Meet @UofSHealthPsych: Interview with Katie Notarianni

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Katie Notarianni is a graduating senior at The University of Scranton. She was interviewed by sophomore (and new lab member) Madison Montalbano.

UofSHealthPsych: Where are you from and what drew you to The University of Scranton?

Katie

KN: I grew up in the Scranton area, so The University has always felt like home. It has such a welcoming and great campus and I realized how much I can get involved in. I knew many people on campus already but was glad to meet even more.

UofSHealthPsych: How did you decide to join the Clinical Health Psychology Research Team? 

KN: I knew I wanted to get involved in research in some way and I have always been interested in women’s health issues. Dr. Arigo’s lab was a great fit because I am passionate about the topics we look at – specifically, gender differences in health behaviors.

UofSHealthPsych: What were the connections between your chosen major and topics we research?

KN: I am a Psychology major with Women’s Studies and Human Development concentrations, so there are many connections between my past courses and the work we do in lab. Research with the lab helped me better understand the information I already learned and taught me skills in successfully gathering data and presenting.

UofSHealthPsych: What were your roles as a research assistant with the Clinical Health Psychology Research Team?

KN: I co-authored two posters for the Celebration of Student Scholars (our internal research fair at the University) – one this year and one last year. Last year our poster was on a literature review of physical activity lapses (temporary gaps in activity engagement and why people may experience them. This year, I worked with another student to collect new data on connections between heath behaviors and social media use. I also enjoyed helping with recruitment for Project CHASE and different events the lab participated in, like Healthier U Day.

UofSHealthPsych: What would you say was the biggest lesson you learned from the Clinical Health Research Team? 

KN: I learned a lot about working with a team successfully, and about collecting data. I was happy to practice more with SPSS and Excel working on the posters. I also appreciated learning from our conversations in lab meeting, where we would discuss various research articles and current events, like the controversy around 13 Reasons Why.

UofSHealthPsych: What did you find most interesting about working with the research team? 

KN: I found it interesting learning how many directions and topics you can look at in health psychology. It is such an interesting perspective and can relates to many fields. Also, working with members in the lab with different backgrounds and goals was a great experience because people had different skills to offer.

UofSHealthPsych: I know that you’re graduating, what are your plans once you leave Scranton? 

KN: I plan to attend a master’s in clinical social work program at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia this fall. I want to later become a LCSW and use what I learned in the lab and continue working in research later on as well.

UofSHealthPsych: Is there any advice you would give someone just beginning to work on a research team?

KN: Be open minded to new ways and ideas in research, but also try to find what you’re passionate about. Research work can be difficult but if you’re passionate and interested it makes it worth it. There are so many directions you can go and topics to learn about. If you put in the work and interest, you can find such great and helpful info and develop your own new ideas.

UofSHealthPsych on Campus: The University of Scranton’s Psychology Research Day and Women’s Health Research Panel

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Contributors: Zuhri Outland, Marissa DeStefano, Kristen Pasko, Sabrina DiBisceglie, Dr. Arigo

Our research team recently participated in two events at The University of Scranton. Here are our reflections on these experiences.

APSSC Student Research Day

Every year, the University of Scranton chapter of the Association for Psychological Science Student Caucus (APSSC) hosts a series of brief presentations to promote student research in the Department of Psychology. This is a student-run event that allows psychology research labs on campus to present their research interests and accomplishments to their peers. The event is a great opportunity for students who are interested in psychology research to see how their classmates are involved and to learn more about their professors’ research interests. It is also a good opportunity for professors to advertise their work and recruit new members for their teams.

At this year’s event (February 25th), students from several labs in the psychology department presented their research to an audience of 25 students. Labs represented were those of Dr. Hogan (psychological testing), Dr. Orr and Dr. Cannon (behavioral neuroscience), Dr. Kuhle (evolutionary psychology),  and Dr. Arigo (health psychology). Students Caitlin Gilby and Arielle Williams also presented their faculty-sponsored independent research projects. Students spoke for 5-10 minutes and used slides to illustrate their work.


