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

Standard

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

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did we do?

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

What did we find?

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

What does this tell us?

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

What was it like to work on this study?

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

– Kristen Pasko, CHASE Lab Member

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

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

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

– Dr. Dani Arigo, CHASE Lab director

Next Steps

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

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

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

What was it like to work on this project?

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

— Dr. Dani Arigo, CHASE Lab, Rowan University

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

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

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

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

What did we find?

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

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

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

Next steps

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

*See our upcoming post on this paper!

MEET @ROWANCHASELAB: Interview with Kristen Pasko

Standard

Kristen Pasko is a second-year student in Rowan’s clinical psychology Ph.D. program, and she’s been with CHASE Lab since 2014. She was interviewed by first-year Ph.D. student and lab member Laura Travers.

@RowanCHASELab: Let’s start off with a broad question. When did you first know you wanted to focus on the field of psychology?

KP: I think my first recollection of wanting to be in this field came at the end of high school. At that point, I had seen the impact that mental illness could have on others around me – how it could truly prevent individuals from doing what they wanted in life. I decided that at the very least, I wanted to be a mental health advocate.

@RowanCHASELab: What made you choose to work with the CHASE lab and to have Dr. Arigo as your mentor?

KP: I actually have quite a bit of history with CHASE. Dr. Arigo has been my mentor since my sophomore year at The University of Scranton. I began working with her as a research assistant, then as her research coordinator after graduation. At that point, I fell in love with health psychology from everything I learned from her in that lab. When it came time to apply for graduate school, she brought my attention to Rowan University’s Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology for its emphasis in health psychology and integrated healthcare. Little did I know that she would get a job offer at Rowan around the same time. I was fortunate enough to interview with Dr. Arigo and had the realization that many of my research interests were borne out of my very training with her, and that she was the best fit for a grad mentor.

@RowanCHASELab: Could you tell us about your research experience so far? What you think has helped you be a good researcher?

KP: One of my favorite things about research is that it feeds my never-ending curiosity. I’ve always thought about the process like completing a puzzle. There are so many pieces missing and it takes a great amount of focus, dedication, and curiosity to collect pieces to understand the bigger picture. Once one piece is found, then you have a clue about the next piece. Once one research question is answered, you’re left with the next question.

Focusing on enjoying this process has been important. Much of the time, research can feel drawn out, and setting little goals for yourself can provide that small reward. One of the biggest takeaways for my personal success has been to force myself to engage in constant critical thinking. As a researcher, there has to be a reason why you’re studying that specific topic, with that specific method to answer that specific research question.

@RowanCHASELab: What are your research interests? How have they changed from your undergraduate career to now?

KP: That’s actually a bit of a loaded question! Much of my initial work focused on health behavior and social influence broadly. Towards the end of my undergraduate career and time as a research coordinator, I realized that my true interest lies in health behavior within the context of chronic illness and how social influences through family, friends, and other individuals with illness directly and indirectly help and hinder healthy behavior.

@RowanCHASELab: What professional goals do you have for yourself this year?

KP: For the remainder of my second year in the Ph.D. program, I hope to push myself to even higher levels of quality and efficiency in my work. I also want to remember to enjoy myself.

@RowanCHASELab: How has what you’ve learned so far affected your plans for after graduate school?

KP: I have many answers for this. However, one of the biggest things is giving myself time to meet my long-term goals. I have so many research ideas that I am itching to pursue now, but a career in clinical psychology means lifelong learning. Trying to do everything at once usually means that you don’t do anything well. So I want to pace myself and see how each step informs the next.

Our Latest: Primary Care Patients’ Views on Support for Their Weight Loss

Standard

As always, we’re excited to share our newest paper – this one was published in Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, and it takes a close look at human and technology-based support for weight loss efforts. Specifically, we were interested in primary care patients’ perceptions of and their satisfaction with the support they received during their previous weight loss efforts. The data were collected by Dr. Adarsh Gupta, a physician at RowanSOM Family Medicine, and the paper represents a collaboration between Dr. Gupta and the CHASE Lab at Rowan University. Authors were Megan Brown, research coordinator for the CHASE Lab; Kristen Pasko, a second year Ph.D. student in Rowan’s Clinical Psychology program; Dr. Arigo, CHASE lab director; and Dr. Gupta.

To collect data, providers at RowanSOM Family Medicine discussed the study with patients either before or after their clinic appointment. Patients were asked to take an online survey about their previous weight loss efforts and the types of support they received for weight loss. The categories were human support (from family members, friends, coworkers, etc.), app support (from smartphone applications such as MyFitnessPal), and social media support (from platforms such as Facebook).

What was it like to work on this study?  

“It was a wonderful experience working with our residents to collect the data, and then with the CHASE team to write up the results. Megan, Kristen, and Dr. Arigo provided a great insight into the data collected that resulted in this wonderful publication. I think we work great together as team and we are onto more projects together. Next project is coming very soon.”

