Previous Projects

Regulating Anger Experience

When the memory of an emotional event is triggered, individuals employ different cognitive strategies to regulate their emotional response. Despite the importance of emotion regulation skills, there are relatively few studies that directly compare, in a controlled laboratory setting, the effectiveness of common regulation strategies in reducing anger and hostility. This study examined the effectiveness of five strategies – rumination, distraction, reappraisal, acceptance, and spontaneous regulation (control condition) – in regulating anger provoked by an interpersonal experience. The findings support selective use of distraction to de-escalate anger and aggression and caution the use of acceptance interventions when targeting anger rather than other negative affect states, such as sadness and anxiety.

Sheets, E. S. (2020). Regulating anger experience: The benefits of distraction over rumination, acceptance, and reappraisal. Manuscript in preparation.

Social Problem-Solving Skills Deficits, Personality, and Depression

Social problem-solving refers to the self-directed, cognitive-behavioral process of identifying and implementing successful strategies to resolve difficult interpersonal situations. Effective interpersonal problem-solving contributes to positive coping skills, while unsuccessful interpersonal strategies appear to contribute to depression. This study examined whether the influence of social problem-solving skills on depressive symptoms varies across levels of personality disorder symptoms. Personality disorder symptoms were examined as moderators of the association of depressive symptomatology with process ratings of social problem-solving skills and performance-based ratings of social problem-solving skills.

Sheets, E. S., & Kraines, M. (2014).  Personality disorder traits as a moderator of poor social problem-solving skills and depressive symptoms. Journal of Individual Differences, 35(2), 103-110. doi: 10.1027/1614-0001/a000132

Social Networking Use, Emotion Regulation, and Emotional Awareness Skills

The Social Networking Study examined how Facebook use and other forms of social networking impact young adults’ emotional awareness skills and their ability to regulate negative emotion states. The Colby Emotion and Mood Lab research team first created a questionnaire to assess emotional connection and reactivity to Facebook. In the experiment, participants completed an emotion elicitation task, measures of coping strategies and emotional awareness, and the social networking questionnaire.

What’s On Your Mind? Colby Magazine, Summer 2013.

Student Honors Research

Mahal Alvarez-Backus ’19

The Impacts of Discrimination on Mental and Physical Health

Two studies examined the associations between discrimination, social belonging, physical health, and well-being at an elite, small liberal arts college. These studies examined discrimination experiences and health in young adults, with a focus on students of color, international students, and first generation students. Across both studies, there were significant group differences in mental health, particularly that students of color reported higher levels of depressive symptoms than White students. Having empathetic faculty was the most consistently important aspect of campus climate that may be protective against depressive symptoms. Mahal’s research was presented at the 2019 convention of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

Nathan Huebschmann ’19

Don’t Be Afraid of Conflict: Relationship Stress Beliefs in Friend, Familial, and Romantic Relationships

Having a general stress-is-enhancing mindset has been associated with better psychological and behavioral well-being, and has been shown to mitigate the negative impact of stressful experiences on mental health. Beliefs about stress and conflict specifically experienced within a relationship (i.e., relationship stress beliefs) are relatively unexamined. In this study, across friend, family, and romantic relationships, belief about the destructive nature of conflict was the most consistent moderator of the associations between relationship quality and well-being. For those with a stronger belief that conflict is destructive, individuals with lower perceived support or relationship quality reported greater depressive symptoms than those with higher perceived quality or support. Relationship strain seems to particularly affect the well-being of those who believe that conflict is destructive rather than being productive or potentially beneficial. Nathan’s research was presented at the 2019 convention of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

Misha Strage ’16

What Motivates You? The Effects of Praise and Criticism on Academic and Athletic Performance

Across settings, we frequently use praise or criticism to shape behavior. However, not all feedback is beneficial, and some has adverse effects. This study examined how different types of feedback – praise, constructive criticism, and destructive criticism – affected emotional response and task performance, and how these outcomes differed depending on source (supervisor vs. peer) and setting of the feedback (academic vs. athletic). Across settings, females had stronger emotional responses to critical feedback, but they were more motivated to do well after receiving constructive feedback; males were more motivated after praise. Females were more sensitive to feedback from supervisors than peers while males were not affected by source. These findings suggest that gender should be carefully considered as one constructs feedback meant to motivate future performance. Misha presented her research at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Affective Science.

