By Stan Maes & Véronique De Gucht, Leiden University, Netherlands
Over the last decades, the role of individuals within the healthcare system has evolved from ‘compliance with medical regimens’, implying obedience; to ‘self-management’, denoting responsibility for the control of one’s own health or disease. This has recently progressed further to the idea of ‘self-regulation’, a systematic process that involves setting personal health-related goals and steering behavior to achieve these goals. To illustrate the continuous self-regulation process, we have chosen the ancient image of an ‘ouroboros’ (i.e., a snake eating its own tail) to accompany this blog post.
By Stuart Biddle, University of Southern Queensland, Australia
I’m writing this blog on Valentine’s Day! The health promotion charity in Australia, Bluearth, has produced some amusing videos encouraging you to use your chair less by ‘breaking up with your chair’ (liking splitting from your partner, see videos here). So what is the issue here? Essentially, with changes in the way many of us work, we sit too much and this has been shown to be bad for our health. For example, many people will drive to work, sit at a desk most of the day, drive home, and sit in front of the TV or computer for much of the evening. The workplace, therefore, is ripe for health behaviour change. But with such a habitual behaviour like sitting, strong social norms, as well as environmental designs that encourage less movement alongside comfortable and rewarding sitting, how can we change anything?
By Amanda Rebar, Central Queensland University, Australia
It will come as no surprise that evidence shows people do not always behave in ways that are best for their long-term health. For example, most people are aware that exercise is good for their physical and mental health, but comparatively far fewer people exercise regularly. When a person makes an intention to start exercising, there is only about a 50% chance that they will actually follow through with that. Those are the same odds as a coin flip! Did you ever give much thought to why it is that despite people’s best intentions, they indulge in unhealthy behaviour? There is a perspective growing in credence and popularity amongst health psychology science about how people’s behaviour is influenced by two systems. These dual process models provide a refreshing viewpoint for how to help people live healthy lifestyles without it requiring a constant battle of willpower versus unhealthy temptations.
By Gerjo Kok, Maastricht University, the Netherlands; University of Texas at Houston, USA
A wide range of campaigns and interventions to improve public health and change health behaviors currently exists, but many of these are not “theory- and evidence-based”. This post will briefly describe the processes health psychologists undertake when developing interventions, and highlight how these differ from (and improve upon) similar processes commonly undertaken elsewhere.
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…