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Sociology and psychology in public health 

Sociology and psychology in public health
Sociology and psychology in public health

Myfanwy Morgan

, Margaret Reid

, and Jane Ogden

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date: 16 May 2022

This chapter examines the perspectives and methods of the disciplines of medical sociology and health psychology, both of which have a long history of research into public health issues. The section on sociology first traces its common history and links with medical public health. It then describes structural and social action perspectives and more recent theories that link structure and agency, and illustrates how these inform both the questions posed and explanations derived. Sociological and psychological research involves both quantitative and qualitative methods. However the chapter focuses particularly on qualitative methods, as these involve a radical departure from the assumptions and methods of quantitative research and are less familiar to epidemiologists and other clinical scientists. Particular attention is given to ethnographic and participant action research and to data collection through interviews, observation, and focus groups. Procedures for sampling and data analysis and issues of validity in qualitative research are also briefly discussed.

Sociological perspectives and methods of investigation are illustrated by research in two areas: Individuals’ meanings and experiences of chronic illness, and an in-depth exploration of the role of inequalities in terms of the role of the local social environment in relation to health and health behaviours. The section on psychology focuses on social cognition models (Health Belief Model and Theory of Planned Behaviour) and the Self Regulatory Model and illustrates these models in relation to the links between obesity and diet and the development of interventions to change behaviours. Finally, some conclusions are drawn regarding the future development of medical sociology and health psychology in public health.

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