Ongoing Research

Ongoing Research Projects

COVID-19 and Perceptions on Health, Wellbeing, and Daily Living

Covering Covid 19 circle

As we are currently facing the COVID-19 pandemic, we seek to research, in real-time, the effects of this outbreak on students at Rutgers University and individuals with primary residence in New Jersey. The purpose of this study is to examine the possible effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on health behaviors and psychological stress of participants, as well as to attempt to pinpoint factors that may correlate with those effects (e.g. history of emotional distress). Specifically, we seek to investigate factors that may influence individual likelihood to have fear or concerns regarding this virus, how these concerns manifest into emotions or actions (including social isolation behaviors), and their impact on overall wellbeing.

Puff Topography Biofeedback on Smoking Reinforcement

smoke cigarette clip art 10520There is clear evidence of health-disparity in the maintenance of smoking, such that smokers with emotional distress are more vulnerable to the reinforcing value of cigarettes and are less successful in quitting smoking. A novel biomarker in the emotional distress-smoking link is reinforcer pathology - the degree to which a drug reinforcer produces a reliable, instant, and intense rewarding effect. The reinforcing value of cigarette use is largely attributed to the ease and flexibility in which smokers can self-regulate drug administration by tailoring not only when they smoke, but how they smoke (i.e., “puff topography”). Puff topography affords precision in evaluating temporal components that drive reinforcer pathology: including reward immediacy, intensity, and persistence. Indeed, smokers with emotional distress demonstrate larger initial puff volumes and sustained puffing over the course of a cigarette, and change how they smoke in response to distress. Taken together, we propose to develop and test a puff topography biofeedback paradigm to attenuate reinforcer pathology in emotionally distressed smokers. Biofeedback involves providing smokers with real time feedback regarding puffing (when to inhale, the breath duration, exhale, and inter-puff interval), informed by physiological mechanisms that control self-regulation and stress reactivity.

Randomized Control Trial of Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback for Smoking Cessation

heart monitor clip art

Novel smoking cessation interventions designed to target transdiagnostic vulnerabilities largely rely upon the development of cognitive-behavioral strategies. However, automatic visceral responses to emotional distress may impede the utilization of intentional self-control strategies. One notable gap in the development of integrated and behavioral treatments for cigarette smokers with elevations in emotional distress is directly addressing transdiagnostic physiological processes, such as cardiac vagal activity that underlie smoking and emotional disorder comorbidity. Cardiac vagal activity is critical in the effective modulation of physiological and emotional processes. Dysregulation in this system is observed across various forms of psychopathology and cigarette smoking, and associated with symptom severity and recovery. Heart rate variability biofeedback (HRVB) interventions offer a simple and effective means of promoting cardiac vagal tone and flexibility, but have not yet been applied to smokers with comorbid emotional disorder symptoms.The present investigation is a randomized control trial of a heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback smoking cessation treatment (HRVB-SCT) on smokers with moderate levels of anxiety and/or depression. The goal of the study is to test HRV biofeedback as a treatment adjunct for smoking cessation.

Affective and Biological Underpinnings of Substance Use and Anxiety (ABUSA) Lab | Fax: 732-445-0036


Department of Psychology | Rutgers | The State University of New Jersey | Phone: 848-445-2272