Health Psychology Faculty

Professor Linda D. Cameron (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1989) joined UC Merced in January 2011. Previously, she served as professor of psychology at The University of Auckland, New Zealand, and research professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Her research focuses on cognitive and emotional processes guiding the self-regulation of health behaviors and illness experiences. She focuses on both theoretical and applied aspects of issues to address the parallel goals of developing theoretically-based interventions and refining psychological theory.

Her research has included evaluations of interventions for improving self-regulation in response to cancer and other illnesses, health threats and stressful experiences. These interventions include support group programs for women with breast cancer, therapeutic writing techniques for stress management and exercise therapy as an aid for smoking cessation.

One line of research explores the conceptual and imagery contents of mental representations of health threats. Using new assessment tools, she is exploring the types of mental images that people associate with disease risk. These findings have important implications for using imagery in health communications aimed at promoting protective actions. Imagery processes are also the focus of research on responses to graphic warning labels on tobacco products.

Her research on affect, imagery and risk perception has stimulated several applied lines of health communications research. For example, she is collaborating with computer scientists to develop computer-based programs incorporating animations and images of the heart and body to improve understanding of heart disease risk and motivations to engage in protective behaviors (e.g., low-fat diet and physical activity). These programs are being integrated into Web-based interventions for use by people with heart disease.

Her professional activities have included service as associate dean of science and director of the Graduate Health Psychology Programs at The University of Auckland; president and Executive Committee member for the Australasian Society for Behavioral Health and Medicine; associate editor for Journal of Behavioral Medicine, British Journal of Health Psychology, and Health Psychology Review; member of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research; and fellow of the U.S. Society of Behavioral Medicine. She is also a member of the Cognitive, Affective and Social Processes in Health Research Group (CASPHR), an NCI initiative for promoting social and health psychology research within the areas of cancer prevention and control.


Professor Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook (Queens University Belfast, 2010) joined the UC Merced faculty in 2017. Her research explores the interplay between the psychological, biological and environmental processes that shape maternal-child health. Using interdisciplinary perspectives from evolutionary biology, computer science and health psychology, her research examines the following questions:

  • How does our rapidly changing world impact maternal-child health? There have been dramatic changes to the way we feed, parent, and interact with children over the last 100 years. Dr. Hahn-Holbrook’s research investigates biological adaptions associated with breastfeeding, communal childcare, nutrition, and exercise to understand the health consequences of ‘mismatches’ between our modern world and our evolved biology.
  •  How can we use technology to improve the health of children and families? Dr. Hahn-Holbrook works to design ehealth technologies that identify vulnerable families and connect them to information and services that can improve their health. 

Dr. Hahn-Holbrook’s laboratory partners with non-profit organizations, government agencies, and private industry to translate interdisciplinary research findings into interventions that improve the lives of mothers and their families.


Professor Jennifer Howell (University of Florida, 2015) joined UC Merced in 2017. Her research occurs at the intersection of social psychology and health. She is particularly interested in how processes surrounding the self (e.g., defensiveness, self-enhancement) influence health decision-making and behavior.

Her most prominent line of research asks: when faced with information that might threaten how they think, feel, or behave, how do people respond? She focuses broadly on two types of responses: proactive responses—those aimed at stemming psychological threat before it occurs, like avoiding information or bracing for bad news—and reactive responses—those aimed at managing psychological threat after it has occurred, like denial and downward social comparison.

Her work links these proactive and reactive threat responses to health decision-making and behavior with the ultimate goal of designing interventions to optimize health.


Professor Anna V. Song (UC Davis, 2006) joined UC Merced in 2008. Her main research interest is in how adolescents and young adults make decisions related to their health and well-being. This overall research interest has led to three specific research aims:

  • To examine the extent to which perceptions of risk and benefits actually predict behavior, such as tobacco use. This research is critical in informing the development of new interventions, including to what extent risk prevention programs should emphasize risk communication.
     
  • To investigate whether adolescents and young adults engage in the same decision-making process across types of risk behaviors by comparing decision-making processes and risk factors for tobacco use, sex, alcohol, drug use, gambling, and over-eating. This research will allow us to distinguish factors that generally put adolescents and young adults at risk for problem behaviors from factors that put young people at risk for a specific risk behavior.
     
  • To explore ethnic and cultural variation in decision-making processes concerning health-related behaviors, particularly group differences in psychosocial factors that influence risk-behavior decisions, as well as potential differences in the decision-making process itself. This research will help us better understand why disparities in risk behaviors exist and help researchers, practitioners, and health care professionals tailor strategies specifically toward groups most at risk. 

Professor Jitske Tiemensma (Leiden University, 2012) joined UC Merced in 2012. Her main research interests are in stress, coping, and illness perceptions. She holds a Ph.D in medical science, and combines health psychology and medical science in her research. She has two main lines of research:

  •  Stress, recovery, and the HPA-axis: Within this line of research, Professor Tiemensma is looking into the biological and psychosocial components of acute and chronic stress in humans. Specifically, she is interested in fluctuations in biomarkers (stress hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure) due to specific stressors and if/how these fluctuations can be influenced. Furthermore, she studies how people perceive and cope with stressors.
  • Perceptions and coping in the face of (chronic) illness: The second line of research involves people's perceptions about an/their illness (i.e. a potential chronic stressor) and their subsequent coping strategies. Work in this line of research is driven by the common sense model (CSM) of self-regulation. Within this line of research, she is mainly interested in the psychosocial consequences of endocrine disorders.

