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First psychology colloquium features research on long-term effects of stress

Published: September 19, 2014
Section: News

Nicolas Rohleder, Ph.D., of the Brandeis Psychology Department presented his research at the Psychology Colloquium on Thursday, Sept. 18. The presentation, entitled “Stress System Regulation of Inflammation,” was attended by about 40 undergraduates, graduates, faculty members and other members of the Brandeis community. The presentation is one of three colloquia being put on this fall by the Brandeis Department of Psychology.

Prior to the presentation, Margie Lachman, Ph.D., introduced Rohleder. Lachman, a psychology professor at Brandeis, conducts research on lifespan development, with a focus on midlife and later life. In addition to her studies, she is a good friend of Rohleder. While she began her introduction with a humorous anecdote about the first time she met him, she finished her speech with an emphasis on his incredible research. “Nick has won several prestigious awards,” she stated. After listing off many significant awards such as the Young Scholar Award from the American Psychosomatic Society (2007) and the Herbert Weiner Early Career Award of the American Psychosomatic Society (2013), Lachman continued, “Now notice, this recognition is a recurring phenomenon: an award every two years. So I think we do have the right to brag about him!”

After Lachman’s kind words and introduction, Rohleder presented on his research—finding connections between stress and disease, especially regarding how stress affects inflammation. Juliana Breines, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow working in Rohleder’s lab, explained it as research that “examines the relationship between self-compassion and biological responses to stress, with a focus on inflammatory markers and cortisol levels.”

During the presentation, Rohleder went into more detail on a study in which he examined the caregivers of terminal cancer patients with brain tumors. His study’s results showed that chronic stress affects health even down to the molecular level.

While the science behind the research is complicated, the results are extremely relevant. As Breines explained, “This [research result] suggests that self-compassion may help protect people from the potentially adverse effects of stress on their bodies.” She elaborated on the importance of the research by stating, “If we can learn when and how stress increases disease risk, we can then take steps to reduce that risk, such as building self-compassion and reducing rumination or developing medical interventions to correct biological processes that have gone awry.”