Meet @UofSHealthPsych: Interview with Sabrina DiBisceglie

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Sabrina DiBisceglie is a senior psychology major at The University of Scranton. She was interviewed by junior Madison Montalbano.

UofSHealthPsych: Where are you from, and what drew you to the University of SabrinaScranton?

SD: I am from a small town in Bergen County, New Jersey named River Edge. My guidance counselor in high school suggested I should look at the University of Scranton because it was a smaller school. Once I stepped onto campus I was drawn to the community feeling. As I looked around I saw many students walking in groups, playing frisbee, on the green, and walking with professors. I knew this was the type of atmosphere that I would want to spend my four years in.

UofSHealthPsych: When did you realize health psychology interested you?

SD: In high school I wanted to be a physical therapist or athletic trainer. It wasn’t until I had taken those college ‘what career would be best for you’ tests that my mind changed when It told me I should be a social worker. I knew that was not something I would be interested in, so I turned to psychology since I was drawn to the scientific aspect of the field. Freshman year I went into psychology thinking I was going to pursue sports psychology. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. O’Malley and he pointed me towards Dr. Arigo, and he assured me health psychology was really the field that dealt with all my interests. Once I joined the Clinical Health Psychology lab, I knew this was exactly the field of psychology I wanted to be in.

UofSHealthPsych: Can you tell us a little bit about your individual research project for the Clinical Health Psychology Lab?

SD: I am most interested in physical activity and what motivates one to exercise. What I have been fascinated by is the movement of #fitspiration on social media. As college students we are shaping our future habits and behaviors. With social media engagement increasing and becoming a consistent and frequent behavior in our everyday lives, it shapes what kind of content and messages we encounter daily. I think with #fitspiration having a big presence on social media, it may have an effect on behaviors such as exercise engagement. Through my research I am exploring the reasons behind why people post #fitspiration and the perceived outcomes/benefits of viewing such posts may be. I am also interested in understanding the use of #fitspiration as a motivational tool to enhance exercise engagement in both men and women. I had a Presidential Fellowship to stay on campus and work on these projects over the summer, and I’m applying for grant funding to increase the scope of this work.

Sabrina and Marisa Scholar Day 2017UofSHealthPsych: Aside from research, what clubs or activities on campus are you involved in?

SD: This year I am an officer for the Psychology Club and Psi Chi (the Psychology Honors Society). I am also President of the University of Scranton chapter of the Association for Psychological Science Student Caucus (APSSC), which is the psychology research club on campus.

UofSHealthPsych: What would you say has been the greatest advantage of being a part of the Clinical Health Psychology Research Team?

SD: This lab has allowed me opportunities and experiences that would not be possible if I were not part of the research team. I have assisted in individual projects for other students, worked on Dr. Arigo’s research, and now have the opportunity to conduct my own research. This lab has also provided me with research skills through hands-on experience. I think learning the skills in class is helpful, but being able to apply and utilize what is learned about conducting research from the beginning of the process to the end is really beneficial.

UofSHealthPsych: What skills have you gained from working as a research assistant will be most useful in the future?

SD: I have learned how to communicate with participants which can help in research as well as clinical settings in the future. I have also learned how to read articles and discuss them analytically. This may seem like a general skill, but I believe being able to pull out the significant parts of an article and to be able to develop informed opinions and discuss the information is important in any scientific based field. Being able to understand what is already out there and to expand upon your knowledge is an important skill for all professionals.

UofSHealthPsych: What are your plans after graduation?

SD: In the upcoming year, I plan to take a gap year in which I will continue to work on my research, as well as apply to graduate schools. I plan on applying to Clinical Health Ph.D programs to continue studying the psychology of physical activity.

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The University of Scranton’s 2017 Celebration of Student Scholars (Student Research Day)

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By Kristen Pasko (Summer Research Coordinator) and Sabrina DiBisceglie (Presidential Summer Research Fellow).

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Graduating members of the Clinical Health Research Team at the Celebration of Student Scholars (L-R): Katie Notarianni, Kristen Pasko, Dr. Arigo, Marissa DeStefano, and Zuhri Outland.

The University of Scranton held their 17th annual Celebration of Student Scholars on May 11th from 1-4 pm in the lobby of our campus’ main science center. Students from various departments (such as occupational therapy, exercise science, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, computer science, communications, and physical therapy) presented their recent research findings in their respective fields. Student peers, faculty, and the general public listened and asked questions of the student researchers as they viewed posters. The event ended with a dinner in honor of the scholars and their mentors. Student scholars Maria Begliomini and Victor Dec from M.S. program Health Administration spoke of their experience with the Telehealth Intervention Program for Seniors (TIPS).

