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Columbia Roybal Center for Fearless Behavior Change


Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health

Columbia University Irving Medical Center

New York, NY

The goal of this Columbia Roybal Center is to develop and test novel interventions for improving medication adherence and physical activity in distressed survivors of acute medical events. Each year, millions of middle aged and older adults experience heart attacks, strokes, or diagnoses of life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. For some, these events serve as a wake-up calls, or “teachable moments,” and those patients acquire health behaviors that help to prevent recurrent events and slow disease progression. However, many patients who experience these events as highly distressing avoid secondary risk- reducing medications and physical activity. We have shown that such patients avoid medications because they are reminders of disease risk, and exercise because physiological changes (e.g., heart rate) are distressing reminders of the possibility of a recurrent event. As a result, while highly distressed patients seemingly have motivation to adopt more healthful behaviors, most do not. We posit that existing behavior change interventions have largely failed to improve health behaviors because they have not addressed fear/avoidance behaviors that are pervasive after a life-threatening medical event.


Accordingly, our Roybal Center will develop interventions that target fear-based mechanisms. We will initially focus on survivors of acute cardiovascular disease (CVD) events, of whom approximately 1 in 3 patients have elevated fear of recurrence, interceptive bias, or psychophysiological reactivity to reminders of their CVD events (e.g., intrusive thoughts, medications, follow-up visits). In Year 1, we will conduct stage I intervention development research, to test and refine novel interventions to reduce fear of recurrence and prevent interceptive bias using exposure-based interventions. In later years, we will further develop the most promising interventions, and solicit proposals for new approaches consistent with our Center’s theme. We will direct interventions at the high risk period from hospitalization through the first month after discharge, beginning at the inpatient bedside, and use standard electronic behavior and mechanism assessment devices across studies. We will prioritize early stage investigators for new pilots, and provide world-class research infrastructure. We will initially focus on CVD, but we will include experts in other conditions in which fear plays an important role (e.g., cancer and COPD) for later interventions. Our Roybal Center holds tremendous promise for developing theory- derived interventions that are likely to have a substantial impact on the health behaviors of the most vulnerable patients who survive acute medical events.


Ian Kronish, M.D., M.P.H.


Donald Edmondson, Ph.D., M.P.H.


David Lopez-Veneros

Project Manager

Tyla Yurgel

Director of Management & Administration

Jenny Lee, M.P.H.

Data Manager

Alexandra Sullivan, M.P.H

Program Administrator

Joseph Schwartz, Ph.D.


Jeff Birk, Ph.D.

Pilot Investigator

Keith Diaz, Ph.D.

Pilot Investigator

Nathalie Moise, M.D., M.S.

Pilot Investigator

Sachin Agarwal, M.D.

Pilot Investigator

Andrea Duran, Ph.D.

Pilot Investigator

Ciaran Friel, Ph.D.

Pilot Investigator

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