Jackie Cavanaugh is a senior psychology major. In the fall, she will be starting a Master’s degree program in Health Psychology at Western Kentucky University.

Jackie Scholar Day

UofSHealth Psych: Where are you from?

JC: Philadelphia, PA.

UofSHealth Psych: Why did you choose the University of Scranton?

JC: I originally heard about the school through my dad, who is an alumnus. Once I had the chance to visit I fell in love with everything about the university.

 UofSHealth Psych: Why did you choose Psychology as your major?

JC: There has just always been something so interesting to me about learning about behavior and the mind that no other discipline can challenge.

 UofSHealth Psych: What advice would you give to first years in the Psychology Department?

JC: Get as involved as possible! We have so many clubs, activities, labs, and opportunities in the Psychology Dept. Putting in that extra effort of being a TA or going to a club meeting will really enhance your experience at the University. It will also allow you to gain skills and experiences that many students in other Psychology programs may not have the chance to get.

UofSHealth Psych: You had a chance to work with professors outside of the classroom. What did you do with them?

JC: I have had the chance to work as a teaching assistant for Dr. Buchanan, Dr. Cannon, and Dr. Arigo. I have also been involved working on research with Dr. Cannon and Dr. Arigo.

UofSHealth Psych: So how do you get involved in research?

JC: I would definitely suggest finding out about the different labs we offer here. If you find anything particularly interesting go and talk to the professors, from my experience everyone here has been very helpful and welcoming.

UofSHealth Psych: Is doing research that important? What about field work?

JC: Research and field work are all very helpful in rounding out your psychology education. Though the department does not require any of these in its core curriculum, by engaging in these activities you can really take your education in the field to the next level. These are also the types of experiences that grad schools and employers want to see on your CV.

UofSHealth Psych: Did you get to go to any conferences? What was that like presenting?

Jackie SBM

Jackie presenting her poster at the Society of Behavioral Medicine Conference.

JC: I attended the Society of Behavioral Medicine conference this past April in San Antonio, TX. It was very interesting to present a poster. Many people who were knowledgeable in the Health Psychology field approached me with some great questions about my project. I also presented at the University’s Celebration of Student Scholars (pictured at the top of this post).

UofSHealth Psych: What are you doing after graduation?

JC: I had a decision between grad school and taking some time off to build up my experience. I choose graduate school because the program that I am attending in Kentucky is allowing me to pursue a degree and gain experience.

UofSHealth Psych: You had choices in grad programs. What made you pick one over the other?

JC: I was debating between Loyola University Maryland and Western Kentucky University. The factors that helped sway my decision to WKU were the teaching and research opportunities offered. Speaking with Dr. Brausch, the head of my lab, and finding about the interesting research projects also influenced my final decision.

UofSHealth Psych: Favorite thing about the city of Scranton? What will you miss?

JC: Steamtown Mall… Just kidding. I love that Scranton has the ability to simultaneously feel like a city as well as a small town. It has all of the essential stores within walking distance and then a non-essential but much more awesome hipster coffee shop. I’m going to miss having the best of both worlds!



Mike Su returned to The University of Scranton for a degree in Psychology after several other pursuits, which he explains here. He worked as the coordinator for Project Connect, which is wrapping up next week.

UofSHealth Psych: Where do you call home?

MS: Clarks Summit, PA

UofSHealth Psych: Where were you before you came back for your current degree?

MS: For my education, I attended the College of the Holy Cross, the University of Pennsylvania, Hahnemann Medical School, St. Johns College Annapolis, and Fordham University School of Law.

UofSHealth Psych: So you’ve have had the chance to live in many different places. Where is the best place you’ve lived so far?

MS: 52nd and 10th, NYC. To me, there’s a logical order to living in cities. NYC is the pinnacle.

UofSHealth Psych: What made you come back to college to pursue another Bachelor’s degree?

