Our Research Mission:
The overall mission of the Stress and Health Lab at Penn State University is to examine the effects of psychological stress and stress responses on physical health. With regard to stress responses, our emphasis is on emotion (such as anger), and cognitive factors (such as making meaning from difficult experiences). In terms of physical health outcomes, we emphasize chronic pain but also investigate other issues related to aging, including cardiovascular disease, cognitive performance, and overall well-being. In many cases we examine physiological as well as psychological and behavioral mediators of connections between stress and health, with emphasis on immune function and by drawing on the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). For example, we examine the bi-directional associations between mood, stress, behavior, pain, and inflammation. Pain is one of the most prevalent yet under-treated problems facing Americans today and one long-term goal of our research is to provide a better understanding of the many influences on chronic pain and to develop novel and inexpensive supplemental therapeutic approaches for pain.
In all of our work, we seek to apply psychological theory within a broad biobehavioral health framework which takes into consideration the relevance of situational and cultural factors, health behavior (particularly sleep), and individual differences such as personality traits, age, and gender. Both aging and gender are significant focal points of our research. Gender stereotypes and culturally-driven gender differences in pain experience, reporting of medical problems, and anger may result in discrepancies in medical diagnosis and treatment. With regard to aging, there appear to be interactive effects of age and stress on immune health that put older adults at a disadvantage. These issues have not been explored sufficiently within the areas of chronic pain, cognitive aging, or stress and immune-related health more generally.
Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in this group will gain broad training in health psychology, PNI, and biobehavioral health research, experience working with patients and members of the community, and extensive training in research methods and statistics. A description of some current and recent projects can be found under the projects heading.