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SWPS University Receives PLN 4.3M in Research Grants from NCN

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SWPS University Receives PLN 4.3M in Research Grants from NCN

Researchers from SWPS University have been awarded a total of PLN 4.3M in grants from the National Science Centre (NCN) for research projects that will focus on topics such as procrastination, sedentary behavior, distraction, autistic perception, neuronal mechanisms of compulsive sexual behavior in women, goal-oriented behavior and predicton of physical activity.

Neuronal mechanisms of executive and emotion regulation deficits in procrastination

Procrastination is self-regulation failure, which causes people to delay some actions despite knowing that the delay will lead to discomfort. The problem is very common. Scientists estimate that 15-20% of total population, and up to 50% (or even 80-95%) of students are affected by procrastination. Procrastination leads to a significant decrease in performance levels and the quality of life. Negative effects of procrastination impact the socioeconomic level and health, because people do not seek treatment early enough.

Previous research does not point to any single reason for procrastination. It indicates that procrastination is associated with increased levels of anxiety and depression, difficulties in emotion regulation and coping with stress as well as lower self-esteem and achievement motivation. Also, similarities between procrastinators and people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are increasingly indicated. Moreover, recent research indicates positive relationship between procrastination and impulsivity suggesting that procrastinators prefer behaviors that aim at experiencing pleasure in favor of less pleasant experiences connected with achieving long-term goals. Research confirms that the relationship between procrastination and impulsivity is strong. Studies indicate that procrastinators have problems with controlling and correcting their behavior, especially when the risk of negative consequences of their behavior increases.

The aim of this project is to study brain activity associated with this kind of functioning. Researchers hope that better understanding of the neuronal mechanisms of procrastination will improve the ways of dealing with this common problem. They hope that research will help to better understand the problems of behavioral control and behavior correction in other disorders that are related to problems with emotion regulation and excessive impulsiveness, such as ADHD or some types of addiction.

Thanks to the grant from the National Science Centre (NCN), dr hab. Jarosław Michałowski from the Poznań Faculty of Psychology will study the relation between procrastination and compulsivity. Additionally, the goal of the project is to determine if people who procrastinate have problems in controlling and correcting their own behavior, especially when the risk of negative conseqences of their behavior is increasing.

Memory for goals: goal-oriented behavior in the face of distraction

Most of the things you want to achieve in your life require planning and concentration. Even the simplest activity like preparing a meal requires gathering products and following a recipe. While cooking, you need to use products in a certain way and in a certain order, gradually achieving intermediary goals – boiling pasta, preparing tomato sauce, grating cheese – in order to finally arrive at the ultimate goal of having lasagne for dinner. Pursuing this goal, however, can be impeded, if not completely precluded, when you forget about one of the intermediary goals – you really don’t want a lasagne with undercooked pasta.

The project concerns the issue of keeping goals in the memory, when you are engaged in a complicated, multi-staged task, like cooking, but also in any type of medical procedure or performing take-off and landing of a an airplane.

The chief peril here is interruption. When you are trying to remember details that are necessary for achieving a goal, for example when preparing a lasagne, a call from your mobile operator can pose a serious problem. Even a momentary distraction from the task of cooking makes the details of the goal slip from your memory. The project raises a question whether the type of the project you are engaged in matters to the process of remembering, when you are interrupted in completing the steps of the project. Is a call from your mobile operator, requiring a short conversation, more impeding to completing your goal than a momentary distraction that does not require your full engagement?

Previous psychological research on the topic of interruptions has assumed that the sole factor determining the degree of disruptiveness of an interruption is the lenght of time for which your attention is diverted away from the goal. This assumption contrasts, however, with many contemporary theories of memory. These theories concern forgetting (about goals or any issues you try to remember whether it is for a couple of seconds or for a longer term) that results from paying attention to different elements in the environment. Studies show, that the key factor that causes forgetting is not the lenght of time you are disengaged from a project, but rather the process of learning new things that are often similar to what you are tring to remember.

Thanks to the grant from the NCN, dr Maciej Hanczakowski from SWPS University in Warsaw will examine how processes – often referred to as interference – make people forget tasks.

Top-down or bottom-up? On priors and likelihoods in autistic perception. Bayesian approach to autistic perception: hypo-priors, enhanced perceptual sensitivity or both?

