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?

Kristell Penfornis
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)

Leiden University Medical Center, Department of Public Health and Primary Care and Department of Cardiology

Delft University of Technology, Department of Intelligent Systems

University of Twente, Biomechanical Engineering; Roessingh Research and Development

Trimbos Institute, Drug Monitoring & Policy

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). We specifically target individuals from lower socioeconomic positions and with lower (e)health literacy specifically, as smoking and physical inactivity tend to co-occur among these individuals.



Perfect Fit: Targeting key risk factors for cardiovascular disease in at-risk individuals using a personalized and adaptive approach. (NWO, PI Niels Chavannes)


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.


See also

Diagnostics and treatment
Diagnostics and treatment
Fundamental research
Fundamental research

Topic: E-health

Topic: Healthy lifestyle and self-regulation

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