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MSc Health Psychology

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Health Behaviour Change

Unit code PSYC69842
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Division of Psychology and Mental Health
Available as a free choice unit? No


This unit brings together the extensive literature on changing health-related behaviours, and considers the amount of evidence for currently popular approaches. The unit will consider the issues involved in developing interventions based on theory and evidence, and the different issues involved in interventions in clinical populations and "well" populations. It will consider the efficacy of several approaches, such as risk communication, targeting social cognitions, volitional strategies, and environmental interventions. Throughout, the importance of both theory and evidence in developing and evaluating interventions will be emphasised, as well as the importance of bearing in mind issues relating to implementation of behaviour change interventions.


The unit aims to:

  • Provide an overview of current approaches to changing health-related behaviour at a number of levels, e.g. at individual level and at population level through changes to the physical and regulatory environment.
  • Evaluate the level of evidence for efficacy and effectiveness of different approaches to health-related behaviour change, in relation to behaviour, population, and type of intervention.
  • Critically evaluate several key theories of behaviour change, to highlight the merits and drawbacks of these approaches.
  • Provide an understanding of the process of developing and evaluating interventions to change health-related behaviour, from epidemiological considerations, through consideration of theory and evidence, through to evaluation and implementation.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit, students will be able to:

  • Describe common approaches to changing health-related behaviour, and the merits and drawbacks of each.
  • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different levels of interventions.
  • Critically evaluate strengths and weaknesses of commonly used behaviour change theories.
  • Present verbally key issues in developing interventions to change health-related behaviour
  • Understand the importance of theory, evidence and multidisciplinary working in evaluating interventions to change health-related behaviours.

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching will be delivered in 10 x 2 hour weekly sessions which will usually involve a lecture and either seminar or group work. To assist in preparation for the sessions, students will be provided with electronic resources on Blackboard including Powerpoint slides, reading lists and web links. A discussion board on Blackboard will also be available for discussing issues and questions with staff and peers.

Assessment methods

1. Essay-based Exam, assessing the topics covered during the taught sessions (One Hour, worth 70%)

2. Oral presentation on developing an intervention to change health related behaviour, providing evidence of using an explicit framework for doing so (10 Minutes, worth 30%)

Recommended reading

Central texts

  • French, D., Vedhara, K., Kaptein, A.A. & Weinman, J. (eds, 2010), Health Psychology (second edition). Oxford: BPS Blackwell.
  • Conner, M. & Norman, P. (Eds) (2005), Predicting Health Behaviour (2nd edition), p 276-323. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Other reading

  • Rose, G. (with commentary by Kay-Tee Khaw, and Michael Marmot). Rose’s Strategy of Preventive Medicine. Oxford University Press, 2008
  • Diepeveen, S., Ling, T., Suhrcke, M., Roland, M. & Marteau, T.M. (2013). Public acceptability of government intervention to change health-related behaviours: a systematic review and narrative synthesis. BMC Public Health 13: 756.
  • Hastings, G., Brooks, O., Stead, M., Angus, K., Anker, T., Farrell, T. (2010). Failure of self regulation of UK alcohol advertising. BMJ 340: B5650.
  • Sheeran, P., Harris, P.R.,  & Epton, T. (2014). Does heightening risk appraisals change people’s intentions and behavior? A meta-analysis of experimental studies. Psychological Bulletin 140 511-543.
  • Marteau, T.M., Hollands, G.J. & Fletcher, P.C. (2012). Changing human behavior to prevent disease: the importance of targeting automatic processes. Science, 337 (21 September 2012), 1492-1495.
  • Hollands, G.J., Shemilt, I., Marteau, T.M., Jebb, S.A., Kelly, M.P., Nakamura, R., Suhrcke, M. & Ogilvie, D. (2013). Altering micro-environments to change population health behaviour: towards an evidence base for choice architecture interventions. BMC Public Health, 13: 1218.
  • Glasgow, T.E., Vogt, T.M. & Boles, S.M. (1999). Evaluating the public health impact of health promotion interventions: The RE-AIM Framework. American Journal of Public Health, 89, 1322-1327.
  • Craig, P., Dieppe, P., Macintyre, S., Michie, S., Nazareth, I. & Petticrew, M. (2008).  Developing and evaluating complex interventions: The new Medical Research Council guidance. BMJ  337,  979-983.
  • Kok, G.  & Schaalma, H. (2004). Using theory in psychological interventions. In S Michie & C Abraham (eds). Health Psychology in Practice. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Lally, P. & Gardner, B. (2013). Promoting habit formation. Health Psychology Review 7 (supplement 1), S137-S158.
  • Michie, S., van Stralen, M.M. & West, R. (2011). The behaviour change wheel: A new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Implementation Science 6:42
  • Hodgkinson, E.L., Smith, D.M. & Wittkowski, A. (2014). Women’s experiences of their pregnancy and postpartum body image and transition to motherhood: A metasynthesis. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth, 14 (330), 1-11.
  • Armitage, C.J., Harris, P.R. & Arden, M.A. (2011). Evidence that self-affirmation reduces alcohol consumption: Randomized exploratory trial with a new, brief means of self-affirming. Health Psychology, 30, 633-641.
  • Armitage, C.J. (2004). Evidence that implementation intentions reduce dietary fat intake: A randomized trial. Health Psychology, 23, 319-323.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 129

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
David French Unit coordinator

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