People with autism are commonly perceived through their social and communication problems. However, research shows that autistic people differ also in terms of how they perceive the world. For example, they are better at visual search tasks and visual discrimination. They are also less susceptible to visual illusions. There are theories aiming to explain the atypical perceptual profile in autism, but it is still unclear which theory is the one that is most consistent with the empirical data.

The first theory in question postulates that people with autism do not use their previous experience in perception to the same extent as typically developed people. According to the second theory, autistic people have an enhanced perceptual sensitivity, which means they are better at discriminating visual stimuli. The aim of this project is to compare these two theories in a series of eye-tracking experiments. An eye-tracker is a device that measures and records gaze position and movement.

Thanks to the grant from the NCN, dr Magdalena Król from SWPS University in Wrocław will determine which of the two prominent theories better explains atypical perception in autism. This study is important, because understanding how autistic people perceive the world may help to develop better support and therapies for autistic individuals.

Examining psychological and neuronal mechanisms of compulsive sexual behavior in women

The discussion on the conceptualization of compulsive sexual behaviors (CSB) has been ongoing for the past twenty years among therapists and researchers. Previous research helped to identify the key neuronal mechanisms underlying CSB in men, and to propose a conceptualization  of CBS that will be included in the future classifications of mental disorders. However, almost all current data on the CSB disorder apply to men. There is a lack of research related to the clinical characteristics of women with CSB. This noticeable gap in the empirical investigation on CSB in women requires a quick attention, especially when preliminary studies show significant gender differences in the clinical picture of CSB.

The purpose of this study is to:

  • gather knowledge about the frequency of various forms of compulsive sexual behavior among women, and their broader clinical picture (e.g., the relationship with specific personality profiles, the psychological role of certain behaviors, and the impact on relationships and sexual functioning)
  • examine the co-occurrence of CSB with other behavioral addictions, substance abuse, and/or other mental disorders
  • verify whether neuronal mechanisms underlying CSB in women are the same as in men
  • verify the causal nature of the identified neuronal mechanisms by examining whether the psychological training leading to their weakening will be accompanied by effective CSB symptoms reduction

Thanks to the grant from the NCN, mgr Ewelina Kowalska from SWPS University in Warsaw will contribute to the process of identifing patterns of sexual functioning in women with CSB, and will help to provide guidance for future clinical trials on effective therapies for women suffering from the CBS.

Explaining sedentary behavior with the revised reflective and impulsive HAPA (R+I HAPA) model

Nowadays, many people lead sedentary lives. Because lack of activity has been proven to have a negative impact on health, it is said that sitting is the new smoking. Therefore, researchers from SWPS University will carry out a real-life observational study which will include:

  • proposing a theoretical extension to the social-cognitive model, health action process approach (HAPA; Schwarzer 2008; Schwarzer & Luszczynska, 2015) by including impulsive processes variables (e.g. habit and physical environmental cues) in order to integrate reflective and impulsive processes into a novel behavior change model, the reflective + impulsive HAPA (R+I HAPA)
  • testing whether the proposed R+I HAPA explains shorter- and longer-term changes in sedentary behaviors (SB) among adolescents, adults, and older adults

The proposed research is a response to a call for theoretical developments and a closer investigation of how reflective and reflexive systems may operate jointly (i.e., mediate and interact) to explain health outcomes (Sheeran et al., 2013). As the SB awareness is very limited in Poland (see Szczuka et al. 2016), enrolling naïve participants would allow for a thorough examination of the full circle of behavior change, from raising awareness and preintentional processes, to postintentional and maintenance processes, assumed in R+I HAPA.

Thanks to the grant from the NCN, prof. dr hab. Aleksandra Łuszczyńska from SWPS University in Wrocław will create a rich dataset amounting to approximately 3,000 self-report measurement points, 1,200 measurement points of body mass and fat tissue, and 12,600 days of accelerometry. Without a doubt, the researchers will obtain a novel and strong evidence for complex within- and between-individual, short- and medium-length term processes, in which R+I HAPA variables explain SB change.

Enabling or cultivating? How social support and self-efficacy are linked when predicting physical activity

According to research, more than 30% of the global adult population and over 80% of adolescents do not meet the physical activity recommendations. This makes physical inactivity comparable to the established risk factors of smoking and obesity. Also, physical activity has been shown to decline with age, with the greatest decline during adolescence, then later among older adults (over 60). Meanwhile, there is a body of evidence that regular physical activity (150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity weekly for adults and 60 minutes for children and adolescents aged 5-17) is associated with numerous health benefits regardless of age, such as, reduced risk of chronic diseases and premature death, better physical, psychological and cognitive functioning.

