Health psychology is a rapidly emerging field of basic and applied research into the interactions between behavior and physical health. In broad terms, health psychology seeks to understand the role that behavior plays in the etiology, treatment, and prevention of disease. There is also an interest in how variation in physical health, including disease, affects behavior. Behavior in this context is broadly construed, to encompass environmental, psychosocial, and sociocultural factors, as well as individual behavioral attributes (e.g., personality).
At UC Merced, we seek to develop excellence in research and education in health psychology. Health Psychology has been identified as one of the main areas of emphasis within Psychology; the other two areas currently are Developmental Psychology and Quantitative Psychology. Interest in health psychology at UC Merced was initiated at UC Merced in 2007 when Jan Wallander joined the faculty. We plan to keep growing by adding about one faculty member and about 2-4 new students each year in the near future.
The specific research areas within health psychology at UC Merced continue to expand as our faculty grows, though current areas of focus include research with children, adolescents, and adults. Given our location in the Central Valley of California, with its diverse population, and being tasked as a university to address challenges this region confronts, we also have a strong interest in cultural influences on health and health problems among ethnic minority populations. Specific topics being examined by faculty currently include:
- Quality of life in vulnerable health populations, such as those with a chronic disease (e.g., asthma, diabetes) or disability.
- Family coping with a child that has a chronic disease or disability
- Behavioral interventions (e.g. written self-disclosure) in chronic disease care
- Prevention of disease and disability in vulnerable populations (e.g., infants with birth asphyxia)
- Health and development in developing countries (e.g., Zambia, India)
- Development of problem behaviors (e.g., depression, violence) and health risk behaviors (e.g., substance use, poor nutrition) in adolescence
- Decision making regarding risk behaviors (e.g., tobacco use, gambling) in adolescents and young adults
- Cultural influences on health-related and risk behaviors and health among members of ethnic minority groups (e.g., Hispanics, Asian Americans, African Americans).
- The impact of coping processes (e.g., approach and avoidance) on psychological adjustment to illness and health-related adversity.