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Why do people tend to reach for sugary or salty snacks when they feel stressed? Why do strongly motivated individuals give in to everyday temptations and abandon the pursuit of important goals? How to improve treatment of anxiety and other maladaptive disorders? Researchers from SWPS University, Associate Professors Anna Brytek-Matera, Katarzyna Byrka and Jarosław Michałowski have been awarded close to PLN 4.5 million in grants from the National Research Center (NCN) to research these topics.

Impact of negative affect on eating behavior: verification of two potential pathways in laboratory and ecological settings

In stressful situations, people often experience cravings and reach for unhealthy, junk food like sweets, salty snacks or sugary energy drinks. Research indicates that negative affect can influence typical eating behavior in two ways: (1) it increases craving for tasty foods which are often unhealthy, high-energy density foods (Drewnowski, 2007, 2009), indicating that people use tasty, highly rewarding high energy density food as a way of decreasing negative affect and (2) it impairs top-down self-control, which often supports a choice of healthy, low energy density foods and nutrients that are essential for a healthy diet (Maier, Makwana and Hare, 2015). Very few studies have attempted to dissociate these two potential pathways, and their respective contributions to maladaptive eating behavior remain unknown. The proposed project aims to provide a more detailed understanding of how negative affect leads to maladaptive eating behavior (i.e. by which pathway) and assess the relative contribution of each to maladaptive eating behavior. Three hundred three adults will participate in the proposed study.

The project will be conducted in cooperation with an internationally renowned expert in the field of emotion regulation, Professor James J. Gross from Stanford University (USA). For the purpose of the project, a new international team, Eating, Behaviors and Cognitive Processes Interdisciplinary Laboratory, of researchers from SWPS University and Stanford Psychophysiology Laboratory will be established, which may provide further opportunities for international cooperation on this subject that, so important for public health.

Thanks to the grant from the National Science Centre (NCN), Associate Professor Anna Brytek-Matera from the Katowice Faculty of Psychology and her team will provide a solid theoretical base on the effects of negative affect on maladaptive eating behavior. The project will deliver both theoretical and empirical background in an area of great significance in the public health sector, which may serve as a foundation for further development of applied research on affect regulation and eating behavior. Research will be carried out in Poland and the United States, which will allow to compare the impact of negative affect on eating behavior in laboratory and ecological settings from a multicultural perspective.

The pursuit of self-defining goals, giving in and giving in to temptations

The aim of this project is to examine the paradox of people who are highly committed to a cause yet give in to temptations of everyday life and as the result, fail to follow through on their intentions. For example, vegetarians buying leather goods or fitness enthusiasts, who smoke. Literature provides explanations of such situations, but empirical results do not form a coherent picture regarding the mechanism of such behaviors. Researchers will apply the self-completion theory by Wicklund and Gollwitzer, to provide the missing information. According to the theory, people pursue certain goals because these goals are important for their identity, i.e. for how they perceive themselves. People who feel that they have met their self-imposed goals, are in a state of self-completeness, but when they feel they did not meet the criteria, are self-incomplete.

Previous laboratory studies have shown that people in the state of self-completeness stop engaging in behaviors associated with the attainment of the goal. Thanks to the grant from the National Science Centre (NCN), Associate Professor Katarzyna Byrka from the Wrocław Faculty of Psychology and her team will examine whether the state of completeness affects succumbing to temptation, which often contrasts with the main goal. In addition, the researchers plan to show that the state of non-completeness protects from temptation. We will also investigate whether the completeness and incompleteness condition affects the perseverance of pursuing an important goal. The project will take five years and will consist of seven studies.

How to improve the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic imagery techniques?

The schema therapy is one of the most promising and fastest growing cognitive-behavioral therapy directions developed to help patients overcome their maladaptive psychological functioning, originating from aversive childhood experiences. The main goal of the schema therapy is to change emotions and beliefs related to these aversive childhood experiences in order to stop maladaptive emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Schema therapists assume that emotions and beliefs related to these aversive childhood experiences can be changed by providing corrective experiences. One way to change these experiences is to use an imaginal treatment technique called ‘imagery rescription’. This technique has been proven to effectively reduce the severity of personality disorders and other psychological problems, but the verification of possible mechanism of change provided by this method is not possible in the current state of knowledge.

Imagery rescription has been developed by making modifications to the classic cognitive-behavioral therapy technique called ‘imaginal exposure’. Both techniques start with imagery of a negative autobiographical experiences that underlie patients` mental problems. The difference between these two methods is that negative autobiographical imagery is the core and only a part of imaginal exposure, whereas in the imagery rescription the negative imagery is followed by imagery of positive ending, in which patients imagine their therapist caring for them. Previous research has indicated that disrupting expectations about the sequence of events can increased the effectiveness and stability of therapeutic change. The change may even be stronger when there is a short time break between memory recall and positive ending which makes the old memory trace more vulnerable.

Thanks to the grant from the NCN, Associate Professor Jarosław Michałowski from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Design in Poznań will compare imaginal exposure and two versions of imagery rescription (with and without a time gap) in order to shed some light on psychological and neural mechanism of imagery treatment. This project should also answer the question whether and, if so, to what extent, the effectiveness of this treatment can be improved. The results obtained in the course of the project will undoubtedly contribute important information to the mainstream research on the mechanisms and effectiveness of psychotherapy treatments.

Currently, researchers from SWPS University are conducting 186 projects, worth close to PLN 60M. Over the past year, 29 new projects received funding worth PLN 33M. 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 hab. Anna Brytek-Matera
Katowice Faculty of Psychology

  • Impact of negative affect on eating behavior: verification of two potential pathways in laboratory and ecological settings
  • Competition: HARMONIA 10
  • Grant amount: PLN 641,142

dr hab. Katarzyna Byrka 
Wrocław Faculty of Psychology

  • The pursuit of self-defining goals, giving in and giving in to temptations
  • Competition: SONATA BIS 8
  • Grant amount: PLN 1,740,060

dr hab. Jarosław Michał
Wrocław Faculty of Psychology

  • How to improve the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic imagery techniques?
  • Competition: SONATA BIS 8
  • Grant amount: PLN 2,102,807

National Science Centre Competitions

HARMONIA funding scheme supports international research projects. SONATA BIS is a funding opportunity for holders of doctoral degrees to further develop their research careers.

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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