ICAR Behavior Analysis Framework Overview

This Framework can be used to systematically but quickly complete Behavioral Analysis of existing behaviors and plan Behavior Change interventions. It provides the tools to understand why agents are choosing a particular behavior when faced with alternative possibilities and then how to adjust the situations so that more of them choose the target behavior.

The lenses of the Framework can be used at different levels of analysis, from complete behaviors all the way to a very fine-grained analysis of each touchpoint in a customer journey.

It’s organized around 3 main lenses of analysis:

  • Incentives: the real cost/benefits incentives leading people to choose a behavior over alternatives. Think prices, social norms, cognitive efforts, time necessary, whether it alignes with explicit goals, etc.
  • Choice Architecture: the elements commonly referred to as Behavioral Economics or Behavioral Insights, framing and shaping the choices being made. Think default options, number of choices present, how to bundle or unbundle choices, framing effects, anchoring, etc.
  • Repetition (for behaviors that can be repeated): the elements that can trigger a reputation of the behavior like reminders, notifications, habits as well as those that make people more or less likely to repeat a given behavior when they completed an instance. Think e-commerce clients that become repeat customers or just purchase once.


Incentives are the most important lens when it comes to predicting actual behaviors because they encapsulate the real cost/benefit tradeoffs faced by a particular agent. To use an extreme example, no amount of Choice Architecture techniques will make the average person buy a Lamborghini as the cost is simply prohibitive.

By Incentives, we mean the real costs/benefits, both monetary or non-monetary, that an agent will have when pursuing a particular behavior. Incentives can be:

  • positive (benefits) or negative (costs)
  • monetary (price paid) or non-monetary (time or efforts required)
  • real or perceived—perceived can match the real ones or be under- or over-estimated
  • public (incentives are public knowledge in a group) or private
  • certain (risks) or uncertain (potential rewards)

Read the Incentives lens description for many examples of the dimensions that are generally at play when choosing between behaviors.

Choice Architecture

Choice Architecture elements influence what decisions agents make and what behaviors occur in two main ways:

  • directly, like adjusting the number of options to choose from and their price points to shift people towards a particular one
  • indirectly, by modifying how we perceive the real Incentives of the situation

They are the easiest elements to adjust but their effects are naturally limited by the real Incentives. For example, Choice Architecture elements can improve many aspects of an e-commerce website but if the products are poor quality and overpriced, then sales are still unlikely…

The tools stemming from the ever expanding field of Behavioral Economics/Behavioral Insights are numerous and very effective. They are further grouped in 5 areas that make it simpler to use them:

  • Data & Information presentation: how quantified data and structured information is presented
  • Options menu structure: what choices are available, how they are bundled, how many, etc.
  • Copy & Contextual Persuasion: generally medium-independent persuasion elements
  • Ergonomics, usability & user experience: generally medium-dependent, elements structuring the user experience on the actual media used
  • Choice commitment: once a choice is selected, trying to make the agent stick with it

Read the Choice Architecture section for more details on each of these. They are important.


The final lens looks at the elements that can increase or decrease the probability of an agent repeating the same behavior once it has already completed an iteration of it. This is the only correct way to assess whether people will repeat a behavior because each iteration of the behavior will change the probability of the next one.

The starting point are the Feelings and the Incentives realized at the end of the behavior. From there, here are the relevant aspects to analyze:

  • Subsequent Triggers: how another iteration of the behavior can be restarted. They generally can be described as either prompts, cues or habits.
  • Reinforcers: the aspects of a behavior increasing the probability of repeating it. Positive Reinforcers increase the value you get through each subsequent iteration of a behavior. Think Netflix or Youtube recommendations: each time you want to watch something, you’re presented with ever relevant recommendations for you and get more pleasure out of your experience, increasing the probability you’ll watch another thing on their platform next time you want to watch something. Negative Reinforcers increase the probability you will repeat a behavior because you would experience a decrease in value if you were to stop doing this behavior. Network effects are the perfect illustrations for these: you will keep checking Facebook, sharing your images on Instagram, because that’s where your friends and family are. Not doing it would decrease the value you get.
  • Deterrents: the aspects of a behavior decreasing the probability of repeating it. Sadly, there are numerous examples here but bad customer experience is an obvious one.

The distinction between an element being a Reinforcer and a Deterrent is a fine one and the same element can be both at different stages of the customer experience. Youtube recommendations act as a Reinforcer if you’re looking at being entertained in a reasonable way. But if you watch cat videos until 3am a couple of days in a row, you might want to stop opening Youtube entirely and these same recommendations now act as a Deterrent.

All these elements are explained more in the Repetition section.