Alexander Rothman

Determinants and Outcomes of Health and Wellness: Minnesota Psychology’s Multi-pronged Approach
Image Alex Rothman

Like many Psychology faculty at Minnesota, Alexander Rothman, PhD, is interested in the interface between basic and applied research, which he recognized early on in his graduate studies in social psychology. After working on some health-related research projects, he soon realized that health “seemed like a perfect place to harness [my] interest in advancing basic science, and to do so in a way that can have an impact on the world around us.” Rothman has since focused his research on seeking to understand how people make decisions about their health behavior and then translating those insights into the design of interventions that will help people make healthy choices. And at Minnesota, Rothman has helped develop social health psychology as a distinct sub-area within the discipline. 

Rothman devotes significant time and energy on delineating not only how interventions work, but also the conditions under which they are effective. For instance, researchers may find that a communication intervention works because it makes people feel more at risk, thus motivating them to take precautions. But, “if I have effectively gotten you to think COVID-19 is dangerous and that you need to get vaccinated, [you still may not get vaccinated because] vaccines are not readily available in your community.” Thus, to be effective, the original intervention—a risk message—must be paired with an intervention that improves vaccine access.

This type of work is only possible through multi-disciplinary collaborations and Rothman’s research is marked by collaborations with colleagues from a range of disciplines including, nursing, mass communication, health policy, and medicine. Currently, he is the co-chair of the Cognitive, Affective, and Social Processes in Health Research (CASPHR) Working Group for the National Cancer Institute, seeking to facilitate the use of social and behavioral sciences to address needs across the cancer-care continuum. One of the challenges of developing strategies that effectively support people’s health and health behavior is that researchers and practitioners must be attentive to factors that cross multiple levels of analysis (e.g, biological, behavioral, environmental, and psychological factors). To facilitate these efforts, Rothman is involved in several NIH initiatives to develop resources that support innovations in health behavior theory and that promote best practices in the use of measures in each of these domains. Rothman’s program of research shows us that basic research in social health psychology can help health practitioners improve our overall health infrastructure and positively impact our health behavior.

Brewer, Noel T., Gretchen B. Chapman, Alexander J. Rothman, Julie Leask, and Allison Kempe. “Increasing Vaccination: Putting Psychological Science into Action.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 18, no. 3 (December 2017): 149–207.  

Huelsnitz, Chloe O., Rachael E. Jones, Jeffry A. Simpson, Keven Joyal-Desmarais, Erin C. Standen, Lisa A. Auster-Gussman, and Alexander J. Rothman. “The Dyadic Health Influence Model.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 26, no. 1 (February 2022): 3–34.  

McMahon, Siobhan K, Beth Lewis, J Michael Oakes, Jean F Wyman, Weihua Guan, and Alexander J Rothman. “Assessing the Effects of Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Behavior Change Strategies on Physical Activity in Older Adults: A Factorial Experiment.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 51, no. 3 (June 2017): 376–90.  

Nagler, Rebekah H, Rachel I Vogel, Sarah E Gollust, Marco C Yzer, and Alexander J Rothman. “Effects of Prior Exposure to Conflicting Health Information on Responses to Subsequent Unrelated Health Messages: Results from a Population-Based Longitudinal Experiment.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 56, no. 5 (August 16, 2021): 498–511.

Rothman, Alexander J, and Paschal Sheeran. “What Is Slowing US down? Six Challenges to Accelerating Advances in Health Behavior Change.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 54, no. 12 (December 2020): 948–59.

Rothman, Alexander J., and Paschal Sheeran. “The Operating Conditions Framework: Integrating Mechanisms and Moderators in Health Behavior Interventions.” Health Psychology 40, no. 12 (December 2021): 845–57.

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