Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Identity processes during health behavioral change

To what extent and how do identity processes influence health behavior?

Winifred Gebhardt

This project focuses on  the identity processes that accompany health behavioral change. Main premises of the theoretical framework we apply is that over time a behavior, such as smoking, is likely become integrated in the identity of a person. When this happens, behavior becomes robust to change because it is so closely linked to central self-views. Thus, this research is based on the contention that behavioral change can only then occur if the new (healthier) behavior becomes part of the “self”: the person one perceives oneself to be, or wishes to be. Such views of the self need to be vivid  and readily accessible, particularly at times when one is faced with difficulties that interfere with establishing a new behavioral pattern.

We examine behavioral change as it occurs over time and search for self-defining moments during the process. We also experimentally induce new identities, and try to encourage people to link a behavioral goal, such as continuing or quitting smoking, to (un)desired future self-views, or so-called Possible Selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986).


Meijer, E., Van den Putte, B., Gebhardt, W. A., Van Laar, C., Bakk, Z., Dijkstra, A., Fong, G. T., West, R. & Willemsen, M. C. (accepted for publication). A longitudinal study into the reciprocal effects of identities and smoking behaviour: Findings from the ITC Netherlands Survey. Social Science and Medicine.

Hendriks, H., Gebhardt, W.A. & van den Putte, S.J.H.M. (2017). Alcohol-related posts from young people on social networking sites: Content and motivations. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 20(7): 428-435.

Meijer, E., van Laar, C., Gebhardt, W.A., Fokkema, M., van den Putte, S.J.H.M., Dijkstra, A., Fong, G., Willemsen, M. (2017). Identity change among smokers and ex-smokers: Findings from the ITC Netherlands Survey. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 31(4), 465-478. 

Gebhardt, W.A. (2017). Multiple goal perspective and social identification processes. Addiction, 112(3), 396-398. 

Meijer, E., Gebhardt, W. A., Dijkstra, A., Willemsen, M. C., & Van Laar, C. (2015). Quitting smoking: The importance of non-smoker identity in predicting smoking behaviour and responses to a smoking ban. Psychology & Health, 30(12), 1387-1409.

Meijer, E., Gebhardt, W.A., Van Laar, C., Kawous, R. & Beijk, S.C. A.M. (online first). Socio-economic status in relation to smoking: The role of (expected and desired) social support and quitter identity. Social Science and Medicine.

Van der Heiden, S., Gebhardt, W.A., Willemsen, M.C., Nagelhout, G.E., & Dijkstra, A. (2013). Behavioral and psychological responses of lower educated smokers to the smoke-free legislation in Dutch hospitality venues: A qualitative study. Psychology & Health, 28, 49-66

Kenter, E.J., Gebhardt, W.A., Lottman, I., Van Rossum, M., Bekedam, M., & Crone, M.R. (2015). The influence of life events on physical activity patterns of Dutch older adults: A life history method. Psychology & Health, 30:627-651.

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