SBM 2021 Is Here! (Virtually)


Our primary professional organization, the Society of Behavioral Medicine, holds an annual meeting each year to share news, findings, and insight in the field of behavioral medicine. At this week-long virtual event, our team will be presenting findings from a variety of projects. Topics include women’s health, midlife health, physical activity, COVID-19, ecological momentary assessment methods, social comparison, chronic pain, cancer, and mental health.

See below for where you can find us!

Close-Up on Our Latest Paper: Experimental Effects of #Fitspiration Messaging on Body Satisfaction, Exercise Motivation, and Exercise Behavior among College Women and Men


Our newest publication is now available in Translational Behavioral Medicine! You may remember from one of our previous posts that we’re interested in the #fitspiration trend on social media. This hashtag indicates content that is intended to inspire fitness behaviors and a healthy lifestyle. Posts typically use images of very fit people exercising, with an associated message. The traditional messages included with fitspiration posts focus on exercise for physical gain and emphasize toughness. For example, “Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going.” But recently, some users have tried to shift the focus of fitspiration messages to self-compassion, communicating that exercise is self-care and self-love. For example, “You gotta do this for you. Love you. Honor you.” Recent research has investigated the potential effects of traditional versus self-compassion messages, though these studies have used small samples of only women and have included only self-reported outcomes such as body satisfaction.

Given that fitspiration is meant to inspire exercise behavior, and as we know very little about gender differences in response to traditional versus self-compassionate fitspiration messages, we set out to conduct a large study that enrolled both women and men and included an objective measure of exercise. Our new paper describes a randomized, experimental study to test the short-term effects of different types of fitspiration posts among college women and men. We used self-reported body satisfaction and exercise motivation, as well as objectively recorded visits to campus fitness centers over the following week, as our outcomes. Our hypotheses were pre-registered with the Open Science Framework.

What did we do?

This study had several stages, starting before we moved our team to Rowan University. The first stage was to develop and pre-test our fitspiration messages and images; the second was to run a small version of the study to confirm that we were on the right track (sample size = 142). When we came to Rowan, we set up the procedures again and coordinated with Campus Recreation to access students’ ID card swipes into university fitness centers (as our measure of exercise behavior). We wanted a large sample to ensure that we would be able to test our hypotheses effectively, and we ended up with a sample size of 655. Students who participated in the study completed a brief set of questionnaires and then opened a link to one of three feeds on Instagram: one with 10 fitspiration images that had traditional messages attached, one with 10 images that had self-compassion messages attached, and one with just 10 images (no message, as a control). Women were assigned to see images of women and men were assigned to see images of men, for a total of six experimental conditions. All images were the same in each gender-specific arm.

After they viewed the Instagram feeds, students completed an attention check and then answered questions about their current body satisfaction and motivation to exercise. We accessed these students’ swipes into university fitness centers over the following 7 days and counted the number of times they went to these locations. In general, we expected women to respond more positively to self-compassion messages than men, and men to respond more positively to traditional messages than women. These hypotheses were based on existing data that show gender differences in preference and response to the tone of health messages.

What did we find?

Although our pre-specified hypotheses were not supported, we did find differences in all three of our outcomes, by message type and gender. Men’s body satisfaction and exercise behavior were greatest for those who saw fitspiration images without any message, though their exercise motivation was highest for those who saw images paired with traditional messages. In contrast, women’s body satisfaction was highest for those who saw either type of message (relative to just an image), and their exercise behavior was most frequent for those who saw self-compassion messages. There were no differences in women’s exercise motivation by message type.

What does this tell us?

We concluded that self-compassion messaging may be optimal for promoting positive outcomes among women, whereas images without associated text may be optimal for promoting positive outcomes among men. This information could be extremely helpful for informing the use of #fitspiration (and other social media trends) to support healthy self-image and behaviors among college students, by tailoring messages that are most likely to have positive effects for women versus men.

What was it like to work on this study?

This is the second in a series of studies that was inspired by an assignment in my undergraduate research methods course. I couldn’t have imagined then that a series of studies would be conducted as a result one idea. We’ve also seen the #fitspiration trend grow into a social media industry since that time. I’m grateful to the CHASE team for continuing this project and conducting it on a larger scale, and I’m optimistic about this line of research and look forward to future studies to examine how “viral” trends influence of health behaviors across social media platforms.

– Sabrina DiBisceglie, former CHASE Lab Member (University of Scranton)

I really enjoyed being a part of this process, which began as a pilot at the University of Scranton and evolved into an experimental study at Rowan University. At the beginning of the experimental study, I was starting as a research coordinator in the CHASE Lab at Rowan, so I was able to help oversee data collection and coding, as well as contribute to conference presentations and manuscript preparation, which was a great learning experience. I am really happy that I was able to collaborate with Sabrina and Dr. Arigo on this project and see the experimental portion all the way through. Given how popular fitspiration is on different social media platforms, this work can help to encourage users to be more aware of the information that they are taking away from fitspiration posts.

-Megan Brown, CHASE Lab Member

This study was a first for our team in several ways. Although we’ve used experimental designs before, this is our first published experiment as a team, and it was our first collaboration with Rowan’s Campus Recreation department – the staff there were so supportive and helpful, which smoothed the way. And although we’ve preregistered our scoping review methods with the Open Science Framework before, this was our first time pre-registering hypotheses. Plus, it took more than a year and a half to collect the data, and COVID interrupted us right at the end. I’m so impressed with our team for bringing together so many different elements to produce this paper and we’re proud of the end result! We’re grateful to Sabrina for getting this started and for staying so closely involved throughout the process.

