By Urte Scholz, University of Zurich and Gertraud (Turu) Stadler, University of Aberdeen
Social support seems to be an exclusively positive thing. What can be bad about a little help? Having someone who cooks healthy meals when you try to eat better, or being comforted when you feel down because your recent attempt at quitting smoking didn’t go so well? These scenarios already give us a feeling that good intentions to support someone may not be enough. A partner who cooks healthy meals for you or your sister showering you with diet tips may also make you feel like they know better than you what is good for you. Did you ask them to help you? Do they not fully trust you to eat healthily on your own? So, is support for changing one’s behavior always a good thing? This text aims to help practitioners advise their clients on how to seek out useful social support. Let’s start with defining what social support is and what it is not.
By Stephen Sutton, University of Cambridge, England
Large-scale problems require large-scale solutions. Tackling the ‘Big 4’ behaviours (physical inactivity, tobacco use, excessive consumption of food and alcohol) requires scalable interventions that can reach large numbers of people to achieve a significant public health impact. One promising approach is to use brief interventions delivered by practitioners in healthcare settings. For example, in the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that primary care practitioners deliver tailored, ‘brief’ physical activity advice to inactive adults, and follow this up at subsequent appointments.
Karen Morgan, Perdana University Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Medical School, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Robbert Sanderman, University of Groningen and Health and Technology University of Twente, The Netherlands.
What is practical about health psychology?
Health psychology is a young, dynamic and rapidly growing discipline of psychology. Health psychologists focus on applying psychological theory and research to:
- promoting and maintaining health and preventing illness,
- understanding how people react to, cope with and recover from illness,
- personalizing treatments and interventions,
- improving health care systems and health policy.
Martin S. Hagger, Curtin University, Australia and University of Jyväskylä, Finland and Dominic Conroy, Birkbeck University of London, UK
What is mental imagery?
People are usually quite good at imagining things. For example, people often act out future actions or scenarios in their mind, or daydream about fanciful possibilities. These imagined situations are often unstructured and unprompted. Psychologists have explored whether it is possible to harness this capacity for imagination as a way to improve people’s ability to achieve desired outcomes or goals.
Peter M. Gollwitzer, New York University
Everyone has bad habits. You snack when distressed or you drink too much alcohol when relaxing with friends. You create unnecessary stress by letting the social media distract you from completing pressing work projects, or by getting into unnecessary arguments with colleagues, friends, and family. How can you change these bad habits?
Dr Gjalt-Jorn Peters, Open University, Netherlands
Fear appeals are a commonly used strategy to change behaviour. For instance the threatening and graphic fear-arousing communications now ever-present on tobacco packaging, and in campaigns to promote seatbelt use and discourage substance use. Despite the popularity and widespread use of these fear-arousing methods, research suggests that they may not be the best way to change behaviour, or to raise awareness or educate people.
How is this possible? Shouldn’t people be scared of things that could harm their health? Surely no one who knows the risks would smoke, drive without a seatbelt, or use methamphetamine, right? Not quite…
Rik Crutzen, Maastricht University, The Netherlands
Nowadays, people use the Internet all the time and for a wide range of activities: from buying groceries to showing a funny cat-picture to a friend on the other side of the world. It is all possible. Also, the Internet is used more and more within the domain of health – often referred to as e-health. (more…)
Dr Jean Adams, Centre for Diet & Activity Research, University of Cambridge
Since October last year, by law, large retailers in England have been charging customers 5p (€0.06) for ‘single-use plastic carrier bags’ – those flimsy plastic bags you get from supermarkets to carry your groceries home. The money raised is donated by retailers to ‘good causes’. In the first six months of the scheme, plastic bag use by major supermarkets decreased by more than 90% (that’s 7bn fewer bags!) and more than £29m (€32m) was donated to good causes. It’s hard not to conclude that a small financial disincentive can have a big impact on our behaviour.
By Benjamin Gardner, King’s College London
What is a ‘habit’?
Why do we eat popcorn while watching movies? The answer, for most, is that eating popcorn is a habitual response to watching movies. Psychologists define ‘habitual’ behaviours as actions that happen automatically, due to learned associations between situations (the movie theatre) and our responses to them (eating popcorn).