Research Themes

Contextualizing Health Behavior


In this line of research based on the Health Behavior Goal Model (Gebhardt, 1997; Maes & Gebhardt, 2000), I have, since 1992, focused on the underlying meaning attached to the goals individuals pursue, from the conviction that we can only understand behavior when we know the motives behind it, and how they are imbedded in the whole conglomerate of other important individual goals. Consequently, I study motives that underlie health behaviors (e.g., sexual motives) and how they may influence behavioral choices within specific contexts (e.g., casual or steady partners, or condom placement preferences in stores). In addition, the distinct processes of goal facilitation, goal conflict, and goal frustration as well as their impact on behavior are within my main research interests. I have studied these processes also within the context of illnesses, particularly pain complaints.


Physically active in the neighborhood (ZonMW, 2012)

The effects of the public smoking ban on current smokers’ smoking behavior and (self)conceptions, and implications for governmental communication (Miro/Pfizer, 2009)

Testing a theory on continued abstinence and relapse among ex-smokers and developing an internet-based computer system for individualized feedback (ZonMW, 2006; PI Arie Dijkstra)

After the Health Check in vulnerable groups: a individually tailored self-management intervention led by Community Health Workers (Lekker Lang Leven, 2010; PI Matty Crone/Sandra van Dijk)

Study on the influence of emotions and implementation intentions for the reduction of alcohol abuse among students (Leiden University Fund/ Gratama stichting-Byvanck Fund, 2005)

Preparing young people for unanticipated and unplanned sexual encounters: A theory- and evidence-based approach to program development in the context of safe sex. (ZonMW, 2005; PI Pepijn van Empelen).

Identity Processes in Health Behavior Change


In my newest line of research I investigate together with my colleagues, and my colleague Eline Meijer and PhD student Kristell Penfornis, in particular, the identity processes that accompany health behavioral change. Main premises of the theoretical framework we apply is that over time a behavior, such as smoking, is likely become integrated in the identity of a person. In our line of research, we argue that when this happens, behavior becomes robust to change because it is so closely linked to central self-views. We contend, based on for example Prime Theory (West, 2006) that behavioral change can only then occur if the new (healthier) behavior becomes part of the “self”: the person one perceives oneself to be, or wishes to be. Such views of the self need to be vivid  and readily accessible, particularly at times when one is faced with difficulties that interfere with establishing a new behavioral pattern.

We examine behavioral change as it occurs over time and search for self-defining moments during the process. This is done by interviewing smokers, but also by using data from a large panel-study (International Tobacco Control Project), in which thousands of smokers are followed over the years (in the Netherlands since 2008). We also experimentally induce new identities, and try to encourage people to link a behavioral goal, such as continuing or quitting smoking, to (un)desired future self-views, or so-called Possible Selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986). This is also a main aim of the NWO funded project of the Perfect Fit consortium and in Transfer project.


Perfect Fit: Targeting key risk factors for cardiovascular disease in at-risk individuals using a personalized and adaptive approach. (NWO, PI Niels Chavannes)

Implementation Theory


In this line of research, my colleagues and I investigate the preconditions for effective adoption, implementation and continuation of evidence-based interventions. We also evaluate policy measures, and conduct formative research to support (local) governments in their efforts to enhance healthy lifestyles of their citizens.


Preconditions for effective implementation of tailored-based interventions to enhance an active life-style among high risk population (ZonMW, 2009)

The effects of the public smoking ban on current smokers’ smoking behavior and (self)conceptions, and implications for governmental communication (Miro/Pfizer, 2009)

Who takes care of the caregivers? On risk-profiles for (too) heavy perceived burden among caregivers (ZonMW, 2015)

Evaluation of interventions to promote self-management among people with intellectual disability (Stichting Raamwerk,  2014)

The background of alcohol use by youth in the municipality of Teylingen: Interviews with 15-year olds and their mothers (ZonMW/Academic Workplace, 2011)

E-learning program for professionals in primary care and welfare to improve the identification and management of adults at high risk of depression (ZonMW, 2010; PI Nicolette van der Zouwe)

Health checks in vulnerable groups: the role of beliefs and expectations (Lekker Lang Leven, 2009; PI Matty Crone/Sandra van Dijk)