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

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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

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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!

A Look at Our Latest Paper: Social Predictors of Change in Physical Activity among College Women

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Our new paper in Psychology of Sport and Exercise takes a look at associations between within-person change in perceptions of the social environment and physical activity in college women. This project began in 2016 at The University of Scranton and involved several undergraduate research assistants, including current CHASE Lab Ph.D. student Kristen Pasko (who went on to coordinate data collection). The final product represents a collaboration with Dr. Jacqueline Mogle of Penn State’s ReMind Lab.

Based on our previous work with college women (see here, for example), we were interested in how daily changes in these women’s appraisals of their social experiences (i.e., positive vs. negative social interactions and social comparisons) might be associated with changes in their activity (i.e., steps and moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity, or MVPA). College women who were not student athletes and did not use technology to track their activity were asked to complete a baseline survey and attend an initial face-to-face training session. For the following 7 days, they wore Fitbit Flex wristbands to allow for activity monitoring and completed a survey online each night to assess their social experiences. See our infographic for description of social interactions and social comparisons:

What Was It Like to Run This Study?

“Working on this study provided me the opportunity to contribute to the evolution of a study from recruitment to dissemination, as I worked on various pieces as an undergraduate research assistant, research coordinator, and now Ph.D. student. One of the most rewarding aspects was the clinical research experience gained through interacting with participants, discussing their physical activity and setting them up with an activity monitor. This prepared me for my current work in integrated healthcare settings, which includes recruiting participants from a primary care clinic and working with them in our new studies.”

— Kristen Pasko, CHASE Lab Ph.D. student

“We’re really grateful to the women who participated. They were incredibly diligent, which means that we ended up with very little missing data! This is so helpful when it comes time to run statistical tests, and we can be much more confident in our conclusions if we aren’t missing a lot of information.

One of the things we learned through recruitment and data collection is that the college women who participated are getting a good amount of physical activity overall – during the weeks that they were in the study, at least. This is encouraging, though we need to do more to learn about college women who are less active, and how we can help them get more activity. And our findings show that even among college women who get a good bit of activity overall, there is important day-to-day fluctuation in their activity, and their social experiences may help explain why.”

— Dr. Dani Arigo, CHASE Lab director

What Did We Find?

Using multilevel modeling techniques, we found that increases in positive interactions per day (above a woman’s typical level of positive interactions) were associated with increases in steps per day. However, increases in negative interactions per day – particularly those with friends – were more strongly and consistently associated with decreases in activity (steps and MVPA). Days with health-based social comparisons, such as perceiving someone else to be healthier than they were, were days with decreases in activity, but only for women with low interest in comparisons – for those with high interest in comparisons, days with health-based comparisons were days in increases in activity. Contrary to previous research among college women with body image concerns, there was no association between appearance-based comparisons and activity.

What Does This Tell Us?

  • Days with negative interactions and health-based comparisons (for some women) are days when college women are at risk of decreasing their activity.
  • These decreases may be due to negative emotions or demotivation for activity prompted by negative social experiences.
  • Days with these experiences are opportunities for intervention, to prevent decreases in activity.

Next Steps

Dr. Arigo presenting our new preliminary findings at SBM 2019

We’re now on our second study designed to learn more about the temporal relations between social experiences and physical activity. To do this, we ask our participants to wear research-grade activity monitors and complete 5 surveys per day for 10 days. In these studies, however, we recruit adult women with elevated risk for cardiovascular disease; our goal is to identify key moments of opportunity for intervention among these women, and to design a smartphone app to deliver this intervention. We presented preliminary findings from data collected at The University of Scranton at this year’s Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) annual meeting, and we’re now collecting data at Rowan University. An important observation from this preliminary work is that we see some of the same relations between social experiences and physical activity among adult women with cardiovascular risk!

We’re still working to learn more about these relations in college women, and we hope to be able to compare their experiences to those of college men in the near future. Our current work in this area focuses on responses to #fitspiration images on Instagram.

