Meet our people! Here you find principal investigators, researchers, doctoral students and undergraduate research assistants associated with the research area of Behaviour Change & Well-being in the UH Social Psychology Unit.

Principal Investigators of this group are Ari Haukkala and Nelli Hankonen. For collaborations and research inquiries, please feel free to contact us!

Nelli Hankonen, Associate Professor, PI

Nelli works in the social psychology of behaviour change, in varied applied domains. She is interested in methods of developing theory-based interventions, and rigorously evaluating them to develop better theories of behaviour change. Read more about Nelli here.

Projects: Argumenta, Let's Move It, Self-determined motivation for work and health, Psychosocial processes of behaviour changeImproving motivating styles: Toward a complex dynamical systems approach (MotiStyleSport)

Ari Haukkala, University Lecturer, PI

To our great sorrow, Ari Haukkala passed away in February 2021. We honour the memory of our beloved colleague.
The group and the Faculty of Social Sciences will organise a memorial symposium later in 2021. Sosiaalipsykologian päivillä pidetään Arin muistohetki perjantaina 16.4. klo 9.

Ari Haukkala was University lecturer in social psychology. His research program focused on three main areas, 1) psychosocial factors in health and well-being, 2) theory-based behaviour change interventions, and 3) psychosocial aspects in genomic research.

His research projects included Public Understanding of Genomics where the aim is to examine how health-related genetic information is understood among laypeople and what people do with genetic information. He was also involved with study by National institute of Health and welfare and Finnish Lynch syndrome study.

Another project was related to mHealth, where it was examined how it is possible to embed theory-based behaviour change techniques to mHealth application in EU funded PRECIOUS project.

He taught courses related to social psychology, behaviour change and quantitative research methods.

Projects: Pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of ge­net­ics and ge­netic risk com­mu­nic­a­tion in the era of whole gen­ome sequen­cing, PRECIOUS

Keegan Knittle, University Researcher

Keegan is a health psychologist with interests in the motivational processes that underlie health behavior change, and in understanding how individuals make use of interventions to change their behavior. He currently works in the motivation self-management (Moti) project, which aims to understand how the quality and quantity of motivation fluctuate over time, in order to identify ideal moments to deliver motivational interventions.

In the past, Keegan has worked on several meta-analyses to identify intervention components associated with increases in motivation, physical activity and weight loss maintenance.  He has also developed interventions to promote physical activity among individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and among people with excess risk of cardiovascular disease. These projects involved developing (mhealth) behavior change tools for patients and developing interventions to train healthcare providers to deliver motivational interviews in practical settings.

Projects: Self-determined motivation for work and health

Elina Renko, Postdoc

Elina's main research interests lie in the fields of interaction, agency, motivation, well-being and behaviour change.

Her current research focus is primarily on motivational interaction and the changing of motivating style. She analyses the data from LMI key project that disseminated and implemented evidence-based intervention strategies into practice. She coordinates the Argumenta network. Disseminating social psychology research is close to Elina's heart.

Elina has worked extensively in the field of alcohol research. Her doctoral dissertation discusses attitudes toward alcohol screening and counselling in social work. Her future research topics in this area involve the construction of alcohol-related problems.

Projects: ArgumentaLet's Move ItMotiStyleSport,

Katri Kostamo, Postdoc

Katri Kostamo is a postdoctoral researcher in the Social Psychology discipline at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Having previously been employed in the areas of health promotion, quality assurance, and knowledge management, she currently applies various mixed methods (triangulation, realist evaluation, and a qualitative survey) for process evaluation of interventions targeting people’s life style changes. This work has been funded by Juho Vainio Foundation and by a collaborator funded by Business Finland. 

Katri is especially interested in improving research effectiveness by evaluation, implementation and dissemination, thus increasing research relevance for policy and practice. Her doctoral dissertation explores physical activity by identifying critical incidents related to behaviour change. Focusing on critical incidents in storytelling can facilitate making conclusions about important components in behaviour change interventions. 

Projects: Let’s Move ItEvaluating intervention reception and the path toward successful lifestyle change: Qualitative longitudinal study 

Marleena Vornanen, Postdoc

Marleena Vornanen works in the area of public’s perspectives on genomics. She studies how lay people make sense of genetic risk information, and how this modifies their health-related choices. She uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to explore how scientific advances in genomics integrate into society, social relations, and individual lives. Her doctoral research is part of the project Public Understanding of Genomics, funded by the Academy of Finland. Marleena is fascinated by the interaction of embodied experiences and cultural meanings that are attached to scientific knowledge. She is also involved with study by National institute of Health and welfare and Finnish Lynch syndrome study.

Projects: Pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of ge­net­ics and ge­netic risk com­mu­nic­a­tion in the era of whole gen­ome sequen­

Matthias Aulbach, Postdoc

Before starting his PhD, Matthias Aulbach worked in addiction counseling and therapy, intensifying his interest in impulsive behavior and behavior change.

Thus, his main research interest is in dual-process models and in his PhD he is aiming to change impulsive determinants of eating behavior using computer-based tasks. In his research, he uses meta-analytical and experimental methods, including an excursion to the wonderful world of EEG-measurement. Matthias’s PhD project has received funding from the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation.

In addition, Matthias has worked in Ari Haukkala’s project on public understanding of genetics and genetic risk communication as well as Nelli Hankonen’s Let’s Move It project where he was mainly occupied with data analysis and such.