-Dr. Dani Arigo, CHASE Lab Director

Next Steps

We’re continuing to work on understanding the #fitspiration trend by examining individual differences associated with positive (vs. negative) outcomes. This includes additional, exploratory analyses on our experimental dataset (described in this post) and using data from our previous cross-sectional surveys. For example, we want to understand how social comparison processes play a role in response to viewing fitspiration posts. We hope to share more information about this work very soon!

“Productivity” In Year 2 of the Pandemic


As the COVID-19 pandemic and remote work continue into a second year, our team has been thinking more deeply about “productivity.”. What has changed about our work challenges, and what works to overcome them? How do we stay focused and energized after all this time at home? Our lab members share their thoughts in this post.

Images via

Laura (2nd-year clinical psychology Ph.D. student): I’ve found working remotely has been both challenging and rewarding. I definitely appreciate the opportunity to spend more time with family now, so remote work has definitely been rewarding in that sense. However, there is no longer a strict boundary (such as a commute) between work and home. I’ve found that this allows me to work much longer hours than I originally anticipate. Some tricks I use to manage this challenge are switching chairs or rooms when moving on to a new task (e.g., courses vs. lab work) and setting a strict stopping point at the end of the day

Emily (1st-year school psychology Masters student): With working from home, I have come to realize how easily distracted I can be, even by the smallest things. To help improve my productivity I have found it best to try and eliminate my biggest distraction: my phone. Turning my phone on silent and keeping it out of sight so I don’t see notifications popping up has helped me to stay focused. Another trick I have found to be helpful is scheduling my most important tasks to be done while my daughter naps. Giving myself that time restriction, and creating a goal to finish it before she wakes up, has really helped me to stay motivated and be productive. 

Kristen E (2nd-year undergraduate RA): On certain days, the pandemic has made me feel as though I have all the time in the world, and that I can push things off until tomorrow. Giving myself deadlines for projects, assignments, and homework has helped me keep more of a schedule to hold myself accountable for completing work. Sticking to a schedule of action for each day has really helped me not only to stay productive throughout the day, but also to assure myself that I am staying on track with all my work. I have found that assigning a day of the week for specific kinds of tasks has made it much easier to keep track of what is done and helps create a general sense of how much more work is required by the end of the week so I can plan accordingly. 

Megan (1st-year clinical psychology Ph.D. student): I have realized while working from home that I have not been getting as much movement/activity in as I would if I were on campus, which has resulted in feeling fatigued after sitting at my table all day doing work. Lately I have been making it a point to set time during the evening to workout, and I added a setting on my Fitbit that reminds me to get up a move around during the day. I found that by getting in small bursts of movement throughout the day and setting time aside for exercise, I have felt more energized, which has helped me become more productive with research/coursework. 

Heather (4th-year undergraduate RA): I love working from home, but I do find that I am sitting more and not breaking up my day with other activities as much as I used to. I have a timer on my Apple Watch that I work with now to remind myself to get up, stretch, and do breathing exercises. This helps keep my muscles from stiffening up, especially my hips. Plus it helps with correcting my posture. It has been nice to reset and refresh. When the weather permits I also make sure I have the windows open a bit for air circulation. However, it has been quite cold lately so I will change rooms in the house to sit in the sun while I work.  Being in the sun has helped me with my mood, which helps me stay on track with my projects and classes.  I would say the biggest challenge I have from working at home is that I feel like I have more time and have actually given myself more projects and work to do.  It is definitely challenging my time management skills.  Breaking my day up with sun, fresh air, and physical activity keeps positive and constructive.

Bernard (4th-year undergraduate RA): Working from home is great, but there are a lot of downsides to it. The biggest roadblock in my productivity are all the little distractions that occur, such as people checking in on me during work or any notifications I get through my phone/computer. Before all this, it was easy to focus on work and stay productive because there was a transition from home to work, but now not so much. So what I’ve been doing to help this is bring that transition back. Before I go focus on work I make sure to move my laptop from my room to my workstation, dress nice, and silence my phone as well as put it in an inconvenient spot to get to; for example, in another room. This helps me to minimize distractions as well as focus on work.

Kristen P (3rd-year clinical psychology Ph.D. student): One of the most significant barriers for my productivity thus far during the pandemic restrictions has been maintaining structure for the various work responsibilities and those in my personal life. Before COVID-19, I trained myself to associate certain environmental cues with the tasks I should be doing. For example, the majority of research was done in the lab, all treatment notes and planning were done in the clinic. Tasks were compartmentalized, and above all I required social stimuli to keep myself accountable. Since the beginning of working from home, I have to put much more effort into maintaining structure and social accountability. This initially looked like trial and error, but have found a few core things to work: using my calendar more intentionally (adding activities including exercise, cooking, sending emails), setting certain places of my home as work areas, and planning Zoom work sessions to keep socially accountable

Samuel (4th-year undergraduate RA): Working from home has been an exciting new experience! While working from home I don’t have to worry about the commute to work and I get to work in the comfort of my own home. This has many benefits, but it has its drawbacks. I find it very easy to lose focus and once I lose my focus, I find it very hard to get it back. To help myself stay focused I came up with a few methods and one of these methods is setting hourly goals. This helps me stay on task and gives me something to work towards to keep me moving in the right direction. Another method I came up with is after I finish my hourly goals, I reward myself with a walk around my house just to stretch my legs. Having a goal and rewarding myself when I complete it helps me stay focused and motivates me to complete my next hourly goal.

