Psychology students participate in Research Experience for Undergraduates poster session

Colorado State University’s Bridges to Baccalaureate partnership program offers summer research opportunities to students from Front Range Community College. The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program supports participating students as they pursue independent research projects in the sciences. REU culminates with a poster session and graduation from the program. Two psychology majors participated in REU this year: Corey Simpson and Nikki Wasinger.

Researching the effects of COVID-19 during pregnancy

Corey Simpson

The arrival of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, prompted Corey Simpson to think about the effects of the virus on pregnancies.

“The arrival of SARS-CoV-2 and the disease COVID-19 allowed us to pose questions regarding infection transmission, specifically regarding pregnancy, as the impact on pregnancy and fetal outcomes is not fully understood,” she said. “The juvenile nature of the virus allowed us to collate existing reports and compose a review paper.”

Simpson’s research poster was entitled “Consequence of SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus Infection on Fetal Outcomes.” With this research she hoped to improve understanding of the long-term health implications to babies born to a SARS-CoV-2-infected mother.

“While reviewing reports retrieved from PubMed, we sought answers regarding the impact COVID-19 has on pregnancy: Whether or not vertical transmission is present, if fetal development is affected, if deprivation of oxygen and nutrients occurs due to maternal infection and what adverse pregnancy outcomes occur,” Simpson said. “While it is unclear whether the virus transmits vertically or not, it is evident that adverse outcomes for mother, fetus, placenta and neonate, do occur.”

Simpson has plans for further research surrounding this topic, too.

“If possible, I would like to continue collating reports to include information on both the first and second trimester as most of the released reports have focused on the third trimester,” Simpson said.

Using psychological therapies to create behavioral change

Nikki Wasinger

Nikki Wasinger’s interests drew her to the topic of diabetes in adolescents. Specifically, she presented findings about the usage of lifestyle changes paired with psychological therapies to address behavioral factors.

“A lot of things drew me to this topic,” Wasinger said. “I am interested in both psychology and public health issues, so attempting to treat both in one study was very attractive to me. I am especially interested in the prevention of disease rather than treating it after it has become established. Preventing disease is beneficial to individuals as well as to the overall health of our community, and that is something that I think is imperative to improving the overall health of U.S. citizens.”

Wasinger’s research poster was entitled “Study Design and Standard Operating Procedures for the ASSET Study.” She discussed the differences between lifestyle changes alone and lifestyle changes with added psychological therapies to target behaviors such as overeating or disordered eating. Because these behavioral factors can be caused by anxiety, the additional psychological therapies aim to help decrease anxiety. Wasinger also discussed the Addressing Anxiety and Stress for Healthier Eating in Teens (ASSET) pilot study, which includes psychotherapies for adolescent females who are at higher risk for developing diabetes with the aim of addressing anxiety.

“We are starting to understand that humans are a connection of mind and body, and treating the mind will provide benefits to the body as well,” Wasinger said.

Wasinger also visualizes how this concept could point to future psychological research.

“I would love to see psychological treatments used as a means to assist in the prevention of a variety of physiological diseases that have a behavioral factor. We already use a variety of tools to determine risk and to try to bypass that risk, but there are tools that we haven’t taken advantage of yet. Using new techniques and tools to make our community healthier is absolutely worth exploring,” Wasinger said.

Simpson and Wasinger proudly presented their REU posters virtually on July 30, 2020, before their graduation ceremony.