Health Psychology in the News: Evaluating the Evidence

The goal of this project is to raise awareness about how science and health psychology research is presented in the popular media, and to help you develop the tools to critically evaluate the accuracy of scientific information we hear in the news. Based on your developing knowledge about what health psychologists study, find a “popular press” news article summary of a specific research study that is relevant to health psychology. By popular press, I mean a news source that summarizes the findings of scientific research for a nonscientific audience (e.g., a newspaper or magazine article; a report on radio programs such as NPR; a description of a new study on the Today show). Good examples can be found in places like: Time Magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, NPR, CNN, Fox News, etc. This could be an article about important health or risk behaviors (e.g., does vaping help people stop smoking tobacco; does physical activity reduce feelings of stress), about factors that keep you healthy or make you sick (e.g., pets have health benefits), about psychological factors that affect your physiology (e.g., loneliness can impair your immune system), about how you respond when you are sick (e.g., do what the dr says and don’t ask questions), etc. This “popular press” news article should refer to a specific scientific study (i.e., a specific scientific research article). The scientific study that is described should have been published in the past 10 years, and you need to be able to track it down and read it.Identifying a topic: An important thing to note about this project is that you are asked to justify how the research study you select is related to Health Psychology. If you can relate the study very clearly to the definition of Health Psychology that was discussed in lectures and your book, you should be in good shape. We also recommend that you get approval for the topic to ensure you are on the right track.Topics studied in Health Psychology usually involve psychosocial variables predicting either health/risk behaviors (e.g., smoking, drinking alcohol, sleep) or a physical health outcome (e.g., blood pressure, immune functioning, diagnosis of illness, mortality, etc). Students often ask whether they can summarize research studies where a health or risk behavior predicts a physical health outcome. Health psychologists are certainly interested in those links, most typically focusing on understanding the psychosocial processes that make people behave in healthy or unhealthy ways and in interventions to help people engage in more healthy behaviors. We will accept topics that focus on associations of health or risk behaviors and physical health outcomes as long as the article focuses on aspects of the behavior, and not only on a specific underlying biological process. For example, the biological process whereby toxins in the vapor of e-cigarettes affects cells in your lungs would not fit well with this project.Health psychology also focuses on how people respond psychologically when they are sick (e.g., psychological variables involved in seeking traditional medical care vs alternative medicine approaches, interacting with health care professionals, not taking medicines as directed, emotional reactions to receiving a medical diagnosis). Research studies along these topics are also great. Turn in both the news article and the scientific research article. In 3-4 typed pages (double-spaced, 12 point font, 1 inch margins):1. Summarize the popular press “news” article (i.e., the newspaper or magazine article), and describe how the health-related phenomenon, theory, process, or research finding is relevant to Health Psychology. 2. Briefly discuss how well the phenomenon, theory, process or research finding “fits” with your personal experience or observations. How might your personal beliefs affect your interpretations and responses to the described research? 3. Summarize the “scientific research” article that you found. Be sure to describe what research design was used (i.e., specifically state whether this was a “correlational” study or an “experimental” study), who the participants were, what the primary independent (predictor) and dependent (outcome) variables were, and what was found. Also discuss what you view as the primary strengths and limitations of the research. Most research articles will state something about the strengths and limitations of the study. You can also provide your own evaluation. As one simple example, if it is a correlational design, a limitation will always be that you cannot make causal interpretations of the findings. 4. Evaluate and discuss whether or not the news article accurately described the research.

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