Dr. Patrick Steffen, Department of Psychology
Review of Research Study and Academic Objectives of the Proposal
Research conducted by Michael Lambert et al. has found that a substantial minority of psychotherapy clients (about 10%) get worse over the course of therapy. They call these clients ‘red responders’ because they are of particular concern for the therapists and require additional focused treatment. Interestingly, at the other end of the spectrum, Lambert et al. note that there are ‘blue responders,’ clients that not only respond very well to therapy but also respond very quickly (within a few sessions) and also do very well over time. There are no studies to date that have determined what predicts who will be a red responder and who will be a blue responder. We hypothesize that a clients’ ability to handle stress will play a key role in differentiating between red and blue responders, with reds showing an increased stress response relative to blues. To test this hypothesis, clients identified as ‘red’ and ‘blue responders’ will be recruited at the BYU Counseling Center (we have received permission to conduct the study there) to participate in a blood pressure stress test, an EEG stress test, and collect saliva to assay stress hormones. We will also collect a sample of clients from the Counseling Center who are neither red nor blue responders and a matched sample of students not in therapy as control groups.
There are five primary academic and research outcomes students develop while participating in the proposed research. First, students will learn how to integrate and synthesize a research literature. Second, students will learn how to design a study that tests the particular hypotheses generated from the literature review. Third, students will learn to use EEG and ERP methodologies, as well as gain experience with mindfulness techniques. Fourth, students will present the results of the research at a national academic conference. Fifth, students will participate as co-authors on a manuscript for publication. Both graduate and undergraduate students play key roles in the research team in helping to conceptualize, conduct, analyze, and present the research.
Evaluation of Academic Objectives and Specific Products of MEG
Overall, the project has gone extremely well. We have been able to achieve our core objectives and collect an important dataset. Students have had the opportunity to synthesize research literature, help refine research design, learn appropriate physiological measurement techniques, and present data at national research conferences. Students have presented data at the 2013 Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback annual research meeting in Portland Oregon in two different hour-long symposium presentations; both were very well attended. We had 5 graduate students and 8 undergraduate students attend the conference with the graduate students involved in presenting the symposia and the undergraduate students presenting posters. The students had a wonderful experience participating in an international conference and hearing first hand from international experts in the field. For 2014 we have symposia accepted at the Biofeedback Foundation of Europe meeting in February in Venice, Italy, and at the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback meeting in Savannah Georgia. We are very excited about these upcoming events and the continuing opportunities for students to present research findings in these venues. We are now preparing several manuscripts for publication based on these presentations and findings. More specifics about this are presented in the next section.
Description of the results/findings of the project
We have begun basic analyses of the data and presented initial findings at one conference that is discussed above. We are now finishing up data analyses and will have our hormonal analyses completed within a month. The findings we have presented so far indicate that red responders, those who fare worse in psychotherapy, do indeed have increased stress physiology during laboratory stressors. The first analyses have focused on systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate. Our next analyses will look at measures of impedance cardiography, specifically cardiac output and systemic vascular resistance that give a more in depth view of how the cardiovascular system is responding to stress. We will then look heart variability data and respiratory sinus arrhythmia. This will allow us to look at heart functioning, specifically HF and preejection period measures of heart innervation by the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. And then, we get the hormonal data back, we will look at cortisol and alpha-amylase (a marker for norepinephrine) and their impact on stress.
Evaluation of the mentoring environment
Both Dr. Steffen and Dr. Larson led weekly research team meetings that are attended by both undergraduate and graduate students. We had many students involved on projects for a year or more, allowing them to develop professional relationships with us and with other students, and to present research findings at regional and national research conferences. Students played a large role in all phases of research—literature review, hypothesis formulation, research design, recruitment, data collection, data analysis, writing, and developing new projects based on the results of our studies, enabling them to gain experience not possible in classroom settings. This experience provided students the opportunity to develop strong resumes and graduate school applications; in fact, many students from both labs have gone on to strong graduate school programs. Interestingly, Dr. Larson worked in Dr. Steffen’s research lab as an undergraduate, was accepted to a top-ranked graduate program, and then returned to BYU as a professor. Overall, it has been a fantastic experience.
Steffen Lab Participants (2013)
• Patrick Steffen (PI)
• Louise Fidalgo (graduate student)
• Tracy Brown (graduate student)
• Yoko Tsui (graduate student)
• Malvina Salash (graduate student)
• Dustin Jones (graduate student)
• Mike Brogdon (undergraduate student)
• Paul Manwill (undergraduate student)
• Dominic Schmuck (undergraduate student)
• John Richardson (undergraduate student)
• Aubrey Faber (undergraduate student)
• Eric Bylund (undergraduate student)
• Marie Ricks (undergraduate student)
• Tyler Orton (undergraduate student)
Description of how the budget was spent
This MEG grant received $17,200 in total funding. The $6,800 that was requested for wages for research assistants participating in the research project was used to pay student wages. For supplies to conduct the physiological studies, $6,000 was requested and spent. We requested $2,000 to help students pay for conference travel and attendance. We spent that on conference travel and students were also very blessed to get Mary Lou Fulton travel funds and AAPB student travel grants as well so we were able to get a total of 13 students to attend the conference. We also requested and spent $2,400 in participant payments to encourage research participation (some of the physiological assessments are not that fun).