Embracing chaos and complexity: a quantum change for public health

Am J Public Health. 2008 Aug;98(8):1382-9. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.129460. Epub 2008 Jun 12.


Public health research and practice have been guided by a cognitive, rational paradigm where inputs produce linear, predictable changes in outputs. However, the conceptual and statistical assumptions underlying this paradigm may be flawed. In particular, this perspective does not adequately account for nonlinear and quantum influences on human behavior. We propose that health behavior change is better understood through the lens of chaos theory and complex adaptive systems. Key relevant principles include that behavior change (1) is often a quantum event; (2) can resemble a chaotic process that is sensitive to initial conditions, highly variable, and difficult to predict; and (3) occurs within a complex adaptive system with multiple components, where results are often greater than the sum of their parts.

MeSH terms

  • Behaviorism*
  • Cognition
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Motivation*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Psychometrics
  • Public Health Practice*
  • Research