Our New Paper: Perceptions of #Fitspiration Activity on Instagram


By Sabrina DiBisceglie, B.S. and Dr. Dani Arigo

Our new paper in Journal of Health Psychology investigates perceptions of the Instagram trend #fitspiration, with the goal of better understanding its health potential for health promotion. This study is the first in our series that focuses on how best to use fitspiration to promote physical activity. This series began in 2016 at The University of Scranton, where it was funded by the Presidential Summer Research Fellowship to then-undergraduate Sabrina DiBisceglie. (See here for our the first of our blog posts on the topic, as well; five total.) Study design and data collection involved several additional undergraduate research assistants working with Dr. Arigo’s Clinical Health Psychology Research Team (now the CHASE Lab at Rowan University).

Fitspiration is a popular trend on Instagram (and other platforms) and is intended to inspire users to engage in healthy behaviors. Yet existing research has raised concerns about the possible negative effects of fitspiration exposure on body image or self-esteem, and little is known about how Instagram users perceive or respond to fitspiration posts. This study was designed clarify the intentions and perceptions of both individuals who host fitspiration accounts (fitstagrammers) and young adults who regularly follow such accounts (followers). Importantly, the bulk of existing research on fitspiration has focused only on women; this study included both men and women, which allowed us to examine gender differences. The following infographic gives a summary; read on below for more detail.

What did we do?

Using the Instagram direct message function, we recruited Instagram users who had recently posted fitspiration content and had over 300 followers. We also recruited young adult fitspiration followers from our university. Both groups were asked to complete a short online survey. A total of 65 fitstagrammers and 270 followers completed the survey, with 20% of the overall group identifying as men.

What did we find?

The most common reasons for posting fitspiration among fitstagrammers were to inspire others and to keep themselves motivated and accountable. Followers reported that their most common reasons for following fitspiration were to learn exercises and tips that they could use for themselves, and to be inspired to exercise. Followers who said they had more frequent exposure to fitspiration content also reported exercising more often.

The largest subsets of fitstagrammers reported feeling negative at least sometimes (50%) when viewing fitspiration images, followed by feeling mostly positive (42%). The largest subsets of followers reported feeling negative at least sometimes (64%) and feeling mostly positive (11%) when viewing fitspiration posts. Followers were more likely than fitstagrammers to feel negative after viewing fitspiration posts, and women were more likely than men to feel negative after viewing posts.

When given an option to choose the most motivating post from six available images, fitstagrammers and men were most likely to select a post with the underlying message of “fitness is earned and not given.” However, followers and women were most likely to select a post that emphasized not quitting or the benefits of effort.

What does this mean?

Fitstagrammers’ intentions to motivate and inspire others are appealing to many followers, and fitspiration may offer opportunities for positive health communication and physical activity promotion. However, this study shows that fitspiration can have negative consequences (for both women and men), which may stem from social comparison processes. Users may compare their physical fitness or body shape to that of fitstagrammers, who typically are muscular and attractive, and feel discouraged or inadequate. This study also indicates that content preferences differ between users. Repeated exposure to nonpreferred content may increase the likelihood of experiencing negative consequences. 

What was it like to run this study?

“This study was a great learning experience for me as a student, but also as a fitspiration follower. Through this research process, I became more aware of my experience as a follower, and in turn have continued to question what types of posts and messaging motivate me (and ultimately, get me to exercise). Our findings show that what works for one user doesn’t necessarily work for others. Understanding these individual differences will be helpful for health professionals and other consumers like me as we try to determine how to tailor fitspiration content to meet different motivational needs and preferences.”

— Sabrina DiBisceglie

“Sabrina and I started working together when she was a second-year undergraduate. She approached me with the idea of studying fitspiration and has been the driving force behind our growing interest in this topic. This was an important first step for us, toward understanding who and under what circumstances fitspiration is helpful versus harmful. Social comparison theory can help us understand these nuances and we’ll continue to look for other perspectives that can contribute. And this was the first time our group has attempted to use Instagram to recruit participants – this is a unique and challenging process!”

— Dr. Dani Arigo

Next steps

We’re working on an experimental study to understand group and individual differences in response to distinct fitspiration messages. Understanding the effects of these message types will improve our ability to use and tailor fitspiration content to promote physical activity.

