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Health and Well-Being

Below are some projects being conducted by members of the department relating to Health and Well-being. For more detailed information about any of the projects please visit our staff or postgraduate pages.


Project Title: The effect of television watching on socio-emotional development in Irish 3 year olds.

Researchers: Dr. Suzanne Egan, Dr. Aisling Murray (ESRI)
Previous research on television viewing in young children has explored its impact on physical, cognitive and socio-emotional development. Many of the findings are mixed with some studies reporting positive effects on some aspects of development while other studies report negative effects on other aspects of development. Relatively little research has explored the effect of television viewing on Irish children. The aim of this project is to investigate if watching televisions has an effect on socio-emotional development in Irish 3 year olds. The data are drawn from a nationally representative sample of over 7000 Irish infants.


Project Title: The influence of different types of information on health related decision making

Researchers: Dr. Suzanne Egan, Dr Caren Frosch (University of Leicester)

Every day, people make decisions about their health such as whether or not to visit the doctor, to go for a particular test or to change their diet. In order to make these decisions people weigh up many factors like their belief about how serious their illness might be or what side effects are associated with a particular drug (Power, Swartzman & Robinson, 2011). The aim of this project is to examine some of the cognitive factors and thought processes that underlie people’s medical decisions. Previous studies have established that different types of information and evidence have different effects on the decision making (see Hornikx, 2005, for a review). However, there has been relatively little research directly comparing the effects of different types of information on health related decision making.


Project Title: An investigation of referral practices to psychological therapies: three perspectives

Researchers: Dr. Veronica Cullinan, Dr. Angela Veale (University College Cork)

A concern expressed by mental health service users is an overemphasis on biological or medical approaches to mental health and an under emphasis on psychological or social approaches. The key determinants of the approach to be used are availability of alternatives and knowledge and understanding of those alternatives. The aim of this research was to gather information from three main stakeholder groups involved in access to psychological approaches to mental health issues. These groups were, providers of psychological therapies (both Psychologists and non-psychologists); users and potential users of psychological therapy services; and GP’s who are seen as key referral agents to mental health services. Survey methods were used to access information on the range of psychological therapies on offer, and the knowledge and understanding of those therapies among service users and GP’s. Information was also gleaned about referral patterns to psychological therapies from the perspectives of the three stakeholder groups. Findings suggest that most providers of psychological therapies are not psychologists; that both GP’s and service users believe there is a dearth of information about psychological therapies, their uses and benefits; that there is limited understanding of the differences between different approaches; and that in the absence of statutory registration there is a lack of clarity about the variety of psychological therapies on offer and who offers them.

Project Title: Type D personality and health: Gender differences in psychophsyiological responses to stress

Researcher: Dr Siobhán Howard

The Type D personality is identified by the tendency to experience negative emotions while simultaneously inhibiting the expression of emotions in social situations. A plethora of research studies have demonstrated that the Type D personality is a significant and strong predictor of poor outcome following occurrence of a coronary event in clinical samples (Kupper & Denollet, 2007). In healthy individuals, numerous laboratory-based studies have shown that the Type D personality is associated with altered cardiovascular responding to stress. However, with the exception of one study (conducted by our research group; Howard, Hughes, & James, 2011), none have demonstrated effects in females. Given the fact that the majority of epidemiological research is based on male samples (due to differences in base-rates of cardiovascular diseases), examination of results from both clinical and healthy samples point towards a potential characteristic of the Type D personality that has as yet, been unexplored; is the Type D personality a particularly damaging personality type in males? The present study aims to advance research in this area by examining if the Type D personality shows differential associations with physiological responses to stress in males and females. This project received funding from the Mary Immaculate College Seed Fund scheme.

Project Title: An examination of self-reported stress in undergraduate and postgraduate students of education: Comparison with medical student peers

Researchers: Dr Siobhán Howard, Ms Johanna Fitzgerald, Dr Fíodhna Gardiner-Hyland, Dr Paul O’Connor (National University of Ireland, Galway) & Dr Emer Ring

Despite little research examining the issue, the mental health of university students is of increasing concern worldwide (Bayram & Bilgel, 2008; Dahlin, Joneborg, & Runeson, 2005; Firth-Cozens, 2001; Rotham & Julien, 2006). It has been reported that “undergraduate students represent a neglected public health problem and holds major implications for campus health services and mental health policy making” (Bayram & Bilgel, 2008, p. 667). The focus of the proposed study is on the self-reported levels of stress experienced by students from education degrees in Mary Immaculate College. As part of these degrees, a significant portion of time is spent on vocational work placement; teaching practice. In order to document and detail the level of stress experienced by these students throughout their studies, data collected from MIC will be compared with equivalent data collected from students of medicine at NUI Galway. Like students of education, medical students spend a significant portion of their time on vocational work placements. An application has been made to the Mary Immaculate College Seed Fund scheme to support this project.

Project Title: Cardiovascular responses to acute stress: Impact of intimacy and support provision

Researchers: Dr Siobhán Howard and Dr Stephen Gallagher (Principal Investigator: University of Limerick)

The stress-buffering effect of social support receipt has been well-documented in epidemiological and laboratory-based studies, with particular focus on its impact on the cardiovascular system. However, the effect social support provision has on the cardiovascular system of the provider is less well-understood. The aims of this study are twofold. First, it will test whether blood pressure reactions will be higher in individuals who watch a friend undergoing a stress task compared to when they watch a stranger. Two, that individuals who give support to a friend undergoing a stress task will have lower blood pressure reactions than individuals giving to strangers or not supporting either friends or stranger.

Project Title: Individual differences in cardiovascular reactivity to acute stress: Employing laboratory-based paradigms

Researchers: Dr Siobhán Howard and Dr Brian M. Hughes (National University of Ireland, Galway)

This programme of research is investigating the influence of individual differences in cardiovascular reactivity to stress. By examining both patterns of physiological reactivity to novel stressors as well as habituation-sensitization profiles to repeated stressors, we can tap into potential underlying mechanisms driving the association between stress and disease risk. As part of this programme of research, other physiological measures are used, such as cortisol, salivary alpha-amylase, and C-reactive protein. 

Project Title: Experimental and cross-sectional analyses of sleep duration and negative mood on blood pressure reactivity and hemodynamic profile in young, working, and older adults

Researchers: Dr Siobhán Howard, Prof. Jack E. James (Principal Investigator: Reykjavík University) and Dr Brian M. Hughes (National University of Ireland, Galway)

This project will shed light on a long-standing puzzle concerning the effects of sleep duration on cardiovascular health. On one hand, epidemiological studies indicate that chronic short sleep duration contributes to the development of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, experimental studies indicate that sleep loss has little or no acute effect on blood pressure level. Recent work by us suggests that the key to understanding this dilemma may involve a mechanism whereby restricted sleep acutely induces a vascular hemodynamic profile while having little direct effect on blood pressure level (James & Gregg, 2004a). For purposes of the present project, we hypothesise that in the context of chronic short sleep duration, atherosclerotic processes induced by increased vascular hemodynamic profile may contribute to the development of hypertension and other cardiovascular pathology. The findings could help to inform the development of improved health promotion strategies and clinical management for cardiovascular diseases.


Mary Immaculate College, South Circular Road, Limerick, Tel:+35361 204300  V94VN26

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