Professor Jan L. Wallander (Purdue University, 1981) joined UC Merced in 2007. Previously he was professor of psychology and nursing, director of developmental psychology in the Department of Psychology, as well as associate director of for human development research at the Civitan International Research Center at University of Alabama at Birmingham.

He has internationally recognized expertise regarding risk and resilience processes associated with the health, quality of life and well being of children and adolescents. A good portion of this work has focused on those with pediatric diseases or disabilities, as well as their families. 

Over the past decade, Wallander has had numerous leadership roles in national and international scientific activities. Examples are as president of the Society of Pediatric Psychology, associate editor of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology and International Review of Mental Retardation, Pediatric Program chair for the 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2002 International Congress of Behavioral Medicine, and executive committee member of the International Society of Behavioral Medicine. He conducts collaborative research in the Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Zambia, India and Pakistan. 

He is a past recipient of a Research Career Development Award from NICHD. Wallander has produced more than 250 scientific publications and presentations at meetings and institutions nationally and internationally. His work on health, quality of life and well being related to pediatric populations has been highly influential as reflected in numerous citations in the scientific literature, recognition for advancing the field and invited addresses. He has attracted grant funding in excess of $3 million as the principal investigator from NIH and CDC, and has collaborated with others in securing more than $10 million in research support from these and other agencies. 

Current research involves a longitudinal cohort study tracking influences on health and development in adolescence, by following more than 5,000 people from age 10 to 20; two comprehensive studies of quality of life and health in adolescents with physical or mental disability; evaluations of brief behavioral health interventions in adolescents with chronic diseases; and a randomized controlled trial of a program to prevent disability in infants born at risk in developing countries (India, Pakistan and Zambia).


Professor Deborah Wiebe (University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1988) joined UC Merced in 2013.  Her main research interest is to understand how people simultaneously regulate physical and emotional well-being when facing acute and chronic health threats. Much of her work has focused on adolescents coping with Type 1 diabetes.  Adolescence is a time of development when adherence and metabolic control commonly deteriorate, and skills for a lifetime of independent self-care are established.  Identifying factors that promote successful diabetes management during adolescence can thus guide more effective interventions.  

This general focus is reflected in three related lines of research:  

  • How tendencies to experience negative emotion (e.g., negative affectivity, neuroticism) influence health behaviors and adjustment to illness.
     
  • How family and developmental factors interface with this self-regulation process. Her work examines how parental involvement in diabetes management changes across development as parents and children simultaneously attempt to manage the illness and associated distress, meet the child’s developmental needs for autonomy and individuation, and cultivate the child’s ability to manage diabetes independently.  Her most recent work extends the time of development from adolescence into emerging adulthood.
     
  • How these illness self-management processes play out differently when embedded in different social contexts (e.g., health care system, race/ethnicity, neighborhood SES).   

Her work has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) at the NIH since 2005.  Although most of her work has been conducted among youth with type 1 diabetes, the concepts are general and can be applied to other illnesses.  For example, she has also studied how couples cope with cancer.

She is currently the Director of the Graduate Health Psychology Program at UC Merced. Other professional activities have included being Graduate Director and Director of Clinical Training at the University of Utah, where she helped to develop their Health Psychology graduate program; Director of Research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; Member of the NIH Psychosocial Risk and Disease Prevention (PRDP) Study Section; Consulting Editor for Health Psychology and Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Editorial Board Member for Journal of Pediatric Psychology, and Associate Editor for the Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine.


Professor Matthew Zawadzki (The Pennsylvania State University, 2012) joined UC Merced in August 2014. His main research interest aims to understand the relationship between stress and poor physical and psychological health. This overall research interest informs three overlapping areas he is currently exploring:

  • How do perseverative cognitions function as a mechanism explaining why stress is so deleterious to health? This research explores perseverative cognitions as a maladaptive emotion regulation strategy that  can create and extend stress responses, and ultimately explain how stress leads to poor health.
     
  • Do the relationships between stress, perseverative cognitions, and health observed in laboratory experiments and survey studies translate to everyday life? This research examines the relationships  between stress, perseverative cognitions, and health in daily life in which repeated assessments of each  are taken within and across days (e.g., using Ecological Momentary Assessment). This methodology allows for a dynamic conceptualization of the impact of stress and perseverative cognitions on health and well-being, and can suggest mechanisms of action to inform future interventions.
     
  • Can non-pharmacological psychosocial interventions be developed that have long-term positive effects on health and well-being? This research examines whether self-selected leisure activities that people already do and enjoy can be the foundation of an intervention, as people are already intrinsically motivated to continue to perform these activities. It aims to identify which features of these activities can be enhanced to produce the greatest benefit on health, but which maintains the intrinsic motivation of the activity and potential for long-term adherence.
Psychology Chair
Linda Cameron, Professor
 
Psychology Graduate Group Chair
Jan Wallander, Professor
 
Psychology Mailing Address
University of California, Merced
5200 North Lake Road
Merced, CA 95343

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