Speaker: Prof. Ralf Schwarzer

Time: 2:30pm-4:30pm, 25 October, 2019

Venue: Sunshine Hall, Yingjie Communication Cente

Abstract: Many diseases are preventable by behaviours such as not smoking, not drinking alcohol, sticking to a healthy diet, and being physically active. Moreover, health and illness are not dichotomous but reflect a continuum. Health promotion not only aims at preventing disease but also aims at improving health and well-being. One key question is whether one should change behaviours by focussing either on the person or by focussing on the environment.

If the situational context is the intervention target, then it becomes a task for public health agents. Environmental constraints can make it impossible to smoke, purchase alcohol, and they can demand vaccination and hygiene standards, prescribe seatbelt use in cars, and sanction misbehaviours such as speeding on roads.

A softer approach to stimulate behaviour change is “nudging” which means modifying the choice architecture, providing default options that guide people to make healthier decisions such as choosing stairs instead of elevators. Nudging comes from behavioural economics, reflecting libertarian paternalism in contrast to harsh sanctions and restrictions. Both, mandatory public health measures as well as nudging, are regarded as quite effective in changing behaviours at the collective level.

The different approach is person-centered, respecting the autonomy of individuals who are seen as competent agents of their own lifestyles. Health education, risk communication, psychotherapy, motivation, cognitive behaviour modification, and empowerment belong to this approach. Most behaviour change programs in psychology fit into this type. A major difference to public health measures lies in the strong theoretical backdrop. Psychological theories allow to describe, explain, predict, and modify human behaviours. A large array of successful intervention designs, behaviour change techniques, delivery modes, and scalable programs have been developed. Two special variants will be presented in more detail. One is the parsimonious short-term intervention by which people are briefly exposed to health messages. Research examples of different behaviours, conducted in various countries, will be presented. The second variant is the digital interventions where people interact with their tablets or smartphones and acquire skills to create their own behaviour changes, keeping full control over their actions.

There are various theories that help understand and design such intervention programs, and as an example, the Health Action Process Approach will be presented. As a conclusion, it is suggested to apply theory-based multi-level interventions that comprise the environmental as well as the person-centered method.

Bio: Ralf Schwarzer is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the Freie University of Berlin, Germany, and Professor of Psychology at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wroclaw, Poland. He was appointed Professor of Education in 1974, and Professor of Psychology in 1982. He has published more than 500 papers and co-founded three journals: (a) Anxiety, Stress, and Coping: An International Journal, (b) Zeitschrift für Gesundheitspsychologie, and (c) Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being (currently Editor-in-Chief). He has been Past-President of the Stress and Anxiety Research Society (STAR), Past-President of the European Health Psychology Society (EHPS), and Past-President of the Health Psychology Division of the International Association for Applied Psychology (IAAP). His research focus lies on stress, social support, self-efficacy, and health behaviors. In 2007, he received the German Psychology Award. In 2010, he received the Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP).

Host: Prof. Yiqun Gan, Dr. Guangyu Zhou