.Nelli in a nutshell


Research interests

I am a social psychologist, with a research focus on behaviour change, motivation, and self-regulation. I am interested in both theoretical, basic research questions around these issues, as well as applied issues, seeking to find the “Pasteur’s quadrant” whereby research would simultaneously advance both fundamental science of behaviour change, as well as contribute to solving societal problems. Indeed, a novel research interest is understanding how policy makers adopt and understand social psychological substantive insights and methodological tools.

Brief bio

I wrote my PhD thesis on successful lifestyle change working at THL, but also worked in a number of other projects related to health promoting behaviours. In 2012, I established my own research group at the University of Helsinki. Since then, I have led 10 externally funded research projects (funding won as PI: 3.200.000 €). After posts as university lecturer and fellow of the Academy of Finland, I was hired for a tenure track position toward a full professorship in Social Psychology in 2017, with Swedish as the teaching language. In 2021, Tampere University appointed me full professor in Social Psychology.

Ongoing research

I and my research team are currently working on several topics around the social psychology of behaviour change.

  • In general, I am interested in why some behaviour change interventions are successful and other are not. Understanding these processes better helps us create both better theories and practical interventions.
  • My long-time passion has been to understand people’s active engagement in managing their own behaviour change and motivation (see e.g. Hankonen et al. 2015; Hankonen, 2018). Some interventions rely on active engagement of the target participants: For example, they are expected to actively use some taught skills (e.g. self-monitor or mentally rehearse the intended behaviour).
    • Research on what people can do to manage their own behaviour and motivation is scattered in many domains. My team has drawn these concepts together to help clarity of theorising in the future. This conceptual work is was published in Nature Human Behaviour last year.
    • People do not always use the behaviour change techniques that would help them. We also attempt to understand what techniques or skills people take up and use, and why.
  • Motivation is a social psychological phenomenon in that social environments can play a role in nurturing or thwarting it. One of my research lines examines how professionals such as PE teachers or health care personnel can change their interpersonal behaviour, in order to better support others’ high quality motivation.
  • Of course, behaviour change often does not rely on individual psychology only and it is vital that for example in health promotion, simultaneous activities on various socioecological levels (policy, community, organizations, etc.) are taking place. An recent, emerging line of interest is how behavioural and social science can better benefit policy making. (Behaviour Change Science & Policy, series of symposia 2019-20)

Teaching and administrative duties

  • I teach a master’s level course “Social Psychological Behaviour Change Theories” and Master’s Thesis Seminars. In 2022-23, I am also responsible teacher for “Health and Wellbeing” in the Social Psychology curriculum, as well as “Group Processes”.
  • I am member of the steering committee of Psychotherapy Education at Tampere University.

Professional activities

I have editorial duties in the following journals:

  • Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology
    Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Editorial Board Member
  • Health Psychology Review, Editorial Board Member
  • Frontiers of Psychology: Personality and Social Psychology Section, Associate Editor
  • Practical Health Psychology Blog: Executive board member 2016-17; Advisory board member 2018-

I am passionate about creating fora for scientific discussion and dissemination. Already in 2004, I was involved in organising the national annual Social Psychology conference. When I was president of the Health Psychology Section of the Finnish Psychological Society, we established the national conference of Health Psychology (first annual conference took place in 2014).

 Current societal duties:

  • Ministry for Social Affairs and Health, STEA evaluation and appropriation section vice member (STM:n STEA:n arviointi- ja avustusjaosto) 2017-
  • City of Helsinki Physical Activity Programme Steering Group member (Helsingin kaupungin liikkumisohjelman johtoryhmä) 2017-2021
  • Prime Minister’s Office, Behavioural science advisory project; Käyttäytymistieteellinen neuvonanto, steering group (2020-)