Determinants and Outcomes of Health and Wellness
In Psychology at Minnesota, our faculty are trailblazers in their multi-pronged approach to exploring determinants and outcomes of health and wellness. Although not a stand-alone area in our department, health psychology, which emerged in the 1970s, “examines how biological, social, and psychosocial factors influence health and illness…[with a goal] to promote health, prevent illness, and improve health care systems” (American Psychological Association 2014). In general, many top psychology departments in the U.S. do not focus on both basic psychological principles and the application of them to address important social and practical problems. At UMN Psychology, though, “it is in the DNA of the department,” states Alex Rothman, PhD, and rather than having health and wellness research focused in a single area of health psychology, it is present across areas within the department.
Read more about how our faculty contribute to this area of excellence:
Distinguished McKnight University Professor,
Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor
In each of our seven areas, you will find someone who is advancing what we know about the psychology of health and wellness to improve people’s lives. Examples of their research foci include, but are not limited to: the self-control of health behaviors, with a particular focus on eating, to improve our understanding of the phenomenon and shape interventions that can help people engage in healthy behaviors; leveraging clinical psychology, clinical neuroscience, and behavioral genetics to understand the causes and consequences of substance use and addiction; the genetic contributions to normative aging processes and mortality, with a goal to understand biological and environmental factors that impact our physical and mental well-being in late-life; how social experiences encountered earlier in life are linked with physical health at mid-life; and health equity, including how health and well-being are impacted by the criminal justice system, employment, stress, and school engagement, as well as stigma, internalized racism, racial identity, and race-based judgments.
Counseling is a UMN Psychology area with strong and longstanding ties to health and wellness research. Patricia Frazier, PhD, is well-known for her research on the effects of stress and trauma, including what factors are associated with either negative outcomes (e.g., depression, anxiety) or positive outcomes (e.g. resilience). More recently, she and her research team have developed online interventions to teach skills for coping with stress, which are resources now especially salient given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Particularly with regard to trailblazing, in the 1990s, Rothman in the Social area recognized that there were others like him - social psychologists who were also interested in health - and that they could benefit from a more formally recognized professional identity and community. In the early 2000s, therefore, he helped launch the Social Personality & Health Network, which hosts an annual pre-conference that seeks to advance the development and application of social and personality psychology in health contexts in order to inform and advance favorable health outcomes. Rothman served as the Network’s first president and, in keeping with its UMN Psychology roots, Traci Mann, PhD, served as the second.
Some of the biggest challenges associated with the study of health and wellness in psychology today are tackling endemic health disparities and carrying out the work that needs to be done at a larger scale than has typically been done before. Personalized medicine is a key theme that has emerged in recent years, as investigators strive to determine when an intervention works effectively for everyone and when there would be benefit to tailoring the intervention to be responsive to factors such as people’s beliefs, their social and cultural background, and/or their access to resources and support. As we work to capitalize on advances in health and wellness research, it is critical that these findings inform efforts that benefit the whole of society. To meet this goal, as we grapple with the challenges of today, we need to increase the scale of our projects and need to have the resources to support multi-site, multidisciplinary teams. Progress in these efforts requires a healthy research ecosystem, comprised of collaborative teams and sufficient infrastructure to carry out the necessary basic research and to support the translation of that research into the design and testing of health interventions. According to Rothman, “one of the reasons behind the success of this department is that we have a long standing tradition of interdisciplinary collaborations and we utilize a broad array of approaches…[which] is our secret strength.” Our faculty are well-positioned, therefore, to tackle these challenges.