Meet @RowanCHASELab: Interview with Jennilee Bradley


Jennilee Bradley is a senior Psychology major with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. bradleyinterviewphotoShe was interviewed by Megan Brown, the CHASE Lab research coordinator.

@RowanCHASELab: Let’s start off with the basics! Since this is your last semester at Rowan, tell us about your undergraduate experience and how you were introduced to psychological research.

JB: My undergraduate experience has been a wild ride. I started college in NYC then had to return to NJ suddenly. I took a couple of half-semesters, took some time off, then transferred over to Rowan in Fall 2017. Since then, I’ve been taking classes year round to complete my degree. During my first semester here I was told about research on campus, something I never knew was a thing at any college, and at the end of one class a professor sent out an email looking for research assistants. I didn’t know anything about research, but was accepted to the team! I was very lucky in stumbling upon that chance, and it helped me get my foot in the door to look into other experiences, which is how I ended up with the CHASE lab.

@RowanCHASELab: Continuing with that theme, you mentioned you previously worked in other Rowan research labs. What was that like?

JB: It was pretty interesting! I spent a lot of time video coding and entering data. I didn’t know anything about research, and it was a great way to ease into the subject. I was able to learn a lot about it, figure out what kind of research interests me, and what opportunities I’m interested in within a research lab.

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

JB: Honestly, I got into my first lab by pure luck of having a professor who needed RAs, so I wasn’t too focused on what my research interests were. I also knew nothing about research so I had never thought about my interests! I will say, almost anything that relates to psychology interests me, so I would probably be okay with any sort of research and my interests vary widely.

That being said, I am very interested in mental illness and its biological and environmental factors. Chronic illness is also something that interests me, and how it affects different parts of everyday life and relates to mental illness as well. Those are pretty broad, so one of my more specific interests is eating disorders. I think that they are often surrounded by stigma in everyday society, and more research and information needs to be available to the public.

@RowanCHASELab: What initially got you excited to work in the CHASE lab as a research assistant?

JB: I remember receiving an email from the Psychology department mentioning the CHASE lab was looking for RAs and after reading some interests of the lab, I was thrilled to have this on campus, and even the potential opportunity to be a part of it. I am very interested in eating disorders, diet culture, and body image. All of those can tie into the lab in one way or another, so immediately it felt like a great fit for my interests. I would have been thrilled for the experience in general, but the fact that my interests lined up was even better and more rewarding.

@RowanCHASELab: What is some valuable advice you would give to other students at Rowan looking to pursue a research assistant position?

JB: My go-to advice for becoming a research assistant is to talk to your professors! Learn what psychological research is, what your interests are in it, and keep looking out for professors who are looking for RAs. I’ve found opportunities through Psychology department emails, flyers in random hallways on doors, and even just from professors I’ve previously taken classes with. Keep your eyes open, and keep up to date with professors to see if any opportunities open!

@RowanCHASELab: What is something you want to do or are excited to learn about while working in the CHASE lab?

JB: I never had a lab experience like this before, so I’m still learning about what I want to do within the field. I love being able to see how studies work, how surveys are made, how participants are screened, etc. Even the little things excite me about research! Within the CHASE lab, I am so excited about this Instagram study we just recently launched. I can’t wait to see what the data say!

@RowanCHASELab: Lastly, what are your plans for after you graduate, and how will the skills you learned in the CHASE lab help you in your future endeavors?

JB: When anyone asks me what my plans are after school, my answer is always “more school!” I plan on taking some time off, a year or two, to gain experience in the field of research and then apply to Clinical Psychology Ph.D. programs. I’m still not sure exactly what I want to do within the field, but I see myself working with eating disorders in one way or another.

The CHASE lab has helped me learn all about research and helped refine my interests even more. I am able to learn how to work on a research team, all the different aspects that go into research, and how important it is to follow every instruction and pay attention to even the smallest of details. It’s a great introduction into the field of research, and I have the amazing opportunity to work on studies that I’m interested in!

Reference List for Social Comparison in Physical Activity Apps (Arigo et al., 2018; UConn mHealth Conference)


Arigo, D., Pasko, K., Plantier, N., & Montalbano, M. (2018, May.) Social Comparison Opportunities in Mobile Apps for Increasing Physical Activity: A Systematic Review. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media, Storrs, CT.

