Psychology major Marleah Noonan ’12 recently attended the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Conference in Toronto with her adviser Assistant Professor of Psychology Jamie Bodenlos, where she presented research that she conducted as a part of an independent study. The annual conference, which brings psychologists from around the world together, provided Noonan with an array of opportunities not usually afforded to an undergraduate student.
“There are many scholars present who provide helpful feedback and offer suggestions – such as using different methods or analyzing the data in a different way,” explains Bodenlos, who noted the conference is a premier event for psychologists throughout North America.. “It’s also a great place to get ideas for future research.”
Noonan’s research examines the associations between mindfulness, substance use and stress in a nonclinical college population. Noonan began the project during her sophomore year at the Colleges, with help from Stephanie Wells ’10 – and more than 300 HWS students who were a part of her study.
“I have always been very interested in the idea of mindfulness,” remarks Noonan. “I am particularly interested in examining the interplay between mindfulness and substance use in adolescents.” In college, excessive drinking is always a major concern, as many studies show that binge drinking can lead to patterns of alcohol abuse and dependence later in life, she adds.
Mindfulness is a term associated with Buddhist philosophy, referring to a state in which a person is purposefully conscious of his or her present state and moment-to-moment experiences – without any judgment made toward these experiences. Mindfulness, explains Noonan, is typically associated with lower levels of stress. Because drinking is often a response to stress, Noonan was interested to examine these factors and the relationships between them.
“We found that higher drinking levels were associated with higher stress levels suggesting that individuals are drinking as a coping response to stressors,” says Noonan, who worked under the guidance of Bodenlos. “In other words, when individuals drink it often decreases their mindfulness and makes them less aware of stress.”
Noonan shared her research during a poster presentation, answering questions and engaging in dialogue with psychologists and graduate students also interested in clinical psychology.
“It is so rewarding to take students to conferences and expose them to different scholars’ areas of research,” says Bodenlos. “It is also a wonderful professional tool, allowing students to get experience presenting and exchange ideas with some of the best scholars in the field.”
Noonan agrees. “Most of the conference attendees are professionals and graduate level scholars, so it was really great to be able to attend the conference as an undergraduate researcher,” says Noonan. “I have learned so much from Professor Bodenlos throughout my work on this project, and I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to present our research.”