The importance of context in understanding behavior and promoting health

Ann Behav Med. 2008 Feb;35(1):3-18. doi: 10.1007/s12160-007-9001-z. Epub 2008 Feb 16.


Behavior, the roles of behavior in health, health promotion, health, quality of life, and death are all context-dependent. This paper begins with a review of behavioral and ecological models, emphasizing their shared emphasis on context. It then turns to genetics and the importance of contexts in understanding genetic influences. Jumping from genes to geography, it examines how spatial analysis provides both a model and framework for considering contextual influence. Continuing with analytic models, it returns to genetics, and considers how it provide models for integrating our understanding of broad social and community influences. The paper extends this thinking through multilevel analysis and proposes "analytic multilevel designs" as a way of studying "context focused interventions" (as opposed to context independent interventions for which conventional experimental designs are often well-suited). It closes with reflections on ways in which we cultivate and extend our knowledge base and on the intellectual contexts of positivism and postmodernism that surround behavioral and ecological thinking.

Publication types

  • Address
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Medicine*
  • Environment*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological