Announcements Research

February 25, 2015 at 9:50 am

Racine Seeks Undergrad Apprentice for Eating Disorders Research

Dr. Sarah Racine, Assistant Professor of Psychology, is seeking an undergraduate research apprentice for a project on”Using a Physiological Measure of Emotional Reactivity and Emotion Regulation in Eating Disorders.”

DR. Sarah Racine

Dr. Sarah Racine

College of Arts & Sciences freshmen, sophomores and juniors are eligible for the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Pilot Program 2015-16. The program hires students to work on faculty members’ research projects.

Racine’s apprenticeship is for 10 hours a week for the 30 weeks of the 2015-16 academic year.

The Honors Tutorial College, in partnership with the Vernon R. and Marion Alden Library Endowment, the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Health Sciences and Professions, the Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education, the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, the Scripps College of Communication, University College, and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Creative Activity, invites all interested Athens freshmen, sophomores, and juniors to apply for the 2015-16 research apprenticeships.

How to Apply

The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on March 13. To apply for this internship, you must email Dr. Sarah Racine at The email should briefly explain your qualifications and interest in the project (no more than three paragraphs) and have an attached resume. It is strongly recommended that you meet with an adviser in the Career and Leadership Development Center in Baker Center 533 to help you compose your letter and resume before applying for a position.

Using a Physiological Measure of Emotional Reactivity and Emotion Regulation in Eating Disorders

Brief Description of Project: Eating disorders are severe disorders that are associated with significant impairment and the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric illnesses (Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, & Nielsen, 2011). Recent models of the development and maintenance of eating disorders focus on the role of heightened emotional reactivity and poor emotion regulation (Haedt-Matt & Keel, 2011; Haynos & Fruzzetti, 2011). Specifically, behaviors that characterize eating disorders (e.g., dietary restriction, binge eating) are thought to develop as a means of regulating emotions in individuals who are vulnerable to experiencing high levels of negative emotion and/or are unusually emotionally reactive. However, much of the research in this area has relied on self-report questionnaires to assess emotional reactivity and regulation. An exclusive reliance on self-report can limit our knowledge in this area because participants may respond to questions about emotional reactivity/regulation in a socially desirable way or may focus on one aspect of their psychological functioning (e.g., eating problems) when reporting on their emotional tendencies.

The emotion-modulated startle paradigm (EMSP) is a well-validated psychophysiological measure that has been used to examine emotional reactivity across various psychiatric disorders (e.g., depression, post-traumatic stress disorder; Grillon & Baas, 2003). More recently, studies have used the EMSP to investigate voluntary emotion regulation (Dillon & LaBar, 2005; Piper & Curtin, 2006). The aim of the current study is to use the EMSP to examine emotional reactivity and regulation in two groups of individuals with eating-related problems: individuals high on dietary restriction and individuals high on binge eating. Although these eating problems can co-occur (Racine, Culbert, Larson, & Klump, 2009), they are separate dimensions on which individuals vary, and there is a need to understand whether one or both of these eating disorder symptoms are related to heightened emotional reactivity and poor emotion regulation, as assessed via the EMSP. This research will inform knowledge of the basic mechanisms that underlie emotional problems observed in individuals across the eating disorder spectrum and may have implications for the development of novel prevention and intervention programs that aim to directly target these mechanisms.

Participants for this study will be 25 female students with high levels of dietary restriction, 25 female students with high levels of binge eating, and 25 female students who deny eating disorder symptoms. Participants will be recruited through the Psychology Subject Pool and by re-contacting students who have previously participated in Dr. Racine’s research. Participants will complete the EMSP. In this paradigm, participants are shown standard pictures that vary on emotional valence (i.e., positive versus negative) and on emotional arousal (i.e., low intensity to high intensity). In this study, we also will include disorder-relevant pictures (i.e., food images and images of slim bodies). At varying times during the presentation of each picture, an acoustic startle probe (i.e., a loud burst of white noise) is presented. The eyeblink response to this startle probe is measured using two electromyographic (EMG) sensors positioned over the orbicularis oculi muscle below the eye. The magnitude of the eyeblink response is thought to reflect the participant’s emotional state, as studies with healthy participants demonstrate an increased startle response when viewing negative relative to neutral pictures and a decreased startle response when viewing positive relative to neutral pictures (Grillon & Baas, 2003). Emotional reactivity can be examined by administering the acoustic startle probe immediately after the picture is presented, and emotion regulation abilities can be assessed by asking participants to cognitively regulate their emotions (i.e., suppress or enhance current emotional response) and subsequently administering an acoustic probe.

Student’s Role in Project: The undergraduate research apprentice will be involved in virtually all aspects of the above research study. The student will read relevant research literature on the topic through the discussion of research articles in individual and group meetings and will assist with writing the Institutional Review Board application. The student will be directly involved in the recruitment and screening of potential participants to ensure that they meet study eligibility criteria. (S)he will also be responsible for data collection procedures, including obtaining informed consent from participants, outfitting participants with EMG electrodes, instructing participants on how to cognitively regulate emotions, and ensuring psychophysiological data are being recorded properly. In addition, the student will be responsible for research activities such as creating online surveys, creating pictorial stimulus presentations, scoring and analyzing behavioral data, and scoring and analyzing psychophysiological data. Through these contributions, the student will gain significant experience using several software programs that are critical for the conduct of psychological research: Qualtrics for online survey administration, E-prime for computerized experiment administration, and SPSS for data management and analysis. Experience with physiological recording equipment and analysis software developed by Mindware, a Columbus-based company, is a particularly unique aspect of the position. The student will have the opportunity to collaborate on scholarly presentations and publications using data from this project as well as ongoing and completed projects conducted in the Biopsychosocial Examination of Eating Patterns (BEEP) Lab.

Benefit to Student

The student will learn:

  1. The benefits of conducting research that uses multiple methods (i.e., self-report and psychophysiological) and that cuts across multiple levels of analysis (i.e., biological and psychological) in order to understand the development and maintenance of psychological disorders.
  2. How to move a research project from the initial stages of research design and conceptualization through to data collection, data analysis, and the interpretation and dissemination of obtained results.
  3. Information about ethical considerations when conducting research with human subjects. Students will read the sections of the American Psychological Association’s code of ethical standards relating to research ethics and experimentation with human participants and will complete an online training course on human subjects research administered through the Collaborative IRB Training Initiative (CITI).
  4. Advanced literature search skills to identify published findings relevant to the proposed study and to inform the selection of relevant study measures.
  5. Development and implementation of proper laboratory protocols related to participant recruitment, data collection, data processing, and data analysis.
  6. Development, programming, and data processing of online surveys using Qualtrics
  7. Development and programming of experiments using E-Prime (Psychology Software Tools, Pittsburgh, PA), including randomizing the presentation of picture type (i.e., negative, positive, neutral, food, thin bodies), presentation of regulation cue (i.e., enhance, suppress, maintain), and timing of startle probes.
  8. Operation of Mindware BioNex Biopotential Module (Mindware Technologies, Columbus, OH) for the measurement of eye muscle EMG activity in response to acoustic noise probes. This includes proper skin preparation (i.e., removing skin oils using alcohol prep pads), proper electrode placement (i.e., over the lower portion of the orbicularis oculi muscle) and attachment, testing electrodes to ensure that they are properly recording the signal, and monitoring the EMG signal throughout the experiment.
  9. Organization and scoring of data files using Mindware EMG application Version 3.1 software (Mindware Technologies, Columbus, OH) in order to decide whether to retain or exclude experiment trials based on EMG signal-to-noise ratio, calculate deviation scores to represent the difference between the peak and average EMG activity during a trial, and combine data across trials and participants.
  10. Data entry, scoring, and analysis using SPSS and Microsoft Excel.
  11. Scheduling and coordination of the work of other undergraduate research assistants on the project.
  12. Professional presentation and manuscript preparation skills, including how to graphically represent research results, how to write a literature review, and how to describe the experimental design.

This Research Apprenticeship will provide the student with clinical research experience that will be particularly beneficial for students interested in research or academic positions in psychology and related fields (e.g., psychiatry, clinical social work). Given that students with a research background are evaluated as being more competitive by many graduate and professional psychology programs, the experiences provided by this position will likely improve the individual’s chances of being accepted into a graduate program. The position will also provide experience for employment in research positions in other areas. For example, experience in data reduction and analysis will be relevant for applied statistical positions, and experience with physiological recording equipment and software will be useful for the pursuit of career opportunities in biomedical sciences. The student will benefit from working closely with the project supervisor, Dr. Sarah Racine, Assistant Professor of Psychology. Individual mentorship related to career goals and objectives will be provided. Opportunities to develop independent research projects will be available to motivated students.

Desired Qualifications for Apprentice (e.g. course background, skills, computer expertise, interest, etc.): Students should be motivated and interested in learning about how psychobiological research and research on psychological conditions is conducted. The ability to interact with research participants and project staff in a professional manner is important. In order to accommodate the schedule by which participants typically take part in research studies in the BEEP lab, the student would need to have daytime availability in order to work. Although not required, it would be ideal for students to have: at least one course in statistics and research design, and experience with Microsoft Excel and the statistical software package SPSS. Training on the use of Qualtrics, E-prime, and Mindware physiology recording equipment and software will be provided. Students with an interest in eating disorders, emotion regulation, and/or biological methods are best suited for the Apprentice position.

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