Make a Change: Changing Community Health by Interventions

What is an intervention?

Interventions are specific programs designed to assess levels of behavior, introduce ways to change them, measure whether a change has occurred, and assess the impact of the change. Health psychologists use interventions for two main purposes: to change a person’s attitudes to change his or her behavior, or to attempt to change his or her beliefs or intentions.

There are ten factors necessary to have a successful intervention:

  • Intervene at the appropriate level: Do you want to intervene at a city level? State level? Neighborhood? Families? Individuals? The level you choose to intervene at should be appropriate to the apparent problem. Perhaps this problem only affects at-risk teens. Maybe the problem affects only people who live in a certain area. Whatever it is, target the right market.
  • Size matters: Size can refer to the duration of the intervention and to the intensity of the intervention. Longer interventions are more likely to lead to long-term behavior change. In many studies, rates of high-risk behavior increase when interventions are ended. The size of the intervention is related to the extent of change made.
  • Interventions should target people at risk: When the intervention is not made at the appropriate level, time and money are wasted. It is worth the time to make an attempt to find the correct target for the intervention. The more an intervention is tailored to the individuals at risk, the more likely it will work.
  • Interventions should be appropriate for the risk group/risk factor: Interventions should be designed to speak to the at-risk group. For example, if you are targeting a certain age or sex or ethnic group, it would not make sense to speak in a language they would not understand. For example, if you want to target the level of inactivity in sixth-grade gamer boys, it would not make sense to talk to them at the level of a college graduate. To appeal to a group, an intervention must use terminology, images, or styles familiar to the group.
  • Be sure your intervention does only what you want it to do: Sometimes an intervention can have unintended effects. One example of this was a study of norming health behaviors. An intervention aimed at moving people toward the norm had a negative effect on those whose behaviors were healthier than the norm (Schultz, Nolan, Cialdini, Goldstein, & Griskevicius, 2007).
  • Preventing dropouts should be a priority: There are two big reasons that dropouts are an issue. First, the participant is not getting the entire treatment. Second, dropouts do not let us completely assess the intervention.
  • Be ethical: Researchers must respect participants’ rights and refrain from using deception or making false claims about the unhealthy or healthy behavior.
  • Be culturally sensitive: Researchers must pay attention to the symbols and language used in interventions. What may be perfectly fine in one culture might be very inappropriate in another. For example, the swastika is a symbol of good luck for Hindus but may offend the Jews.
  • Prevent relapse:  One of the biggest problems in health behavior change is maintaining the new behavior. Interventions should provide participants with the cognitive and behavioral skills to maintain the behavior change.

Schultz, P., Nolan, J.M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N.  J., & Griskevicius, V. (2007). The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychological Science, 18 (5), 429-434.doi:10.1111/j.14679280.2007.0917.x

Gurung, R. A. R. (2014). Health Psychology: A Cultural Approach, Third Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.