Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) behaviour change research: Why an analysis of contingencies of reinforcement is needed

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Diarrheal disease associated with poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) kills more than one million people every year. Safe WASH practices have the potential to greatly reduce these statistics but behaviour change interventions in the field have yielded little success to date. Currently, there is an emphasis on addressing cognitive processes to bring about changes in behaviour. In this review, a case is made for the benefits of a contingency-based perspective, focusing on the contextual antecedents and consequences of behaviour. The role of contingencies of reinforcement, not explored in previous WASH literature, is discussed as an explanatory framework for designing behaviour change strategies. A proper use of contrived reinforcers is recommended to counterbalance the natural reinforcers of convenience associated with risk practices. Recognising the role of consequences in the acquisition and maintenance of behaviour is an important step in the search for the answers urgently needed in the WASH field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Health Research
Early online date28 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Oct 2019



  • WASH
  • cognitive
  • models
  • behaviour analysis
  • contingencies of reinforcement

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