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 multiple projects to understand the factors that promote and interfere with feeling that one belongs at a selective liberal arts college.

In a project funded by the Spencer Foundation, we tested a brief, social belonging intervention, delivered in a group format, which emphasized that first-year challenges are normative and that over time students develop relationships that deepen their sense of belonging. Baseline and follow-up assessments combined diagnostic interview, self-report questionnaire, and experience sampling methods to assess psychological, mental health, social, and academic outcomes. We found that the intervention significantly reduced risk for major depression during the first two years of college, and specifically reduced risk for those experiencing more discrimination.

Sheets, E. S., & Young, D. (2024). A brief, group social belonging intervention to improve mental health and academic outcomes in BIPOC and first-generation to college students. Clinical Psychological Science. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/21677026231220060

Study hypotheses and the analysis plan were pre-registered on the Open Science Framework at osf.io/zr97y

Intervention materials, including the protocol for group leaders and the discussion handout, are available at https://osf.io/8up67

Information on the EMA protocol is available at https://osf.io/qsvfz/

 

In another project, twelve focus groups were conducted with student participants. Qualitative analyses 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 third 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.

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 was that interpersonal stress mediates the impact of personality disorder symptoms on negative affect and course of depression during the transition to college.  We anticipated 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. 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, 44(4), 774-787. doi: 10.1007/s10608-020-10096-2

Sheets, E. S., & Armey, M. F. (2024). Lonely no more: Identifying the affective benefits of social interaction in current and remitted major depression. [Manuscript in preparation].