and Maiman’s health belief model.

This model includes an important cognitive / perceptual component to assess the possibility of becoming ill. But on what does the adoption of healthy lifestyles or healthy behaviors depend? Let’s get to know him in this article.

    Health behaviors

    Health behavior is, according to Kasl and Cobb, that behavior aimed at preventing disease. According to Matarazzo, these behaviors decrease behavioral pathogens and increase behavioral immunogens. The variables that influence the adoption of health-related behaviors are: social context, perception of symptoms, emotional states and beliefs about health.

    Health belief model: characteristics

    The Health Beliefs Model was proposed by Becker and Maiman in 1974. These authors formulated the model, although by the 1950s a group of social psychologists 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 indicates that a person’s willingness to adopt a health behavior will be determined by two factors: the perception of susceptibility to the disease and the perceived severity of the consequences of the disease.


    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 discussed: susceptibility to disease (or risk of disease) and perceived severity in relation to the consequences of that disease. These perceptions directly influence the threat perceived by the subject himself.

    In terms of perceived sensitivity or risk, studies of adolescents have found that some people who engage in behaviors that are conducive to HIV transmission, such as unprotected sex, (risky actions) do not. are not seen as an increased risk of contracting AIDS by others who do not. perform similar actions. It 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 related behaviors. to HIV / AIDS. Risk, also alarming data.

    Thus, we see how the perception of the risk to which one is exposed or has been exposed can be a factor in conditioning behavior. This perception can be linked to the idea we have of our partner and what loyalty means, and will be influenced by age, sexual orientation, self-image, cultural and intellectual factors. , etc.

    All these elements they can be identified and treated appropriately in psychoeducational interventions.

      2. Modifying factors

      these factors they are made up of two types of variables: Demographic and psychosocial variables (e.g. place of residence, age, sex, etc.) and beliefs essential to action (e.g. prevention campaigns, counseling, etc.)

      As with individual perceptions, modifying factors influence the perceived threat of disease from which the subject suffers.

      3. Likelihood of action

      The likelihood of action (i.e. the likelihood of taking action, adopting a health behavior to prevent disease) depends on the benefits and costs or barrier involved in adopting or not adopting this behavior.

      In this way, in addition to perceiving a threat to their health and the seriousness of the consequences, the person should also believe he is capable of making certain changes or modifications in his behavior, And that such an initiative / s will produce / n greater advantages than disadvantages or prejudices (arising from the effort to be made to achieve).

      Premises of the model

      In summary, we can group together the three basic premises of the health belief model:

      • The belief – or perception – that a certain problem is important or serious enough to take it into consideration.
      • The belief – or perception – that we are vulnerable or sensitive to this problem.
      • The belief – or perception – that the action to be performed it will produce a benefit at an acceptable personal cost (In other words, more benefits than costs).


      Consider an example: the case of tobacco addiction. To adopt a healthy behavior, we must first perceive that we are likely to be sick (for example when we cough a lot while taking a puff of a cigarette) and we must also perceive the seriousness of the consequences in the event of illness ( for example, die of lung cancer).

      So, healthy behavior would be to quit smoking, and the stronger the perceptions (of sensitivity and seriousness), the more likely we are to adopt healthy behavior.

      Motivation for health

      Becker and Maiman later 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 psychoeducational tool in the population in preventive interventions against HIV / AIDS and other pathologies.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Matarazzo, J D. (1980): Behavioral health and behavioral medicine. Frontiers of a New Health Psychology. American Psychologist, 35, 807-817.
      • Johnston, M. (1990). HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY: EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES. Papers of the Psychologist, 1, 46-47.
      • Soto, F. Lacoste, J., Papenfuss, R. and Gutiérrez, A. (1997). THE HEALTH BELIEFS MODEL. A THEORETICAL APPROACH TO AIDS PREVENTION. Tower. Esp. Public Health, 71 (4).
      • Amic, I. (2012). Manual of Health Psychology. Madrid: Pyramid.

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