Research Interests


( 2007. Image is copyright of Bryan Christie Design)

Stress and Coping in Everyday Life

Events experienced during everyday life can be quite stressful.  This line of research examines the everyday experiences of young adults, and the implications of those experiences for physical health.  Many theories linking everyday stress with physical health posit that repeated activation of stress response systems takes a cumulative toll on physical health and leads to earlier illness.  This research is intended to help clarify the day-to-day processes by which psychological factors contribute to physical illness.  My students and I have investigated ambulatory cardiovascular arousal associated with social interactions, social-evaluative threat, and with stressful academic events.  Not only are we interested in the direct linkages among these factors, but we are working to understand the psychological and social characteristics that may predispose some individuals to heightened or dysregulated physiological reactions to daily stressful life events.

Most recently my research has examined the ways in which social and psychological factors may help mitigate the effects of stress. For example, my students and I have examined (or will examine) variations in social support, social interaction anxiety, and meditation. 

Family Environment, Socioeconomic Status and Health

            The risky families model outlines pathways by which early family environment and low socioeconomic status may have cumulative negative effects on health.  According to the model, adults who were raised in cold, neglectful or fighting family environments are expected to have deficits in social-emotional functioning, which then predict earlier morbidity and mortality.  Differences in childhood socioeconomic status are implicated at multiple levels of the model.  My work in this area has focused on testing the entirety of the model, as well as on investigating the social, emotional, biological and neural factors involved with these processes.

Community-based Health Research

            Psychological tools, including theory, methodology, and statistics can and should be used to improve community well-being. My students and have worked collaboratively with community agencies to examine health-related strengths and needs in Bellingham and Whatcom County. For example, we have worked with Bellingham YWCA to assess the needs of young women in Whatcom County. This project was undertaken as part of a service-learning Psychology 302 course, in cooperation with our Center for Service Learning. I am also a research affiliate of the Critical Junctures Institute. For example, together with students and colleagues, I have contributed to the Whatcom County Health Assessment and to an investigation of issue of patient complexity. I have expertise and am interested in program evaluation and needs assessment.

Research Methodology and Statistics

            I enjoy using newer statistical and methodological approaches, and integrating them into my program of research.  Most of my articles have combined traditional statistical approaches with techniques such as structural equation modeling and multilevel modeling.  I enjoy the challenge that comes with using these sophisticated techniques, as well as the freedom to test the complex hypotheses that require these statistics.

            Graduate student Julie Kirsch and I used a combination of piecewise latent growth curve modeling and dummy coded contrasts in HLM to test the effects of her laboratory stress task on reactivity, as measured by twelve blood pressure readings. My most recent ambulatory blood pressure research tests models of moderated mediation of random effects in multilevel modeling.

Other Interests

Although I have recently focused my research almost exclusively on health psychology, the topics of attitudes and attitude change, developmental disabilities, and program evaluation are still important to me.  I have a longstanding interest in the functioning of social programs that serve people with developmental disabilities, and strongly believe in the value of using social science theory, methodology, and statistics in applied organizational settings.