Two years of research and study came to fruition for psychology major Sarah Burstein ’19 when she presented her Honors thesis, Facets of Mindfulness and Emotional Health Among a Predominantly Low-Income Community Sample, at the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s 40th Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions. Burstein attended the Washington, D.C. conference with one of her co-authors Elizabeth Hawes ’19 in March.
Her research, says Burstein, builds on a previous study by Associate Professor of Psychology Jamie Bodenlos. That study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, had more than 300 college students and found a relationship between aspects of mindfulness and emotional and social health of students. “We wanted to expand on [that study] by looking at the same variables in a more diverse community sample,” says Burstein.
Mindfulness-based treatments are becoming increasingly popular as a way to help individuals cope with stress and regulate emotions, Burstein says. Understanding how the facets of mindfulness relate to well-being may help researchers develop more effective treatments.
In her study, Burstein, with the assistance of Hawes and Kelsey Arroyo ’18, gathered data from 256 residents of the Geneva area, the majority of whom had household incomes of less than $20,000 per year. The results, when tabulated and studied by the research team under the direction of Bodenlos, indicated a significant effect of two facets of mindfulness on emotional health: nonjudging and nonreactivity.
“Non-judging of inner experiences is when one does not judge the thoughts and feelings that they experience,” says Burstein. “Non-reactivity refers to not getting ‘caught up’ in the sensations, cognitions and emotions that one experiences. In the context of our study, people with better emotional health also reported a decreased likelihood of judging their thoughts and feelings, and were less likely to negatively react to them.”
Burstein, who is president of the HWS chapter of Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology, received a $1,500 grant from the organization in 2017 to conduct the research for her thesis.
She says she left the conference inspired. “Being surrounded by others who are similarly passionate about psychology instilled in me a surge of motivation to finish this project strong.”
On campus, Burstein works as a teaching assistant, tutor and research assistant in the Psychology Department. Last year, she served as the house manager of the Mindfulness theme house. She was also an Orientation Leader and Mentor, worked as an athletic trainer aide, and was the William Smith class president her sophomore year.