Red River Psychology Conference 2016

Undergraduate research assistants, Zoe Citrowske Lee and Branden Smith, presented research from our lab at the 30th Annual Red River Psychology Conference. Zoe’s project examined suicide risk among undergraduate students who belong to ethnic minority groups, while Branden’s project examined the relationships between different facets of emotion regulation difficulties and nonsuicidal self-injury. They did an excellent job sharing our research with conference attendees (see pictures below)!



Summer Update: Projects, Papers, & Welcoming a New Grad Student


It’s been a while since I’ve posted any lab updates, so I thought I’d write a little about what we’ve been up to this summer.

We have primarily focused on analyzing and writing up data we’ve collected over the past few years. We’re excited about writing up new findings on the following topics: 1) an examination of whether empathy reduces the likelihood of acting aggressively toward obese people, 2) a look at the the impact of racial discrimination on minority mental health, and 3) emotional and interpersonal influences on eating disorder behaviors. We hope to tell you more about these projects as they develop. In the meantime, here are some brief summaries of recently published papers:

1) Gordon, K.H., Simonich, H., Wonderlich, S.A., Dhankikar, S., Crosby, R.D., Cao, L. Kwan, M.Y., Mitchell, J.E., & Engel, S.G. (2015). Emotion dysregulation and affective intensity mediate the relationship between childhood abuse and suicide-related behaviors among women with bulimia nervosa. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

It appears that childhood abuse may have led to more intense negative, painful emotions AND difficulty dealing with painful emotions, which, in turn, led to suicide-related behaviors (perhaps as a maladaptive way to cope with emotional pain) among adult women with bulimia nervosa. Findings suggest that suicide-related behaviors may potentially be prevented if clinicians can work with clients to establish healthy ways to reduce the intensity of painful emotions.

2) Lavender, J.M., Wonderlich, S.A., Engel, S.G., Gordon, K.H., Kaye, W.H., & Mitchell, J.E. (2015). Dimensions of emotion dysregulation in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: A conceptual review of the empirical literature. Clinical Psychology Review, 40, 111-122. 

Existing evidence suggests people who suffer from anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa have more difficulties identifying, accepting, and adaptively coping with undesired emotions. This is consistent with the notion that people turn to eating disorder behaviors to deal with unpleasant emotions and suggests possible areas for clinical intervention.

And, last but certainly not least, we are excited to welcome a new lab member in the Fall. A new graduate student, Valerie Douglas, will be joining us in August from Louisiana!

ICED 2015 – Friday Recap (with more pictures!)

I originally intended to post this on Friday night, but I was working on a grant application on nonsuicidal self-injury and didn’t have time to post it.  Better late than never, I hope!

Plenary Session II – Dissemination and Development of Psychological Treatments in Eating Disorders: Evidence-Based or How to Sell Snake Oil? Dr. James Coyne started the session by countering the commonly held belief that all types of therapy are equally effective (referred to as the Dodo Bird Verdict).


He then went on to make several additional interesting points, some of which I’ve highlighted below:

1) Cognitive-behavioral therapy clearly has the strongest evidence base in terms of treatment for bulimia nervosa.

2) Evidence suggests that treatments that have a clear rationale, are goal-oriented, time-limited, and include regularly monitoring progress tend to outperform treatments without those components.

3) Similar to rules about medication, our field would benefit from predetermined rules about when to switch therapy modalities, when to stop a type of treatment (e.g., due to client deterioration or lack of progress), and when to refer a client to another treatment provider. All of these rules should be based on decisions made from frequent assessment of client progress.

4) Part of the work of treatment dissemination includes researchers findings ways to help clinicians and physicians feel comfortable with utilizing manualized treatments.

5) Keep in mind that behaviors that look like sabotage or nonadherence from eating disorder clients could be biological reactions related to their disorder. I interpreted this as a reminder to have compassion for our clients when they exhibit behaviors that look like resistance.

