The Habit Application and Theory group (HabitAT) comprises a physical team based at University of Surrey, and an international network of habit researchers.
Meet the team
Dr Benjamin Gardner
Reader in Psychology
Dr Benjamin Gardner is recognised internationally as an expert researcher, lecturer and public speaker in the psychology of habitual behaviour. Over his 15+ years of behavioural science research, he has published over 150 research papers and book chapters, mostly exploring how the concept of 'habit' can be drawn on to understand and change everyday human behaviours, with especial focus on health behaviours. He has given talks and hosted seminars and workshops with academic, practitioner, commercial and public audiences across the UK and Europe, and in Australia, Canada, Singapore, and USA. Dr Gardner is a chartered research psychologist, and is co-Lead of the European Health Psychology Society Habit Special Interest Group. He holds editorial board positions at Health Psychology Review and Social Science & Medicine, and is a Consultant at British Journal of Health Psychology. Dr Gardner's research relates to psychological processes that affect all human behaviour. The main behaviours that he has focused on to date have been health (e.g., sedentary behaviour, physical activity, dietary consumption) and environmentally relevant actions (e.g., travel mode choice).
Dr Phillippa Lally
Senior Lecturer, University of Surrey
Dr Phillippa Lally is a world-leading researcher on the psychology of habit. Her 2010 paper on habit formation made a seminal contribution to habit theory and continues to be held-up as the gold-standard for habit formation research. Dr Lally is passionate about applying habit theory to behaviour change interventions in a way which both improves the outcomes of these interventions and answers fundamental questions about making and breaking habits. Dr Lally has applied habit theory to various behaviours with a focus on the health behaviours of those living with and beyond cancer. She co-leads a Yorkshire Cancer Research funded trial; APPROACH (PI with Dr Fisher, University College London) which tests an app-based habit intervention to increase physical activity in adults with breast, prostate and colorectal cancer. Dr Lally is co-Lead of the European Health Psychology Society Habit Special Interest Group and will be joining the team at Surrey in January 2023.
Dr Carolina Feher da Silva
Lecturer in Psychology
Dr Carolina Feher da Silva is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Surrey. She has an interdisciplinary background in both Biology and Computer Science and has worked in computational neuroscience all her career. She is an expert in computational modelling of value-based and perceptual decision-making, especially reinforcement learning, and she tests her model's predictions using behavioural, eye-tracking, and neuroimaging experiments in humans. She is currently most interested in goal-directed behaviour, in particular how people select their goals, how they plan to achieve their goals, how their goals might change with internal and external state changes, and how goal-directed behaviours interact with habits. Her recent work, published in Nature Human Behaviour, shows that humans often form misconceptions about their environment, and their misguided behaviour is often misidentified by studies as a habit but is in fact goal-directed. She is keen on forming new collaborations with psychiatry researchers to study how different psychopathologies affect decision-making.
Dr Phillippa Lally
Senior Lecturer in Psychology
Pippa completed a BSc in Psychology at the University of Warwick, followed by an MSc and PhD in Health Psychology at UCL. Her PhD focused on habit formation and weight control.
Following her PhD Pippa was awarded an ESRC postdoctoral fellowship to build on her habit research. Over the next ten years Pippa worked on various research projects at UCL, including work on social norms and weight management in adults with learning disabilities, in between maternity leaves and career breaks to look after her young family.
In 2017, she returned to UCL to manage a trial of a habit-based health behaviour intervention for adults living with and beyond cancer. She is now Principal Investigator of a trial of an app-based intervention based on habit theory that promotes brisk walking in adults living with and beyond cancer.
In January 2023 Pippa joined the University of Surrey as Senior Lecturer where she became Co-Director of the Habit Application and Theory Research Group with Dr Benjamin Gardner. Dr Gardner and Dr Lally also co-lead the Sustainability through Behaviour Change programme of the Institute for Sustainability.
PhD candidate, University of Surrey
Theepa Cappelli's research focuses on understanding and improving university students' financial literacy, decision-making, and financial behaviour. Her plan is to develop a theory and evidence-based resource to improve students' financial management habits.