Dr. Adarsh Gupta, Family Medicine Physician at RowanSOM

“This was a really interesting experience and taught me a lot about professional collaboration. We (CHASE lab) weren’t involved in the initial process of recruiting patients and distributing surveys, but we handled the data and helped to create a paper out of it. Playing a role in the writing process gave me the experience of translating what we found into a meaningful message that reaches people from various fields. And having the opportunity to share important information that could potentially help improve weight loss interventions is very rewarding. I also enjoyed working with Dr. Gupta, and being able to contribute to this team effort.”  

Megan Brown, CHASE Lab Research Coordinator

What did we find?

We found that more than half of the patients were self-driven in their weight loss efforts, rather than having supervision by a professional (such as a dietician). But those who did have professional supervision were more satisfied with the support they received overall. We also found that women perceived more support than men did.

With respect to using technology for weight loss support, more than half of the patients used health apps, but very few turned to social media for support. On average, patients were more satisfied with human and app support for weight loss than they were with support from social media.

What does this tell us?

These results suggest that primary care patients seek weight loss support from a variety of sources, and that seeking greater human support (including input from professionals) and support from apps might be particularly useful. Although patients don’t see social media as particularly helpful for weight loss, there may be ways to improve the support available on these platforms. And men might be less likely to seek or receive support for weight loss than women, which could hinder their weight loss efforts. We need more work in this area to help us pinpoint the type(s) of support that will be most helpful for individual patients and the best resources for accessing that support.

It’s been great to work with Dr. Gupta to recruit participants for Project WHADE, and now, to have the opportunity to work with him and learn from the data he collected. The findings were surprising to me. For example, some studies show that men may receive more social support than women (in general), but this may not translate to the context of weight loss – it’s possible that people think it’s more socially acceptable to support a woman’s weight loss, or that men don’t seek as much support as women do. And although there are lots of weight loss support communities on social media, it seems that they’re not as effective as they could be. I look forward to doing more work in this area to find out why we’re seeing these perceptions among primary care patients.

Dr. Dani Arigo, CHASE Lab Director

Next steps: Next up is another collaboration between CHASE Lab and Dr. Gupta, using data from a different survey study to understand how patients use social media and other digital tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We’re particularly interested in better understanding perceptions of social media versus smartphone apps and gender differences in these perceptions.

Meet @RowanCHASELab: Interview with Laura Travers

Standard

Laura Travers is a first-year Ph.D. student in clinical psychology. She has a Master’s degree in health psychology from University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. She was interviewed by research assistant Emily Vendetta.

@RowanCHASELab: Let’s start off with the basics! Tell us about how you were introduced to the field of health psychology.

LT: It was an interesting turn of events. I didn’t actually know that health psychology existed as a field until my junior year of undergrad, when we had a guest speaker in one of our psychology courses. She was a health psychologist who helped initiate a health coaching program with one of the local hospitals. I participated in the program, and from then on I was hooked. 

@RowanCHASELab: Could you describe your previous research experience and what you think helps to make a good researcher? 

LT: I’m interested in so many topics, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing at times. My main projects during my Masters program were looking at the impact of the collaborative working relationship between a provider and pharmacist on patients receiving medication assisted treatment (MAT), examining the policy associated with implementing the Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax in Philadelphia, and conducting a systematic review of the literature on comorbid chronic pain and PTSD.  I think what helps make a good researcher is acceptance of failure. Failing to support a hypothesis can still be a success within research, and it is always a learning experience.

@RowanCHASELab: What are your current research interests, and how have they changed from your undergraduate career to now? 

LT: It’s tough to narrow it down, but my main focus now is on chronic pain and PTSD. My interests changed dramatically from my undergraduate career until now. During my junior year of undergrad, I worked in a neurophysiology lab recording crayfish action potentials. My senior year, I examined the effect of increased levels of caffeine on anxiety and learning in rats. Through these experiences, I discovered animal research models are just not for me. Luckily, it was also during my senior year that I became a health coach, and this experience is what really solidified my desire to work in health psychology. 

@RowanCHASELab: What initially made you want to work with the CHASE lab and have Dr. Arigo as your mentor?

LT: I was interested in working with the CHASE team to learn more about social comparisons, and there is a wide array of research opportunities due to the multiple ongoing studies in the lab. I specifically wanted to have Dr. Arigo as my mentor because she is able to find opportunities for me to pursue my specific interests and to have much broader learning experiences. 

@RowanCHASELab: What are some goals you have for yourself while you’re pursuing your clinical psychology Ph.D.?

LT: I wanted to o learn how to effectively analyze research data and how to convey our findings to both the academic field and the general public. 

@RowanCHASELab: What do you want to do with your Ph.D. when you finish graduate school? 

