To develop effective interventions to support people to make sustained changes in behaviour, we must understand the determinants of initiation and maintenance of behaviours. Research on the development of behavioural interventions has been hampered by a focus on limited models of behaviour change that ignore the complexity of human behaviour, the disconnect between intention and action, and the importance of contextual factors. Our understanding of the determinants of behaviour has been constrained by reliance on small, unrepresentative samples, short-term follow up, and use of self-reported behaviour measures. Many popular theories of behaviour change have been shown to be poor predictors of behaviour when studied using more rigorous methods, making it unsurprising that interventions based on these theories have had little success.
The proposed PhD will examine the multi-level determinants of the initiation and maintenance of behaviour change and the extent to which existing interventions are able to modify these determinants. It will likely use a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods but the exact methods and research questions will be guided by the interests and experience of the student. Data is available from a number of large observational studies and randomised controlled trials led by the study supervisors, with longitudinal data, objective clinical measurements, and detailed measures of behavioural, psychological, social and environmental factors. Some of these studies also include objective measures of diet and physical activity. There is also the opportunity to conduct primary data collection using qualitative and quantitative research methods, including ecological momentary assessment (repeated sampling of subjects’ experiences in real time using mobile technology) and objective measures of cognitive biases (e.g. response inhibition and food responsiveness).
For more information or informal discussion about this project, please contact Dr Amy Ahern – Amy.Ahern@mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk