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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Faculty Profile: Bonnie Spring, PhD, Professor in Preventive Medicine, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Bonnie Spring, PhD

Bonnie Spring, PhD, professor in preventive medicine, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, uses cutting-edge handheld technologies such as smartphones and online learning tools to research behavioral risk factors. Some of these risk factors include obesity, poor quality diet, physical inactivity, and tobacco use. The technologies her lab develops support self-regulation and healthy behavior change.

Spring received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bucknell University, Penn., in 1971 and graduate degree in psychology from Harvard University in 1977.


What are your research interests?
My research interests focus on the promotion of healthy lifestyle behaviors. My collaborators and I study the influences that initiate and maintain behavioral risk factors for chronic disease (such as obesity, poor quality diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use, treatment non-adherence). We translate that knowledge base to develop cutting-edge interventions and technologies to support self-regulation and healthful behavior change. 

What is the ultimate goal of your research?
The aim of my research is to learn enough about biobehavioral determinants of health to develop highly effective and efficient health promotion intervention systems. As a clinical health psychologist, I was trained to offer intensive interventions that help individuals make large positive changes in behavior. Now, with expert collaborators like Luis Amaral, Noshir Contractor, and Sanjay Mehrotra in engineering, and Donald Lloyd-Jones in epidemiology, I am studying how to reconfigure the effective components of behavioral interventions to reach a greater proportion of the population more efficiently. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to learn how to prevent as well as treat unhealthy habits.  

How did you become interested in this area?
Earlier in my career, I studied psychopharmacological treatments for smoking cessation and weight management. Often, my collaborators and I observed that the behavioral improvements patients achieved while on medications either diminished or reversed when we discontinued drug treatment. I began to study behavioral treatments either alone or in combination with medications in order to reduce the odds of relapse.    

How is your research funded?
Currently, my research is funded almost entirely by several different institutes at the National Institutes of Health:  National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and National Institute on Drug Abuse.  

Who makes up your research team and what role does each individual play?
My research team at Northwestern includes several talented junior faculty and postdoctoral fellows who contribute expertise in behavior change and exercise physiology. These doctoral-level individuals supervise the lab’s coaching staff who, in turn, deliver our telephone and mHealth interventions. Two technologists develop and maintain the mobile sensors and communication technologies used in our work. Finally, our data manager, biostatisticians, and lab manager keep our data and our deliverables in order.

Who inspires you?
Courageous, humane, and intellectual leaders. I am inspired by colleagues who have the courage to explore the unknown, the commitment to apply insights to advance the public good, and the generosity to help a colleague or mentee.