Unhealthy behaviors—such as smoking, substance use, overeating, and a sedentary lifestyle— account for approximately 40 percent of the risk of premature deaths in the United States. A lot of work has been done in the field of behavioral medicine to help people make healthy choices, and some of that work has been successful. However, even when these efforts are successful, we often don’t know why or how they worked, or why some interventions fail. Understanding why successful behavior change occurs is the key to getting it to happen again. Some interventions lead to changes in behavior for some people, but just because an intervention worked for one person doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.
The Science of Behavior Change (SOBC) Program is working to identify how we can design and implement better behavior change interventions. SOBC researchers are using the experimental medicine approach to identify the mechanisms that lead to behavior change. The experimental medicine approach involves identifying what the behavioral intervention is targeting, developing a way to measure whether the interventions really is changing what we target, and then testing whether changing the target results in the desired behavior change. By focusing on the target, SOBC researchers not only discover what behavioral interventions work, but also why they work, making it possible to predict in what other situations they will likely work in the future.