Student & ECR Spotlight – Michael Kilb is researching social media’s influence on health behaviors and how to leverage social media for behavioral interventions

Please tell us about your career pathway to date (positions and institutes).

I am currently conducting my PhD. at the Health Psychology Lab of the University of Mannheim (since 2017), where I also completed my B.Sc. in Psychology and M.Sc. in Cognitive and Clinical Psychology.

What is your main research interest?

In my dissertation, I research the influence of social media on health behaviors, especially eating behavior, in both senders and receivers of social media communication. I’m particularly interested in the psycho-social mechanisms behind such effects, for example increased social support or altered social norms. Further, I am interested in optimizing the use of social media for health behavior interventions.

Besides my PhD topic, I am broadly interested in theory-based health behavior interventions, habit formation, obesity prevention and interventions, and multilevel modeling of experience sampling data (e.g., daily diaries).

How do you explain your current research/job to friends and family?

Although nearly everyone uses social media to some point, little is known about how this daily use influences our attitudes and behaviors. Since a lot of social media content is eating-related and a healthy diet is essential for health and well-being, I am examining if eating-related postings can influence the eating behavior of the poster himself and followers. Therefore, I ask people to post about their own (healthy) nutrition, e.g., eating fruits and vegetables, on their social media account and measure the impact on their own and their followers’ eating behavior.

What could help you as a student/ECR to further develop/grow in your current position?

First, never stop learning – try new things! Second, network and connect with other ECR and more advanced researchers. Twitter is an excellent tool to communicate with others and stay up to date about their career paths and work. Sometimes a like or a short comment can be enough to maintain relationships.

What are the main barriers you encounter/experience when conducting research, or what information/skills do you lack to conduct high quality research?

The field of social media is frequently and rapidly changing, and social media apps can be ‘out’ when research projects need a long time to prepare and implement. Further, access to data can change during projects (because of API permissions). Finally, the social media profile can be seen as a window into people’s personality and identity, which can lead to impression management on social media. This makes the experimental manipulation of real-life social media behavior for research purposes quite challenging.

What do you think will be the next most important development in the nutrition and/or physical activity field? 

Personalized lifestyle recommendations based on (epi)genetics (e.g., specific diets and foods or exercise types, stress management, etc.) – however, there is still a lot of research needed.

Given unlimited funding, what would your dream research project be?

I would love to design and develop a theoretically derived social-media-based health campaign to promote healthy eating and physical activity, which gets advertised at the national level to improve public health. Therefore, I would like to create different materials (e.g., advertisements, social media accounts with postings and videos) targeting essential mechanisms of action for behavior change, dependent on different target groups.


If you would like to get in touch with Micheal, you can do so via email [email protected], Twitter @kilb_michael, or LinkedIn