The psychology of promoting healthy habits

The psychology of promoting healthy habits

Dani Arigo directs the Clinical Health and Social Experiences (CHASE) Lab at Rowan University.


Clinical health psychologist

Areas of expertise:

Psychological and social influences on health and health behavior

More information

Dani Arigo, Ph.D., investigates how psychological experiences such as social comparisons can be used to encourage healthy habits, particularly physical activity. With support from the National Institutes of Health, she is pursuing the next frontier in understanding the many ways people are influenced by social comparisons. 

“Many people, including researchers, believe that because comparison is a common experience, and because it is already implemented in interventions, we already fully understand it,” Arigo said. “But evidence consistently shows that comparisons can be either positive or negative for health behaviors. So, prompting comparison can be an optimal way to promote healthy behavior change, but not always.”

“Not every social comparison is motivating,” Arigo added, using physical activity leaderboards as an example. “One of our aims is to figure out how to avoid prompting people to make the ones that are going to be detrimental to them. We’re also interested in whether we can help people reframe potentially negative comparisons to offer some benefit.”

Ultimately, Arigo hopes her work will lead people toward better health outcomes and the ability to think more flexibly about what it means to be healthy. 

“Health isn’t about being an athlete,” Arigo said. “Health is about giving yourself the space and time you need to do well for your body and your mind. That takes a lot less time and energy than we’ve been led to believe.”

“The work that my team and I do is all about small changes,” Arigo said, “and we’re trying to understand how small changes—prompted by social comparisons, conscious or otherwise—can add up to bigger behavior change, which can improve long-term health outcomes.” 

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