The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped Travis Schneider ’21 from executing the research that will lead to an Honors project next year. In fact, while he’s had to shift to online data collection, the pandemic might be a good time to find answers to his questions.
Under the guidance of his adviser Associate Professor of Psychology Julie Kingery, the psychology major is exploring the connection between mindfulness and mental health. While he notes that mindfulness as a practice or intervention — think mediation and yoga — has gained popularity over the past decade, “My project is focused on dispositional or trait mindfulness, which describes the awareness and attention to thoughts and feelings an individual displays on a daily basis,” he explains.
Schneider’s research is focused on determining whether higher levels of dispositional mindfulness are associated with lower levels of cognitive distortions, which in turn may predict lower levels of mental health symptoms.
Cognitive distortions are thoughts that everyone engages in that are maladaptive or dysfunctional. “Imagine if you do bad on one test or homework assignment,” Schneider says. “A cognitive distortion or error would mean you’d immediately think you’re going to do bad in the class.”
Kingery notes that Schneider has asked “very thoughtful questions that led to his current study, but have also challenged me to think in new ways about my own research.” She explains that because very few studies have considered the relationship between mindfulness and cognitive distortions, Schneider’s idea “has the potential to make a significant contribution to this area of research.”
Working as a research assistant with Kingery for the past year has been an invaluable experience for Schneider. “Professor Kingery has guided me, but she’s also given me the independence to approach this project in my own way while still being a support system,” he says.
Schneider, who aspires to be a military psychologist working with active duty service members and veterans, is a member of the Statesmen hockey team, where he has been twice named a Krampade All-American Scholar by the American Hockey Coaches Association and was on the 2018-19 New England Hockey Conference All-Academic Team.
“My research on mindfulness has absolutely changed my mindset when approaching hockey and training,” he says. “As an athlete, I’ve always tended to focus on my mistakes. Mindfulness gives me a chance to play the rest of the game in the moment rather than focusing on the turnover I made in the first period.”
Schneider’s study asks participating students to complete a number of questionnaires about depression, anxiety, stress, gratitude, happiness and resilience, as well as sleep quality and life satisfaction. Because of the pandemic, Schneider conducted the study through Survey Monkey instead of through in-person data collection.
With many people experiencing increased stress and anxiety because of the pandemic, now is an interesting time to conduct the study. “It’s something I have to consider for my research,” Schneider says. “How is conducting the study now going to influence people’s responses? The approach I’m taking is that the pandemic is going to exaggerate typical responses.”
He also hopes the study will help understand if having more dispositional mindfulness means an individual has fewer cognitive distortions, and do those traits lead to improved mental health outcomes? “There’s not a lot of research looking at these three variables together, but I think we will find that dispositional mindfulness acts as a mediator or moderator for cognitive distortions,” Schneider says. “Time will tell.”