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Wais and General Ability

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Health Psychology Revision

  1. Health Psychology in an epistemological framework
  2. How health problems impact on individuals’ well-being
  3. How changes in behaviour can have a positive influence on a person’s quality of life
  4. Broad biopsychosocial influences on health, and interventions which address them

Learning outcomes:

  1. Understand the important relationships between psychological factors and health;
  2. Understand psychological strategies for intervening in a professional manner in health contexts’
  3. Have the ability to define health, within a biopsychosocial framework;
  4. Be able to describe some of the measures used to assess health and related issues;
  5. Be able to identify some of the opportunities for psychologists to work within the health area;
  6. Have the ability to identify some of the key models of health behaviour and behaviour change, and intervention approaches, underpinning the field of Health Psychology.

Week 1: Introduction

  • What is health psychology? … and some of its important underpinnings?

What is Health?

Health and sickness are not entirely separate concepts – they overlap. There are different degrees of ‘wellness’ and of ‘illness’. Rather than two distinct categories (not a dichotomy), health is more of a continuum, that everyone, as long as they’re breathing are in one way or another, some measure of ‘healthy’. It’s important to focus on what enables people to be healthy, rather than what causes people to become sick, that may help to provided a more concise definition of what health is.

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The improvement/deterioration of physical conditions, i.e. blood pressure, symptoms/disabilities and lifestyle choices i.e. diet, exercise, smoking, drinking etc. will position an individual either more to the left (failing health) or right (improving wellness) of the spectrum.

What is Health Psychology?

Health psychology is a field within the discipline of psychology that has a focus on the mental processes and behaviours controlling individual and group health. It aims to:

  • Promote and maintain health

“Why people do and don’t smoke cigarettes, exercise, drink alcohol, eat particular diets” – how can this information be used to create education and public media campaigns to encourage healthy lifestyle habits?

  • Prevent and treat illness

Applying psychological principles to prevent illness, e.g. reducing high blood pressure, clinical therapy to aid in adjusting to current conditions, rehabilitation programs, future prospects etc.

  • Identify the cause and diagnostic correlates of health, illness and related dysfunction

Studying the causes of disease; personality factors in the development of illness, physiological and perceptual processes which affect people’s experience with physical symptoms.  

  • Analyse and improve health care systems and health policy

Studying and advising ways by which characteristics or functions of hospitals, nursing homes, medical personnel, and medical costs affect patients and their likelihood of following medical advice.

The direct help that the profession of ‘health psychologist’ provide generally relates to the patient’s psychological adjustment to and management of health problems, including therapy. Indirect help can include providing information about lifestyle and personality factors in illness and injury. This can be used to design lifestyle and public health campaigns for mass media distribution.

  • Biopsychosocial Model

The biopsychosocial model is a new perspective that broadens the currently used biomedical view by adding to biological factors connections to psychological and social factors. This model proposes that all three factors (biological, psychological, social) affect and are affected by the individual’s health. Important to note that:

  • Mind and body cannot be distinguished in health and illness: social and psychological factors also influence disease
  • Macro (e.g. social policy) and micro level processes (e.g. cellular disorders) influence health
  • It encourages active participation by ‘the patient’ (individual behaviours can change health outcomes)
  • A sharing of responsibility and decision-making: collaborative, patient-centred approach to health care
  • It sees ‘healthiness’ as a continuum
  • For the chronically ill person, coping is the best possible outcome, if they cannot hope to be cured.


an overweight child is overweight due to:


Genetic inheritance form mother; genes that may predispose to weight gain


Unhealthy behaviours (over eating, lack of exercise)


Imitation of parent’s dietary and exercise habits, other people’

Biological Factors can include:

  • The genetic materials and processes by which individuals inherit characteristic from parents.
  • The function and structure of the individuals physiological – structural defects (e.g. malformed heart value) that impair the normal operations of organs.
  • The efficient, effective and healthful functioning of biological systems depends on the way these components operate and interact with each other.

Psychological Factors can include:

  • Behaviour and mental processes – cognitive, emotion and motivation:


  • Cognitive is the mental activity that encompasses perceiving, learning, remembering, thinking, interpreting, believing, problem solving etc. maintaining the belief that, for example, “Life is not worth living without the things I enjoy, I enjoy smoking” can become a psychological factor that dictates whether someone gives up smoking. Likewise, following familiar behavioural patterns, such as not going to see a doctor after experiencing stomach pain because the last time a similar pain sensation occurred it disappeared a few days later.

  • Emotion is a subjective feeling that affects and is affected by thoughts, behaviour and physiology. People whose emotions are relatively positive are less disease-prone and more likely to take better care of their health and to recover quickly from an illness than people who are relatively negative. Emotions can also be important in an individual’s decisions about seeking treatment. People who are frightened of doctors and dentists may avoid getting the care they require.  

  • Motivation is the process within indivuals that gets them to state some activity, choose its direction and persist in it. Motivation in wanting to look better will push an individual into starting a healthier diet, or a parent motivated to quit smoking for their children.

Social Factors can include: People, society, community, family

  • As people interact with each other, they affect and are affected by every interaction they have. Adolescents often start smoking and drinking as a result of peer pressure – a motivational force.
  • On a broader level, society itself; mass media – television – newspapers etc., can affect the health of individuals by promoting certain values of culture, such as being fit and healthy is good, don’t smoke/abuse drugs and alcohol etc. Also, it can promote unhealthy behaviours through the advertising of fast foods etc.
  • Each local community can influence the behaviour of those whom reside within it. A community’s environmental characteristics suggest influencing resident’s physical activity and diet – more promotion of activeness and healthier diets are in communities that have the infrastructure that supports it e.g. parks, safety/security, access to affordable healthy produce.
  • Family is the closet and most continuous social relationship. Children learn many health-related behaviours and ideas from their parents and siblings; the use of seatbelts, diet, treating other respectfully etc.

The biopsychosocial model aims to take a holistic approach towards understanding health and illness. All ‘systems’; biological, psychological and social, interact/interplay with one another. Illness in one part of the body can have far-reaching effects:



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