Chaos Theory and Epiphany in Health Behavior Change

The understanding and modification of diet and exercise behavior has been guided by a cognitive, rationale paradigm. Within this paradigm, change is conceptualized as a linear, deterministic process. However, the conceptual and statistical assumptions underlying this cognitive, linear paradigm may be seriously flawed, and might limit our ability to explain and change health behavior. In particular, such a perspective fails to account for non-linear, chaotic and quantum influences on human thought and action. We propose that health behavior change, including diet and activity, is better understood through the lens of Chaos Theory and Complex Dynamic Systems. Key principles from these perspectives are:

  1. Behavior change is often a quantum rather than linear event;
  2. Behavior change is a chaotic process that is highly variable and difficult to predict;
  3. Behavior change is a complex dynamic system that involves multiple component parts that interact in a nonlinear fashion and the results of their interaction are often greater than the sum of their parts; and
  4. Behavior change is sensitive to initial conditions.
This presentation will address how these principles can be incorporated into the development and evaluation of diet and activity programs. Implications for future research will also be presented.

About the Speaker

Kenneth A. Resnicow, PhD

Ken Resnicow, PhD, is Irwin M. Rosenstock Collegiate Professor, Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, UM Cancer Center Director of Health Disparities Research, and a senior leader at the CHCR.

Dr. Resnicow is an internationally recognized expert in design and evaluation of health promotion interventions and motivational interviewing (MI), and is a leading expert in conceptualizing and designing culturally sensitive community-based interventions for health promotion. He is also an expert in community-based interventions for nutrition, physical activity, and smoking prevention in minorities.

Dr. Resnicow specializes in theory-based tailoring including ethnic identity and self-determination theory. His research interests include the design and evaluation of health promotion programs for special populations, particularly cardiovascular and cancer prevention interventions for African Americans; understanding the relationship between ethnicity and health behaviors; and motivational interviewing for chronic disease prevention. He has worked extensively with numerous universities, research and practitioner groups worldwide as well as health voluntary (e.g., American Cancer Society, American Dietetics Association, Academy of Pediatrics) and government agencies, including NIH and CDC.