Smoking, gambling, drinking and the resulting health problems are the focus of a range of studies being conducted by psychology students at Southern Cross University's Coffs Harbour campus.
The projects, being completed by Bachelor of Psychology Honours students, are focussing on the issue of self-control in relation to lifestyle choices. They are seeking volunteers, particularly smokers and gamblers, to participate in the studies.
Senior lecturer Dr Lewis Bizo said the greatest threat to public health in Australia was from diseases that were related to lifestyle.
"That includes smoking, drinking, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise and over-exposure to sun. They contribute to problems such as high rates of heart disease, cancers of various types, diabetes and to poor mental health," Dr Bizo said.
"A key issue is trying to get people not to engage in these behaviours. Some people can exhibit self-control and others can't. Obviously if you can prevent these behaviours there will be huge savings in terms of health care provision."
Dr Bizo said there was not a great understanding of the psychological mechanisms that were involved in how people made their decisions.
"A lot of the research in this area is focussed on personality traits as opposed to environmental influences. But, what we are finding is that people's experiences with whatever the unhealthy habit happens to be has a profound affect on whether they continue or not," he said.
"An early big win when you are gambling, for example, increases the chances of becoming a future gambler. Near misses also help to maintain that behaviour."
He said straight education providing information about the negative outcomes of certain behaviour was not always an effective deterrent, particularly for people who had been displaying that behaviour for some time.
"One of the key issues is that a lot of the negative consequences are very distant in time. People make choices between the immediate gratification and some very distant negative outcome."
Dr Bizo said the studies would look at what variables exerted control over these behaviours.
The information collected through the studies can then be used to modify advertising campaigns and assist in the development of clinical therapies.
"We are trying to get a sense of how information changes people's attitudes towards health-related behaviours. A lot of advertising campaigns don't make use of the information about the psychological variables that control behaviour."
Southern Cross University's Psychology Department is seeking volunteers who are smokers or gamblers to take part in the study. For information contact 66593313.
Media contact: Brigid Veale SCU communications manager 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.