Stay tuned for more on this and our other research!

Meet @RowanCHASELab: Interview with Megan Brown

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Megan Brown, B.S. is the Research Coordinator (RC) for the CHASE Lab. She was interviewed by Kristen Pasko, B.S., a first-year Ph.D. student in clinical psychology.MB Interview

@RowanChaseLab: Let’s start off with the basics. Would you mind telling us about your undergraduate experience at Rowan and how you were introduced to psychological research?

MB: I was actually a biology major my first semester at Rowan, and I just didn’t feel as passionate about it. I was taking essentials of psychology at the time and found it extremely interesting and decided to try out psychology. Turns out I loved it, and when I took my research methods course I became extremely interested in research and decided to find a lab to get involved in. That’s when I realized I wanted to focus on psychology but with more of an emphasis on research, and decided to switch to a B.S. in psychological science and minor in neuroscience.

@RowanChaseLabContinuing with that theme, we know you previously worked in other Rowan research labs. What was that like?

MB: It was great, and gave me a more thorough understanding of how to actually conduct research. I was in Dr. Angelone’s lab, where we focused more on attention and visual processes. With the help of another student in lab, we ended up developing a study on distracted pedestrian crosswalk behaviors, and I am currently working on a manuscript with Dr. Angelone. I was also given the chance to develop and run a study in my advanced research course with Dr. Abrams, where we evaluated social physique anxiety in college students who go to the gym.

@RowanChaseLabHow does this experience relate to your specific research interests? How have they changed since then?

MB: Well my specific research interests revolve around mental health; specifically depression and anxiety. I have always been very physically active, playing sports my whole life and going to the gym. so I knew I had an interest in mental and physical health. I just didn’t know how to combine them. So when I got to do the study on anxiety and the gym I started to realize this would be the path I would like to take. My interests have only changed a little since then, where now I am also interested in stress and social influences. I reflected on the work I did with Dr. Angelone and Dr. Abrams and realized both have social factors that influence an individual’s behavior.

@RowanChaseLabWhat initially got you excited to work in the CHASE lab as our RC?

MB: I would definitely say the research topics are what got me excited initially, along with the chance to build my research skills and gain more experience. I saw the lab focused on health behaviors and social influences which was right up my alley. I also want to go into a Ph.D. program eventually, so I knew having the job of a research coordinator would help prepare me for that experience.

@RowanChaseLabWhat do you suspect you will be spending most of your time this year? What can we expect of any independent work you might be doing?

MB: Most of my time will be divided among the various projects we have going on. My role is to oversee recruitment, participant communication, data collection, and data entry for two large projects – one with students and one with midlife women. Along with that, I will also be spending time as a mentor for our research assistants and working on developing more as a researcher. As far as independent work goes, I am in the process of working with Dr. Arigo and Dr. Greeson on a study involving stress, sleep, and anxiety in participants who went through a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. I am also working with Dr. Angelone on a manuscript for the crosswalk study we did. So a lot of exciting projects going on right now!

@RowanChaseLabAny important lessons you’ve already learned already as an RC?

MB: Oh yes! Organization and taking notes is everything. As a research coordinator I am retaining a lot of information, not just about my own schedule, but about others schedules, projects, etc. so it is crucial to write everything down and have a very organized system for keeping track.

@RowanChaseLabLastly, what is something you want to do or are excited to learn about while working in the CHASE lab?

MB: Something I would like to do while working in the CHASE lab is enhancing my clinical experience. I know I will have the chance to work with participants in person, so being able to learn the skills needed in order to convey what our study is about and build a trusting relationship is something I am very excited to learn.

Research Coordinator Position at Rowan University

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Fit5

Research Coordinator
Clinical Health And Social Experiences (CHASE) Lab
Rowan University

Application deadline: May 11, 2018

Start Date: September 1, 2018

Are you looking for an exciting opportunity to hone your skills in behavioral science research? Come work with the new Clinical Health And Social Experiences (CHASE) Lab at Rowan University! The CHASE Lab is hiring a full-time research coordinator. This position will provide opportunities to interact with research participants, collaborate with graduate and undergraduate students in clinical/health psychology, and receive mentoring to prepare for future graduate study in clinical/health psychology or a related field.