At the event, several members of our health psychology research team presented on the lab’s focus and the work that we have been doing this year. We described health psychology as a field, our specific interest in social influences on health, our outreach efforts (like Healthier U Day), and our ongoing study Project CHASE (College Health And Research Team APSSC RD17Social Experiences). For Project CHASE, we described how each member has contributed to the study (scheduling appointments, sending reminder emails, conducting face-to-face interviews, and managing data). Kristen, Zuhri, and Marissa also shared their independent projects, which will include data from Project CHASE and other ongoing studies. Their topics include exercise motivation, relations between different types of social media and health behaviors, and perceptions of various body types. 

After the presentations there was time for interested students to talk to researchers about their experiences. Students were interested to know how we got involved in a research lab, and how we got the opportunity to form our own independent study. These students were invited to discuss their interest with faculty members or fill out applications to become research assistants. The event was a great opportunity to share all of the work do and learn about some of the work our friends and classmates have been doing.

Women’s Health Research: Panel Discussion and Fair

On the evening of March 2nd, professors at the University of Scranton participated in a panel discussion on their research on women’s health. This event, which was presented by the Women’s Studies Program and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, was intended to showcase the excellent women’s health research on our campus and begin an interdisciplinary dialogue about women’s health research. Participating faculty members came from a variety of backgrounds and each had a different perspective on women’s health. Backgrounds were in nutrition, exercise science, psychology, political science, and nursing.

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The panel: Drs. Trnka (moderator), Bachman, Grossman, Harris, Feeney, and Arigo

Dinner was provided and included an array of healthy options. The event opened with welcoming remarks from Cathy Mascelli, our Assistant Director of the Center for Health Education and Wellness (CHEW), who spoke to the importance of examining gender differences in health outcomes. Each presenter then spoke for roughly 5-10 minutes on their research and interests in women’s health. Dr. Ann Feeney discussed her research on postpartum smoking cessation; Dr. Jessica Bachman described her findings related to postpartum weight loss interventions; Dr. Joan Grossman discussed weight gain and health risks during menopause, as well as weight loss interventions for this group; Dr. Arigo gave an overview of health psychology and our research on women’s body image, eating behavior, and physical activity; Dr. Jean Harris provided the broader context of what this research means for government policy (such as regulations on health care).

After these presentations, Dr. Jamie Trnka, the director of our Women’s Studies Program, opened the discussion to the audience for questions. She began with her own question about intersectionality and diversity, and questions from the audience focused on how best to handle issues of generalizability beyond the lab and doubt from the general public about the importance of women’s health research. It was interesting to see the

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Dr. Arigo, Kristen, Marissa, Zuhri, and Sabrina at the table fair

commonalities and differences among each panel member and how they approached each question from her own perspective. The last part of the event was a table fair, where attendees could interact with panelists and their students and ask more detailed questions. Zuhri, Marissa, Sabrina, and Kristen represented our lab at the table fair, and students from various majors approached us to ask about our work.

The key takeaways from this discussion were not only the importance of studying women’s health, but also the idea that everything that we do as a research team is connected to so many other perspectives and outcomes. That while the research we do is fun and interesting, it can also be the research that helps someone later or forms a government policy or is part of a treatment plan. The research isn’t just a solitary act – it can affect the lives of women at all ages. This event also demonstrated the importance of creating a conversation of women’s health. With this beginning, those who participated and/or attended the event may now have a greater appreciation for the current issues in women’s health and acknowledge that there is much more to learn. We look forward to future events like this to continue the discussion.

Interested in reading more about the panelists’ research? Visit their webpages (linked above) or look them up on Google Scholar!

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.

 

Meet @UofSHealthPsych: Interview with Zuhri Outland

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Zuhri is a senior Psychology major who has worked with the Clinical Health Research Team for two years. She was interviewed by senior Marissa DeStefano.

UofSHealthPsych: Where are you from?zuhri

ZO: I’m from Scranton, I’m so basic.