LT: I’m hoping to continue conducting academic research, but I also want to work within a hospital setting practicing and promoting integrated care. I’d like to eventually achieve a balance between research and practice, where I will have the opportunity to apply the research I’m doing within the field, while also relaying its success, or failure, to the academic community. 

Meet @RowanCHASE Lab: Interview with Postdoctoral Fellow Cole Ainsworth

Standard

Dr. Ainsworth has a Ph.D. in Health Promotion and Health Behavior (Public Health) from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He was interviewed by Ph.D. student Kristen Pasko.

@RowanCHASELAB: Could we start with you telling us a bit about yourself? Where are you from? What are some hobbies you have?

CA: Sure! I come to the CHASE lab from the great state of Alabama, and I received my Ph.D. training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Earning that degree has been one of my only activities in the last few years, but I am looking forward to picking up where I left off with other hobbies like reading, roller skating, and the occasional online gaming shenanigans.

@RowanCHASELAB: How would you describe your undergraduate experience? How did that lead to your graduate experience?

CA: My undergraduate experience didn’t follow a single path. In fact, I started college as a vocal performance music major! After realizing that I probably would not become a world-famous vocalist in musical theater, I sought other professional interests and ended up majoring in psychology. It gave me a foundational understanding of human behavior, which is what really drew me to the field in the first place. Still unsure of what specific career to pursue, I took a couple of courses in public health and ended up loving it so much I applied to a related master’s program.

@RowanCHASELAB: Continuing with that theme, you received your Ph.D. in health education and promotion. Can you tell us about the perspective this field has regarding applications of research and how you believe your training within this field adds a different and new perspective to our lab?

CA: I find there is quite a bit of overlap between research conducted in the areas of public health education/health promotion and psychology. For one, both are interested in behaviors that affect human health and research generally seeks to improve health outcomes by helping people realize opportunities for behavior change. As you may have guessed, public health tends to place value on understanding how to affect change at both the individual and population levels. My training has reflected the art of balancing these two – sometimes competing – levels of influence, essentially maximizing the benefits for as many people as possible.

@RowanCHASELAB: You’ve had previous experience working at MD Anderson Cancer Center as a graduate intern. That sounds like an amazing opportunity. What are some of the more unique opportunities you got working at that facility?

CA: My time as an intern at MD Anderson Cancer Center was great. I assisted with projects focused on lifestyle medicine for women in remission for certain types of cancer. First, it allowed me to see for myself how a research lab with multiple related projects actually operates. It also gave me a chance to expand my understanding of the ways mental practices like mindfulness and other behaviors like physical activity and nutrition can be modified to improve cancer-related outcomes. Lastly, I got to take the initiative on several projects, such as developing a protocol for using new physical activity assessment software and creating a price breakdown of the dietary component for one of the studies.

@RowanCHASELAB: What initially got you excited to work in the CHASE lab as a postdoctoral fellow?

CA: Dr. Arigo is doing a lot of really cool research related to social comparison in the CHASE lab. I think social comparison is a powerful tool at the disposal of health professionals, but we need to better learn how to leverage it in order to create meaningful digital health programs and interventions. The CHASE lab is a trailblazer with respect to that belief, and I am already learning so much from the brief time I have been here.

@RowanCHASELAB: What is some valuable advice you would give to students at Rowan looking to pursue a career in research?

CA: Pursuing a career in research will challenge you in many ways as an individual, but I have never looked back and regretted the path it has led me down. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Research is often about pursuing the unknown, and even our most informed guesses about a phenomenon can be off.  In addition, a healthy sense of skepticism can go a long way in a research setting if communicated appropriately. Finally, don’t limit yourself from the start. Take time to think about how your interests – while seemingly unrelated – can tell you something new about the world if you put them together.

@RowanCHASELAB: What is it you are hoping to get out of your experience here in the CHASE lab? Any specific projects you are excited to have a hand in?

CA: I hope to develop new skills during my time in the CHASE lab. My training to date has focused on physical activity and cancer prevention intervention, and I am excited to learn more about the process of developing digital health tools and how to improve the user experience to promote long-term engagement in positive health behaviors. Project WHADE (women’s health study) is definitely one that has my attention because of the way smartphones are being used to capture the effects of timing and social comparison on health behaviors like physical activity.

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

CA: I am never ever leaving this lab! Joking aside, I really want to take my experience and interest in communication, human behavior, and digital technology and develop solutions to the problems facing our world today. That plan could come to fruition in many ways, via institutional research, consulting, or even entrepreneurship. I am keeping an open mind about it. My appointment as a postdoctoral fellow in the CHASE lab has allowed me ample opportunities to hone the research skills I began learning during my graduate training. Even more, I am gaining exposure to the duties of an independent research scientist like mentorship and project management. I have no doubt that whatever the future holds, my time in the CHASE lab will serve as a momentous stepping stone in the right direction.