Health and Social Psychology

Image of a couple waling through the woods with a dog.

The Health and Social Psychology research group conducts research focusing on a number of interrelated areas including:

  • Understanding and changing health behaviours
  • Effects of stress on health and behaviour
  • Use of medical technologies
  • Qualitative understanding of health
  • Mindfulness, coping and resilience
  • Biological influences on health
  • Patient safety
  • Understanding the development of wellbeing and resilience.
  • Stereotyping and performance outcomes

Working closely with the Bradford Institute for Health Research, the group also conducts research on implicit attitudes, prejudicial attitudes, causal reasoning, social category combination (multiple categorisation), and controlled processing in a range of behaviours.

Ongoing Projects

Below are examples of projects conducted within the Health and Social Psychology Research Group.

Increasing Physical Activity: Designing and Testing a Workplace Intervention

This project was funded by the BUPA Foundation and was awarded to the School of Psychology at the University of Leeds. This important UK-first physical activity trial, led by Professor Rebecca Lawton, aimed to promote good health by making people aware of the benefits of physical activity, encouraging employers to provide an environment conducive to it and staff to practise it. The study was run in collaboration with the Centre for Workplace Health at the Health & Safety Laboratory, an agency of the Health & Safety Executive.

The work place is an excellent setting to promote physical activity. This 36-month study developed and evaluated a flexible and problem-based intervention to promote physical activity. The intervention targeted Awareness, Motivation and Environment (AME) and was tailored to five organisations, Wrexham County Borough Council, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, First Group (Leeds and York), Health & Safety Laboratory and the University of Leeds.

MindMate 2U – acceptability and feasibility study of a digital resource for young people

This research project is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and is led by Dr Siobhan Hugh-Jones at the University of Leeds.  The project collaborators are: The University of Leeds, mHabitat, CommonRoom and Thompson Brand Partners.  Adopting a strong user-design approach, our aim is to develop and pilot test (for feasibility, acceptability and efficacy) a school-based, digitally supported, guided self-help intervention (now called MindMate 2U) for young people. 

We are interested in the extent to which evidence-based psychoeducation (spanning knowledge, skills and strategies) is acceptable and useful to young people in helping them to feel more able to be back in control, and de-escalate their mental health difficulties.  We will also explore whether generic mental health information and support provided (digitally) to a parent/carer in the young person’s life is important in helping the adult feel better equipped to support the young person. Further information can be found on the MindMate2U website.

Study to Examine Psychological Processes in Suicidal Ideation and behaviour (STEPPS)

This research project is funded by the US Department of Defense and is led by Professor Daryl O’Connor and is based in our Laboratory for Stress and Health Research (STARlab). The project is part of a larger programme of research led by Professor Rory O’Connor (University of Glasgow) and has collaborators based at the University of Stirling (Professor Ronan O’Carroll) and University of Nottingham (Professor Eamonn Ferguson).

The aim of the project is to improve understanding of the predictors of suicide. Specifically, in STARlab, we have been exploring the role of stress and associated hormones (eg cortisol) in relation to suicide behaviour. In particular, we have been investigating whether cortisol reactivity stress in the laboratory and in the real world can differentiate individuals who have previously made a suicide attempt from those who had thought about suicide but not made an attempt.   

Stereotype threat in pregnancy 

This project includes a number of social psychology experimental studies that will test the effects of explicitly activating a ‘baby brain’ social stereotype on pregnant women’s cognitive functioning. This is informed by a body of research on ‘stereotype threat’, which suggests that exposure to information concerning self-applicable negative performance stereotypes can undermine performance on associated tasks (Steele, 1997).

We are interested in exploring the extent to which the perception of women’s reduced cognitive ability during and following pregnancy is explained by social and cultural expectations. We plan to then use this initial work in understanding the mechanisms which may buffer against these negative performance effects. This work is being carried out by Madeleine Pownall under the supervision of Dr Russell Hutter and Professor Mark Conner.

Reducing adolescent smoking initiation

This research project was funded by several grants from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the National Prevention Research Initiative and was led by Professor Mark Conner. We have been conducting this research on adolescent smoking initiation for over 15 years.  Our work includes a number of studies looking at predictors of starting smoking in adolescence. 

In addition, we have conducted three prospective studies in smoking initiation in this age group.  This work uses implementation intentions to help adolescents pre-plan how to say no to offers of cigarettes. In a pilot study (n=104), an explanatory trial (n=1338) and a pragmatic trial (n=6155) this work shows that this intervention reduces smoking initiation in 11-16 year olds.

