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Meet Dr Alison Wright: The newest member of the Human Behaviour-Change Project team

By Candice Moore

Publication Date: 05/06/2018

Image credit: Dr Alison Wright

Dr Alison Wright joined the Human Behaviour-Change Project (HBCP) project team on the 15 June. We caught up with her to find out about her career and her research interests.

Can you give me an overview of your career and education?

I did my first degree in psychology in the States at Princeton University, and then a Masters degree in research methods in the UK before working as a research assistant for a year on a project looking at utilisation of health services in people with chronic lung disease - that’s when I became interested in health psychology. As a result of that, I did a PhD investigating whether genetic risk information could motivate smoking cessation, then moved into a postdoc looking more broadly at the effect of risk information on behaviour change.  From there, I moved into a lectureship in the Department of Primary Care and Public Health Sciences at King’s College London. I have been there for the last 8 years, working to bring psychology evidence around behaviour change - both interventions and processes leading to behaviour change - into their work on primary care and public health, particularly looking at things like understanding social inequalities in screening uptake and service use, medication adherence and lifestyle change following the provision of risk advice. 

It sounds like your research has been to some degree focused on communicating risk information. Is your research still focused towards that area or has this since changed?

I think it’s changed as the evidence base has accumulated showing that communicating risk information isn’t enough to get people to change their behaviour. There’s a lot more to behaviour change than simply telling someone about the health consequences of their actions. So that’s made me interested in the broader science of behaviour change. Risk information might be a good starting point, but once you’ve hooked someone in, what else do you need to do to support them to change their behaviour in a health enhancing way?

What attracted you to the HBCP?

Over my research career I’ve become more interested in the broader underpinning science of what actually causes the effects of behaviour change interventions. I’ve been involved in many systematic reviews and, like many people doing systematic reviews of behaviour change interventions, I’ve been a bit frustrated at the quality of some of the reporting and the fact that behaviour change techniques (BCTs ) aren’t well articulated. It’s sometimes hard to tell what researchers did, as they often don’t state the theoretical basis of their interventions or the proposed mechanisms of action. For this reason I wanted to take a step back and think about questions like ‘what are behaviour change interventions?’, ‘how do they work?’ and ‘what are their key features?’. 

Another reason for getting involved with the HBCP was that, in a recent systematic review done with my colleagues at King’s College London, the evidence base grew by another four trials in the time the manuscript was under review.  So it’s clear there’s far too much evidence for humans to be able to keep up with. That really made me interested in the machine learning and automated meta-analysis elements of this project. 

What have you been working on since you started earlier this month?

The first thing I did, which was actually a great way to get to know the whole team, was to go to a full team meeting in Dublin. That bought together a team of 15, including behavioural scientists, system architects and computer scientists. It was great to meet the people involved and to see such a multi-disciplinary group making a real effort to talk to each other in a shared language. I was also able to get a sense of what challenges the project is currently experiencing and where progress is being made. It was really inspiring to see some initial evidence of automated feature extraction. Since then I’ve been back in London getting to know the members of the behavioural science team and starting to think about the tasks that we’re going to tackle over the next few months: what we are going to focus on and which bits of the project to tackle right now. 

For more information, visit Alison’s UCL webpage.

7 July 2017

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Human Behaviour-Change Project

Centre for Behaviour Change
University College London
1-19 Torrington Place, London, WC1E 7HB