The Stress and Health Lab conducts research in three interrelated areas:
(1) How do our thoughts function as a mechanism to create and extend stress responses?
Although it is widely known that stress contributes to poor health, the mechanisms underlying this effect are poorly understood. This research explores perseverative cognitions, such as rumination or worry, as a maladaptive emotion regulation strategy that can contribute to and extend stress responses, and ultimately explain how stress leads to poor health. Identification of perseverative cognitions as a mechanism to disease enables a better understanding of the differences between acute and chronic stress, and can inform interventions aimed at reducing stress and improving health and well-being.(2) Do the relationships between stress, perseverative cognitions, and health observed in the laboratory and in survey studies translate to everyday life?
Much of the work on stress, perseverative cognitions, and health has been conducted with cross-sectional data using trait measures and one-time assessments of health, and/or with experimental studies. Although important, this work is less suited to examining within-person associations that suggest mechanisms of action. Thus, this research shifts assessments of stress, rumination and worry, and health and well-being to daily life where repeated assessments of each are taken within and across days (e.g., using Ecological Momentary Assessment). This methodology allows for a dynamic conceptualization of the impact of stress and perseverative cognitions on health and well-being, and can suggest mechanisms of action to inform future interventions.
(3) Can non-pharmacological psychosocial interventions be developed that have long-term positive effects on health and well-being?
Psychosocial health can be just as an important contributor to poor health as health behaviors and genetics. Yet many existing interventions to improve psychosocial health have low appeal and poor long-term adherence as they can be extensively time-consuming, require significant alterations to daily routines, and are not enjoyable. This research looks to examine possibly readily available psychosocial interventions. For example, one possible intervention tests whether self-selected leisure activities that people already do and enjoy can be the foundation of an intervention, as people are already intrinsically motivated to continue to perform these activities. It aims to identify which features of these activities can be enhanced to produce the greatest benefit on health, but which maintains the intrinsic motivation of the activity and potential for long-term adherence.