My grant project was a study carved out of a larger project in the lab of Dr. Lisa Molix, the topic of which is mental health in college students. The rise of psychiatric disorders diagnosed in college-aged individuals has revealed the pressing need for accessible mental health interventions for people in this population. The act of writing out one’s thoughts and feelings, also known as expressive writing, has been widely researched as an intervention for a variety of mental health issues, and it has been deemed effective in various studies. The grant project aimed to further explore expressive writing not only as a mental health intervention, but rather as a mental health practice that could decrease baseline stress levels for someone who has not necessarily progressed to the point of psychiatric disorder. Fifty college students were randomly selected to participate in the study, and each participant was randomly selected to a condition of either expressive writing about a neutral topic or neutral writing about a neutral topic. The grant money has been and will continue to be used to pay participants who choose to receive a monetary reward instead of class credit. I predicted that participants who did the expressive writing task would demonstrate lower levels of perceived stress than participants who did the neutral writing task. Contrary to my hypothesis, survey results showed no significant difference between perceived stress level in participants who wrote expressively and participants who wrote neutrally. However, results did indicate a significant difference in perceived stress level based on school year classification.
Although this project’s results had little to no statistical significance, I strongly believe that the research and thesis-writing process has been an enlightening experience for me. I was initially disappointed when I found out that my results were not significant. However, as I thought back on the project and figured out what aspects could have been improved in order to yield significant results, I was able to reflect on the project in a much more meaningful way than if I had seen significant results from the start. I have learned that reflecting on and becoming aware of studies’ limitations is a crucial part of the research process, and I focused heavily on it when I wrote my conclusion.
For the duration of this project, I also developed patience and problem solving skills. At different points in the study, I and my supervisors often ran into unforeseen problems and had to rethink certain factors. Although this was frustrating at first, I quickly learned to adapt and stay levelheaded. Getting a “behind the scenes” look into the research process revealed that it is often not linear; one must be willing to revisit issues and do time consuming work in order to ensure validity.
Without the funding granted to me, this research would have alienated participants who may not have needed class credit. As we move forward with the second part of the research, which will rely heavily on non-Tulane participants, the monetary reward will be pivotal in recruiting students with different perspectives and experiences. I look forward to seeing what results come out of the next part of the process, which would not be possible without this grant. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have participated in this research project and become infinitely more comfortable with experimental research.
Written by Hannah Stoller, Dean’s Grant recipient, 2018-2019