UofSHealthPsych: Why did you choose Scranton?

ZO: I transferred here from another college. I chose Scranton because after having a bad experience at the other college, I wanted to come home. The U is close to home and I knew it was a good school. I heard good things about the school because I went to Scranton prep.

UofSHealthPsych: Why did you decide to major in Psychology?

ZO: Originally at my first college I was a genetic engineering major. When I transferred here I was a neuroscience major. Then, I took chemistry and it was a terrible adventure. I was taking Psyc 110 at the time with Dr. Kuhle, and he made psychology seem really cool and fun. From there my love of psychology took off.

UofSHealthPsych: What inspired you to join the Clinical Health Psychology Lab?

ZO: I had Dr. Arigo for abnormal psychology and I thought she would be great to work with, and I was interested in her research in health psychology when she talked about it in class. I wanted to take her health psychology course in the spring but I couldn’t, so I decided to join the lab instead.

UofSHealthPsych: What are some of the projects you are involved in?

kzscholarday2016ZO: I presented a poster at Student Scholar Day last semester with Kristen Pasko, which was about postmenopausal women’s exercise behaviors. This semester I’m really involved with Project CHASE – recruiting and running participants, managing data. I am currently working on my own research questions related to social aspects of health behavior.

UofSHealthPsych: What advice do you have for students who might be interested in research?

ZO: Start as early as possible. Go outside of what you think your interests are. Pay attention to professors and reach out to them.

UofSHealthPsych: What are you plans for after graduation? Future career goals?

ZO: I’m graduating in December, and next semester I will still be participating in the lab. I am currently applying to grad school for clinical social work programs. I want to be a clinical social worker so that I can do research and clinical work. I want to work with the adult population, people who are \20-50 years old. I’m still not sure exactly what setting I would like to work in.

UofSHealthPsych: What will you miss most about Scranton?

ZO: The people!

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!

Appearance Ideals, Culture, and Social Media

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

As we described in last week’s post, body ideals differ across time periods. But femininity, beauty, and what it “means” to be a woman also differs between cultures. An Asian woman may have differing views on what constitutes physical beauty compared to an African American woman, for example. A culture may have beauty ideals that rest in the cosmetic realm of highly coveted facial features and smooth, porcelain-like skin. Other cultures may base their ideals of beauty entirely on body shape, such as what seems to be the case in North America and much of western Europe. And the “ideal” body differs based on cultural norms, with African Americans preferring a more curvy figure to the thin ideal of Caucasians. In Africa, a practice known as scarification is common in some tribes, which facial scars representing beauty.

italy_taggedThe idea of cultural differences is presented in “Perceptions of Perfection,” a fascinating project conducted by the UK-based online pharmacy Superdrug Online Doctors. The project began with images of the same woman, modified to represent a physical ideal (based on body weight, shape, or BMI) from different countries around the world. The modified images were constructed with input from both male and female designers from each respective country. The colombia_taggedcountries that indicated an ideal representing underweight BMI measurements were China and Italy (in contrast to countries like Colombia, pictured here). This conveys a strong message to women, especially young women, about standards of beauty and what to strive for.

Importantly, China is home to over one billion people, which means that the ideals presented in the media – including social media – reach an incredible number of women. The potential for body ideals to be communicated through social media, and for these ideals to have behavioral consequences, is evident in a recent study. This study showed 42% of adult social media users in the U.S. said that information found on social media “would affect (their) health decisions related to diet, exercise, or stress management.” Moreover, nearly 90% 18 to 24-year-olds said that they “trust medical information found on social media.” Medical information includes any posts that implicitly or explicitly comment on health behaviors reinforce certain body ideals.

As social media is seen as a credible source of health information, we need to improve our understanding of how certain posts in this domain affect social media users. (See here for a research institute devoted to this topic!) It is becoming clear that #fitspiration posts can result in both positive and negative consequences, and it appears that motivation for viewing these posts is a key factor in their effects. Stay tuned for more on this topic, on our page next week!