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Our Research Mission:

Photo of Jennifer E. Graham-Engeland

Jennifer Graham-Engeland, Ph.D

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.

A major emphasis is the role of emotion and related processes in the connection between stress and health, including

  • affective tendencies related to negative and positive affect
  • emotional expression
  • emotion regulation, including emotional suppression
  • loneliness
  • rumination
  • meaning-making (making meaning from stressful experiences)

We view affective processes as proximal indicators of stress that encapsulate the appraisal process and as key phenomena that explain or extend links between stress and health in daily life. Emotional processes that are often related to social relationships are of key interest. For example, we are interested in the degree to which the acknowledgement of and expression of negative mood (anger, sadness, fear) may have positive downstream consequences for health and well-being, perhaps particularly in the context of chronic disease where individuals may be motivated to suppress emotion (e.g., chronic pain).

Drawing on the fields of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) and health psychology, we study how stress and emotion are linked with numerous health-related outcomes, including

  • Measures of inflammation (e.g., inflammatory cytokines, CRP)
  • Physical pain
  • CVD risk
  • Cognitive performance and cognitive aging
  • Self-reported health and well-being.
BBH Building

Biobehavioral Health Building

We study such phenomena in complex models that integrate behavior and social/demographic factors with psychological and physiological factors. In such models we often test mechanistic pathways. We also ask questions about for whom and under what circumstances issues related to stress and emotional responses are relevant to health. The role of individual differences is often examined, particularly related to gender and age but also of socioeconomic status (SES), race/ethnicity, and other demographic factors related to health and health disparities. Sleep quality is a key behavior often included in our models.

Students and postdocs in this laboratory will gain broad training in PNI and biobehavioral health research, experience working with patients and members of the community, and extensive training in research methods and statistics. Interests of recent graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the lab have included: the role of positive emotion and resilience; emotion variability; healthy aging; personality; loneliness; sexual health disparities linked with stress; social relationships; methodological approaches needed to study such phenomena in daily life (including ecological momentary assessment).