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!

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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!

An Introduction to #Fitspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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Marilyn Monroe

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

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Twiggy

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

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

UofSHealthPsych Welcomes Leah Schumacher to Campus

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leah1On September 20, 2016 the Health Psychology Research Team and the Psychology Club welcomed Leah Schumacher, M.S. to talk about her research and clinical experiences. Leah is currently a Ph.D candidate in clinical psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Leah’s visit featured a talk on her research into behavior lapses and difficulty with healthy eating and exercise. Before the main event, our research team was treated to a conversation about Leah’s experiences with graduate school and exploring a career path that was right for her. Leah shared her own journey with us: she explained how her  path did not take her exactly where she planned, but each experience helped lead her to a career that she is excited about. We learned the importance of finding your own path, and considering master’s degree programs to help hone in on your interests before the substantial commitment of a Ph.D. or other doctoral-level program.

Leah explained that choosing a grad program leah3is not the end of your path, and there will be opportunities to change in the future if your career goals change. (This was a relief to us!) We learned that it is important to get experiences in a variety of settings because that can help you discover what is right for you. She talked about how the best way to know if you want to pursue a particular career is when you go out into the field and try it. You may find that your experience does not match your expectations. She gave an example of working at a substance use treatment facility; although she valued the experience, it taught her that working with substance use isn’t quite right for her. An important take away message from this conversation was to make sure you try things you think you won’t like, because that could end up being what you like the most.

During this conversation, we distinguished between graduate programs in psychology and related fields. For example, the differences between programs in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or social work. She also explained the differences between a masters program versus a Ph.D. program. Ph. D programs are highly competitive, and you should not be discouraged if you do not get accepted your first time applying. We discussed that picking the best program for you should take precedence over “the best program” in other people’s minds.

 

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Leah speaking to UofSHealthPsych, the Psychology Club, and other student guests.

After this session came Leah’s main talk, which was attended by our lab, Psychology Club members, and other interested students. Leah presented her research on “lapses” after starting a behavior change effort and how they affect people who are trying to live healthier lifestyles. Specifically, she explained that behavioral lapses occur when individuals set goals to follow a behavior modification plan and then experience a slip back to their old behavior. Some people will experience a lapse for a day or so and then continue working towards their goal, while others will quit entirely. Research in this area looks to explain the psychological contributors to behavioral lapses. Leah brought to our attention the scarcity of research in this area and the opportunities for new discoveries.

Everyone who attended the talk gained beneficial information. This included information regarding graduate school and career paths, but also on health psychology research that could be helpful for improving behavior change treatments. Overall it was a valuable learning experience for all those involved. We thank Leah for sharing her research and personal experiences with us!

Learn more about Leah’s research team at Drexel. Contributors to this post were Zuhri Outland, Kristen Pasko, Marissa DeStefano, and Dr. Arigo.

@UofSHealthPsych at Healthier U Day (University of Scranton)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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