Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: Psychology


This project will explore compensatory health behaviours and the psychological mechanisms that underpin them. Compensatory health behaviours are positive behaviours that people undertake in order to compensate for past or future behaviour that they deem unhealthy or negative, such as restricting food intake during the before a takeaway in the evening.

The project will explore the prevalence of the behaviour within the UK, finding out how many people act in this way and in which groups this behaviour is more or less prevalent. Additionally, it will explore the psychological and socio-demographic factors that factor into a person's tendency to engage in these behaviours. It will be a project of analysing why these behaviours exist and where to find them.
Behaviours such as excessive food intake, not taking exercise, smoking, drinking alcohol and taking certain recreational drugs can have an influence on an individual's morbidity and mortality in the western world (Berrigan, Dodd, Troiano, Krebs-Smith, & Ballard Barbash, 2003, World Health Organisation, 2015). These behaviours may occur in patterns suggesting that they can be clustered into typical combinations which can prove to be a challenge for intervention measures to succeed (Scheider, Huy, Schuessler, Diehl, & Schwarz, 2009). These clusters may comprise wholly protective health behaviour patterns, wholly damaging health behaviour patterns, or a mix of both protective and damaging health behaviour patterns. Understanding the rationale behind these patterns of behaviour and the way they relate to one another, as well as the roles that other factors such as socioeconomic status, age and education play, is important for potential health intervention development.

An example of a proposed relationship between health behaviours is in 'compensatory health behaviours' which can be defined as protective behaviours (such as exercising or eating less) in response to the experience or anticipation of unhealthy behaviours (such as eating junk food or drinking alcohol) as a method of 'compensating for' or 'neutralising' the unhealthy behaviour.
Rabiau et al. (2006) proposed a model whereby these behaviours served as a method to resolve the cognitive dissonance or 'motivational conflict' that occurs when a person's short-term desires interfere with their long-term goals. For example, when a person wants to stay trim in the long-term, but also want to eat unhealthy chocolate cake. It was assumed that compensatory health beliefs and behaviours have the benefit of assuaging the cognitive dissonance even when the compensatory behaviour does not or cannot actually neutralise every negative aspect of the unhealthy behaviour, and this is an issue with these behaviours as a whole.

The current body of research is quite small when compared to other topics of health psychology, and the current trend appears to be to assess and investigate compensatory health beliefs in terms of different compensatory health behaviour processes and their relationships with other health psychology paradigms, such as the health action process approach (Berli et al., 2013; Radtke, Scholz, Keler, & Hornung, 2011) and health behaviour self-efficacy (Matley & Davis, 2018; Radtke et al., 2014). Other research investigates the compensatory health belief phenomenon in relation to one or two specific health behaviours, such as vaccination likelihood, overeating, using mobile phones while driving and of course, alcohol intake, exercising and smoking (Ernsting, Schwarzer, Lippke, & Schneider, 2013; Matley & Davis, 2017; Radtke et al., 2012; Radtke at el., 2014; Zhou, Yu, & Wang, 2016). Selten (2012) carried out interesting research into the formation of compensatory intentions after an unhealthy behaviour (in this case overeating), a part of the process underrepresented in the literature. This body of research and their findings will be useful in the formation of useful and theoretically sound studies for this project


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000673/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2272918 Studentship ES/P000673/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2022 Ryan Bamsay