Reflective and automatic processes in health behaviour (change): Habits, affect, and the environment

Target group

The target audience are PhD students focusing on the promotion of health behaviour in different age groups (i.e. children, adolescents, adults and seniors). A minimal background in health psychology is needed to participate in the course.


To prevent physical and mental health problems, it is crucial that people engage in healthy behaviours and refrain from unhealthy behaviours. To help people change their behaviour to be more healthy, a thorough understanding of the underlying processes that explain these behaviours is necessary.  Within this specialist course, theory and latest evidence regarding the reflective and automatic processes in health behaviour and health behaviour change will be presented and discussed. Specifically, students will learn about the interplay of reflective and automatic processes, as we focus on the role of habits, the role of affect and rewarding value of behaviour, and on how the environment can shape people’s health behaviour. We will end with a discussion of implementations for interventions.

Objectives of the course

  • PhD students know the difference and interplay between reflective and automatic processes in health behaviour.
  • PhD students understand the basic concepts underlying habits and habitual behaviour.
  • PhD students understand the basic concepts underlying nudging.
  • PhD students understand the basic concepts underlying the rewarding value of behaviour.
  • PhD students have insight into existing theories of reflective and automatic influences on behaviour.
  • PhD students can critically reflect on the concepts and theories of reflective and automatic influences on health behaviour.
  • PhD students know how to apply the concepts and theories of reflective and automatic influences on health behaviour. within their own research and interventions.
  • PhD students can develop a scale to measure implicit beliefs related to health behaviour.

Programme (preliminary)

Lesson 1: Tuesday, February 14, 2023: Introductory lecture (13u-15u)

Lesson 2: Tuesday, February 14, 2023: Workshop: assessment of automatic beliefs in health behaviour (15u-19u)

Lesson 3: Friday, February 24, 2023: Reflective and non-reflective processes in health behaviour day (8u30 – 17u30)

Dates and Venue

  • 14 and 24 February 2023
  • HILO, Department of Movement and Sports Sciences, Ghent University


Dr. Boris Cheval is a sport psychologist, health neuropsychologist, and life-course epidemiologist. He achieved a PhD from the University Grenoble Alpes in France. In 2019, he obtained an Ambizione scholarship at the Swiss Center for Affective Science at the University of Geneva. Dr. Cheval’s main research focuses on the automatic neuro-behavioral reactions involved in the regulation of physical activity behaviors. Specifically,  he is trying to shed light on the exercise paradox,  that is,  why do individuals fail to exercise regularly despite knowledge of the risk associated with physical inactivity? Dr. Cheval has developed the Theory of Effort Minimization in Physical Activity, and a decision model demonstrating that health benefits hold a weak subjective value, in comparison with the cost of engaging in PA (e.g., effort) and of our innate attraction toward sedentary alternatives. He has published over 90 peer-reviewed scientific publications (

Dr. Benjamin Gardner is recognised internationally as an expert researcher, lecturer and public speaker in the psychology of habitual behaviour. He joined Surrey in April 2022. 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 co-Lead of the European Health Psychology Society Habit Special Interest Group. He is Deputy Editor of British Journal of Health Psychology, and holds editorial board positions at Health Psychology Review, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, and Social Science & Medicine. Dr Gardner's research relates to psychological processes that affect all behaviours. Nonetheless, the main behaviours that he has focused on to date have been health (e.g., sedentary behaviour and sitting, physical activity, dietary consumption) and environmentally relevant actions (e.g., travel mode choice). He has led funded research projects to develop novel habit-based interventions to reduce sedentary behaviour in office workers and older adults, and contributed habit and behaviour change expertise to funded work (e.g. MRC, NIHR) supporting health promotion among older adults, office workers, parents and children.

Pam ten Broeke is a PhD student at the Behavioural Science Institute at Radboud University. Her main research interest is to understand the underlying processes of health behavior and health behavior change in order to develop effective, practical and feasible behavior change interventions. She has expertise on habits, self-regulation, the temporal dynamics of behavior, and many health behaviors including sedentary behavior, physical activity, eating, and stress management. In her PhD research, she proposes a novel statistical approach to analyze the temporal dynamics of sitting behavior, and she applies theory on habits, goals, self-regulation and embodied cognition to understand why people sit.

Dr. Laurens van Gestel is a social and health psychologist. He obtained his PhD from Utrecht University and is currently employed as an Assistant Professor in health psychology at Leiden University. He is interested in self-regulatory and environmental determinants of (health) behavior, and conducts both fundamental and applied research in order to understand which behavior change techniques can effectively stimulate healthy behavior under what conditions. He is an expert on the psychology of nudging and studies under what conditions nudges can be effective and acceptable. His more recent work revolves around investigating behavior change among vulnerable groups and he is currently involved in a variety of interdisciplinary research projects within the topic of health behavior change.  

Geert Crombez is Professor of Health Psychology in the Department of Experimental-Health Psychology at Ghent University. He obtained his Phd in 1994 on the role of learning psychology in pain (supervisor: Paul Eelen). Since his appointment in 1998 at Ghent University, he initiated experimental research in experimental psychopathology, learning psychology, and health psychology, and he further facilitated the growing of research in these areas to maturity. He has published more than 250 internationally peer-reviewed papers in these areas, and some of these papers are key papers in the field with a large theoretical and clinical impact ( He has provided facilities and created a network for translational research that allows investigating the clinical relevance and applicability of current theorizing. He provides and stimulates critical reflection on theoretical concepts.

Melanie Beeckman is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Movement and Sports Sciences at Ghent University. She obtained her doctoral degree in 2015 in clinical psychology with a dissertation on the role of risk and resilience factors in chronic pain (supervisor: prof Liesbet Goubert). As a part of this PhD she did several studies to explore the role of automatic beliefs in the context of chronic pain. For this she developed version of several implicit tasks (Implicit Association Test (IAT); Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP)) to assess automatic pain-related fear-avoidance and acceptance beliefs in adolescents with chronic pain.


You can register by sending an e-mail to Sofie Compernolle.
Please read the cancellation policy.

Registration fee

Free of charge for Doctoral School members.

Number of participants

Maximum 50

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

Both 100% attendance and active participation will be required to pass the course.