Cole (postdoctoral fellow/lab manager): Distractions are hard to avoid while working at home around my young daughter. Communication with my spouse has really helped with productivity. Things like putting meetings on the calendar on our fridge keeps us both in the loop about my work schedule, which also helps with planning brief breaks to stretch my legs, change a diaper, check my phone, etc. I also have a dedicated space for work (no non-work allowed) and avoid working elsewhere in my home. Associating that space with work helps me shift my focus to work-related items more easily when starting the day or returning from a break.

Dr. Dani (lab director): I always avoided working from home, for the reasons that others have outlined here – too many distractions, like wanting to play with my cats instead of focus. But I’m lucky to have a home office, and working from home has given me justification to upgrade to ergonomically supportive furniture and computing tools. More importantly, as the faculty mentor and director for the CHASE lab, I think a lot about setting appropriate and reasonable expectations. How do we define “productivity” under these ongoing circumstances, and what should our expectations be for progress on our work? How can we gently push everyone to accomplish their goals while not adding undue pressure? I certainly haven’t figured it out yet, but the team has done an amazing job over the past year, and I’m so impressed with their commitment and creativity. Keeping my fingers crossed that it will be safe to have an in-person gathering to celebrate the end of an unusual and exciting academic year.

CHASE Lab Plays Work From Home Bingo


We’ve now been working from home for almost eight weeks, and although our tips to stay sane and productive have worked well, we’re still itching for some new ways to connect with each other and infuse some new energy into our work. A few weeks ago, lab member Bernard Kwiatek (junior Psychology major) suggested that we all play Work From Home Bingo, using a bingo card he made. 

We selected a date (Tuesday, 4/28) and everyone kept track on their bingo card. At our lab meeting that week (Thursday, 4/30), we discussed the activity as a group. Although Dr. Arigo was the only one to get BINGO, we had a lot of fun using a new way to track and share our work experiences with each other. Check out what our members had to say about it:

  • Megan: I really enjoyed playing this game, and it made me laugh realizing how many of the boxes I was able to relate to. I think it’s especially important right now to have lighthearted activities like this to do during the day, which may help take your mind off of other serious matters.  
  • Emily: It was fun reading through the board and I’d get so excited when I could mark off a square. It was a nice little break to take during work hours. 
  • Kristen: I tried to check off the board at the end of the day so that I didn’t influence my chances, and unfortunately, I did not get BINGO. But, it was still a fun activity to do during lab hours that made me smile, which goes a long way during these difficult times. 
  • Cole: This was the only time in my professional career that I had wished for technical difficulties to happen (so I could mark it on my bingo card). Sadly, my laptop performed perfectly that day. Despite not winning, it was an entertaining break from my usual work routine.
  • Laura: It was the perfect distraction throughout the day and served as a nice reminder to not take things so seriously. 
  • Bernard: Going through the day and trying to hit each spot was a hectic but in a good way. It’s interesting seeing what spots I usually hit normally than if I could potentially fill the entire board.

Want to play along, or make your own bingo board? Visit Bingo Baker!

#HealthyFinalsWeek Tips


Finals week is stressful, and it may be even more stressful this semester as we take finals remotely. Below are some tips from Rowan CHASE Lab to help you stay healthy, manage stress, and finish the semester strong.

DO these things:

  • Make a plan for studying so that you can prioritize effectively. Take into consideration that some finals will be earlier in the week than others, and some will require you to devote more time.
  • Take breaks! Overworking is the best way to get burnt out, so plan a 15- minute break after every hour. At the end of each day, plan a slightly longer break as a reward for hard work. Breaks can include walks outside, coloring, crocheting, or any other activity that lets your brain rest for a few minutes. 
  • Get extra sleep. Research shows that memories are consolidated and integrated during sleep, and fewer hours lead to worse academic performance. 
  • Try to recall what you have learned as you study – real-world examples, how to apply concepts in new situations, etc. This will be more useful than attempting to memorize all of the course material. Your professors care more about learning! 
  • Create your own study guides. Research shows that generating your own study instead of using your professors’ allows you to engage with the material more. 
  • Quiz yourself. Prompting yourself to recall the information in a manner similar to the exam will you help you prepare. 
  • Work with others virtually. Seek out students in your classes who are motivated and doing well – check class discussion boards and/or post a thread about virtual study sessions (Google Hangouts, Facetime, etc.). Quiz each other, support each other, pool resources. If you can explain challenging material effectively to someone who is not in your class, you can be confident that you know it well. Everyone wins.
  • Drink LOTS of water. Staying hydrated will reduce discomfort and distraction. (One of our team members goes without coffee for the whole week! He swears that he feels just as energized with water.) 
  • Plan meals ahead of time. Stock your room/apartment with healthy food, bring meals and snacks with you when you study, or have a plan for where to access healthy options near your study location. Without a plan, it’s easy to get stuck with junk food options that won’t give you the energy you need to power through and perform well. 
  • Spread out your unpacking over the week. If you moved off campus, unpacking offers a productive break from studying.
  • Take off from work. If you are still working during this time, and can afford to schedule a week off from your job, this will free you up to focus on studying and reduce your stress level. 
  • Plan a way to reward yourself for your hard work. An evening in video chatting with friends, ordering a big item you’ve been waiting to splurge on, diving into that new show you’ve been waiting to start…

DON’T do these things:

  • Start a new series on Netflix this week. You will get addicted and not study. Use a new series as a reward at the end of the week!
  • Skip meals, or skip exercise, to study. Research shows that giving yourself a short break and engaging with social support and/or physical activity is best for performance. But make sure you’re doing it virtually, or from the safety of your home! 
  • Forget about professors’ office hours. Make a list of questions for review, and set up an online WebEx meeting with your professor. 
  • Overdo it on coffee and/or energy drinks. Energy drinks in particular will disrupt your sleep and result in worse performance. 
  • Study in your bed. WAY too tempting to lie down, which makes it easy to fall asleep and lose valuable study time. Make your bed and study sitting up (if you have to study in bed) to limit the temptation. (This will also make it easier to fall asleep in bed at night.) 
  • Plan on studying during breaks between exams. Something always comes up, and you may simply be too exhausted to study during short breaks. 
  • Neglect your personal hygiene. Taking care of yourself is just as important as acing your exams! 
  • Ask your professors the day before what is on the final – they will not be happy, and they’re not likely to be able to get back to you in time.
  • Leave studying for the night before a final. You’ll perform better if you review a little bit each day for a few days before. 
  • Drink alcohol the night before a final. Enough said. 

