Behavioral Change

How do we change behavior and why is it so difficult?

We study psychological processes of behavioral change and how to elicit it in society

Behavioral change depends on both internal and external factors, and we are interested in the role of the questions people ask themselves as well as factors such as social density, norms, and persuasive communications. Current projects in the lab focus on radical and incremental change, goal hierarchies, and the role of combining different goals to change behavior.

Selected Findings:

How your past behavior changes your future behavior depends on how distracted you are.

When you can spend time thinking about what you have done, you form new beliefs about the outcomes of your behavior, and these beliefs affect your attitudes and future behavior. However, your past behavior has an impact even if you cannot stop to think about it. When you are distracted, your attitudes become more favorable due to the inference that you did something because you like it. When you can concentrate, your past behavior makes you think of possible outcomes of that behavior.

The impact of persuasive communications and interventions on behaviors follows a stair shape.

The impact of interventions on knowledge is large. The impact on attitudes and beliefs is medium. The impact on behavior is small. Our goal is always to increase this small impact.

In behavioral change, the more the merrier.

We can get people to change a behavior more when we give them more recommendations rather than fewer. Telling people upfront to quit smoking, start daily walks, see more friends, and change their diet is more successful than introducing one or fewer behaviors. This happens also in the areas of substance use and HIV prevention, testing, and treatment.

Agents of change are better when they are expert and similar to the intervention recipient in age and ethnicity.

A professional facilitator is more effective than a peer when it comes to producing change in the area of HIV. This is especially true when recipients are from traditionally disenfranchised groups, like African Americans. For disenfranchised groups, experts of the same ethnicity and gender are more effective for behavioral change. We need more nurses of color for populations of color, not just peers of color. For men and White individuals, similarity does not matter.