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

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

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

APSSC Student Research Day

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

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


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

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

Women’s Health Research: Panel Discussion and Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet U of S Health Psych: Interview with Dr. Arigo

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Danielle Arigo IMG_0453a.jpgToday we’re talking with Dr. Danielle Arigo, director of the Clinical Health Psychology Research Group at The University of Scranton. She described to us her research interests and the goals of the group.

UofSHealthPsych: Let’s start with what the team is all about. What is the Clinical Health Psychology Research Group?

Dr. Arigo: The group is a team of U of S students and a faculty advisor (me) who are interested in physical and mental health – especially the overlap between the two. We discuss published research and professional activities, generate and test new research questions, volunteer for health-related service projects.

UofSHealthPsych: Sounds pretty active! Can you tell us more about the projects that you’re working on?

Dr. Arigo: We are pretty active for a group that started in August! We have three primary projects, and students also have independent work. The first is a small test of a new program to promote physical activity among women. The program uses FitBit technology and social networking to connect participants and help them problem-solve when they’re not motivated to exercise.

The second is an experimental test of social perceptions on the health behaviors in college students. We’re looking to see whether certain perceptions are associated with motivation to improve health. Third is a qualitative study of writing about body image in college women. We know that writing can be helpful for some people, and we’re examining different writing styles to determine what might be most helpful.

UofSHealthPsych: And what are students working on?

Dr. Arigo: They’re really involved with the research I just described, from coordinating data collection to managing incoming data and participant interaction. Independently, they’re also testing whether self-perceptions align with actual behaviors (in college students and in patients with diabetes), the role of social perceptions in stress processes, and how well social perceptions predict future physical and mental health.

UofSHealthPsych: These all fall under your specific research topics, right? How did you get interested in these areas?

Dr. Arigo: Yes, these really are my favorite topics. I’m a licensed clinical psychologist – my background is in assessing and treating psychological problems. Early on, I recognized that I’m especially interested in sleep and eating disorders, which are often about unhealthy (vs. healthy) behaviors. The more I learned about these disorders, especially eating disorders, I became interested in health behaviors more generally, and helping people manage chronic illnesses that require a lot of self-care, like diabetes.

UofSHealthPsych: Do a lot of professionals focus on these disorders?

Dr. Arigo: Yes, there is a lot of interest in these areas. We’ve learned a lot about treating them in the past 20 years.

UofSHealthPsych: So how does your Clinical Health Research Group differentiate itself from others studying these problems?

Dr. Arigo: Great question. Our specific focus is on influences from the social environment – how the presence of, or thoughts about, other people can affect our health behaviors. These influences can be positive or negative. Knowing more about these effects can help us design treatment programs that emphasize them, which could be more effective than what we have now.

UofSHealthPsych: And can we expect these topics to come up on this site in the future?

Dr. Arigo: Absolutely. We’ll be posting about these and related topics, and also tweeting from @UofSHealthPsych. You’ll also be able to read more about lab members in the next few weeks.

Our Social Brains: What’s In It for Health?

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Originally posted on July 13, 2014 by Dr. Arigo

One of my recent projects was a small pilot study to test the feasibility of a new physical activity program. Although there are multiple components of my physical activity program, the novelty is its emphasis on social connections. As you can see from previous posts, understanding the effects of the social environment on health and health behavior change is central to my work; I believe that it’s central to overcoming ubiquitous barriers to healthy behaviors such as eating well and quitting smoking. We have decades of evidence to support the relationship between a person’s social environment and his or her health. For example, one of the most elegant and powerful studies on this relationship happened in the 1980s, when Sheldon Cohen and colleagues demonstrated that social support can protect a person from catching the common cold.

Advancements in statistical modeling techniques (as well as access to large data sets) led to findings on social network effects – in essence, we become more like close others in appearance (weight) and habits (smoking) over time. Although the math in the observational (i.e., no experimental manipulation, an thus no inference of causation) network studies has been questioned, FaceBook’s recent experimental manipulation of our News Feed content has delivered the same conclusion: we are affected by others, and we become more like “close” others over time. (For the record: ethical problems noted here, but important work and clever execution. I may return to this in another post.)

Neuroscientist Mattew Lieberman’s Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect takes this concept several steps further. The goal of Lieberman’s work at UCLA is to determine the neural underpinnings of our social behaviors. In Social, he describes his (and other) research at length, integrates it with personal stories, and makes suggestions for how we might be able to use it to improve societal problems. The book is repetitive at times, but it hammers home a few critical points:

(1) The brain’s “default” network – what happens when we’re not actively focusing on anything in particular – is social. When we don’t have something to do, we default to thinking about our relationships and trying to figure out others’ motivations.

(2) The brain’s “mentalizing system” likely is responsible for our ability to connect with and understand others.

(3) We are hard-wired to prioritize our social connections – they likely kept us safe from predators and starvation as we evolved. Accordingly, we can improve failing institutions like the U.S. public education system by increasing the social connectivity of students around learning (rather than restricting their interactions in the classroom and allowing their social energies to be used elsewhere).

The third point is most interesting to me, as the same could be said for health promotion. But there are several ways to facilitate social connections – which is/are most effective remains an open and compelling question.

For me, reading this book not only underscored the importance of the work I do, but it encouraged me to return to blogging. Sharing my thoughts and my work with others is the only way to make them useful.