The Association for Psychological Science (APS) hosted a symposium and panel discussion titled “Behavior Change Across the Life-Span” on Saturday, May 26, at its annual meeting in San Francisco. Drs. Lis Nielsen and Jennifer Sumner co-chaired the event, which furthered SOBC’s mission by demonstrating the method’s relevance and value for scientists outside of the SOBC Research Network members. The symposium was motivated by the idea that the SOBC research mission is enhanced by investigating mechanisms of change during each of life’s phases. Collectively, these researchers consider how modifiable behaviors shape health outcomes across the entire human lifespan.
Dr. Sumner began the symposium by introducing the fundamentals of the SOBC method, and she later drew out the lessons of the collective findings during the panel discussion. Consistent with the symposium’s theme, the speakers addressed research relevant to changing behavior at a wide variety of ages, with the order of speakers corresponding to a progression through the lifespan from early childhood to older age.
Although the speakers were not themselves in the SOBC network, their work aligns well with the method. First, Dr. Mary Dozier, the Unidel Amy Elizabeth du Pont Chair in Child Development and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Delaware, spoke about a home-based intervention to change children’s self-regulatory behavior by increasing their parents’ sensitivity. She showed that the intervention not only engages the proposed mechanism of parental sensitivity but is also associated in middle childhood with healthier patterns of cortisol diurnal slope (i.e., steeper declines from morning to night) that are indicative of healthy stress management. Most interesting of all, preliminary findings suggest that this relationship between the intervention and physiological outcomes is indeed mediated by changes in parental sensitivity in early childhood. Dr. Alia Crum, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, spoke about using interventions that alter adults’ mindsets to promote health behaviors and improve health. Click here to watch a video of her previous SOBC presentation and access the slides. Dr. Kirk I. Erickson, Professor of Psychology in the Centers for Neuroscience and for the Neural Basis of Cognition at the University of Pittsburgh, addressed how physical activity can be successfully altered in older adults, the neurobiological effects of the intervention, and the neurobiological predictors of intervention adherence. Dr. Angelina R. Sutin, Associate Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, discussed research demonstrating that each of five factors of personality are linked to higher physical activity. She discussed promising implications for a research program that tests the efficacy and mechanisms of increasing exercise behavior via personality interventions for people across a wide range of ages.
The event demonstrated that behavior remains malleable throughout the lifespan. The presentations and discussion also highlighted that learned behaviors in early childhood may influence patterns of behavior during a later developmental stage and that the mechanisms by which behaviors can be changed may differ as people age. Moreover, all of the speakers shed light on the role that psychological factors play in behavior change, both as moderators and mediators. These psychological factors can help us understand how behavior change happens and also how to tailor interventions to maximize their beneficial impact. This symposium indicated that a vital direction for SOBC research is to consider the full course of human development as it identifies mechanisms of successful behavior change.