PhD candidate, University of Surrey
PhD Student and Health Psychologist Trainee
Professor Marieke Adriaanse
Professor of Behavioral Interventions in Population Health, Universiteit Leiden, The Netherlands
Prof Adriaanse’s work focuses on self-regulation, nudging, and habits. She studies the interplay between deliberate (e.g., good intentions) and more automatic processes (habits) on behaviour and behaviour change. She is also interested in understanding how habits are formed, and which factors promote the formation and disruption of habits. Her work also focuses on developing and testing self-regulation strategies that aid individuals in their efforts to behave more healthily. An example of such a strategy is the use of cue-based planning (implementation intentions) to overcome the so-called intention-behaviour gap when trying to increase health promoting behaviours or decrease unhealthy habits, such as unhealthy eating habits. Self-control, or willpower, is another related theme in my research. Prof Adriaanse also studies the use of ‘nudging’, i.e. behaviour change strategies that alter the environment in such a way that it becomes more likely that individuals will make a desired (healthy) choice.
Dr Rebecca Beeken
Associate Professor, University of Leeds, UK
Dr Beeken is an Associate Professor supported by a Yorkshire Cancer Research University Academic Fellowship. Her academic background is in behavioural science and health psychology, and her primary research interest is in behaviour change for cancer prevention and control.
Dr Beeken works on a number of studies focused on developing and trialling complex interventions to improve outcomes for people living with and beyond cancer. She currently co-leads a Cancer Research UK funded project (PI with Dr Fisher, University College London) exploring the efficacy of a brief, habit-based intervention for improving dietary and physical activity behaviours in people living with and beyond cancer (ASCOT). She also co-leads the Breast Cancer Now funded We Sure Can trial (PI with Dr Smith, University of Leeds), which is piloting a total diet replacement intervention to support weight loss in women with stage II-III breast cancer affected by excess weight. Additionally, she is a co-investgator on two Yorkshire Cancer Research funded studies in this area; the APPROACH study (PIs: Dr Fisher & Dr Lally, UCL/Surrey) is exploring the potential of a mobile phone application to increase physical activity in Yorkshire cancer patients, and the CANVAS study (PI: Professor Velikova, University of Leeds) aims to develop, implement and evaluate satisfaction with an improved electronic system to engage breast and bowel cancer survivors to self-report symptoms/problems online from home and get immediate tailored advice for self-management or hospital contact.
Dr Kimberly More
Lecturer in Psychology, University of Dundee, UK
Dr More is Director of the Health Lab at University of Dundee. Her research lays at the intersection of Social and Health Psychology, with a focus on how researchers and interventionists can increase intentions to engage in healthy behaviour as well as how intention can be translated into behavioural initiation and subsequent maintenance through targeting both intrapersonal and interpersonal processes. To date, her research program has focused on promoting both simple health behaviours, such as calcium consumption in young women, and complex health behaviours, such as increasing fruit and vegetable intake in college students as well as promoting exercise in both inactive young adults and older adults with chronic illness (i.e., cancer). This examination of how to best promote behavioural engagement, and of which mechanisms support or hinder uptake of health behaviours, has focused on affective processes, social cognition, habits, and identity. Dr More’s current habit-related research focuses on higher-order nutrition habits and the intersection between health-habits and other automatic and controlled processes such as self-regulation and identity.
Professor Barbara Mullan
Professor of Health Psychology, Curtin University, Australia
Professor Barbara Mullan is a research academic and registered Health Psychologist. Her primary interests and expertise lie in the use of social cognition models in predicting, changing and improving health behaviours, with a strong focus on habitual behaviours. Her most recent research has focused on important population health problems such as safe food handling, dietary behaviours and alcohol consumption. The majority of her research focuses on habit application and theory-based interventions, using behaviour change techniques.
Dr Alison Phillips
Associate Professor, Iowa State University, USA
Dr Phillips is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University, a member of the European Health Psychological Society, and a member and Fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. She is particularly interested in developing and testing interventions for health-related and climate-action-related habits. In general, her expertise lies in behaviour change theory and techniques geared specifically towards longer-term behavioural maintenance. Populations of interest include healthy adults and adults managing chronic illness. Her methodological skills include longitudinal data analysis, MOST (multiphase optimization trials) intervention design and analysis, experimental design and analysis, objective behavioral measurement (via behavior sensors), and scale (self-report survey) development and validation.
Dr Sebastian Potthoff
Assistant Professor, Northumbria University, UK
Dr Sebastian Potthoff is a Chartered Health Psychologist and Assistant Professor at Northumbria University whose research focuses on the intersection between Health Psychology and Implementation Science. His research draws upon theories and approaches from behavioural medicine to develop and evaluate interventions aimed at changing healthcare professional behaviour and health behaviours of patients and the public. Dr Potthoff is particularly interested in the role of habitual and routine clinical behaviours and how to change them to create lasting change.