Among Dr. Coyne’s many contributions is his interactional description of depression. This paper has inspired studies in our lab about interpersonal processes related to eating disorders. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to talk with Dr. Coyne after the plenary session. I quoted something to him from one of his papers, and he replied, “well said.” I said, “I got that from you.” He said, “You know the funny thing is that I never said that. Someone just said I did, and I liked it, so I went with it.” (Disclaimer: this conversation is how I remember it and may not be exact).  Fellow Coyne fans might find it amusing to know that I was talking about the statement that, “Depression isn’t just what’s in your head, it’s what your head is in.” (Also paraphrased).

Dr. Carolyn Becker focused on treatments that people widely adopt ahead of data proving their effectiveness and presented a list of hypothesized factors for this phenomenon. Her idea is that the identification of these factors could lead to better strategies for evidence-based treatment dissemination in the future. Some commonalities that she suggested were treatments that:

1) have big promises for success

2) are flexible (and often blended) approaches

3) are validating and supportive of therapist frustrations (e.g., coping with comorbidity, difficult-to-treat conditions)

4) have accessible, well-packaged trainings

5) are associated with charismatic leaders/presenters who are good storytellers and marketers

As a final highlight of this session, Dr. Kelly Vitousek said (with regards to treatment promotion), “It’s naive to assume researchers can be corrupted only by money.” She proposed a more comprehensive, accurate list of disclosures that researchers should declare:


This plenary panel critically examined our field and generated specific suggestions for improving practice and treatment dissemination. Overall, it was an excellent, thought-provoking session!

Oral Scientific Paper Session I – Binge Eating Disorder & Obesity

Some highlights:

1) The negative impact of weight bias on self-esteem and emotions appears to be magnified when a person internalizes the bias (e.g., blames themselves for being the target of weight-based discrimination).

2) Preliminary evidence suggests that first-year college weight gain may be prevented by making healthy food the optimal default (i.e., creating cafeteria menus with healthy foods featured as the default and making unhealthy food less convenient to eat).

3) A specific type of impulsivity (negative urgency; the tendency to act rashly when distressed) predicts food consumption in the lab for individuals experiencing high levels of arousal during emotional states. This presentation was especially fun to see because the presenter, Joe Wonderlich, worked in our lab before he started graduate school. He is currently in a doctoral program for clinical psychology and doing very interesting work with Dr. Sarah Fischer.  Here is a blurry picture of him:


Poster Presentations Session II – I enjoyed meeting many of the current students from my alma mater, Florida State University. Most importantly, Mun Yee Kwan represented our lab very well with her poster on Social Support, Perceived Stress, and Bulimic Behaviors. Her poster displayed findings from her dissertation, which demonstrated that higher levels of social support are related to lower levels of bulimic behaviors, because of its impact on stress perception. Specifically, it seems that individuals who have people that they can count on for support tend to feel less stressed about life’s challenges, and therefore, are less prone to engaging in bulimic behaviors.

Mun Yee

Fun This was a particularly busy day, but we did find time to take the T to Chinatown for lunch and eat some delicious Malaysian food at a restaurant Mun Yee discovered when she lived in Boston.  I had the tofu curry pot and roti canai (Indian pancake).  All of it was so good!

currypotindian pancake

New Research on Weight-Based Stigma

Recent research suggests that people who are discriminated against because of their weight (e.g., teased, socially excluded, physically harmed) are more likely to gain weight than to lose weight over time (Sutin & Terracciano, 2013). Scientists have speculated that this may be tied to an increase in unhealthy eating behaviors, such as binge eating to cope with discrimination-related distress (Puhl & Luedicke, 2012). People may also avoid the gym or P.E. class following a discrimination incident because of increased fear of ridicule about their bodies (Puhl & Luedicke, 2012Sutin & Terracciano, 2013).

These findings sparked our interest in the types of characteristics that make people more or less likely to victimize people due to weight. Ultimately, we hope to use our research to decrease these types of incidents. We recently began analyzing the data for our first study on this topic, and as you can see, we’re very excited about the preliminary findings!

mun yee and jocelyn

(pictured above are undergraduate research assistant, Jocelyn Converse, and doctoral student, Mun Yee Kwan)