Network approach in health behavior research: how can we explore new questions?

Samvel Mkhitaryan*, Rik Crutzen, Esther Steenaart, Nanne K. de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The network approach has recently been introduced to clinical psychology and provides a powerful framework for analyzing variables in a system. Since then, its applications have rapidly spread to various fields of social sciences. Unlike in the case of clinical psychology, the peculiarities of the phenomena under study in social sciences have not received sufficient attention. In this paper, along with practical illustrations, we discuss what a system of psychological variables represents and what the interrelationships between the variables mean in the context of health behavior research. Additionally, we explore the structural analysis of the system which has not been the focus of the recent applications of network analysis in health psychology. Discussion: In this paper, we illustrate two approaches of incorporating observable behavioral variables in a system and strategies for investigating structural components of the system. We illustrate these two approaches with an analysis of cross-sectional data on adolescents? beliefs and behavior with respect to registering their choice regarding organ donation in the Netherlands. Furthermore, with this paper, we wish to facilitate a larger discussion on conceptualizing networks of psychological variables, which will guide the analysis and the interpretation of node level interactions as well as network level structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-384
Number of pages23
JournalHealth Psychology and Behavioral Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Belief networks
  • network analysis
  • psychological networks

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