His work includes applying novel research methodologies and comprehensive approaches to stakeholder engagement to understand and shape the processes of healthcare improvement through implementation of change in practice. His research interests include applied health research (qualitative/mixed methods) in relation to a broad range of health issues, including mental health, alcohol misuse, chronic diseases and e-health interventions.
Dr Potthoff is a Head Editor of the Practical Health Psychology Blog, an online publication, addressed to healthcare practitioners, on cutting edge psychology research and how to apply it in practice, published in 30 languages. He is a Director of the Open Digital Health initiative which aims to accelerate the implementation and evaluation of evidence-based open digital health tools.
Dr Amanda Rebar
Associate Professor, Central Queensland University, Australia
Dr Rebar is Director of the Motivation of Health Behaviours (MoHB) Lab at Central Queensland University, Australia. She has experience providing evidence-based guidance for community-based programs with a focus on mental health and safety outcomes. Dr Rebar’s research focuses on the psychology of behaviour change and the impact of changes in behaviour on mental health and wellbeing. While her work draws on a range of methodologies, she is a strong advocate for longitudinal repeated assessment designs and multi-level analysis for testing predictive relationships in real-world contexts.
Dr Katarzyna (Kathy) Stawarz
Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction, Cardiff University, UK
Dr Katarzyna (Kathy) Stawarz is a Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at the School of Computer Science and Informatics, Cardiff University, and Honorary Lecturer at University of Bristol. Her research interests and expertise are in the use of ubiquitous technologies to support health and wellbeing. Her work explores how emerging technologies could be used to support healthy habits by leveraging people's environment and their daily routines. In a broader sense, she is interested in ethical design, the "dark side" of digital health and unintended consequences, as well as building inclusive digital health technologies that fit into people’s lives.
Pam ten Broeke
Associate Member, Universiteit Leiden, The Netherlands
Pam ten Broeke is broadly interested in studying the fundamental underlying mechanisms of health and health behavior, with the ultimate goal of helping people behave more healthy. Her PhD focused on the underlying psychology of sedentary behavior, applying research insights and theory on the concepts of habit, goals, self-regulation, and embodied cognitions.
Professor Tom Webb
Professor of Social Psychology, University of Sheffield, UK
Prof Webb is a social psychologist, interested in how people achieve their goals and make changes to their behaviour. Much of his research to date has investigated how the effects of motivation can be boosted by strategies such as monitoring progress, responding with self-compassion to lapses, or forming specific plans that link good opportunities to act with suitable responses to those opportunities. Prof Webb’s current areas of interest and expertise focus on the role of behavioural science in multidisciplinary efforts to promote more sustainable behaviour (e.g., enabling reuse of plastic), and understanding how different behaviours are related (and how methods for formalising knowledge can facilitate this). Prof Webb works with a number of organisations on promoting behaviour change in various contexts. For example, he is contributing to work on strategies for reducing single use plastics as part of a large multidisciplinary project that brings together scientists from across the University, and he leads the behavioural component of the Healthy Lifespan Institute, which seeks to help everyone to live healthier, independent lives for longer.
Dr Chao Zhang
Assistant Professor, Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands
Dr Zhang is an Assistant Professor in Human-Centered AI in the Human-Technology Interaction group at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). While he has a broad interest in connecting psychology with artificial intelligence (AI), his primary focus is on using AI for (health-related) behaviour change. He uses theory-based computational models to study cognitive processes underlying health behaviours, such as habit formation, habit-goal interaction, and decision-making involving self-control conflicts. His multidisciplinary approach has led to publications in health psychology, digital health, and user modeling journals.
Associate Student Members
PhD candidate, University of Ottawa, Canada
Eamon Colvin is a PhD Candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Ottawa. He is currently completing his clinical residency in Calgary with Alberta Health Services. In his clinical work, Eamon has worked with individuals across the lifespan addressing various mental health concerns including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addictions, and personality disorders. Eamon’s doctoral dissertation focuses on how habit theory can be applied to positive and negative thinking in the context of mental health (i.e. mental habits). He is also broadly interested in how habit theory can be applied to describe and treat mental health problems.
PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield, UK
Louisa Robinson’s research focuses on habits in medication adherence behaviour. Her PhD explores ways in which people have conceptualised and implemented 'habit formation interventions' for taking medications in long-term conditions, and in novel methods to identify features of habit in objective medication adherence data. Louisa is particularly interested in identifying and articulating core intervention techniques for forming habits and in how we measure habits.