MS: I was teaching at prep schools and realized I could never teach what I thought the kids should learn. It’s hard being in a field where your results don’t manifest until 10 to 20 years later. So a kid complaining about a class today is irrelevant to me, since the duty I owe is to the 35 year old version of that kid. The money is terrible, too. And the legal profession can be soul sucking. I started a not for profit, which relies on counseling skills to affect change. Doing so required my pursuing either a clinical grad degree or a medical degree (either in psychiatry or primary care).

UofSHealth Psych: What do you like to do in your free time?

MS: I love experiencing something new and different. If I have to say a favorite hobby, it’s reading. I try to read two books a week. But name a hobby and I probably am part of a group. Spelunking, beekeeping, whatever.

UofSHealth Psych: What’s your favorite class that you’ve taken at U of S?

MS: Behavioral Neuroscience with Dr. Cannon.

UofSHealth Psych: Have you ever had the chance to work with professors outside of this lab?

MS: Other than working with Dr. Arigo, I worked with Dr. Cannon as a TA and RA. I strongly recommend approaching professors after class, get to establish a relationship with someone who does work in what you’re interested in, and get involved.

UofSHealth Psych: What made you choose to get involved in a health psychology research lab?

MS: My not for profit is centered around changing health behaviors. What Dr. Arigo does in terms of promoting healthy eating and exercise is closely linked to what I want to do.

UofSHealth Psych: What is your favorite project that you have worked on in health psych lab? 

MS: The best part was implementing Project Connect. I got to see the practical daily realities of implementing an idea.

UofSHealth Psych: What are your research interests/future direction for projects?

MS: I want to pursue research on obesity, more of the neuroscience/endocrinology of it and the link to the inflammation cascade, and looking for a biomarker to replace BMI.

UofSHealth Psych: Do you think your involvement will complement your future career?

MS: Yes. This opportunity gave me the chance to see how an idea becomes reality.



Guest post by Sara Chapin, junior Neuroscience major (@rahrahchapinn)


I like to think that I don’t compare myself to other people that much. I am a relatively independent person, so I often do not think about whether I assess how I am doing relative to other people. However, after spending a year discussing social comparison theory in the Clinical Health Psychology lab (@UofSHealthPsych), I catch myself making comparisons a lot of the time.

Whether it’s after a difficult test (“Well, I think I did better than the majority of the class”) or while watching TV (“I wish I was as put together as that character!”), I spend a decent amount of time making comparisons. This is not to say that making social comparisons is a bad thing. In fact, according to Leon Festinger, all people are driven to make comparisons to others for the purpose of self-evaluation. Through social comparisons, we learn how we are doing with respect to the rest of the world. The knowledge gained from making social comparisons can have both positive and negative consequences; it can motivate us to do better or decrease our satisfaction with certain aspects of ourselves.

Social Comparison and Body Image

People can (and often do) make social comparisons with respect to physical appearance. We often hear about how people, especially women, compare their bodies to those of celebrities and models. A recent article published in the Huffington Post cited a study that found a correlation between Facebook use and tendency to compare oneself to peers, as well as view one’s body as an object. For those who study social comparison theory, what gets a lot of research attention is this relationship between social comparison and body image. According to the theory, people make both upward and downward social comparisons. When we make a downward comparison, we compare ourselves to someone who we perceive as doing worse than ourselves. This can be when we compare ourselves to a person we say that we are prettier or thinner than. Meanwhile, when we make an upward comparison, we compare ourselves to someone that we perceive as better than ourselves. This is the type of comparison we make when we compare ourselves to the Victoria Secret Angels, and this type of comparison has been noted as particularly problematic.

For example, if I make an upward comparison to a model, it highlights the difference between our appearances, and I see myself as not very attractive. (Or at least, less attractive than this person.) For many people, particularly women, this type of comparison leads to increased body dissatisfaction. Over time, feeling dissatisfied with my appearance after upward comparisons could motivate me to make dramatic changes – like restricting what I eat so that I’ll lose weight. In fact, Dr. Arigo has demonstrated that upward appearance comparison represents a risk factor for eating pathology. In this way, the relationship between social comparison and eating behavior makes social comparison an important topic in Health Psychology.