Share your tips with us at @RowanCHASELab on Twitter!

Close-Up on Our Latest Paper – Social Comparison Features in Physical Activity Apps: Scoping Meta-Review


In a few of our recent posts, we (re)introduced you to the concept of social comparison and described our efforts to understand how it influences health and health behavior. CHASE lab’s newest paper is an extension of this previous work, focused on the potential to use social comparisons in physical activity interventions. This systematic scoping review of existing review papers is now published in Journal of Medical Internet Research.

A number of research studies show that social comparison can prompt people to be physically active. For example, when we see other people like us being more active than we are, this can motivate us to keep up with or do better than them, and that motivation can lead to activity engagement. We might also be motivated to stay ahead of people who we see as less active than we are. Evidence showing that social comparison can motivate physical activity has led researchers and app developers to include features such as leaderboards and challenges (competitions). These are included to prompt users to make comparisons, as comparisons should lead to increases in activity.

But people who study the effects of social comparisons understand that comparisons are not always motivating:

  • Seeing someone doing better than we are can be discouraging – it shows us that we’re not achieving as much as we could and that we’re being outperformed by others
  • Seeing someone doing worse than we are can show us the worst-case scenario – this can activate anxiety or a sense that effort is pointless

It’s not clear whether satisfaction, anxiety, hope, frustration, or some combination of these experiences is the best immediate consequence of comparison, because any of these experiences could motivate someone to increase their physical activity. And most importantly, the “optimal” consequence of a comparison can differ between people, and within the same person over time. (For more details about these ideas, see Dr. Arigo’s 2018 post for UCL’s Digi-Hub and her 2018 publication with Dr. Jerry Suls in mHealth.) So it’s pretty likely that just giving all users the same physical activity-based social comparison opportunities isn’t going to work equally well for all of them. This means that personalizing the social comparison features of apps might work better than what we’re currently doing.

What Did We Do?

One of our overarching research goals is to determine how best to harness the power of social comparison and other social processes to promote healthy behavior. For this project, which spanned more than a year of work, CHASE Lab teamed up with Dr. Jerry Suls, a longtime colleague and expert in social comparison processes and health. 

Because social comparison is a complicated process, we wanted to understand how apps currently prompt comparison. And because researchers have already published more than 100 reviews (or overviews/summaries) of physical activity app features and related topics, we took a step back to look at what’s already been done. We summarized how other researchers have defined, classified, and attempted to personalize social comparison features of physical activity apps, and compared these to evidence of attempts to engage or personalize other processes (such as goal-setting or feedback).

To do this, we began by developing inclusion criteria. Existing publications were eligible if they:

  1. Were available in English
  2. Were published on or before May 31, 2019
  3. Conducted a systematic or narrative review, or meta-analysis
  4. Reviewed the features of commercially available smartphone apps or included formal intervention programs delivered via smartphone apps 
  5. Used increasing physical activity or reducing sedentary time as a key behavioral outcome. 

We then searched publication databases such as PubMed using specific key terms, and pulled in any publications related to using smartphone apps for physical activity. Our initial search totaled in 3,743 articles. After removing duplicates and reviewing the remaining 1,496 publications, we were left with 26 reviews that met our inclusion criteria. Co-authors Megan Brown and Kristen Pasko then went through each review and extracted specific data points, such as whether the reviews included social comparison as a category, what they used as their definition of social comparison, and which features they classified as prompting comparison processes.

What Was It Like to Work on This Project?

This was my first time being a part of a systematic review project, and this experience has made me so much more appreciative of the work and time that goes into a paper like this. At first it was intimidating knowing we would have to code so many publications, but having a team that encouraged communication and questions made the process much easier. I also found it valuable being a part of the extraction process of the final 26 reviews, where we were able to gather all of this valuable information and answer some very important questions with it. I’m looking forward to seeing how our review contributes to future research aiming to use social comparison in physical activity apps.”

— Megan Brown, CHASE Lab Research Coordinator

“I’m grateful that Dr. Arigo invited me to assist with this project. By and large, when health psychologists have studied social comparison or tested a comparison intervention, there has been little recognition or appreciation of the nuances associated with comparison. It has been treated as a concept that can just be taken off the shelf. This scoping review confirms that impression and leads the way to testing social comparison interventions with more attention to the factors influencing comparison choice and outcomes. The physical activity apps context is really an excellent one to examine these issues. A very rewarding collaboration for me!”

— Dr. Jerry Suls, Northwell Health

This has been one of my passion projects for a long time – we even presented an early version of it at a conference in 2017! It went through several iterations and updates, and it seemed that there always was more to do before we had a final product. The author team did a great job of staying committed to the work and we really benefited from having Dr. Suls’s expertise. He and I have worked together for about 10 years on understanding social comparisons among adults with chronic illness, but social comparison features of apps were new to him. It was fun to be able to introduce him to this new area. The final version is something I’m really proud of. It ties together several lines of our work and t paves the way for our upcoming projects.”

