Efficient transfer of concepts and mechanistic insights from the cognitive to the health sciences and back requires a clear, objective description of the problem that this transfer ought to solve. Unfortunately, however, the actual descriptions are commonly penetrated with, and sometimes even motivated by, cultural norms and preferences, a problem that has colored scientific theorizing about behavioral control—the key concept for many psychological health interventions. We argue that ideologies have clouded our scientific thinking about mental health in two ways: by considering the societal utility of individuals and their behavior a key criterion for distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy people, and by dividing what actually seem to be continuous functions relating psychological and neurocognitive underpinnings to human behavior into binary, discrete categories that are then taken to define clinical phenomena. We suggest letting both traditions go and establish a health psychology that restrains from imposing societal values onto individuals, and then taking the fit between behavior and values to conceptualize unhealthiness. Instead, we promote a health psychology that reconstructs behavior that is considered to be problematic from well-understood mechanistic underpinnings of human behavior.
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