Senior Honors Thesis

After a semester’s fill of background on social comparison theory and its relationship to body image and dissatisfaction, I am ready to begin conducting research for my senior’s Honors thesis. So what exactly do I plan to research?

The most frequently used measure of general tendency to make social comparisons is the Iowa-Netherlands Comparison Orientation measure (INCOM). This questionnaire assesses an individual’s social comparison orientation, or how much and in what direction (i.e. upward or downward) a person thinks they engage in social comparison. In a previous study, Dr. Arigo modified the INCOM to include a body-focused social comparison scale. But we don’t have any information about how well these questionnaires relate to what people actually do. As many health behavior interventions are guided by psychological theories and the self-reported psychological constructs that comprise them, understanding how self-reported behaviors reflect actual behavior is crucial.

My research project involves comparing these self-reported measures to a behavioral demonstration of social comparison. The behavioral demonstration we will use is a writing task; more specifically, an expressive writing task focused on body image.  By analyzing writing samples on a topic where social comparison is highly relevant (body image), we can make a behavioral determination of a person’s social comparison orientation.

Throughout my senior year, I will explore whether self-perceptions about social comparison behavior align with actual behavior in a writing task. This research has exciting implications for determining whether the modified INCOM can be useful for predicting behavior. Ultimately, the research that I, along with the rest of the lab and Dr. Arigo, will conduct this year can be of use in informing disordered eating interventions. This is one of many ways the work being done in the Clinical Health Psychology lab at The University of Scranton could help promote healthy eating behaviors and prevent future health problems.



Jimmy Moran is a senior Psychology and Evolution double major in the Health Psychology lab. He shared some of his ideas on health-related topics and working in the Clinical Health Psychology lab.

UofSHealthPsych: What aspects of the psychology major are most appealing to you?

Jimmy: I love that research and teaching are a huge part of the psychology curriculum. I enjoy being able to communicate about different techniques and theories in psychology with my fellow students and professors.

UofSHealthPsych: What has been the most interesting part of your experience as a health psychology lab research assistant?

Jimmy: The best experience as a clinical health psychology RA was designing a poster on Type II diabetes patients’ social Jimmy EPAcomparisons and their actual behavioral demonstrations of comparison. I even got to present the poster at the Eastern Psychological Association in Philadelphia (as you see here).

UofSHealthPsych: What are your post graduation goals? What role do you think health psychology will or will not play in your future?

Jimmy: I will be attending Bucknell University as a Masters student. I will be conducting 20 hours of research a week. I plan on taking the research methodology I have learned from Dr. Arigo’s lab and incorporate it into my research, especially social comparison!

UofSHealthPsych: How do you incorporate healthy habits into everyday student life?

Jimmy: I incorporate healthy behaviors into my life by getting a good night of sleep, managing my time so I am not stressed, and making sure I do not sit majority of my day.

UofSHealthPsych: What do you believe to be the biggest challenge to staying physically active and healthy?

Jimmy: The biggest challenge to being healthy is time. I have a packed schedule which incorporates classes, TA-ing and also conducting research. Also, it is a lot easier to grab a sandwich rather than a salad!

UofSHealthPsych: What types of songs are on your workout playlist?

Jimmy: My workout playlist is pretty odd. I have anything from Arctic Monkeys, Alabama Shakes, Florence and the Machine, to Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones. My music isn’t really pump up music, rather songs I know by heart.

UofSHealthPsych: What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring health psychologist or lab member?

Jimmy: Advice I would give to upcoming lab members would be to take Health Psychology, and be proactive and think of different research ideas, Dr. Arigo is open to exploring an array of topics.