— Dr. Dani Arigo, CHASE Lab Director

What Did We Find?

Of the dozens of reviews we found, 26 met our criteria, and 8 of those included social comparison as a process underlying various app features. Across these 8 reviews, researchers used different definitions of social comparison and classified different features as using vs. not using comparison:

  • Definitions: some authors counted only features that allowed comparisons between users, rather than comparisons to experts like fitness instructors (this was called “modeling”); others allowed comparisons with anyone
  • Features: some authors counted only direct exposures to others’ data in a ranked format (leaderboards or challenges), whereas others counted any social networking (where users could share progress in other forms, such as via message boards); some were even more restrictive and counted challenges as “gamification” rather than comparison

Social comparison was described just as often as social networking (i.e., using message boards), but less often than behavioral modeling (i.e., providing examples of behavior engagement to encourage others to engage). And although we found evidence of personalizing features such as goal-setting and feedback, we found no evidence that (the potential for) personalization had been addressed with respect to social comparison features.

What Does This Mean?

Research is inconsistent about what constitutes social comparison in physical activity apps. This makes it difficult to draw conclusions about the utility or benefit of social comparison processes in these apps, or how to improve these features to make apps more effective. Further, existing work shows that people respond to social comparison differently (from each other and from themselves over time), but we found no evidence that physical activity apps have taken these differences into account. Together, this means that there is a huge opportunity to better understand how social comparison processes can be used to promote physical activity and other healthy behaviors – which is what CHASE Lab will continue to work on!

Close-Up on Our Newest Paper: Accelerometer Cut Point Methods for Midlife Women with Cardiovascular Risk Markers


Our research team takes a specific interest in women who are between the ages of 40 and 60, a period often called “midlife.” Women in this age range have elevated age-related risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), are beginning menopause, and are experiencing health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol – all of which independently increase CVD risk. Therefore, midlife women have a lot to gain from physical activity, as it can protect against CVD even when other risk factors are present. So health professionals have spent a good bit of effort on promoting physical activity in this group. A focus has been on getting women to meet U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendations for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), or activity at an intensity that gets the heart rate up.

If you’re someone who tries to follow public health recommendations for physical activity (or you do research in the area of physical activity), you may be aware that recommendations changed last year. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services changed the way it defines MVPA. For several years prior to 2019, guidelines indicated that MVPA should happen in “bouts” (or episodes) sustained for at least 10 minutes at a time, and that adults should get 150 minutes of this kind of activity per week. The most recent report has removed the requirement that MVPA happen in 10-minute bouts, indicating that all MVPA is helpful for accruing health benefits. Although this is good news, as it means that shorter bouts of MVPA now count toward the 150-minute total, it raises important questions about population-level activity engagement. For example, most U.S. adults fail to meet the old guidelines; is that true now that shorter bouts count?

To make matters even more complicated, measurement of physical activity engagement isn’t entirely consistent across research studies. There are several methods for calculating whether activity reaches the threshold to be considered MVPA, and it’s not clear whether these methods give the same answers about how much time midlife women spend in MVPA. In other populations (such as among children and pregnant women), different methods give wildly different answers about how much MVPA participants get – differences of up to 100 minutes.

In our new publication (currently in press at Menopause), we took a closer look at two questions about midlife women’s MVPA:

(1)  How different are estimates of MVPA between considering only 10-minute bouts and considering all minutes?

(2)  How different are estimates of MVPA (bouted and all minutes) between different calculation methods?

What did we do?

We looked at four popular calculation (or “cut point”) methods for MVPA: Freedson et al. (1998), Swartz et al. (2000), Matthews et al. (2008), and Troiano et al. (2008) in two separate studies. The first was an observation-only study conducted by our CHASE team at The University of Scranton (before we moved to Rowan University in 2018), and the second was part of a weight loss clinical trial conducted by our collaborators at Drexel University’s WELL Center. This two-study approach allowed us to replicate our initial findings in a separate sample and confirm that findings were consistent across contexts.

What did we find?

In both studies, we met with midlife women at our research center for brief interviews, to train them in the use of a research-grade physical activity monitor to wear during waking hours for the following 7 days. Both studies showed that (1) using non-bouted (total) minutes of MVPA resulted in significantly more minutes than using 10-minute bouts only (across calculation methods), and (2) calculation methods meaningfully differed in the number of MVPA minutes they estimated (across non-bouted and bouted MVPA). Additionally, two of the methods (Freedson et al., and Troiano et al.) showed that midlife women did not meet MVPA recommendations using either bouts or not-bouts, while the other two methods (Matthews et al., and Swartz et al.) showed that midlife women met or exceeded MVPA recommendations if non-bouted minutes were considered.

What does this tell us?

Overall, our series of studies seems to be the first of its kind to focus on differences between cut point methods for physical activity among midlife women with elevated CVD risk, and to compare MVPA bouts with total (non-bouted) minutes. Findings suggested that using different cut points provide different answers, and researchers should keep in mind respective strengths and weaknesses of each method. This work is not only timely considering recent changes in physical activity recommendations, but also necessary for understanding how to estimate MVPA toward the goal of reducing CVD risk in midlife women.

What was it like to work on this study?