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UofSHealth Psych on the Road: Trainee Reflections on the Society of Behavioral Medicine Annual Meeting (New Orleans, April 2018)


Post by Kristen Pasko, B.S. (research coordinator) and Sabrina DiBisceglie (senior undergraduate student). This was their first opportunity to attend a professional conference. 

SBM 2018 Logo


The 2018 Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) conference was a learning opportunity distinct from any of my prior professional development experiences. Specifically, I was able to disseminate my original findings, discover cutting-edge research in health psychology, connect with pioneers in the field of similar interest, and experience growth as a budding clinical psychologist.

As someone who is about to enter graduate school, SBM provided me KP SBM 2018 2with an opportunity to grow as an independent researcher. This experience was a chance to build my network of potential collaborators, train my eye to qualities of impactful posters and presentations, and gain a deeper understanding of topics of particular interest. One observation was how specific the research projects were, which got me thinking about how generalizable these findings are, beyond the particular context of each study. From these lines of consideration, I was able to make connections across findings and develop new research questions.

I also realized that I am now a member of this professional organization, in the same learning environment among fellow beginners, intermediate and advanced individuals alike. The continued educational aspect of this field excited me. Likewise, experiencing many collaborative efforts in action was helpful, as members of SBM include healthcare professionals from a variety of disciplines besides psychology. These differences between fields provoked interactive conversation within almost every presentation to work across disciplines and perspectives for the common goal of creating research for the best healthcare outcomes.

Social Divides and Health Divides – Keynote: Sandro Galea
In a seamless narrative that led with data, this keynote addressed the connection between social and health disparities across the United States. The speaker demonstrated the extent to which life expectancy can range at the levels of country, state, and even county. For example, an individual could receive the same treatment in two different countries for a chronic illness and still have a large gap in life expectancy depending on where they reside. Furthermore, when we compare healthcare costs by country, the United States prioritizes treatment over prevention, as opposed to most other countries. Overall, the speaker acknowledged that health behaviors don’t exist in a vacuum and proposed getting social and economic forces into the healthcare conversation.

Acceptance-Based Approaches to Behavior Changes; Application to Weight Control and Physical Activity Interventions – Symposium: Jocelyn Remmert, Leah Schumacher, Courtney Stevens, Meghan Butryn
This symposium centered around the affective barriers before, during, and after engaging in physical activity. It was suggested that acceptance-based therapy (ACT) could mitigate barriers that stem from the associated uncomfortable feelings (fatigue, sweat) as many aspects of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity are not subject to change. Taken together, these findings are intuitive as ACT and psychological flexibility go hand-in-hand and are associated with the greatest long-term outcomes for physical activity. Individuals could benefit from being flexible with guidelines for physical activity for a more tailored approach to their ability and goals.     


SD SBM 2018SBM was a stimulating experience that bolstered my interest in pursuing a career in the behavioral medicine field. Sandro Galea’s opening keynote provided an eye opening presentation on social divides and health divides. His enthusiasm and fascinating findings set the tone for the following days of the conference. As this was my first professional conference, this was a great learning experiences as to how conferences work as well as an experience to be exposed to thought provoking research.

Not only did I gain knowledge on interesting topics and research, I also gained professional knowledge in terms of sharing and presenting research. Attending poster sessions as well as paper sessions allowed me to observe different ways people shared knowledge. It was exciting as a beginner to be introduced to new information alongside experts in this field. My favorite portion of the conference was the poster sessions. These sessions allowed close and personalized interaction with investigators. I was amazed by the breadth of topics that were covered throughout these sessions.

This experience has allowed me to not only gain knowledge on topics new to me, but it has also allowed me to reflect on my individual research and to reevaluate as well as add components to support and further my research. I look forward to continuing my membership with SBM and to continue to use this society to further my research interests.


Meet @UofSHealthPsych: Interview with Marissa DeStefano


Marissa DeStefano is a senior psychology major at The University of Scranton. She was interviewed by senior Katie Notarianni.

Marissa PicUofSHealthPsych: We’ll start easy. Where are you from?

MD: I’m from Martinsville, NJ. I went to Bridgewater Raritan High School.

UofSHealthPsych: What do you like most about The University of Scranton?

