Current Projects

Our lab is rich in data and we welcome any interest in collaborating on these projects!

Social Belonging at a Liberal Arts College: Promoting and Interfering Factors

Integration into college life can be a challenging process that students tackle with varying degrees of success. One of the clear themes that emerged from clinical interviews in our lab is that diminished sense of belonging quickly contributes to broader disturbances in mood and psychosocial functioning. We have conducted three projects to understand the factors that promote and interfere with feeling that one belongs at a selective liberal arts college.

In the first project, twelve focus groups were conducted with student participants. Qualitative analyses of the focus group transcripts revealed both positive and negative factors regarding social and academic belonging. Generally, students reported enthusiastically on their academic experiences, citing close relationships with professors and comfort interacting with their classmates. Attitudes toward social experiences varied with several broad themes emerging, including the role of alcohol use, social groups, social identity, and positive aspects of the first-year experience and extracurricular opportunities.

A second project more closely examined how social belonging is associated with alcohol use, depressive symptoms, stress, “hook-up culture,” and aspects of identity. We recruited 299 first-years or seniors to compare experiences across year in college.

In a third project, funded by the Spencer Foundation, we will combine group discussions of social belonging with longitudinal assessment of psychological, mental health, social, and academic outcomes. Baseline and follow-up assessments will combine diagnostic interview, self-report questionnaire, and experience sampling methods.

Stress Generation and Daily Fluctuations in Negative Affect During the Transition to College

The Transition Study was a multi-year investigation of depression, emotion, and stress experiences during emerging adulthood. The guiding hypothesis for this project is that interpersonal stress mediates the impact of personality disorder symptoms on negative affect and course of depression during the transition to college.  We anticipate that individuals with greater personality pathology will exhibit higher interpersonal stress, poorer coping skills, and greater negative affect, which all contribute to depression in emerging adulthood. Baseline data collection was completed with 108 participants (Colby College first-year students). By adopting an ecological momentary assessment (EMA) design, we were able to capture participants’ emotions and stress experiences in real-time over a two-week period. We then conducted annual follow-up sessions to track course of mood symptoms and stress over participants’ remaining 3 years of college. Primary analyses compared patterns of emotional reactivity between currently depressed participants, previously depressed participants, and never-depressed controls. These patterns will also be examined in relation to social problem-solving skills and genetic risk factors for depression. This project was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Michael Armey of Brown University and Dr. Lara Ray of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Sheets, E. S., & Armey, M. F. (2020). Daily interpersonal and noninterpersonal stress reactivity in current and remitted depression. Cognitive Therapy & Research. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10608-020-10096-2

Sheets, E. S., & Armey, M. F. (2020). Lonely no more: Identifying the affective benefits of social interaction in current and remitted major depression. Manuscript in preparation.

The Impact of Interpersonal Chronic Stress on Depression Recurrence

The majority of research on stress generation has concentrated on stressful events while the generation of chronic stress largely has not been explored. In two projects, with a separate sample of previously depressed emerging adults, we examined various domains of chronic stress as predictors of depression.  In one project, chronic stress domains were examined as time-varying predictors of depressive recurrence during the first two years of college.  We found that interpersonal chronic stress domains predicted time to recurrence, while non-interpersonal chronic stress was not associated with future depression. A second project used structural equation modeling to establish that chronic stress fully mediated the impact of personality disorder symptoms on depressive symptoms at 6-month follow-up.  This line of research provides promising evidence of how personality disorder factors contribute to depression: through the generation of interpersonal stress. 

Sheets, E. S., & Craighead, W. E. (2014). Comparing chronic interpersonal and noninterpersonal stress domains as predictors of depression recurrence in emerging adults. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 63, 36-42. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2014.09.001