“It is amazing to think about how far the lab has come with various iterations of this [observational] study. When it first started, Dr. Arigo and I were at The University of Scranton running a pilot for our WHADE project, which is now in its full form. At this time, we were just beginning to learn the ins and outs of recruiting through primary care. I still remember being excited at the thought of getting any experience in this setting. This was my first research experience recruiting outside of the college population. It was thrilling to be recruiting those out in the community, trying to meet people where they were. ”

– Kristen Pasko, CHASE Lab Member

“Collaborating with Dr. Arigo and her team at Rowan University was an incredible experience. I processed some of the accelerometers from Drexel University that were used as part of this larger study. Working on this project allowed me to see the research process through from start to finish, from assisting with analyzing the raw data to the writing of the manuscript. Before this project, I had never worked on research specifically relevant to the question of women’s health and physical activity. It was a pleasure to work with Dr. Arigo and her students to answer such an important research question that has clear clinical implications for how women are advised to engage in physical activity.”

–  Savannah Roberts, Former research coordinator at Drexel’s WELL Center (current Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh)

“This was a pretty large project that involved a number of team members, for two different studies, across three different universities (including Rowan, Drexel, and Penn State). So it took a lot of open communication and teamwork to bring the project together and communicate what we found. Our group was fantastic and stayed focused on learning what we could from the project. It’s been fun and rewarding to do this work and see it published in a journal that focuses on women’s health.”

– Dr. Dani Arigo, CHASE Lab director

Next Steps

If you follow our posts, you’ll remember that recently, we summarized our review of studies that assess social comparison using within-person methods – those that capture comparisons repeatedly for the same person over days or weeks. This review and the physical activity study described in this post was designed to help us make informed decisions about how to estimate midlife women’s physical activity in our women’s health study, which is running now. The goal of this work is to understand the circumstances that contribute to changes in midlife women’s physical activity from day to day, and ultimately, to design better activity interventions for midlife women. Stay tuned as we work toward these goals!

Inside our Newest Paper – Methods to Assess Social Comparison Processes within Persons in Daily Life: A Scoping Review


Have you ever had the experience of comparing yourself to others? For example, learning that someone in your work unit got a raise (typically a positive for them) or got written up (typically a negative for them), and thinking about your situation in comparison to theirs? This experience, called social comparison, is extremely common. It can happen in response to conversations with close others and information we get about other people through social media or TV, or by simply imagining someone in a particular situation. More than sixty years of research on social comparison suggests that this process can make us feel good or bad and that it can affect our self-perceptions and behaviors (for better or worse). 

Our team is particularly interested in understanding how social comparisons can affect health behaviors such as eating and engaging in physical activity. We’ve done a lot of work in this area (see our list of publications) and we have multiple ongoing studies devoted to understanding particular aspects of these associations. A consistent challenge for this research is selecting with tools and methods to use to assess comparison, as these decisions can affect the answers we get. For instance, asking someone how often they make comparisons or how interested they are in making comparisons requires people to consider their thoughts and behaviors over long stretches of time (we’re not good at doing this accurately!) and over different situations (which could affect our responses – yes in some situations, no in others). 

Recently, we’ve been asking questions about the best way to assess social comparison – as in, how to get the most accurate information about how and when comparisons happen and how people respond. To avoid the problems associated with a person indicating how much they make comparisons overall (called the “between person” method), we’ve considered asking the same person to report their comparisons as they happen in daily life, repeating the same assessment for each person multiple times (called the “within-person” method). 

Repeated, within-person assessment should allow us to map how often comparisons happen and any changes in how a given person makes or responds to comparisons with greater accuracy. But because this approach is relatively new, there hasn’t been much work to provide guidance on how to conduct within-person assessments of social comparison or how to report findings from these studies. Our group wanted to meet these needs by giving an overview of existing social comparison studies that use within-person methods and identifying next steps for this type of research. 

To do this, CHASE lab teamed up with members of the ReMind and SHADE labs at Penn State University for a large-scale project. We conducted a systematic scoping review (now published in Frontiers in Psychology), which involves a process of carefully searching for and identifying existing research on a topic and summarizing what this research can tell us, using pre-identified research questions and selection criteria. (Our review questions and criteria were preregistered with the Open Science Framework.) We searched the databases PubMed, PsycInfo, and CINAHL for studies of social comparison that used within-person assessment methods. This resulted in 621 potential articles that we could include, which we evaluated with respect to our inclusion criteria. In the end, we included and reviewed 36 studies; we coded these studies on a range of variables, including how participants recorded their comparisons (via paper vs. technology such as smartphones), how often they were asked to record comparisons (how many times per day), and what other experiences were assessed.

What was it like to work on this project?

“Social comparison is my primary research interest, and a key training goal of my current K23 grant is to learn more about using within-person methods to study it. So working with Dr. Mogle to coordinate a multi-lab review of what we know in this area was a dream come true. Our teams worked really well together, as usual. Most papers don’t have submission deadlines, but this one did [as part of a Frontiers in Psychology special issue], and everyone stepped up to overcome some logistical setbacks and keep us on track to finish and submit on time. It’s exciting to see the final product after months of intense focus to get us here.”

— Dr. Dani Arigo, CHASE Lab, Rowan University

“Working on this review opened my eyes to the extent of differences between study methods, even when the studies have similar goals. I enjoyed working collaboratively with colleagues from another institution, and was impressed by how easily collaboration was. This was mostly due to our lead authors consistent and clear communication to the rest of the team. This was the first paper I have had the opportunity to work on, and the process was extremely rewarding. I’m excited for future work!”

— Laura Travers, M.S., second-year Ph.D. student

“Conducting this review with the CHASE lab was fascinating! My area of expertise is in methodology, and I didn’t know as much about social comparison measurement. There are so many ways researchers are trying to capture this experience in the real world, which all get at different aspects of the experience. We worked together to create a method for coding and summarizing the differences across studies so we could synthesize and make sense of the scope of this literature in the paper. I enjoyed working with the team and together we generated an exciting product; we’re hoping that our conclusions and recommendations will be helpful to other researchers.”

