Evan M. Forman is currently a Professor of Psychology at Drexel University and is the Director of the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science (the WELL Center), and as such oversees 55 faculty, postdoc fellows, staff and students, and a $22M research portfolio. He has received continuous NIH support to conduct research in novel behavioral and technological approaches to health behavior change for over 12 years and is currently the PI of three R01-funded clinical trials evaluating AI optimization, gamification, and component efficacy of behavioral weight loss treatments. He has authored over 175 scientific papers, which have over 15,000 indexed citations. He is also the author of a clinician guide and workbook called Effective Weight Loss: An Acceptance-based Behavior Approach for Oxford Press’s Treatments that Work series.
One of Forman’s overarching interests is using our understanding of self-regulation to devise and evaluate innovative behavioral and technological approaches for health behavior change. For instance, most people find it difficult to initiate and sustain lifestyle modification involving dietary and physical activity improvements. These changes run counter to biological and environmental forces, and thus require specific self-regulatory capacities including the ability to tolerate discomfort, give up pleasure, cultivate and make salient longer-range motivating factors and accurately perceive internal states. As such, one line of Forman’s work involves developing and evaluating acceptance and mindfulness-based behavioral treatments that teach these strategies. A current project, Activate, is an NIH R01-funded Multiphasic Optimization Strategy (MOST) trial evaluating the independent and interacting effects of mindfulness and acceptance components of behavioral weight loss. This project randomizes participants to 8 different treatment combinations and follows them for 3 years. Results will be able to inform theories of self-regulation and behavior intervention.
Self-regulation is aided when clinicians and behavior coaches are able to provide supportive accountability (strategies, skills, emotional support, and beneficent oversight). However, there is a severe shortage of clinical services, especially for pervasive problems such as obesity. Forman is interested in methods of optimizing intervention to meet clinical needs. For instance, he is PI of the NIH R01 Project ReLearn, which is evaluating an artificial intelligence (AI) system for optimizing the delivery of weight-loss interventions in a manner that allows for scalability across large populations. In addition, he is developing and evaluating automated systems that can skillfully deliver certain aspects of the intervention. For instance, he has conducted a series of studies on a smartphone-based system (OnTrack) that uses machine learning to predict and prevent dietary lapses, which is the main driver of an inability to succeed at weight control. The system uses a risk algorithm to deliver just-in-time, adaptive interventions (JITAIs).
Forman is also interested in how inhibitory control--the ability to resist behavioral prepotent impulses (e.g., to approach immediately rewarding stimuli)--contributes to successful self-regulation of health behavior and how training inhibitory control can improve health. Additionally, he is interested in how gamification of intervention can improve engagement and intrinsic motivation, and thus outcomes, especially in men who tend to be disinterested in traditional behavioral treatments. For instance, he is the PI of the NIH R01 Project DASH, evaluating whether gamification and neurocognitive training improve engagement and weight loss outcomes for men.
Forman is a Fellow of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) and The Obesity Society (TOS). He was a previous chair of the Committee of Science and Practice for APA Division 12 (Society for Clinical Psychology) and a recipient of the ABCT Mentorship Award, Provost’s Scholarly Achievement Award, and Deveroux Award for Exceptional Potential in Research. He has mentored numerous undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students. Notable student awards have included the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) Obesity and Eating Disorders Special Interest Group Graduate Student Research Award, National Institutes of Health National Service Research Award (NIH NRSA F31), Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) Meritorious Student Award, Psi Chi Graduate Research Grant, Adelaide M. Delluva Award of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Association for Women in Science, Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology (SSCP) Dissertation Award, APAGS/Psi Chi Junior Scientist Fellowship, Academy of Eating Disorders (AED) Early Career Scholarship, American Psychological Association (APA) Theodore H. Blau Early Career Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Clinical Psychology, and the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) Student Research Grant.
Forman’s undergraduate work was conducted at Cornell University and the University of St. Andrews (Scotland). After he achieved his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Rochester, he completed clinical internships and fellowships at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, and the University of Pennsylvania (under Aaron T. Beck).
How We Make a Difference: Public/Civic Impact:
Almost 70% of Americans are overweight, and, of these, almost 50% are actively attempting to lose weight. Similarly, millions of Americans are attempting to lead healthier lives by making lifestyle modifications such as improving diet and increasing exercise. Unfortunately, due to a combination of our biological hard-wiring combined with the conditions of modern society, making and sustaining such changes is exceptionally difficult. Moreover, even the best interventions for promoting health behavior change fall short.
Forman’s work focuses on identifying new and more effective approaches. In particular, he is developing innovative behavioral and technological approaches that facilitate improvements in health behavior. These range from smartphone apps that learn our individual patterns of behavior and are able to nudge us to make healthy choices at just the right moment, AI systems that optimize coaching to what we need over time, behavioral interventions that merge western science with ancient Eastern mindfulness practices and “brain training” games that help us resist unhealthy impulses. Forman attempts to share his work through books for clinicians and the public, smartphone apps and media appearances.