Preparing for the Celebration of Student Scholars allowed each of us to engage in the research process from beginning to end. Last year, most of us presented summaries of literature reviews, rather than original research. This year, each team of students started with an original research question (way back in the fall of 2016!) and worked toward new and interesting findings. At the celebration, it was rewarding to share these findings and the hard work we put into the research, as well as to see the interest our peers took in our findings.

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Sabrina and Marissa with their poster.

The poster session at the Celebration of Student Scholars provided a unique experience for members of the Clinical Health Psychology Lab. It shed light on differing perspectives in research between fields, as well as between researchers and the public. After speaking to fellow students, we discovered a large gap in communication and understanding between different fields of research. For example, several guests were unaware of particular domains of psychology, and some members of the lab had to preface their individual work with a background in clinical health psychology. This is especially important to our lab because the field of health psychology emphasizes an interdisciplinary mindset. This understanding can potentially help us in later research and clinical practice as we strive to close the gap between health professions (and between professions broadly).

This experience allowed us to deliver information that is relevant to our audience, which primarily consisted of college students. Our goal was to provide this audience with information about our work that could easily be understood and applied in their everyday lives to promote better health. We learned that presenting major findings with complex statistical analyses alone would not suffice in starting conversation relevant to our audience.

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Research Selfie! Kristen and Katie with their poster.

Lab member Kristen Pasko presented her independent study on relations between use of different types of social media and self-reported health behaviors, including sexual activity, eating behavior, alcohol consumption, and physical activity. She enjoyed beingable to collaborate with her partner, Katie Notarianni, and other lab members – this teamwork made it easier for ideas to expand. She also appreciated the support from ZO Scholar Day 2017the lab throughout the process. Another member, Sabrina DiBisceglie, assisted Marissa DeStefano with her research on the predictive value of different types of motivation for objectively assessed exercise engagement among college women. She valued the experience she gained throughout the process and learned skills from Marissa that will be useful when completing her own independent study. Lab member Zuhri Outland (right) presented two separate sets of analyses: one on relations between college women’s living situations and their reported social comparisons and health behaviors, and a second on perceptions of male and female body types with respect to perceived attractiveness.

During the Celebration dinner, Maria Begliomini and Victor Dec impressed the audience with their personal accounts of experience with research with the TIPS program. They delivered first-hand accounts of working for TIPS, which included showing older adults how to monitor vital signs such as blood pressure, pulse, oxygen levels, and weight, in conjunction with providing checkups to inform them about available services and programs. These components were designed to increase the likelihood that older adults would be proactive in their health behaviors, and decrease medical expenses to improve overall health. This presentation was highly relevant to the work we do in clinical health psychology.

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The whole team at the post-Celebration dinner.

The hosts noted that this was the first time in the event’s history that students, rather than professors, were invited to speak about their research experiences. This change felt appropriate, as the day was about honoring the research accomplishments of students. Specifically, our lab members identified with the speakers’ processes of maturation through research. Their stories demonstrated that the impact of student research goes far beyond the Celebration of Student Scholars. We look forward to presenting our updated research findings at the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s annual conference in the spring of 2018.

The Future of #Fitspiration

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By Kristen Pasko, Kerri Mazur, and Sabrina DiBisceglie

In our series on #fitspiration, we have explored what it is, how it applies to different cultures and races, and its pros and cons. You can find #fitspiration posts on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Instagram is a major hotspot, with over 9.8 million images tagged as #fitspiration. This aspect of social media allows us to connect to others, even those we have not met in person. Though this ability is generally seen as positive, there is a flip side. Some users may post content that is potentially indicative of mental illness, and there has been a movement to help users who may feel they are unheard by those in their personal lives. In light of this, it is important to discuss what has been done in response to fitspiration. In 2015, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram attempted to censor material related to eating disorders, especially #thinspiration content, and provide warnings to users who might come in contact with it. However, material was still relatively easy to access, due to loose guidelines.

Some researchers believe social media could be helpful in spreading positive messages and helping people with mental illness. One 2015 study suggests that positive emotional expression spreads through social media platforms to a greater degree than negative emotional expression. Therefore, if you see a positive post, you are more likely to post something positive as well. By the same token, one 2016 study proposes that computational methods can use characteristics such as the colors of a photo filter and the amount of people in posts to identify those with symptoms of a depressive disorder. These methods were even more effective than talking with general practitioners. Such findings could have important implications for the future of mental health testing and diagnosis, in addition to improved and more cost-efficient treatment.