Increasing cervical cancer screening uptake in Yorkshire

Early identification of cervical cancer risk could prevent a large number of deaths. The NHS Cervical Cancer Screening Programme is the central strategy for reducing cervical cancer mortality. However, screening uptake rates are falling, particularly in women aged 25 - 49 years and remain low in deprived groups. This Yorkshire Cancer Research funded project aims to improve cervical screening rates overall and in particular groups (e.g., younger and deprived women), working with NHS England North and the NHS Cervical Cancer Screening Programme. This research is piloting and testing the effectiveness of a new low cost behaviour change intervention to increase uptake of cervical screening in Yorkshire. This work is led by Professor Daryl O’Connor and Professor Mark Conner with Dr Sarah Wilding.

The Big Picture: Preventing youth substance abuse in Assam

Funded from the ESRC/AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund, we are conducting research with partner organisations in India - MIND India, NIRMAAN Rehabilitation Facility, and HOPR FOUNDATION Rehabilitation Facility - to understand how, despite risk and opportunity, some young Assamese people avoid harmful substance abuse. We also want to know how other young people, who may have become addicted to substances, successfully recover and regain control. Using photo-led interviews and film-making workshops, we are supporting young people to tell their stories of resilience and recovery in both words and pictures. Our aim is to convey these inspirational narratives to the public and to policy-makers. We will also work with practitioners to develop innovative services - such as assessments and interventions - that include images created by the young people with whom they are working. We will promote the study findings, and inspirational films on a purpose-designed website ( and host events in Assam and the UK to engage policy-makers and the public. The work is led by Professor Anna Madill, Dr Siobhan Hugh-Jones, Raginie Duara (School of Psychology), Professor Paul Cooke (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies), Dr Tolib Mirzoev (Institute of Health Sciences), Dr Rebecca Graber (University of Brighton).

Healthcare workforce wellbeing, burnout and patient care delivery

This theme of work represents a group of projects led by Dr Judith Johnson and run in collaboration with the Bradford Institute for Health Research. These projects have been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Society and College of Radiographers and NHS England, and collaborators include Professor Rebecca Lawton and Professor Daryl O’Connor.

The overarching goal of this work is to understand how the healthcare workforce can be better supported to deliver safer, higher quality patient care. Projects have 1) established the presence of a consistent link between higher burnout and poor patient care; 2) identified targets for burnout-reduction interventions to focus on and 3) tested the value of training interventions for improving staff wellbeing.

Facilities and Resources

The School of Psychology has a wide range of specialised facilities and resources available for research projects. 

The Health and Social Psychology laboratory is part of the Applied Health Psychology Unit and consists of a self-contained suite of three main testing rooms and a data entry room. It is equipped with seven networked desktop computers, a printer, scanner, and LCD projector. There are facilities for large group testing, an adjacent set of eight small testing rooms equipped with computers and ambulatory physiological monitoring equipment. One room is also equipped with a one-way mirror for unobtrusive observation.

In addition, the Group has a dedicated Laboratory for Stress and Health Research (STARlab), led by Professor Daryl O’Connor. The STARlab is unique in that it has been designed specifically to conduct stress reactivity and recovery studies. It includes pre-test relaxation, stress induction and recovery suites as well as a data entry room and two-way mirror viewing facilities. The lab is furnished with high-level computing, video and audio-recording equipment, together with blood pressure and heart rate equipment. It also has its own dedicated -80oC freezer for secure storage of human tissue samples.


Tmam Alghunaim
Khalid Alshahrani
Dr Jon Benn
Chloe Brooks
Faye Clancy
Professor Mark Conner
Professor Daryl O’Connor

Dr Peter Gardner
Becky Haslam
Deborah Hill
Dr Siobhan Hugh-Jones
Dr Russell Hutter
Mike Jestico                         
Dr Judith Johnson
Dr Ian Kellar
Khaledha Khatun
Professor Rebecca Lawton
Professor Anna Madill
Dane McCarrick
Siobhan McHugh
Rachael Moss
Madeleine Pownall
Dr Andrew Prestwich
Lucy Prodgers
Arianna Prudenzi
Lauren Ramsey
Becky Robertson
Olivia Rogerson
Raabia Sattar
Ruth Simms-Ellis
Penn Smith
Elizabeth Travis
Professor Mitch Waterman
Charli Wicks         
Qian Zhang
Yao Zhao