Healthy Behaviors Lab

Poverty, geography, discrimination, and other structural barriers undoubtedly impede individuals and communities in their efforts to be healthy. In addition, though, we all—regardless of geography or environment—face universal barriers that are internal to our own choices and behavior. For example, although high-value public health products—vaccines, antiretroviral drugs, chlorine solution, soap, condoms—are often locally available in resource-poor settings at low cost, adoption and use of these products is often far from optimal.  Leveraging insights from psychology, neuroscience, and economics, Common Hope for Health is developing a research agenda in which we will diagnose the causes of sub-optimal health behaviors, focusing on universal challenges humans have with respect to cognition (e.g., calculating risk probabilities), self-control (e.g., procrastination), attention (e.g., forgetfulness), and other mental tasks.

This is arguably the “last mile” of global health delivery: after new health products have been developed, manufactured, procured, and delivered to remote communities and even into people’s homes, how can we motivate and empower the end users to use them? We are laying the groundwork for a community “lab” in which we hope to conduct rigorous research on behavioral bottlenecks and solutions to them. By registering households and individuals using biometric identification and employing sensor technologies, we will be able to longitudinally track individuals and key health behaviors such as taking chronic disease medications and treating water with chlorine. We envision that our network of community health workers, who routinely visit all 2,500 households in our catchment area and record and submit all of their activities on mobile phones, will serve as a key channel for both delivering interventions (such as incentives, reminders, or educational messages) to households and collecting data from households.