Projects: Pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of ge­net­ics and ge­netic risk com­mu­nic­a­tion in the era of whole gen­ome sequen­cing, Let’s move it

Marguerite Beattie, PhD Student

Currently, Marguerite is researching the psychological mechanisms behind uptake and maintenance of well-being enhancing behaviors, e.g., mindfulness practice, among adolescents. She has previously worked with a variety of subjects in social psychology including subjective well-being, culture, income inequality, justification theory, moral and political psychology, motivation for physical activity, the role of literature in evoking sympathy/empathy, self-enactable motivation and behavior change techniques, and experimental frameworks for governments.

Projects: Healthy Learning MindProcesses of behaviour change: Psychosocial mechanisms of change in interventions to promote wellbeing

Matti Heino, PhD Student

Prior to academia, Matti worked in media, sales and marketing research. Now, as a cargo-cult complexity scientist, he is examining how complexity theory can contribute to helping people change their health behaviour. More specifically, he is working on how to evaluate the effects of intervention field trials, along with a more idiographic approach to studying and changing motivation. He balances PhD-ing with meditation and combat sports, and blogs about scientific methodology.

Projects: Self-determined motivation for work and healthBehaviour Change Science & Policy

Johanna Nurmi, PhD Student

Johanna got intrigued by the opportunities that digital technologies offer for behavioural sciences while developing online courses within the Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research (WHO collaborating centre). At the University of Helsinki, she worked for an Let's Move It intervention programme for adolescents’ physical activity and a three-year doctoral project designing, developing and testing a digital health platform as part of a multidisciplinary, EU funded consortium PRECIOUS.

Johanna is currently analysing intervention data of smartphone interventions with n-of-1 multilevel models and qualitative evaluations. She has conducted research with systematic review and meta-analysis, psychophysiological measures, surveys, interviews, and usability studies with think-aloud methods.

Johanna is interested in factors that support behaviour change, including motivational and self-regulatory elements related to self-determination theory and motivational interviewing. She enjoys developing gamified solutions to support engagement in health behaviours through challenges and fun.

Otto Halmesvaara, PhD Student

Otto Halmesvaara currently works in the project Public Understading of Genomics and is involved in the study as part of Ari Haukkala's team. Otto's expertise includes quantitative methods and experimental study of emotions.

Melina Puolamäki, PhD Student

Melina is a licensed psychologist and qualified occupational health psychologist, in addition having a background in sport and exercise psychology. Before starting with her PhD, Melina had been working as an occupational health psychologist with experience in multiple health-related issues.

Melina is especially interested in motivation and behaviour change, and she shares a passion for sport psychology. Currently, Melina is working with her PhD on motivational interaction and professional's behaviour change in the context of exercise and sports. Melina is a part of Nelli Hankonen's research group.

Projects: MotiStyleSport

Minttu Palsola, PhD Student

Minttu currently works in the BeSP, Citizen Shield and MotiStyleSport projects.  She has a Master’s degree in social psychology and analyzed Let’s Move It data on the use of self-motivating techniques for her thesis. For her PhD, she will continue to work on intervention process evaluations. She is highly interested in various fields of social psychology, especially in behaviour change processes and motivational constructs, and behavioural insights in the context of public policy. Prior to her social psychology studies, she has worked in sports coaching, community management, recruiting, and corporate communications, as well as competed on an international level in synchronized skating taking the world title in 2013.

Projects:  Behaviour Change Science & PolicyCitizen ShieldMotiStyleSportLet’s Move It

Kaisa Saurio, Project Planner

Kaisa currently works in the Citizen Shield – project, that aims to tackle pandemics with technological, behavioural and societal solutions. She has previously worked as a clinical psychologist, mostly in the field of pediatric neuropsychology. Kaisa is interested in everything related to metascience and open science.

Malin Ekholm, Research Assistant

Malin works as a research assistant in the Behavior Change and Wellbeing research group. Malin has previously worked with customer experience and user experience design and is interested in how people adapt to, interact with, and interpret technology in their environment. She is currently on the last stretch of her master’s studies and has just submitted her thesis on the agency of algorithms and how it is constructed by people working with it. Now, Malin is exploring the role of technology in the care of dialysis patients, and investigating what factors contribute to successful home dialysis in the HUS eCare for Me project.

Anna Paavola, Research Assistant

Anna is a social psychology master's degree student at the University of Helsinki and works as a research assistant in the MotiStyleSport project. Anna has previously worked in human resources and sport coaching fields and she is highly interested in motivation, wellbeing and learning.

Meri Pietilä, Research Assistant

Meri studies social psychology at the University of Helsinki and she is interested in various themes in the field of behavioral sciences. She works as a research assistant in the Citizen Shield -project and is writing her master's thesis on the topic of protective behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Recent research visits to the group and/or our key collaborators:

  • Professor Falko Sniehotta, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
  • Senior Lecturer Vera Araújo-Soares, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
  • Professor Leen Haerens, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Postdoctoral Researcher Nathalie Aelterman, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Associate Professor Nina Hallowell, Oxford University, UK
  • Dr Wendy Hardeman, University of East Anglia, UK
  • Dr Marta Marquez, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
  • Professor Tatiana van Strien, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam & Radboud University Nijmege, The Netherlands
Past members of the group

Nils Sandman, Visiting postdoctoral researcher

Nils Sandman is a postdoctoral researcher interested in sleep, dreaming and well-being. He has studied epidemiology of nightmares and sleep quality of adolescents and is also interested in promoting better sleep with interventions based on behavioral insight. In 2020 Nils was visiting Behaviour change and wellbeing research group to work on ideas about sleep promoting interventions.  (Nils' ORCID)