Social Psychophysiology & Health Lab

SPH Logo13Our lab is dedicated to examining interactions among the mind, body, and environment as they pertain to health and health-related outcomes.

Our primary focus is on how stress affects health. We apply social psychological methods to help us determine who is most susceptible to the effects of stress on health and how these effects can be attenuated. We consider how stress affects the functioning of the central, autonomic, neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and immune systems to better understand how stress impacts health. We have particular interests in how people react to stressful situations and the effects of stress on pregnancy.

Biopsychosocial Mechanisms of Cardiovascular Health

    A majority of research on cardiovascular reactions to stress has been motivated by the reactivity hypothesis, which states that frequent, large magnitude increases in blood pressure and heart rate are associated with a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease (e.g., Krantz & Manuck, 1984).  Whether reactivity contributes to disease or is a marker of disease is still an unresolved issue complicated by the fact that we experience increases in heart rate and blood pressure when we are not stressed, and presumably not increasing our risk of developing heart disease (Hilmert & Kvasnicka, 2010).

    Current work in the SP&H Lab addresses how psychosocial factors such as the amount of effort a person puts forth to cope with stress, the emotions a person experiences in response to stress, and the effects of social support at different timepoints relative to the onset of stress are related to physiological functioning and health. To get a better idea of healthy and unhealthy patterns of physiological stress, we are investigating how patterns of sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic nervous system activity influence cardiovascular reactivity and are associated with disease-related (e.g., endothelial inflammation) and health-promoting (e.g., anti-inflammatory shear stress) effects of reactivity. This research examines healthy and cardiovascular disease populations in order to identify how different patterns of autonomic influence are related to inflammatory processes.

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Selected Publications:

Reichenberger, D. A.,* Hilmert, C. J., Irish, L. A., Secor-Turner, M., & Randall, B. A. (2015). Associations between sleep and health-risk behaviors in a rural adolescent population. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, (30)4, 317-322.

Robinson, M. D., Ode, S.,* & Hilmert, C. J. (2014). Cortisol reactivity in the laboratory predicts ineffectual attentional control in daily life. Psychol Health. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2014.884224

Hilmert, C. J., Teoh, A. N.,* & Roy, M. M. (2013). Effort and negative affect interact to predict cardiovascular responses to stress. Psychol Health, 29(1), 64-80. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2013.825917. PDF

Bresin, K., Hilmert, C. J., Wilkowski, B. M., & Robinson, M. D. (2012). Response speed as a personality variable: Its role in moderating the agreeableness-anger relationship. Journal of Research in Personality, 46, 79-86. PDF

Robinson, M. D., Ode, S., & Hilmert, C. J. (2011). Regulated and unregulated forms of cortisol reactivity: A dual vulnerability model. Psychosomatic Medicine, 73(3), 250-256. PDF

Ode, S.*, Hilmert, C. J., Zielke, D. J.*, & Robinson, M. D. (2010). Neuroticism’s importance in understanding the correlates of heart rate variability: A daily life outcome study of stress, distress, and dysfunction. Emotion, 10(4), 536-543. PDF

Hilmert, C. J. & Kvasnicka, L. R.* (2010). Blood pressure reactivity and emotional responses to stress: Perspectives on cardiovascular reactivity, Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 470-483. PDF