Ongoing and Upcoming Research Projects

Our lab conducts research on several intersecting areas:

Ven diagram of three components- perceived burdensomeness, low belongingness, and capability for suicide. Where the three components intersect is labeled as lethal suicide attempts. Where perceived burdensomeness and low belongingness intersect is labeled as suicide desire.

1. Interface between eating disorders and suicidality

  • Interpersonal psychological theory of suicide: The capability to die by suicide is comprised of pain tolerance and fearlessness about death, and is acquired over time through repeated experience with painful and provocative events (Joiner, 2005). My colleagues and I have proposed and found preliminary support for the hypothesis that people with eating disorders possess high levels of acquired capability for suicide due to their experiences with painful and provocative weight control methods, like over-exercise and restriction (Smith, et al., 2013; Selby, Smith, et al., 2010). In collaboration with the Witte Lab we are also currently conducting projects examining the IPTS constructs within a residential eating disorder population.
  • Interoceptive Awareness: Interoception is crucial for recognizing sensations such as hunger and pain and responding accordingly. Recent research in the field of interoception has produced exciting findings that are applicable to disordered eating and suicide. For instance, interoceptive awareness has been found to have a negative relationship with body objectification, body objectification has a positive relationship with self-injury, and self-injury has a negative relationship with interoceptive awareness. Based on this research we have conducted studies finding that individuals who are out of touch with their bodies and/or perceive their bodies in a negative way are more readily able to inflict pain upon their body in the form of suicidal behavior (Forrest, Smith, White, & Joiner, 2015). We are also conducting research developing techniques to improve interoceptive awareness.

Facial EMG

  • Disgust sensitivity: Recent studies have found relationships between disgust and mental illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Previous research in the lab has identified disgust sensitivity for death-related stimuli as a potential indicator of fearlessness about death (Velkoff, Forrest, Dodd, & Smith, 2016). 

 2. Eating Disorders

Psychophysiology

  • Psychophysiological markers: We have used facial EMG to examine the role of disgust response in the perception of emaciated and overweight bodies (Dodd, Velkoff, Forrest, Fussner, & Smith, 2017). Additionally we are investigating cardiac impedance (i.e., challenge vs. threat responses) in relation to a lab based stressor among highly perfectionistic individuals.
  • Biological markers: My past work has tested the relationship between prenatal testosterone exposure and the development of disordered eating in women (Quinton, Smith, & Joiner, 2011) and men (Smith, et al., 2009
  • Cognitive bias modification: In conjunction with the Clerkin Lab, we are currently working to develop an interpretation retraining intervention for maladaptive perfectionism.
  • Power: In conjunction with the Kunstman Lab, we are exploring how the psychological experience of power affects perfectionism and disordered eating (see Kunstman, Smith, & Maner, 2014; Kunstman, Clerkin, Palmer, Peters, Dodd, & Smith, 2016).
  • Over-exercise: We have a number of projects examining the effects of over-exercise on mental health outcomes (Smith, Yeager, & Dodd, 2015; Forrest, Smith, Fussner, Dodd, & Clerkin, 2016).
  • Web-based treatment for eating disorders: In collaboration with Dr. Joseph Franklin, we are testing a web app that uses therapeutic evaluative conditioning (TEC) to reduce eating disordered behaviors. 

        3. Suicide

  • Implicit cognition: We are currently working on developing a novel implicit association task to measure suicidality and predict suicidal ideation and behavior.
  • Genetic markers: The first study to examine the influence of genetics and environment on the factors of Joiner’s (2005) theory of suicide found that environmental influences appear to play an important role in the etiology of belongingness and burdensomeness, whereas acquired capability for suicide appears to be influenced by a combination of both genetic and non-shared environmental factors (Smith, et al., 2012).
  • Prevention: We have conducted a set of studies (Smith, et al., 2014; Silva, Smith, Dodd, et al., 2016) investigating gatekeeper training among mental health care workers across the United States.

        4. Underrepresented Populations

  • Racial and ethnic minority populations: In the past, I have collected data on Japanese women to test how perfectionism and body dissatisfaction interact to produce disordered eating (Smith & Joiner, 2008). Upcoming research projects will examining experiences of burdensomeness and belongingness, along with collegiate stressors such as exclusion and academic stress, as predictors of suicide risk among Chinese international college students. Additionally, in collaboration with Dr. Vaishali Raval, we plan to initiate a project examining constructs of the IPTS in Indian populations in order to better understand suicide rates.
  • Sexual minority populations: More recently, I found that body fat dissatisfaction was a better predictor of disordered eating behaviors than muscularity dissatisfaction in both gay and heterosexual men (Smith, et al., 2011). Previous work in the lab has examined suicide risk factors among sexual minority women (Velkoff, Forrest, Dodd, & Smith, 2016), and ongoing research projects are investigating eating disorder symptoms among both sexual minority men and women.