The research coordinator position will be under the direction of Danielle Arigo, Ph.D., who is joining Rowan from The University of Scranton in Pennsylvania (http://www.scranton.edu/faculty/arigod/index.shtml). Dr. Arigo’s research investigates social influences on health and health behavior, physical activity promotion, and weight control, particularly in the area of women’s health. This research emphasizes the development and optimization of digital health tools, including mobile health apps, wearable physical activity trackers, and social media platforms.

The coordinator’s primary responsibilities will be related to project management for an NIH-funded clinical trial (e.g., budget management; preparing and updating reports for NIH and IRB; managing participant recruitment, enrollment, and scheduling). Additional activities will include data management, training and supervision of research assistants, and contributing to the preparation of manuscripts and conference presentations. Previous experience with these tasks in the context of physical activity, weight control, women’s health, and/or digital health is desirable, and the coordinator will have the opportunity to improve skills in each of these areas.

Candidates should have a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related area; coursework and/or work experience related to clinical research is preferred. Experience with using social media (particularly Twitter) in a professional or organizational capacity is desirable. Reliable transportation and some early morning/evening hours are required.

To apply, submit a CV and a one-page cover letter describing your preparation for this position to arigo@rowan.edu by May 11, 2018. Questions about the position can be directed to this email address.

 

Research News, April 2018

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It’s an exciting time for @UofSHealthPsych! We have several announcements to share, all related to our clinical health psychology research:

1) If you follow us, then you know that we have multiple active lines of research related to promoting healthy behavior. Our goals are to understand the psychological and social experiences that influence health behaviors in the natural environment, and use this information to improve health behavior interventions. We have multiple papers coming out in 2018 that pursue these goals: two related to Type 2 Diabetes outcomes, one on the role of calorie labeling of restaurant-type foods in grocery stores, one on recommendations for using social media in health research, and several on the role of social comparisons in behavioral weight loss treatment. Each of these topics will get some air time on this site in the coming months, so stay tuned!

2) In March 2018, our research on determinants and interventions to promote midlife women’s physical activity received a prestigious grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (National Institutes of Health). This funding will allow us to hire team members, recruit participants, work with state-of-the-art assessment technology, and develop a digital health tool tailored to the needs of midlife women. We’re off to a great start with related projects, and the whole team has been involved in activities such as coding literature and preparing abstracts for conferences. Read more about the grant here.

3) We’ll be at the Society of Behavioral Medicine annual meeting (SBM, April 11-14) and the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media conference (May 18) sharing our recent and developing findings. At SBM, you can find us at #SBM2018 and:

  • Thursday’s Behavioral Informatics and Technology SIG “Tech Madness” and Middday Business meetings – 7:00am and 10:45am, respectively
  • Thursday’s evening poster session, presenting on relations between social media use and health behaviors (Kristen Pasko) and perceptions of the #fitspiration trend on Instagram (Sabrina DiBisceglie) – 6:15pm
  • Friday’s Women’s Health SIG morning panel on science communication (Dr. Arigo) – 7:00am
  • Friday’s morning paper session on Social Media and Broadcast Messaging for Health (Dr. Arigo) – 10:45am
  • Friday’s afternoon symposium on Understanding and Harnessing Social Influences on Women’s Health Behaviors: Social Perceptions, Stigma, and Social Modeling (Dr. Arigo) – 2:00pm

4) This summer, @UofSHealthPsych is moving to Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. We’re taking our website, Twitter account, and research along for the ride, so please check for updates as we transition to our new home.

Thanks for following our progress and exciting news! We’ll be back with an SBM 2018 review post in two weeks.

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.

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.

Sabrina and Marisa Scholar Day 2017

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.

K&K Scholar Day 2017

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!