How the Science of Well-Being Can Help Fight Stress

5C students, staff, and parents attended a talk on the science of well-being on Feb 13th, Family Weekend. The talk was led by Berger Institute Director Dr. Stacey Doan. Attendees listened to Dr. Doan discuss the impacts of stress in modern life, as well as evidence-based methods for reducing stress and increasing positive emotions. Dr. Doan explained how our stress responses–fight, flight, or freeze–may have served us in the evolutionary past, but in today’s modern world, our bodies can’t tell the difference between a tiger and a test. “Your body will still react the same way – your muscles will tense, your system will be flooded with adrenaline, and your mind will still feel like you are under a threat, despite being safe in bed,” she stated. Chronic, repeated stress responses can cause internal wear and tear and lead to a host of health problems.

To provide a counter
against the negative effects of stress, Dr. Doan also described some actions we
can take to reduce our stress, or at least temper the potential for long-term
physical harm. She explained that exercise can help relieve stress by releasing
the physical tension that gets stored in the body as it prepares to fight or
flee. Mindfulness exercises, such as yoga or breathing, can help train the mind
to focus on the present moment and let go of distractions or stressful
thoughts. Even displaying kindness, a way to bring about positive emotion in
yourself and others, can undo some of the physical effects of negative

Keeptrack of future events.

Meet Dr. Jessamyn Schaller, Our New Berger Institute Affiliate

Dr. Schaller brings a unique perspective to the Berger Institute. With a background in labor and public economics, her interest in the economic determinants of health and well-being align well with the Institute’s mission of looking at the individual and social factors that influence personal development and thriving families. “I believe that the best way to gain insight into these is with cross-disciplinary interaction and collaboration. . . I can bring knowledge about how each family’s economic environment and individual economic status contributes to those same outcomes, in particular, how economic circumstances interact with psychology and social environments in influencing health and well-being,” states Schaller. Having worked and studied at such institutions as the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, University of California-Davis, and University of Arizona, Dr. Schaller brings an expertise and skillset that is sure to foster creative collaboration.

Currently, Dr. Schaller is studying how adverse health and wealth events in older households affect different generations within families, the complexities of family eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and how media information/misinformation influences parents’ choices about their children’s health. “I look forward to getting to know both faculty and students across campus whose research areas overlap with my own. I also look forward to getting to know CMC students and incorporating them into my research agenda as collaborators,” shares Schaller.

Learn more about Dr. Schaller here. To read more about the Berger Institute mission, click here or visit us at the lab at Bauer North, Suite 224.

Resilience Isn’t Always Good, and We Want to Know Why

Resilience, or being able to successfully adapt and succeed despite adversity, is generally seen as positive. However, recent research suggests that there may be physical health costs with resilience due to chronic stress associated with trying to strive in the context of high risk. Recently, Dr. Stacey Doan and Dr. Tuppett Yates (UC Riverside) were awarded a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to examine the health costs of resilience.

The multi-year funded study will focus on: 1) links between academic achievement, poverty-related risks, and adolescent health in diverse ethnic groups (particularly Latinx youth), 2) factors that may help to reduce health costs of academic resilience in the face of poverty, and 3) testing whether poor sleep is part of the link between resilience and health problems.

Dr. Doan and Dr. Yates are tackling this problem with multiple methods (surveys, school data, interviews, hard biological data, etc.) and multiple informants (parents, teachers, etc.) over a long period of time to more fully understand information that is crucial for helping adolescents during a vulnerable time in their lives. “The grant allows us to follow-up on children who have been followed since 4 years of age. We hope to understand how their early experiences may shape their adolescent years. In particular, we want to know in what ways does resilience exert an influence. By understanding mechanisms, we can lay the foundation for future intervention and prevention efforts,” said Dr. Doan.

Learn more about other research from the Berger Institute.

Translating Evidence into Practice: Research and Community Perspectives on Adapting Treatments for Diverse Children and Families

On Monday, September 23rd, Claremont McKenna College’s Athenaeum and the Berger Institute welcomed Dr. Anna S. Lau in giving an eye-opening, evening presentation on the research-to-practice gap for evidence-based practice in mental health. Dr. Lau is a child clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. In her presentation, Dr. Lau focused on the current views of evidence-based practice in mental health, the trouble with getting evidence-based research into practice while serving diverse families, and studies on how evidence-based practices can be adapted to be more culturally responsive.

“Effect sizes fall when evidence-based practices move from research to practice settings,” states Dr. Lau. She shares that many of these studies are from a specific sample of people from university settings who are somewhat similar. These researched, evidence-based practices, while very effective with the university samples, may not fare as well with the varying and more complex needs of clients from the larger community. Many practitioners in response may either adapt the evidence-based practices, possibly compromising its effectiveness, they may discard the evidence and rely on their expertise, or they may ignore the complex needs of their clients and rely too much on the research. In studying this, Dr. Lau found that many community therapists actually make pretty good calls when adapting the research, such as lengthening the pacing or omitting small components, with the integrity of the evidence-based practice still intact. Dr. Lau and others “want to give community therapists more support in leaning into the evidence-based practices” and how it can be adapted to fit their clients’ needs.

To keep up with Berger Institute events, click here. For the CMC Athenaeum speaker schedule, click here.

Meet Our New Research Coordinator, Jessica Vicman!

Stop by and give a warm welcome to Jessica, Berger Institute’s new Research Coordinator. Jessica serves as the Lab Manager for the research arm of the Institute. She will be hiring and training Research Assistants, helping with study recruitment, delving into data analysis, and helping to publicize the research at the Institute.

Through working at multiple research labs before graduating with her Psychology degree from Berkeley in 2018, Jessica developed a strong interest in the study of emotion regulation, mental health, and interpersonal relationships. “It’s really interesting seeing how they all intertwine,” says Jessica, who described this interest as really blooming under her mentor, Dr. Ariel Starr, a professor at the University of Washington.

Upon seeing the open position at the Institute, Jessica was immediately interested: “This is definitely hitting almost all of the key points I have in my research interests,” shares Jessica. “I’m really excited to see the results. . .to look at the hard science data like cortisol and blood pressure and all of these things, and then linking it to mental health, I feel like is such a good strength, and it’s where the field needs to go.” Jessica is also very excited to work with Dr. Doan and Dr Smiley (at the AMH Care lab). “They are such strong women, and I get really excited when they’re teaching me something,” says Jessica.

If you would like to talk to Jessica more, she can be reached at or by stopping by the Institute office at Bauer North 224. “My door is always open if [there are] questions about clinical experience, research experience, the Marvel Universe, etc.” smiles Jessica.