Two current HWS students and one recent graduate will attend a national conference of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in Washington, D.C. The three students – Stephanie Wells ’10, Maddy August ’11, and Marleah Noonan ’12 – worked with Assistant Professor of Psychology Jamie Bodenlos to complete two research projects. Both dealt with the connections between mental and physical health.
August’s work with Bodenlos began last summer, when she served as a research assistant on campus. The project she will help present at the conference is an investigation of the relationship between psychological disorders and obesity, and the effects of race and ethnic background on this association. The study is interesting, August notes, in that it found different results between Caucasian, African American, and Latino subjects. She helped write the associated research article, which has already been accepted for publication.
Wells and Noonan began working with Bodenlos more than a year ago, while completing an independent study. Their research looks at the effects of stress on health and behavior, and at the potential of mindfulness – which Wells defines as “an awareness of the present moment, your surroundings, and your inner state, feelings and emotions” – to reduce these effects. Chronic stress, they explain, can be more than uncomfortable, with the potential to cause problems such as a weakened immune system, early onset of disease, and premature aging. In addition, those facing chronic stress often turn to coping behaviors that can be physically or emotionally harmful.
In their research, which involved collecting data from more than 200 HWS students, Wells and Noonan found that mindfulness was in fact associated with lower levels of stress. For Noonan, who has looked at this quality both in courses on campus and while studying abroad in India, this is not surprising. “It’s something that is so strong in other cultures and so lacking in ours,” she comments. Both Wells and Noonan hope to see the Colleges expanding programs to encourage mindfulness, and point toward last year’s Mindfulness Week as a step toward this goal.
August and Noonan, both of whom plan to attend graduate school for psychology after graduation, note that their work with Bodenlos has given them a valuable opportunity that might not be available at a larger institution.
“The experience of being able to work one-on-one with a professor has been really helpful,” explains August. “Not only in the fact that I’ve been gaining great research experience, but also in helping to refine my focus for grad school.”
Noonan agrees, adding that the chance to “get my hands dirty with the nitty-gritty parts of research” helped her appreciate all the work that goes into the studies she reads for class.
August, a psychology major with an environmental studies minor, participated in the Senior Symposium and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
Noonan is a psychology major minoring in child advocacy and also plans to attend graduate school.
Wells graduated with a B.A. in psychology magna cum laude, with double minors in child advocacy and public policy, and plans to obtain a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Since graduation, she has been working as a research technician at Women’s Health Sciences Division of the National Center for PTSD.