MD: I like the size of the campus. I love having small class sizes and walking around campus seeing friendly faces. I really feel a sense of community on campus. I also love the food! DeNaples food was one of my top reasons for choosing Scranton.

UofSHealthPsych: What activities are you involved in on campus, besides research?

MD: I am a teaching assistant for Dr. Arigo’s health psychology course (PSYC 228). I’m the vice president of APSSC (the Association for Psychological Science Student Caucus), and I’m the vice president of Psi Chi (the Psychology Honors Society). I also really enjoy going to yoga classes on campus and the gym.

UofSHealthPsych: What made you choose to study Psychology and what are you most passionate about in the field? What kind of research are you most interested in?

MD: I chose psychology because I have always been intrigued by the human mind. I wanted to learn more about how our minds work, and how I can help people with mental illness. I’m really passionate about understanding how psychological disorders develop, and what methods of treatment are available to help. I am also interested in the relationship between our mental and physical health and how they affect each other.

UofSHealthPsych: What is your favorite memory working in the Health Psychology Research Lab?

MD: I really enjoyed presenting at student scholar day last year. It was cool to see all our hard work pay off and to see the research that other students are doing. It was a good way to celebrate our accomplishments as a research team.

UofSHealthPsych: What are your plans after graduation?

MD: My plans are still uncertain! However, I plan to attend graduate school in the fall. I applied to doctoral and masters programs in clinical psychology and clinical mental health counseling. I am still waiting to hear back from a couple of schools and then I will make my decision. This summer I plan to work in a clinical setting, possibly in an inpatient or outpatient treatment center but I am still in the process of applying to jobs!

UofSHealthPsych: What advice would you give to underclassmen about being involved in Psychology and/or Research?

MD: If you are interested in gaining research experience don’t hesitate to ask! Think about what research you are interested in and see if your interests align with any of the professors in the department. I encourage you to visit different professors during office hours to chat about your research interests. Don’t give up if the first professor you ask already has a full research team, keep trying and always have a backup plan!

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


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.

WH Research Panel

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

WH Research-Team2017

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!

Meet @UofSHealthPsych: Interview with Kristen Pasko


Kristen Pasko is a senior psychology major at The University of Scranton. She was interviewed by Zuhri Outland, who recently graduated.

UofSHealthPsych: Where are you from?

RP: A little town called Skipback, PA. I like to compare it to Stars Hollow from Gilmore paskoGirls. It’s about 2 hours from here.

UofSHealthPsych: Why did you choose The University of Scranton?

RP: One of my high school guidance counselors recommended it to me. They thought I would like the feel and community of the school as well as the small size. Plus, the Jesuit educational mission and ideals are similar to those of my high school, and I really liked it there.

UofSHealthPsych: What inspired you to join the Health Psychology Research Team?

RP: I took Abnormal Psychology with Dr. Arigo and enjoyed the class. From there I interviewed her for a career development course, and found out that we had similar interests (in social media, for example). She introduced me to the field of health psychology and to the lab.

UofSHealthPsych: Tell us about your experience with the Health Psychology Research Team.

RP: It has been both challenging and eye opening. I have done things that I never thought I could do before, like helping to oversee a large, complicated project with many participants. Being in the lab has expanded my interests and I have found some new abilities.

UofSHealthPsych: What’s the most valuable lesson have you learned from doing research with the team?

kzRP: Just how much goes into the research process. There is so much that you don’t see from the outside. And learning how to be professional yet personable with participants. That’s been really helpful for me, because it also strengthens my clinical skills.

UofSHealthPsych: We know that you’re doing an independent study this semester. What can you tell us about it?

RP: (Laughs) It involves Snapchat! It’s about the relationship between social media and health behaviors. I’m interested in how people respond to social media. It came from all of the work I did on the Fitspiration blog series, which was a great way to learn how to communicate research to a broad audience.

UofSHealthPsych: What did you like the most about Scranton and the research team?

RP: For Scranton, the people. For the research team, how much I’ve seen myself grow over the past two years.

UofSHealthPsych: What are your future plans?

RP: So I don’t have to miss Scranton or the team too much, actually. Right after graduation I’m staying on as a research coordinator, working with Dr. Arigo on projects related to physical activity. Eventually I plan to apply to graduate school for clinical psychology.