— Dr. Jacquie Mogle, ReMind Lab, Penn State University

What did we find?

  • Most studies assessed only comparisons of appearance comparison and included only college students or young women. 
  • The majority of studies collected information in response to signals (rather than initiated by participants). 
  • Studies meaningfully differed in the number of assessments of comparison per day, the number of days of assessment, how participants recorded comparisons, and even how “comparison” was defined.

From this and other information we summarized, some of our recommendations for future work are:

  • Conducting more work to understand social comparisons that occur in understudied groups, such as men, older adults, people with chronic illnesses, and people who attempt to change their behavior
  • Several aspects of the method should be more clearly spelled out in future publications, including: the rationale for selecting the number of assessment days, total number of assessments, timing of assessments, item wording, specific definition of comparison, and the instructions provided to participants (regarding what “counts” as a comparison and how to recognize one)
  • Published reports should include estimation of within-person fluctuation in the number of and response to comparisons during the study

Next steps

We’re combining what we learned from this review with findings from two studies of midlife women’s physical activity.* This contributed to the design of a within-person study on associations between social comparisons (and other experiences) and physical activity among midlife women (currently underway), which will help us better understand how to deliver physical activity interventions in this population. Stay tuned for updates as we move this work forward!

*See our upcoming post on this paper!

Reflections on #SBM2019


We’re back from a busy and invigorating week at the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) 2019 annual meeting in Washington, D.C.! Read on for our lab members’ reflections on their experience.

Megan M. Brown, B.S., CHASE Lab Research Coordinator (First-Time Attendee)
Brown SBM2019Attending the 2019 SBM conference was an inspiring and motivating experience. Before SBM I had never attended a large, four-day long professional conference. The thought of this was intimidating, and despite our preparations on campus, I was unsure of what to expect. However, as soon as I walked into the first poster session I felt welcomed and surrounded by individuals who appreciate research as much as I do. I enjoyed knowing there was a mix of peers attending SBM, from students to early-, mid-, and senior career health professionals. I knew I had so much to learn from peers at all different levels. As the days went on, I experienced many firsts: attending symposia, keynotes, breakfast roundtables, and paper sessions, and presenting two posters.

After observing how experts in the field communicated their research and findings, it made me think of ways to improve how I convey my research, and the types of questions I want to develop. Being a research coordinator with clinical psychology Ph.D. aspirations, I had a broad idea of the research I wanted to pursue in a clinical psychology program. But after being exposed to the vast amounts of research at SBM, I found myself beginning to mold my general interests into specific questions. With that being said, there is something truly motivating about watching other people get passionate about their research, and this experience made me eager to go back home and further mine. An observation I noticed during the conference was the excitement I felt getting to pick talks that sparked my interest, and getting to sit in rooms filled with people who have similar passions as I do (e.g., mental and physical health).

SBM not only exposed me to novel and innovative research, but it also allowed me the opportunity to network and introduce myself to experts in the field of behavioral medicine. From the personal one-on-one conversations I had at poster sessions, to the information I learned during research talks, SBM 2019 was an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I look forward to attending next year’s conference.

Kristen Pasko, B.S., First-Year Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Student (Second-Time Attendee)
The 40th Annual Society of Behavioral Medicine Conference was a powerful illustration of the need to increase the scope of influence in addressing healthcare barriers. The evolution of our communication and behavior through social media is considerable. In the opening keynote, Duke University Researcher Susannah Fox spoke about Health and Technology Megatrends: How You Can Anticipate the Future. Through various health psychology research findings, she demonstrated the power of a bottom-up approach with social resources in a healthcare system that prioritizes top-down policy and treatment. This allows patients and their families/friends to be the experts of their own bodies and treatment. It promoted more attention on training and equipping our caregivers who are often the first responders in our healthcare. In addition, this does not have to stop at in-person social interaction. Individuals are increasingly turning to social media to get the latest health information and advice. We need to better capitalize on these built-in resources, especially when research dissemination to the public can be as simple as a tweet.

Pasko SBM2019However, it is important to note that we are not all as lucky to have these caregivers, or an environment conducive to accurate health information and resources. This was demonstrated in a keynote, Heroes Tackling the Social Determinants of Health, presented by Mindi Knebel (Kaizen Health) and Khali Sweeney (Detroit Boxing Gym Youth Program). Transportation access alone is associated with medical appointment adherence and likelihood of more effective treatment. Further, growing up in a “bad neighborhood” without sufficient social support and resources can put a child at extreme economic, educational and medical disadvantage. For many who enter the behavioral medicine field without this background, it could be easy to forget or take for granted how these environments and resources affect our health. We were reminded through this presentation that as healthcare professionals, we need to be culturally and socioeconomically sensitive to health disparities. Anything can be a barrier within healthcare, especially social influence and resources.

By attending SBM, I increased my general knowledge about healthcare and further specified my own research questions was related to social influences. We rarely experience health in a vacuum. Therefore, as we move forward in our navigation and advancement in behavioral medicine, we must not forget social influence.

