Health and well-being

Much of the science of psychology is devoted to how mental and behavioral processes relate to both mental and physical health. Read more about what our institute is doing in this area.

Subjective well-being 

Subjective well-being refers to how people value their lives and what emotions they mostly experience. High subjective well-being has many desirable consequences, ranging from greater creativity and professional success to better health and longer life expectancy. We study what factors are involved and how they are linked to a happy and fulfilling life at different levels (transnational, environment, individual). 

Researchers: Liisi Ausmees, Anu Realo, Jüri Allik 

A selection of publications:

Mental health in urban environments

The eMOTIONAL Cities project complements conventional descriptive perspectives focused on exposure-outcome associations. Building on theoretical foundations, novel eMOTIONAL city mapping will be generated by combining spatial analysis on social/health data with neuroscience experiments, using multidisciplinary instruments from Urban Planning & Design (GIS for land use, transport, climate and health), Neuroscience (fMRI, EEG) and Data Science & Technology (AI, Big Data and VR/AR reality). The analysis also addresses gender aspects and contemplates a clinical study to show that urban design can impact a vulnerable elderly population at risk of developing dementia. Finally, a novel machine-learning scenario discovery framework will allow testing and impact assessment (for cost-effectiveness, barriers and facilitators) of urban policy strategies to turn EU cities into smart, sustainable and inclusive environments. The eMOTIONAL Cities is a part of the European Cluster on Urban Health. 

Researchers in our institute: Kairi Kreegipuu, Katarina Kliit, Rene Mõttus 

Psychology of physical activity

Being physically active at an early age can lead to both improved academic performance and a healthy lifestyle later in life. Still, only less than one-quarter of Estonian children and adolescents are currently active enough. Therefore, we closely explore the development of early attitudes towards physical activity and sedentary lifestyle in preschool children. By identifying to what extent the attitudes to physical activities and sedentary behaviors depend on the development of movement skills and physical activity on one side and parental beliefs and values on the other side, our research contributes to developing interventions for supporting health behavior in childhood.

Researchers: Aave Hannus, Kenn Konstabel, Kairi Kreegipuu 

A selection of publications:

  • Hannus, A., Lees, M., Mägi, K., Riimets, A., Kalma, M., Riso, E.-M., & Kull, M. (2018). Perspectives of children and adolescents on the perceived determinants of physical activity during recess. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 23, 1016-1024. 
  • Tamm, M., Jakobson, A., Havik, M., Burk, A., Timpmann, S., Allik, J., ... & Kreegipuu, K. (2014). The compression of perceived time in a hot environment depends on physiological and psychological factors. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 67(1), 197-208. 

Additional Reading: Uuring “Laste suhtumine kehalistesse tegevustesse” (EST)

Psychology of eating behaviours

Contemporary humans are surrounded by an environment tempting us to overeat. How come these temptations seem to be ineffective for some, but very convincing for others. Our research shows that psychology has a clear role here. But does our mind influence our waistline, or does our waistline influence our mind? Is overeating comparable to addictions? How can we aid people to make healthier choices. We try to answer these and other questions, using genetics and psychology.

Researchers: Uku Vainik, Kirsti Akkermann, Kairi Kreegipuu, Hedvig Sultson

A selection of publications:

Additional reading: 

Eating disorders 

The development and persistence of eating disorders is related to biological, psychological and environmental factors. Among other topics, we focus on the interplay between impulsive and compulsive personality traits and emotional regulation difficulties with the symptoms of eating and feeding disorders and the developmental trajectories of these symptoms by combining both experimental and self-report methods.

Researchers: Kirsti Akkermann, Kärol Soidla, Helo Liis Soodla, Katrin Kukk, Hedvig Sultson

A selection of publications:

The origins and prevention of abusive behaviors

Over the past three decades, an awareness of the prevalence of systemic emotional, physical, and sexual violence in sport has emerged. We explore violent behavior in sport from the social-ecological perspective. We aim to identify intrapersonal characteristics and psychosocial factors that contribute to both normalizing and concealing –  but also revealing – incidence of violent behavior from the perspective of victims, witnesses, and abusers.

Researchers: Aave Hannus, Juri Guljajev, Toivo Aavik 

Dimensional approach to psychopathology 

The treatment of mental health problems is related to how psychopathology is diagnosed and interpreted. We examine the dimensional approaches that have emerged alongside categorical models in order to identify which population-varying features converge into pathological profiles and what characterizes these profiles. We develop and adapt a variety of metrics to assess signs and conditions of psychopathological illness, in particular eating and feeding disorders, anxiety disorders, and autism spectrum disorders.  

Researchers: Kirsti Akkermann, Kärol Soidla, Helo Liis Soodla, Kätlin Anni, Silja Kuusik

Emotion regulation

People who knowingly or unknowingly change their emotions in desired directions are often more resilient and healthier. We are interested in how reappraising an emotional situation works on a cognitive level; how people combine different regulatory strategies; how they regulate positive emotions in addition to negative ones, and how difficulties with emotion regulation contribute mental illness. We approach these questions both theoretically and with the help of (often psychophysiological) experiments and (often experience sampling) surveys. 

Researchers: Helen Uusberg, Andero Uusberg, Kirsti Akkermann, Hedvig Sultson

A selection of publications: 

Nudging interventions 

We develop and test interventions aimed at nudging people to behave more sensibly: be more physically active, save for the future, care for others. In most cases, we create a psychologically realistic model of the to-be-nudged behavior in order to find feasible as well as effective intervention targets. Often, we find that it makes more sense to change situations than to educate or punish people. Where possible, we use randomized controlled trials to assess the effectiveness of intervention. We are eager to work with non-academic partners to implement this approach in large and generalizable samples. 

Researchers: Andero Uusberg, Heidi Reinson, Sille-Liis Männik 

A selection of publications: 

Artificial intelligence and well-being

Although humans can feel an emotional connection to AI systems, this relationship is one-sided and AI systems are not capable of responding to the same emotional connection. Therefore, this type of feeling of attraction can have a potential negative effect on people's well-being if it leads to detachment from real life and close relationships. It is a new and rapidly developing field, where my desire is to find both positive and negative aspects in the relationship between humans and AI.

Researcher: Toivo Aavik 

Artificial intelligence and teaching in higher education

The possibilities of artificial intelligence in university education are vast: AI can help provide customized learning opportunities for students, as well as enable faculty to use better analytical tools. The use of AI in university education is developing rapidly, and in the future we can expect even more AI systems that help/or prevent people from achieving better results. My goal would be to find out both the positive and negative effects that AI can have on teaching in higher education.

Researcher: Toivo Aavik


See all of our employees' publications here!

Health and well-being

Cognitive and affective psychology

Personality psychology

Developmental and social psychology


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