So what were some of these specific characteristics that were related to mental health? filterPhotos of depressed individuals received fewer likes; they tended to be darker (blue and gray, void of artificial light), and have fewer faces per photo. The characteristic of fewer faces is intuitive for a few reasons. First, depressed individuals are more likely to spend time in small social groups. Second, they are more likely to use self-focused language that might carry over into photos. Researchers from this study mentioned a need for further research on captions, comments, and tags.

Recently, Instagram added a new tool that allows someone to report a user they believe is at risk due to mental health symptoms. The person who posts the image will receive a pop-up message encouraging him or her to seek more support, if needed. Instagram worked with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to develop these messages. Additionally, users receive a helpline and other mental health resources based on their current location. If users attempt to post with certain hashtags, like #thinspo, they will be redirected to a support page.

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Though many are excited about this new effort, it is important to question its implications and the potential for additional improvements. Some users may reject the resources because they deny having any distress. Some may not feel comfortable with their content being closely monitored. As a result, individuals may leave Instagram in fear of getting screened for mental illness. However, this tool, or a comparable one, could be advantageous if used with #fitspiration posts. It can provide motivation to the users that would benefit, and promote mental health resources for others. (We might still run into the problem of deciding what content would be helpful and harmful based on individual users, which deserves increased attention.)

Another way to take action is to spread awareness of the pros and cons of #fitspiration. If people are aware of the consequences #fitspiration, it may provide a user the opportunity to examine the function #fitspiration has on their life and adjust the content they view and post accordingly. There are popular Instagram fitness experts who already take responsibility in promoting the theme of “loving your body”. Linn Lowes is one such Instagram fitness guru who promotes exercise to enhance your own body instead of making your body look like someone else’s. Linn believes about being thin-shaming is just as much of an issue as fat-shaming. She also believes we shouldn’t focus on one fit body type; instead we should become the best and healthiest versions of ourselves.

The benefits and risks to #fitspiration are not so clear-cut. On one hand, there are many individuals who are likely to be find these posts to be inspiring and motivating, while others are likely to have unhealthy behaviors perpetuated by it. Social media platforms have made an effort to accommodate these differing individuals. Filtering and pop-up messages can ultimately help to reduce or even prevent the stigma surrounding mental illness and promote helpful resources for those suffering. It is important to explore further avenues to protect social media users, and these efforts support a future that reaches many individuals.

 

Pros and Cons of #Fitspiration

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By Kristen Pasko, Kerri Mazur, and Sabrina DiBisceglie

In our previous posts, we’ve discussed the potential for viewing #fitspiration posts to have either positive nor negative effects. As we have mentioned, some individuals are motivated by these images. For example, #fitspiration can inspire individuals who are beginning a journey of lifestyle change, and #fitspiration that aligns with the person’s health goals can help elicit positive outcomes (such as exercising and eating healthy, which prevents chronic disease and improves mood). People who view #fitspiration posts also might directly receive social support through group exercise, or indirectly because they see others engaged in exercise. In this way, #fitspiration posts can send the message that you’re not alone on your health journey.

Using the social environment, fit4either online or in person, is desirable in public health interventions. In group settings, people can give and receive support and make upward comparisons with the goal of self-improvement (which is one use of #fistpiration posts). A recent meta- analysis of studies looking at the effects of social media on health behavior change showed that including social media in interventions leads to decreased fat consumption.

Social media also acts as an educational tool. Posts can link to demonstration videos of workouts, healthy recipes, and overall health tips, this information can be readily available to a user in one domain. This is especially useful at the start of a lifestyle change in providing inspiration as well as a roadmap. Following steps in the form of a video or written in the caption of a photo, as well as using information provided by someone who is an expert or who has already gone through their own health journey, may provide a user with comfort and decrease the stress of not knowing what to do or where to start.

fit5#Fitspiration and similar uses of social media also can be beneficial for the person who does the posting. Posting can help you stay accountable for your progress and motivate ongoing healthy habits. In a 2015 study, survey respondents reported that the number of “likes” they receive on their exercise posts indicates other people’s acknowledgement of their progress. The more acknowledgement they receive for their posts, the more motivated they are to continue.