Dr. Dani Arigo, Lab Director (Multi-Time Attendee)
Arigo SBM2019.2I’ve attended SBM annual meetings nearly every year for more than 10 years – ever since my Ph.D. mentor introduced me to the Society in 2007. Even after all this time, I still experienced some firsts at #SBM2019. In my time with SBM, this organization has increased its focus on science communication (#scicomm; i.e., getting our science and message to the public). I have embraced this notion both within and outside of SBM, running Twitter and LinkedIn accounts for my professional work (@DrDaniArigo, @RowanCHASELab) and for SBM entities such as the Behavioral Informatics and Technology Special Interest Group (@SBMDigitalHlth, BIT SIG LinkedIn Group). This year, I served as a speaker for two science communication sessions* and contributed to dissemination of SBM content via Twitter throughout the week.

“First” #1 – Leadership Activities
As I’ve become more involved in SBM, I’ve started to take on leadership responsibilities. Just before last year’s annual meeting, I was elected co-chair of the SBM Behavioral Informatics and Technology SIG; I assumed that role after the meeting and began a very full year of administration for the SIG. This was my first year planning for the annual meeting as a SIG leader, which came with a number of organizational tasks – helping to decide which sessions to sponsor, which abstracts to select for awards, coordinating our Tech Madness data blitz preview, and facilitating our business meeting. I also helped to initiate our new leaders. I’ve now started my one-year term as SIG chair, and I serve in collaboration with our new co-chair and student co-chair. It will be a busy and exciting year for the SIG.

“First” #2 – K23 Check-In and Disclosures
Arigo SBM2019.1Technically this wasn’t my *first* check-in, as my NHLBI K23 award started on 3/1/2018. But it was the first year that I scheduled specific times to meet with mentors who are not at my institution, to give them updates on my progress and plan for Year 2. But it was the first time that I got to disclose my K23 for its support of my time, and for its funding to continue the lines of research I presented in symposia and poster sessions (see below). It’s an honor to be able to describe our CHASE work as NIH-funded.

Scholarly Presentations
Arigo SBM2019.3In addition to co-leading two BIT SIG meetings, I also gave research talks in two symposia and led a poster presentation (expertly taken over by Kristen when I had to leave for a meet-and-greet session). All three of these submissions were based on preliminary data for our now-funded NHLBI women’s health study. Findings demonstrated that: 1) accelerometer cut points for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity need to be carefully considered and selected when applied to activity data from midlife women with elevated cardiovascular risk (see open access poster here), 2) among these women, increases in certain social experiences (such as the quality of social interactions and social comparisons) are associated with changes in food intake recording and objectively assessed physical activity. To Kristen’s point above, we still have much to learn about how the social environment influences health behavior, and how we can harness these influences in tailored interventions.

Stay tuned for more updates on our work toward these goals!

*I was supposed to give only one of these talks; a speaker for a session I chaired didn’t make it to the conference, and I subbed for her as best I could.

Rowan’s Clinical Health And Social Experiences (CHASE) Lab at #SBM2019



SBM2019Our newest research findings will be on display at #SBM2019, and we’re involved in additional sessions focused on science communication and digital health. Come check it out and talk with us!

Preconference Workshop: Learning How to Effectively Communicate Your Science
Location: Monroe
Date: Wednesday March 6, 2019
Time: 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM
Chairs: Dr. Dani Arigo and Dr. Jennifer Funderburk

Poster: The Effect of #Fitspiration Messaging on College Students’ Fitness Center Use: An Experimental Pilot Study
Poster Number: A200
Time: 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Presenters: Megan Brown and Dr. Dani Arigo

Poster: Examining Differences between Accelerometer Cut Point Methods among Midlife Women with Cardiovascular Risk Markers: A Two-Study Approach
Poster Number: A308
Time: 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Presenters: Kristen Pasko and Dr. Dani Arigo

Breakfast Roundtable: Behavioral Informatics and Technology (BIT) SIG Presents ‘Tech Madness’ (Data Blitz)
Location: Jefferson East
Date: Thursday March 7, 2019
Time: 7:00 AM to 7:50 AM
Chairs: Dr. Dani Arigo and Dr. Lisa Cadmus-Bertram

Symposium: Measuring Proximal Factors Associated with Change in Weight-related Behaviors Using Advanced Technology
Location: Columbia 8
Date: Thursday March 7, 2019
Time: 8:00 AM to 9:15 AM
Presenters: Dr. Dani Arigo, Dr. Kat Ross, and Becca Crochiere (Discussant: Dr. Graham Thomas) – Dr. Arigo presenting “Social Influences on Midlife Women’s Food Intake Recording in Daily Life: A Pilot Ecological Momentary Assessment Study”

Poster: Do Gender, Anxiety, or Sleep Quality Predict Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Outcomes?
Poster Number: B160
Time: 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Presenter: Megan Brown

Breakfast Roundtable: Women’s Health SIG (Science Communication)
Location: Columbia 4
Time: 7:00 AM to 7:50 AM
Presenters: Dr. Dani Arigo and Dr. Becca Krukowski

Midday Meeting: Behavioral Informatics and Technology (BIT) SIG Business and Networking Meeting
Location: Columbia 10
Time: 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Chairs: Dr. Dani Arigo and Dr. Lisa Cadmus-Bertram

Poster: Does Social Support Buffer against the Influence of Depressive Symptoms on Motivation for Illness Management in Prediabetes?
Poster Number: C170
Time: 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Presenter: Kristen Pasko

Symposium: Social Processes in Daily Life: What Do They Mean for Women’s Weight Control Behaviors?
Location: Georgetown East
Time: 8:00 AM to 9:15 AM
Presenters: Dr. Dani Arigo, Dr. Tyler Mason, and Rachel MacIntyre (Discussant: Dr. Genevieve Dunton) – Dr. Arigo presenting “Daily Social Experiences and Physical Activity Among Midlife Women with CVD Risk: A Pilot Ecological Momentary Assessment Study”