Hillary Keach ’13

The Sunk-Time Effect and Personal Responsibility in Romantic Relationships and Education

People often persist in failing endeavors such as poor financial investments, inefficient work tasks, or distressing interpersonal relationships. While robust evidence exists for monetary decisions, evidence for temporal decisions (“sunk-time”) is inconsistent. This project aimed to identify the sunk-time effect, and the role of personal responsibility in this phenomenon, within settings relevant to emerging adults: romantic relationships and educational projects. Personality characteristics also were examined as moderators of the sunk-time effect. Hillary presented her research at the 6th Conference on Emerging Adulthood in October 2013.

Stephanie LaRose-Sienkiewicz ’12

I’m Angry But I Think You’re Sad: The Effect of Emotional State on Empathetic and Sympathetic Abilities

Empathetic and sympathetic abilities, specific forms of perspective-taking, have been linked to various important areas of functioning, including intimate relationships. Emotion research has shown that some emotions, such as anger, result in social distancing, while other emotions, such as guilt, result in prosocial behaviors. It follows that this movement toward or away from a partner, spurred by a particular emotional state, may impede or enhance one’s ability to empathize or sympathize with that partner. In this experiment, participants were given perspective-taking instructions designed to produce empathetic, sympathetic, or objective processing before viewing 1 of 3 videos eliciting anger, guilt, or a neutral emotional state. Participants then completed an emotion identification task using faces displaying seven basic emotions, which served as an objective measure for empathetic abilities. Participants also completed questionnaires regarding trait empathy and social functioning. Stephanie presented her research at the 2012 meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

Postdoctoral Research

Postdoctoral Mentors: Ivan Miller, Ph.D. & Cynthia Battle, Ph.D.

Treatment-Seeking for Depression Among Pregnant Women
Principal Investigator: Cynthia Battle, Ph.D.

Although depression during pregnancy is associated with a number of adverse consequences, women often are hesitant to seek treatment while pregnant. This is particularly true of women from low-income and racial/ethnic minority backgrounds.  This project integrated qualitative and quantitative methods to identify barriers to depression treatment during pregnancy, with a particular focus on issues most relevant to underserved patient groups.  The study explored women’s attitudes toward specific antenatal depression treatments and examined factors that influence whether women pursue treatment, or do not pursue treatment, during pregnancy.

Dispositional Affect, Family Environment, and Adolescent Suicidality
Principal Investigator: Shirley Yen, Ph.D.

Borderline personality disorder symptoms are associated with high risk for suicide, but this pattern has not been investigated in adolescents. In this project, suicidal adolescents were followed for 6 months after hospitalization. Borderline personality disorder traits, negative affect, family functioning, and other forms of psychopathology were examined as predictors of adolescent suicidal behavior.

Yen, S., Weinstock, L., Andover, P., Sheets, E. S., Selby, E. A., & Spirito, A. (2013).  Prospective predictors of adolescent suicidality: Six month post hospitalization follow-up. Psychological Medicine, 43(5), 983-993. doi: 10.1017/S0033291712001912

Graduate Research

Personality Pathology Factors Predict Depression Recurrence in Emerging Adults
Graduate Mentor: W. Edward Craighead, Ph.D.

Prior investigations consistently indicate that personality disorders, particularly Cluster B and Cluster C disorders, increase risk for depression recurrence. Lack of empirical support, however, for the DSM organization of personality disorders supports the investigation of empirically-derived factors of personality pathology as predictors of recurrence. To address this question, a sample of previously depressed emerging adults were followed through their first 2 years of college. An exploratory factor analysis of International Personality Disorder Examination items that represent DSM-IV personality disorder criteria was conducted to evaluate the structure of personality pathology. These personality factors then were examined as predictors of depression recurrence, as were relevant demographic covariates, clinical variables, and DSM personality disorders. Of the models examined, the empirically-derived personality factors were the best predictors of depression recurrence. These findings suggest that an empirically-based approach to personality pathology organization may yield more reliable predictors of depression recurrence than the current DSM structure.

Sheets, E. S., Duncan, L. E., Bjornsson, A. S., Craighead, L. W., & Craighead, W. E. (2014). Personality pathology factors predict recurrent major depressive disorder in emerging adults. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 70(6), 536-545. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22028

Craighead, W. E., Sheets, E. S., Craighead, L. W., & Madsen, J. W. (2011). Recurrence of MDD among previously depressed young adults: A prospective study of personality pathology and cognitive distortions. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 2(2), 83-97. doi: 10.1037/a0020456

Muralidharan, A., Sheets, E. S., Madsen, J., Craighead, L. W., & Craighead, W. E. (2011). Interpersonal competence across domains: Relevance to personality pathology. Journal of Personality Disorders, 25(1), 16-27. doi: 10.1521/pedi.2011.25.1.16

Sheets, E. S., & Craighead, W. E. (2007).  Toward an empirically based classification of personality pathology. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 14, 77-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2850.2007.00065.x