Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

No More Hunting for Measures: SOBC’s Online Registry Makes Measures of Behavior Change Mechanisms Accessible to Everyone

This August, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Science of Behavior Change (SOBC) program launched a Web-based measures repository for key behavior change mechanisms. This repository on the SOBC website is a unique resource that offers a way to advance, and engage with, behavioral science research through a common, systematic, and transparent method.

Supported by the NIH Common Fund, SOBC seeks to improve the understanding of mechanisms underlying human behavior change by applying an experimental medicine approach to behavior change research. By using this common method, researchers aim to reveal how and why people make and sustain healthy behaviors, which will inform the development of more reliable, efficient, and effective behavioral interventions. 

Research funded during stage one of SOBC (2009-14) identified three broad classes of intervention targets that are highly relevant to the mechanisms underlying behavior change: self-regulation; stress reactivity and stress resilience; and interpersonal and social processes. This aided the development of a reliable and valid way to measure engaged targets through experimental manipulation or interventions. This measurement focus has been the foundation for the current stage two phase of the SOBC Research Network (2015-present).

Initial findings from stage one have informed the population of the aforementioned repository. An essential and unique feature of the repository is the documentation of a measure’s status through the three steps of the SOBC experimental medicine approach: (1) identify, (2) measure, and (3) influence. First, researchers identify a hypothesized mechanism that may drive behavior change. Next, they develop valid measures of the target mechanism. Researchers then influence the target mechanism with experimental methods. Measures are ultimately validated or not validated based on whether a change in a measure relates to a change in behavior.

“Knowing why a behavior change intervention didn’t work is actually just as important as knowing why it did,” said Dr. Donald Edmondson, Associate Professor of Behavioral Medicine and co-principal investigator of the SOBC Research Network located at Columbia University Medical Center. “What we are interested in is uncovering the underlying mechanisms of behavior change. If we can do that, then we can begin to reliably affect change across different behaviors because we’ll know which mechanisms we need to influence.”

At the foundation of this repository, SOBC is embracing open science and ensuring rigor, reproducibility, and transparency. Each step of the validation process is documented along with the measures that are posted. For example, Dr. Richard Heyman and Dr. Amy Slep document the validation steps for the Couple Coercion Scale, a nine-item self-report scale that assesses an individual’s perception of how much coercion characterizes their relationship with their partner.

You can get involved by contacting SOBC directly or by subscribing to the SOBC newsletter. This is a great way to learn more about funding opportunities, job postings, and developments within the SOBC Research Network. To learn more, please visit the SOBC website.