What about those who are negatively impacted? Individuals who have been diagnosed with an eating are more likely to view images of #fitspiration more often than those who do not have a diagnosis. Therefore, it is possible that these images may perpetuate body dissatisfaction that and disordered eating behaviors. For example, those with orthorexia experience a fixation on “healthy” eating behaviors and fitness-related activities, and often post about their habits on social media. When eating behaviors become restricted, exercise becomes punishment, and #fitspiration becomes an obsession, what once came from positive motivation can turn into a negative downward spiral. Another study found that those with mood disorders were more likely to view content related to fitness and dieting. So is it the content that increases the likelihood of these behaviors, or that people who already have mental health concerns are more likely to view this content?

A recent study suggested that Facebook use of just 20 minutes was associated with “maintenance of weight/shape concerns and state anxiety.” In addition, female users of fit6social media are more likely to participate in appearance-focused behavior like untagging themselves in pictures where they perceive themselves as less attractive than their friends, and are more likely to perceive responses from Facebook content as significant.

It appears that there are specific groups at risk for negative responses to #fitspiration and other trends on social media: those who show symptoms of an eating disorder, have a history of a mood disorder, or those with low self-esteem. It is clear, though, that with the various positive and negative potential outcomes, more research needs to be done on #fitspiration. In a future post we will discuss what has been done to increase safety on social media platforms and how that can be further improved!

Individual Differences in the Effects of #Fitspiration

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fit2By Kristen Pasko, Sabrina DiBisceglie, and Kerri Mazur

In a previous post, we mentioned that motivation for viewing #fitspiration posts affects how people respond to them. For example, if you have the goal of improving yourself, you are might feel motivated because you see these images and messages as achievable. But if you see yourself as already really similar to these images (or messages, such as the one displayed here), you might not dramatically change your fitness behaviors. On the other hand, if you don’t have a well-formed improvement goal and you believe that #fitspiration images are much fitter than you, you might feel dissatisfied with your body and be motivated to exercise or change your fitness routine. In this case, you might work harder to close this gap between the images and your body, even if you think that the image will be difficult for you to achieve.

We questioned whether these differences in motivation for viewing #fitspiration posts affect body satisfaction, depending on the length of exposure to the posts. Recent research among young women shows a trend that the effect of exposure changes over time. Seeing #fitspiration posts initially makes women more likely to evaluate themselves and feel worse about their bodies. For example, women report increased body dissatisfaction and decreased self-esteem after viewing #fitspiration posts. This could be a result of comparing themselves to the women in the pictures. However, if they continue to be exposed to posts over time, they are likely to decide to improve their bodies. On average, they are inspired to improve their fitness and diet regimens. In other words, the more you compare upward (to someone you thought someone else was more physically in shape than you), the more you might change your fitness habits. (It’s important to note that these are average changes, and that not everyone in the sample responded the same way over time.)

fit3So, does #fitspiration achieve its purpose – motivating women to become more fit? Researchers suggest limiting exposure to #fitspiration posts due to potential negative effects on self-esteem, which seems to happen at first. But some research shows that decreased self-esteem may be only temporary. If this is the case, is this risk worth changes in health behavior? It is clear that further research needs to be done on the effects of brief #fitspiration exposure compared to long-term or repeated exposure.

Besides motivation for viewing #fistpiration posts and length of exposure to posts, body composition seems to be related to the effect of #fitspiration. According to the NIH, women who are overweight (BMI that exceeds 25.0) tend to be more discouraged when viewing #fitspiration images than women in the normal weight category. Overweight women may have difficulty relating to the images, and see the fitness goals as unattainable. However, women of average weight looking to “tone up” or “drop a few pounds” find these images motivating because they are better able to envision themselves reaching these goals in the future.

A final individual difference in the effects of #fistpiration is self-esteem. Someone with lower self-esteem my find these images more discouraging than someone with higher self-esteem. The person with higher self-esteem may also pursue weight loss as a way to improve their health, and make positive changes for his or her life. However, an individual experiencing lower self-esteem may approach weight loss with a negative perception, which only fuels their already dampened self-esteem. In a follow-up post we will explore the pros and cons of #fitspiration!

An Introduction to #Fitspiration

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By lab members Kristen Pasko, Kerri Mazur, and Sabrina DiBisceglie

Depictions of female appearance ideals have long been portrayed in the media, such as movies, TV, and magazines. These ideals have meaningful (and usually negative) effects on women’s body satisfaction and eating behaviors, and have received a great deal of research attention as a result. Examining the role of appearance ideals and the sources of idealized messages can be helpful for preventing and intervening against negative body image and disordered eating behaviors.

