SOBC Spotlight: Interview with Dr. Johannes Haushofer

In this Spotlight feature we focus of Johannes Haushofer, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs in the Department of Psychology at Princeton University. He founded the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics in Nairobi, Kenya, a research facility for behavioral economics studies. Dr. Haushofer’s SOBC research investigates how stress may influence health behaviors by disrupting aspects of self-regulation.

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Annual SOBC Steering Committee Meeting

The SOBC network convened on January 10-11, 2018, for the Third Annual Meeting of the SOBC Research Network Steering Committee and External Scientific Panel.


Many SOBC researchers have measured more than one aspect of self-regulation. Johannes Haushofer from Princeton University measured three aspects of self-regulation, including self-efficacy, executive function, and temporal discounting. For more information about Dr. Haushofer’s interesting and ambitious project and measures, see the spotlight interview in this same newsletter. Similarly, Jun Ma and Leanne Williams study self-regulation in three domains: regulation of self-reflection, cognition, and emotion. Within each domain, they measure dysregulation using several approaches. In the case of sad emotion, for example, they measure its dysregulation via passive sampling (e.g., the negative valence of text words), neuroimaging (e.g., co-activation of the brain network of the dorsal anterior cingulate, insula, and amygdala), and measurement of negative affect during affective evocative virtual reality tasks.

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Journal of Behaviour and Research Therapy, Special Issue on the Science of Behavior Change

Members of the SOBC research network collaborated on a newly published special issue in the Journal of Behaviour and Research Therapy titled, Special Issue on the Science of Behavior Change (Feb. 2018). This issue introduces readers to the SOBC network, provides examples of how the mechanistic, experimental-medicine approach to behavior change research is currently being implemented, and showcases emerging research within the network. The issue features seven papers focusing on the vital research of the network members. This work spans important and diverse topics that are each highly relevant to progress in the SOBC mission, including all of the following (and more): the ontology of self-regulation; the ingredients of mindfulness; the most promising stress response targets for interventions; self-efficacy, executive function, temporal discounting as mechanisms by which stress may affect health behaviors; coercive interpersonal relationships; self-regulation in children; and virtual reality measures of self-regulation. read more »


The Science Behind Behavior Change

Columbia researchers are helping scientists change the way they study human behavior to focus on the mechanisms that explain how people adopt healthier habits.


If you made a New Year’s resolution last month, have you kept it? If not, you are not alone in abandoning your plans to lose weight, get to the gym, or quit smoking. By the time February rolls around, it is estimated that 80 percent of resolutions have already failed.
“Behavior change is hard,” says Donald Edmondson, PhD, director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Yet sustaining healthy behaviors is one of the most important things people can do to live long healthy lives. According to a recent study, human behavior accounts for almost 40 percent of the risk associated with premature, preventable deaths–like heart disease, cancer, and stroke–in the United States.” read more »


March 27th, 2018 | Angela Duckworth, PhD Presents: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Angela Duckworth is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the Founder and CEO of the Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development. Angela studies grit and self-control, two attributes that are distinct from IQ and yet powerfully predict success and well-being. A 2013 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, Angela has advised the White House, the World Bank, NBA and NFL teams, and Fortune 500 CEOs. Currently, she serves as a Faculty Director for Wharton People Analytics, an initiative that helps organizations adopt the latest insights from social science research. Prior to her career in research, Angela founded a summer school for low-income children that was profiled as a Harvard Kennedy School case study and, in 2012, celebrated its twentieth anniversary. She has also been a McKinsey management consultant and a math and science teacher in the public schools of New York City, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Angela completed her undergraduate degree in Advanced Studies Neurobiology at Harvard, graduating magna cum laude. With the support of a Marshall Scholarship, she completed an MSc with Distinction in Neuroscience from Oxford University. She completed her PhD in Psychology as a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Angela has received numerous awards for her contributions to K–12 education, including a Beyond Z Award from the KIPP Foundation. Her first book, GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, debuted May 3, 2016 as an immediate New York Times best seller.


Aerobic Exercise May Improve Cognitive Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Exercise training may delay the decline in cognitive function that occurs in individuals who are at risk of or have Alzheimer’s disease, with aerobic exercise possibly having the most favorable effect, according to a review of 19 previous studies on the topic.

Approximately 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s-related medical costs in the United States are estimated to exceed $1.1 trillion by 2050 unless effective methods to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease are identified.

Exercise training is recommended as a cost-effective lifestyle therapeutic option to improve brain health in older adults, with improvements in cognitive function mediated by positive neurophysiological changes. read more »


Relevance of Social Networks for Adolescent Obesity

The idea that obesity is contagious and can be spread like a virus was a brilliant analogy that provided a convenient rubric for people to understand that obesity could be transmitted to other individuals. In this issue of JAMA Pediatrics, Datar and Nicosia present an innovative natural experiment to study whether adolescent and parental obesity spreads in social net- works. The ideal experiment to test whether multigenerational obesity is spread within a social network would be to randomize a group of non-obese parents with non-obese adolescent children to live in environments with a low or high proportion of families with obesity. This thought experiment would be difficulty to implement, but the natural experiment by Datar and Nicosia3 was a proxy for this format by studying 1519 military families who were assigned to relocate to counties with obesity rates that varied from 21% to 38%. Data on height and weight were collected via parental self-report, and Datar and Nicosia also measured height, weight, and body composition in a subset of 458 adolescents. They also collected objective and self-reported data on built environment, and had data on how long the families lived in the new community, and whether they lived on or off the military installation.

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NIDDK | Health Scientist Administrator

NIDDK Position

NIDDK is looking to fill an open extramural position for a behavioral and social scientist as a Health Scientist Administrator, GS-12/13/14/15. The announcement will open on January 22nd, and close on January 31st.  See attached for further details.

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Interview with Karina Davidson, PhD, MASc, on Approaches to Study Behavior Change


In this Spotlight feature we focus on Karina Davidson, PhD, MASc, the Principal Investigator on the grant for the SOBC Resource and Coordinating Center at Columbia University. Dr. Davidson has a wealth of varied experience and knowledge with respect to behavioral research and systems organization. She is Vice Dean of Organizational Effectiveness at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Chief Academic Officer at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Executive Director of the Center for Behavioral & Cardiovascular Health (CBCH), and Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. In this interview Dr. Davidson offers her expert perspective on differing approaches to studying how behaviors change.

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