Ari Haukkala 1965-2021

University Lecturer in Social Psychology, docent Ari Haukkala, passed away February 19, 2021 in Helsinki from a rapidly progressing brain tumour

. He was born October 13, 1965 in Kauhava.

Dr Haukkala was a widely known teacher and researcher, appreciated and liked by colleagues and students alike. He conducted multidisciplinary research into health promotion, disease prevention, and socioeconomic health inequalities.

Dr Haukkala lived his school years in Maunula and said he was rescued by the Finnish basic education system. He was among the last cohort before the basic education reform in Helsinki. Instead of the academic track (Finnish ’oppikoulu’), he followed the common track (Finnish ’kansalaiskoulu’) after his early school years. However, one of his teachers thought that such a talented boy should study further. She arranged for him to repeat one school year so that he could shift to the new basic education system and thus, later attend upper secondary school (Finnish ’lukio’). He then proceeded to study social psychology at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki.

Dr Haukkala wrote his doctoral dissertation at the National Public Health Institute (current name Finnish Institution for Health and Welfare), examining relationships between cynical hostility, depressive symptoms and socioeconomic differences in health. This research constituted an important contribution to societal discussion around inequality. During a period of research at Harvard University, he coincidentally bumped into the same school teacher that had helped him pursue academic studies. In 2003, he started as a University Lecturer of Social Psychology at the University of Helsinki.

Dr Ari Haukkala had been active in research since the 1990s. At the time of his death, he was on a two-year research fellowship at the Helsinki Collegium of Advanced studies, and co-director of the Behaviour Change and Wellbeing group at the University of Helsinki. As one of the leading principal investigators in social and health psychology in Finland, he worked in numerous areas and trained many students. During his career, he published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles and book chapters.

Dr Haukkala’s research career spanned a diverse range of topics and wide collaborative networks across five main areas of research: 1) smoking prevention, 2) psychosocial factors in obesity and metabolic syndrome, 3) psychosocial factors for CVD, 4) psychology of genetic testing, and 5) healthy eating and physical activity intervention research. You can read more about his work in these areas here.

Dr Haukkala found it important to produce scientific knowledge that could help solve societal problems: how to prevent smoking uptake, what the role of psychosocial aspects in cardiovascular diseases is, how people interpret genetic risk information and how health technology could better serve users’ needs, including physical activity promotion and positive dietary change.

Dr Haukkala found particular joy and meaningfulness in supporting young scholars. Doctoral and master students of this supportive and engaging supervisor found their places in various expert positions and in pioneering research careers. He was influential in Finland in bringing up a new generation of social and health psychology researchers. Several former students have now reminisced how their career paths and opportunities have been positively influenced by Dr Haukkala’s advice, connections and generous encouragement.

In addition to his research projects and mentorship, Dr Haukkala was productive in several other areas: For example, he also acted as the Vice Dean at the Faculty of Social Sciences, and founding member of the Finnish Association of Behavioural Medicine in 1993 (of the Finnish Society of Social Medicine). Dr Haukkala was had extensive collaboration across various areas of health research, representing health and social psychology knowledge, and providing much needed psychological insight to several health-related research projects and societal endeavours. For example, he served as an invited member of the scientific advisory board of the Smokefree Finland 2030, and also The Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies. Indeed, Dr Haukkala substantially helped promote and grow social and health psychological research in Finland, and also internationally. In 2020, The European Health Psychology Society awarded Dr Haukkala with an Honorary Fellowship, the society’s highest honour, which is given to recognize exceptional contributions to the field.

Haukkala had his roots in Southern Ostrobothnia in Finland, where he spent many of his childhood summers. Scouts groups (Helsingin Metsänpojat) and University Theatre were important to him in his youth. He enjoyed hiking in the nature and biking, which he did also in his last year, up to 100 km bike trips. He also loved live music, arts, and hanging out with friends and family.

Ari possessed a unique skill to be present. He was sincerely present around everyone he met, and he created a relaxed and warm atmosphere around him. Numerous people remember Ari’s happy laughter. He was loyal, accepting, and fair towards others, and he never boasted about himself. Up until his last months, he actively cycled around Helsinki and remained full of light and energy.

He was a loving and devoted father of four children. For him, family was always the number one priority. Ari’s sudden passing away has touched a large network of friends and colleagues around Finland. Memories shared by those who knew Ari are full of deep sadness but also gratitude.

The University of Helsinki flew the flags at half-mast today, to honour his funeral day, the 5th of March.


A shortened version of this text in Finnish can be found in Helsingin Sanomat.

Text by Nelli Hankonen, Hanna Konttinen, Veera Luoma-aho, Marleena Vornanen and others