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Pursuing my interest in mind-brain-body connections, my recent work focuses on coherence between subjective experience and peripheral physiological activity. When subjective experience tracks strongly with signals of the body, does this indicate adaptive functioning? Could discordance between subjective experience and physiological arousal under stress even be a marker of flawed insight, denial, or limited awareness of mental states?

I began exploring these questions using data from the Midlife in the United States project (MIDUS;, a national longitudinal study of health and well-being in aging supported by the National Institute on Aging. My continued work with this data is supported by a National Research Service Award (F31) from the National Institute on Aging. 


In a sample of N = 1,065 from the second wave of MIDUS (M2) I demonstrated that the within-individual association between repeated measures of self-reported stress and heart rate (“stress-heart rate coherence”) over the course of a stress induction procedure was tied to multiple markers of well-being. Specifically, stress-heart rate coherence was positively associated with psychological well-being, and inversely associated with factors commonly linked to reduced well-being, including anxiety, depression, and levels of pro-inflammatory markers interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein. Furthermore, stress-heart rate coherence was inversely associated with denial coping, suggesting that for at least some individuals, low stress-heart rate coherence may be due to denying one’s own feelings and/or the reality of stressors. 

I'm currently examining whether these effects replicate in an independent sample to increase confidence in the initial findings.

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Current work is seeking to establish the neural correlates of stress-heart rate coherence. The MIDUS datasets provide a wealth of neural measures across magnetic resonance imaging modalities, including structural volumetric, structural white matter integrity, functional activation in response to tasks, and functional activation at rest. 


Previous work demonstrated that age was inversely associated with stress-heart rate coherence, such that older participants had a weaker association between their subjective stress and their heart rate. Bodily changes that occur with aging can influence mind-body connections and the experience of affective states (Berry Mendes, 2010). This weakening of the connection between mental and physical states is signified by findings of lower stress-heart rate coherence in older individuals. I'm thus working to identify age-related differences in affective biasing and neural correlates of stress-heart rate coherence.

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I'm also working to ascertain longitudinal changes in mind-body connections and directionality with relation to well-being. I will test whether stress-heart rate coherence is associated with physical and mental well-being 10 years later. In addition, test-retest reliability of stress-heart rate coherence across these 10 years will be explored, as well as individual differences that may be associated with any longitudinal changes.

Research : MIDUS: Research
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