As multiple studies investigated effects of socio-cognitive factors, such as self-efficacy and social support, on health is there anything new to add? A closer look into gathered evidence indicates a common problem in a vast majority of research conducted to date: they do not clarify what comes first. It is crucial to establish if these factors are linked in a specific way, with either enabling function of social support (enabling hypothesis: social support prompts self-efficacy) or cultivation function of self-efficacy (cultivating hypothesis: self-efficacy prompts social support) (Benight & Bandura, 2004). So far, the studies testing the two effects, including author’s own work, were conducted in diverse clinical groups and in the context of various beneficial outcomes, in different emotional and behavioral domains, such as quality of life or post-traumatic growth among different cancer patients. Furthermore, only a few studies tested both effects, and never in the context of physical activity among general population. Taking the above information into consideration, the main aim of this research is to extend knowledge about the reciprocal relationship between self-efficacy beliefs and social support (namely the so-called enabling and cultivation effects) in the context of initiating physical activity in general population. Furthermore, the effect will be tested among the age groups with the greatest decline of physical activity across lifespan (that is adolescents aged 10-14 and older adults over 60). Two longitudinal trials with three measurement time-points (at baseline, after 10 weeks and after 6 months) will be conducted to assess the causal pathways between investigated factors.

Thanks to the grant from the NCN, mgr Anna Banik from SWPS University in Wrocław will provide an insight into mechanisms of reciprocal relationships self-efficacy beliefs and social support in the context of initiating and maintaining physical activity in general population. The insight into enabling and cultivating effects would help to understand the functions of both variables, how they operate in the context of other predictors of health behaviors in social-cognitive models, and which of the two should be enhanced first to secure effective interventions. Furthermore, the study will establis whether the effects are specific or of more general nature among groups with the largest decline of PA (that is adolescents and older adults) would allow for the clinical application of findings and help to form tailored guidelines for these groups.

Currently, researchers from SWPS University are conducting 205 projects, worth close to PLN 31M. Over the past year, 27 new projects received funding worth PLN 11.3M. We owe this success to the effectiveness of our Office for Research and the commitment of our scientists.

Piotr Metejek, Director of the Office for Research

Research Projects Awarded in the Last Edition of the NCN Competition

dr Magdalena Król 
Wrocław Faculty of Psychology

  • Top-down or bottom-up? On priors and likelihoods in autistic perception. Bayesian approach to autistic perception: hypo-priors, enhanced perceptual sensitivity or both?
  • Competition: OPUS 14
  • Grant amount: PLN 535,126

prof. dr hab. Aleksandra Łuszczyńska
Wrocław Faculty of Psychology

  • Explaining sedentary behavior with the revised reflective + impulsive HAPA model
  • Competition: OPUS 14
  • Grant amount: PLN 1,664,476

mgr Anna Banik
Wrocław Faculty of Psychology

  • Enabling or cultivating? How social support and self-efficacy are chain when predicting physical activity
  • Competition: PRELUDIUM 14
  • Grant amount: PLN 179,855

dr Maciej Hanczakowski
Warsaw Faculty of Psychology

  • Memory for goals: Goal-oriented behaviour in the face of distraction
  • Competition: OPUS 14
  • Grant amount: PLN 1,191,200

dr Jarosław Michałowski
Poznań Faculty of Psychology

  • Neuronal mechanisms of executive and emotion regulation deficits in procrastination
  • Competition: OPUS 14
  • Grant amount: PLN 571,428

mgr Ewelina Kowalewska
Warsaw Faculty of Psychology

  • Examining psychological and neuronal mechanisms of Compulsive Sexual Behavior among women
  • Competition: PRELUDIUM 14
  • Grant amount: PLN 210,000

National Science Centre Competitions

PRELUDIUM is a funding opportunity intended for pre-doctoral researchers about to embark on their scientific career. OPUS is a funding opportunity intended for a wide range of applicants. The research proposal submitted under this scheme may include the purchase or construction of research equipment.

Other Research Funding Sources

The National Science Centre is not the only funding source supporting research at SWPS University. The university receives grants from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the Foundation for Polish Science, and The National Centre for Research and Development. SWPS University conducts over 300 research projects, annually.

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