Chapter 8

Applying Social Psychology to Health


This slide deck will review various models and theoretical frameworks that help us understand the dynamics of health behavior change, as well as the effects of social support on health.

The Biopsychosocial Model

According to Engel, the biopsychosocial model suggests that health is determined by biological, psychological, and social factors (p. 169 ASP).

Understanding illness will always involve biology

This model also emphasizes the psychological and social effects on health.

Health Belief Model

Beliefs about our likelihood of becoming ill and the way we perceive certain health behaviors to be effective in preventing illness are considered cognitive factors.

considers how cognitive factors help predict health-protective behaviors

How we approach adopting health behaviors are shaped by various components.

General health values

Perceived susceptibility to illness

Perceived vulnerability of illness

Expectation of treatment success


Perceived barriers and benefits

Cues to action

The health belief model

General health values

Assumes we have an existing interest in our health and care about maintaining good health.

Perceived susceptibility to illness

The way we perceive health threats is determined by

Our general understanding of a disease or condition

Specific knowledge of how the condition relates to us personally.

Ex: If you are smoker with high blood pressure and high cholesterol and you also know that smoking, hypertension, and high cholesterol are all risk factors associated with coronary heart disease, you may perceive that you are more personally vulnerable to the threat of heart disease.

Health Belief Model (cont’d)

Perceived severity of illness

If simply knowing that we are vulnerable to a disease or condition is not enough, the severity of the problem and its consequences will affect our need to to take action.

Ex: Family history of breast cancer vulnerability to breast cancer choosing to undergo routine screenings

Similarly, if we perceive the consequences to be minimal, we may choose not to take action.

Health Belief Model (cont’d)

Expectation of treatment success

If we choose to change our behavior, we may question if the change will have a significant effect on preventing or reducing the severity the health threat.

Choosing not to act because we do not think these actions will make a difference.

Ex: Feeling less motivated or obligated to eat well or exercise regularly because we perceive the likelihood of getting a disease to be solely dependent on genetic predisposition.

Health Belief Model (cont’d)

Health Belief Model (cont’d)

Self-efficacy (Bandura)

Relates to our perception of whether or not we a capable of carrying out a behavior

Emphasis on feeling confident/capable to change health habits

Perceived barriers and benefits

Weighing the costs and benefits of changing one’s health behaviors.

Ex: The benefits of regular exercise outweigh the costs of having to overcome barriers such as time constrains health

Health Campaigns: Alternate View

Emphasizing the low cost of behavior changes in comparison to the costs (consequences) of a disease or condition.

Cues to Action

Events or messages that prompt health behavior changes

E.g. receiving dental checkup reminders in the mail

Health Belief Model (cont’d)

Theory of Planned Behavior

A person's intentions are the best predictor of a person's behavior.

To adopt healthier behaviors, they must change their behavioral intentions.

Intentions influenced by:

Attitudes toward behavior

Subjective norms about the behavior

Perceived behavioral control

Theory of Planned Behavior

From Figure 8.4 ASP

People tend to be in different stages of “readiness” when setting out to change certain health behaviors or habits.

5 stages






Stages of Change Model


Figure 8.5 ASP


No intention of changing:

Individual does not find behavior to be problematic

Has decided against changing behavior


Take serious consideration of changing behavior

Intend to make change within 6 months

BUT, often stay in this stage for a long time; no follow through

Stages of Change Model (cont’d)


Intend to make change in the next month

Actively make efforts to initiate change


Successfully modifying behavior


Completed 6 months of behavior change

Can remain in this stage for a long time; relapse from addiction can occur

Stages of Change Model (cont’d)

Advantages of Stages of Change Model

Conceptualization of actual, and often complex, processes people go through and acknowledges individuality

Provides a more optimistic view of relapse; “not all is lost”

Serves as a guide when tailoring health interventions for those in different stages

What works for one individual may not be the best for another.

To Sum…

Social Support

The transactional model of stress, (Lazarus and Folkman) suggests that the experience of stress results from ongoing interactions and encounters between people and the environment (p. 183 ASP).

Not all of these interactions will evoke stress

Those events/interactions that do induce stress are called stressors.

The judgment that leads to how we choose to respond to those stressors is called an appraisal.

Effects of stressful circumstances can be alleviated by social support, which we receive from other people.

Components of social support:

Size of our social network – how many or few people are we connected to for support

Quality – do we feel comfortable seeking support from those in our network

Social Support (cont’d)

Functions and Forms of Social Support

Emotional: love, empathy, security.

Esteem: Confirmation or validation from others that, despite our faults, we are valued for our personal qualities

Instrumental (tangible): Practical help – favors, active assistance, giving a ride

Informational: Advice, feedback, or other communicated messages from others. Helpful when faced with unfamiliar or or difficult situations.

Network: Feelings of membership or companionship from a group that share our interests.

Social Support (cont’d)

Social Support and Health

Influence on another’s health behavior?

Encouragement to adopt healthier behaviors

Distract from or discourage temptation towards poor health behaviors

Make suggestions about seeking help


Being around others who can provide effective support reduces the likelihood that an individual makes stressful appraisals about potentially stressful experiences.

Reducing severity of the stress as a health threat – 2 ways

Problem-focused efforts: change the stressor

Emotion-focused: controlling emotions to minimize distress

Social Support (cont’d)