The goal of this Columbia Roybal Center for Fearless Behavior Change is to develop and test novel interventions for improving medicationadherence and physical activity in distressed survivors of acute medical events. Each year, millions of middle aged and older adults experience heart attacks, strokes, or diagnoses of life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. For some, these events serve as a wake-up calls, or ?teachable moments,? and those patients acquire health behaviors that help to prevent recurrent events and slow disease progression. However, many patients who experience these events as highly distressingavoid secondary risk- reducing medications and physical activity. We have shown that such patients avoid medications because they are reminders of disease risk, and exercise because physiological changes (e.g., heart rate) are distressing reminders of the possibility of a recurrent event. As a result, while highly distressed patients seemingly have motivation to adopt more healthful behaviors, most do not. We posit that existing behavior change interventions have largely failed to improve health behaviors because they have not addressed fear/avoidance behaviors that are pervasive after a life-threatening medical event. Accordingly, our Roybal Center will develop interventions that target fear-based mechanisms. We will initially focus on survivors of acute cardiovascular disease (CVD) events, of whom approximately 1 in 3 patients have elevated fear of recurrence, interoceptive bias, or psychophysiological reactivity to reminders of their CVD events (e.g., intrusive thoughts, medications, follow-up visits). In Year 1, we will conduct stage I intervention development research, to test and refine novel interventions to reduce fear of recurrence and prevent interoceptive bias using exposure-based interventions. In later years, we will further develop the most promising interventions, and solicit proposals for new approaches consistent with our Center?s theme. We will direct interventions at the high risk period from hospitalization through the first month after discharge, beginning at the inpatient bedside, anduse standard electronic behavior and mechanism assessment devices across studies. We will prioritize early stage investigators for new pilots, and provide world-class research infrastructure. We will initially focus on CVD, but we will include experts in other conditions in which fear plays an important role (e.g., cancer and COPD) for later interventions. As leaders of the Science of Behavior Change (SOBC) program, we are experts in applying the experimental medicine approach to produce simple, efficient, and potent behavior change interventions that are likely to be adopted by stakeholders. Accordingly, our Roybal Center holds tremendous promise for developing theory- derived interventions that are likely to have a substantial impact on the health behaviors of the most vulnerable patients who survive acute medical events.

Public Health Relevance

Most adults will experience an acute life-threatening medical event in their lifetime, and the distress that it will cause many of them will manifest as fear of recurrence, hypersensitivity to and threatening interpretations of physiological signals, and psychophysiological reactivity to reminders of risk. We have found that these fear- based mechanisms cause patients to avoid health behaviors that reduce risk for recurrent medical events, so our Columbia Roybal Center for Fearless Behavior Change will develop and test interventions to prevent or reduce those fear-based mechanisms and assess whether better behaviors result. Our established collectivist scientific culture, emergency department-based recruitment infrastructure, and standardized electronic assessment suite for behavior and mechanisms assessment will ensure that the pilot studies conducted in our Center are well-positioned to successfully yield impactful interventions.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Center Core Grants (P30)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZAG1)
Program Officer
Onken, Lisa
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Columbia University (N.Y.)
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
New York
United States
Zip Code