Recently, social media has become the main platform for communicating these ideals, especially Instagram. More than half of teens and young adults use Instagram, and many rely on it as a source of health information. Unlike previous trends toward extreme ideals of thinness (i.e., #thinspiration), the recent trend of #fitspiration portrays strong and muscular women as the ideal body image.

#Fitspiration posts usually promote exercise and healthy eating, but sometimes focus on the appearance benefits of a healthy lifestyle rather than the health benefits themselves. For example:

Images from a #fitspiration blog which promote exercise and defined muscles.
Click here to visit a #Fitspiration blog

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Marilyn Monroe

The ideal female body has changed over time, from a full figure to the hourglass (actresses like Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s) to extreme thinness (models like Twiggy in the 1970s). It is possible that these body types were idealized because many people could compare themselves to them and see similarities, or because they were inspired by them to change. Decades of research on appearance-based social comparisons indicate that many women experience

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Twiggy

negative consequences of viewing images of the appearance ideal, including body dissatisfaction and desire to diet or exercise. Though not all women (or men) respond negatively to these images – indeed, #fitspiration exists because social media users appear to find others’ appearance and fitness success inspiring.

What leads some people to be inspired by #fitspiration, and others to be discouraged? Motivation for viewing images and related content (such as blogs) may be a key factor in deciding how #fitspiration will affect an individual. In our next post, we will explore this motivation in more detail. Look for our follow-up next week!

@UofSHealthPsych at Healthier U Day (University of Scranton)

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healthieruf161On Friday, September 16th, the Clinical Health Psychology Lab took part in the University of Scranton’s Healthier U Day event from 1:00-4:00 pm. Seven lab members introduced fellow students to the concept of health psychology, demonstrated its usefulness for behavior change, and provided information about ways to stay healthy on campus.

At 1:00, the line to enter Healthier U Day stretched the entire length of the Dionne Green. (If you’ve never been to our campus, this is about the size of a soccer field.) We were pleased to see so many students interested in learning more about health and wellness on campus. Our table was greeted with groups of 5 to 10 students at a time, who were eager to learn. To keep up with the flow of people, students were directed to start with our survey question and work their way through the rest of our table from there.

Our discussion began with the question, “What is your most common barrier to exercise?” We offered four options, and over 50 students responded: 64% said “I’m busy/have no time,” 18% said “I have no one to go with, ”18% said “The gym is too crowded/ I fear being judged,” and less than 1% said “I don’t know where to go.” These results demonstrate that time management seems to be the largest barrier to physical activity for college students. However, we observed the majority of students who reported fear of judgement or did not have anyone to go with were female, with the exception of males who were freshman. Such observations could lead us to new research questions about social support for exercise in these subgroups.

Based on the responses, students were directed to a visual web of solution stems, printed on a poster (pictured below). Solutions were recommended by lab members as methods that work for us in everyday life, so students got some insight into how we overcome the psychological barriers presented on the poster.

psychological-barriers-to-pa-healthier-u-day-2016We also introduced students to the types of studies and research questions that are conducted by our lab. We tried to make sure that the female students knew about Project CHASE, as we are recruiting for that study. We continued by giving students an overview of the field of health psychology. Students were given handouts, including exercise resources on and off campus and tips for healthy eating behaviors.

Our exercise resource sheet included information about off-campus resources and on-campus options other than the university’s gym. It included: The Jewish Community Center’s Group Exercise Classes, Yoga for Grief Relief, and Nay Aug Park, as well as  The Byron Center’s Open Swim and Intramural Teams. Students were surprised to see some of the options they had for physical activity in the area, and many seemed excited to take home a copy of the sheet. Some examples included in the healthy eating sheet included advice like “don’t eat and work” and “don’t completely take your favorite foods out of your diet”. These handouts were meant to increase convenience and thereby increase the likelihood of positive health behaviors.

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From Left: Team Members Zuhri Outland, Marissa DeStefano, Kerri Mazur, & Sabrina DiBisceglie

After guiding students through the survey and suggestions for positive health behaviors, several people were interested in taking the Health Psychology course offered in the spring semester (PSYC 228). Many students were unfamiliar with the concept of health psychology beforehand, and were curious to learn more after visiting our table. Overall, we were pleased with the feedback we received at the event, and we hope our presentation will allow students to make healthier choices!

Contributors to this post: Marissa DeStefano, Zuhri Outland, Kristen Pasko, Sabrina DiBisceglie, Kerri Mazur, and Dr. Arigo.