Body-Image and Eating Disorders
Trauma and heightened stress have been associated with other psychological problems, including poor body-image and eating disorders. We sought to assess interoceptive awareness (understanding of one’s internal experiences) among people with and without eating disorder behavior using both objective physiological measurements (heart rate and skin conductance) and subjective reports in female undergraduate students. The results suggest that individuals with eating disorders do not trust their own judgments of their bodily signals, or that there may be a large social component in the development and/or maintenance of eating disorders (Babor & Hetzel-Riggin, 2007).
Internet and Computer Addiction
Internet and computer addiction have also been characterized as maladaptive coping responses in the face of heightened stress. In one study we found that social support seeking, a low sense of personal attractiveness, and a tendency to distance oneself from others predicted Internet addiction (Hetzel-Riggin, 2007, Hetzel-Riggin & Pritchard, 2011). In another study, individuals with Internet addiction reported higher levels of depression and self-consciousness but did not exhibit any differences in physiological responses compared to those not addicted to the Internet (Zulas, 2007). On a related line of research, we identified that video games provide a cathartic, distracting, or enhancing effect on aggression in college students depending on the situation (Korinek, 2010).
Another common maladaptive coping method used often by college students is excessive substance use, especially alcohol use. We investigated the relationship of knowledge and motivation about alcohol abuse with the measurement of actual alcohol use in a residence hall community. Results indicated that drinking expectancies predicted both estimated and actual blood alcohol levels, as well as willingness to participate in the study (Riso, 2008). In another study we examined the relationships between the use of illicit, prescription, and over-the-counter substance use in an undergraduate population. A negative correlation between alcohol use and depression medication suggests that participants may use alcohol to self-medicate when sad. Also, the use of drugs with counteracting effects (i.e., nicotine and benzodiazepines or ADHD medication with marijuana) was high in this sample (Hetzel-Riggin, 2009). In a parallel line of research we examined the self-conversion phenomenon, or the change in one’s own attitude when one is trying to convince someone else, can be used as a treatment for excessive alcohol use. We found that those individuals who tried to convince a confederate to stop drinking also reported a decrease in positive drinking attitudes (Mazias, 2007). We have also investigated the different and combined effects of chronic stress and traumatic stress on binge drinking and alcoholic tendencies. Our results suggest that those suffering from chronic stress reported elevated and unrecognized levels of psychological symptoms; chonic stress survivors are less likely to perceive stress and cope with it in a healthy manner; and those participants with a trauma history were more likely to engage in alcoholic tendencies than those simply suffering from chronic stress (Wolfinsohn, 2010).