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Research Labs

Butryn Lab

The primary aim of Meghan Butryn’s lab is to improve the efficacy of lifestyle modification programs for adults, particularly for those who are overweight or obese. The Butryn lab uses behavioral principles to understand the challenges of eating a healthy diet and engaging in physical activity, and creates innovations in intervention programs by integrating the latest advances in scientific theory as well as technology. Butryn’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health. Her projects have been awarded a total of $8 million to date.

The lab has a strong interest in understanding how individuals can most effectively manage aspects of the obesogenic environment. The home food environment is of particular interest as an intervention target. Research on self-monitoring is also ongoing, including determining how sharing the data collected by self-monitoring tools with others might facilitate supportive accountability. More recently, the lab is conducting research on diet, weight control, and physical activity as they pertain to cancer prevention and cancer survivorship. Obesity prevention in young or middle-age adults is another major focus of the lab’s work.

Contact:

Meghan Butryn, PhD, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences; WELL Center Director of Research
215.553.7108 | mlb34@drexel.edu

Nicole Miller, Research Coordinator
215.553.7161 | nem57@drexel.edu


Forman Lab

The Forman lab, which is part of the Center for Weight Eating and Lifestyle Science (the WELL Center), develops and evaluates innovative behavioral- and technology-based interventions for health behavior change. One of the lab’s overarching interests is using our understanding of self-regulation to devise and evaluate innovative behavioral and technological approaches for health behavior change. For instance, most people find it difficult to initiate and sustain lifestyle modification involving dietary and physical activity improvements. These changes run counter to biological and environmental forces, and thus require specific self-regulatory capacities including the ability to tolerate discomfort, give up pleasure, cultivate and make salient longer-range motivating factors and accurately perceive internal states. As such, one line work involves developing and evaluating acceptance and mindfulness-based behavioral treatments that teach these strategies. A current project, Activate, is an NIH R01-funded Multiphasic Optimization Strategy (MOST) trial evaluating the independent and interacting effects of mindfulness and acceptance components of behavioral weight loss.

Self-regulation is aided when clinicians and behavior coaches are able to provide supportive accountability (strategies, skills, emotional support, and beneficent oversight). However, there is a severe shortage of clinical services, especially for pervasive problems such as obesity. The lab is interested in methods of optimizing intervention to meet clinical needs. For example, the NIH R01 Project ReLearn is evaluating an artificial intelligence (AI) system for optimizing the delivery of weight loss interventions in a manner that allows for scalability across large populations. In addition, we are developing and evaluating automated systems that can skillfully deliver certain aspects of intervention. For instance, we have conducted a series of studies on a smartphone-based system (OnTrack) that uses machine learning to predict and prevent dietary lapses, which is the main driver of an inability to succeed at weight control. The system uses a risk algorithm to deliver just-in-time, adaptive interventions (JITAIs).

We are also interested in how inhibitory control--the ability to resist behavioral prepotent impulses (e.g., to approach immediately rewarding stimuli)--contributes to successful self-regulation of health behavior and how training inhibitory control can improve health. Additionally, we are interested in how gamification of intervention can improve engagement and intrinsic motivation, and thus outcomes, especially in men who tend to be disinterested in traditional behavioral treatments. For instance, the NIH R01 Project DASH evaluates whether gamification and neurocognitive training improve engagement and weight loss outcomes for men.

Contact:

Evan Forman, PhD, Director of the WELL Center, Professor of Psychology and Brain Sciences
215.553.7113 | emf27@drexel.edu

Zhuoran Huang, Research Coordinator
267.603.2390 | zh424@drexel.edu


Juarascio Lab

The Juarascio Lab is focused on the development and evaluation of novel treatment approaches for eating disorders. Treatment development focuses largely on two areas: 1) the use of acceptance-based behaviors treatment approaches to improve factors that maintain eating pathology (e.g. emotion dysregulation, impulsivity, altered patterns of reward sensitivity) and 2) the use of technology to augment existing treatments.

Current studies include:

  1. The Balancing Act Project: An NIDDK R01 focused on evaluating an acceptance based behavioral group treatment for binge eating disorder designed to help individuals both lose weight and reduce binge eating.
  2. The Acquire2 Project: An NIMH R01 designed to test the independent and interact efficacy of various components of a novel smartphone app (CBT+) as an augmentation to CBT for bulimia nervosa that is designed to improve skill acquisition and utilization.
  3. The COMPASS Project: An NIMH R01 that uses a Multiphasic Optimization Trial (MOST) to evaluate the independent efficacy of four commonly-used mindfulness and acceptance components (distress tolerance, emotion modulation, mindful awareness, and values-based decision making).

Contact:

Adrienne Juarascio, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology and Brain Sciences
215.553.7154 | asj32@drexel.edu

Devyn Riddle, Research Coordinator
215.553.7154 | drr84@drexel.edu


Manasse Lab

The Manasse Lab is dedicated to (1) using novel methodology (e.g. ecological momentary assessment) to understand poor self-regulation (e.g., impulsivity, negative affect) as a maintenance factor for eating disorders and (2) developing and testing novel technological and behavioral treatments for eating disorders in adolescence and adulthood.

Current studies include:

  1. Project REBOOT: This NIMH-funded trial is testing the effects of an adjunctive, personalized, computerized inhibitory control training on facilitating rapid response to cognitive behavioral therapy for individuals with DSM-5 bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
  2. Project REACH: This NIDDK-funded trial is designed to test which decision-making processes predict outcomes in a remote, group-based healthy lifestyle intervention for adolescents.
  3. Family Safety Net: This treatment study is assessing the efficacy, feasibility, and acceptability of attachment-based family therapy in adolescents with binge eating and their families.
  4. Project MOMENT: This assessment-only study uses ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to assess within-day and day-to-day variations in disordered eating behavior and a variety of psychological and behavioral phenomena thought to relate to eating patterns (e.g., body image, delay discounting, sleep, engagement in risky behavior, etc.)
  5. Project RESET: A pilot trial testing whether a behavioral sleep intervention can improve self-regulation and thus have downstream impacts on disordered eating in adolescents with binge-spectrum eating disorders.

Contact:

Stephanie Manasse, PhD, Assistant Research Professor
215.553.7157 | smm522@drexel.edu

Brighid Fitzpatrick, Research Coordinator
215.553.7125 | blf49@drexel.edu


Srivastava Lab

The Srivastava Lab seeks to develop novel treatments for eating disorders that specifically focus on modifying cognitive and emotional disturbances. In particular, this lab uses novel assessment approaches (e.g. ecological momentary assessment) to better understand body image disturbance, a key maintenance factor of eating disturbance to inform development of effective treatments. Additionally, the Srivastava Lab aims to integrate technology into treatment to 1) increase dissemination of evidence-based treatments to individuals with eating disorders who may otherwise never receive treatment, and 2) augment evidence based-treatments for eating disorders for those who experience little benefit from existing treatments.

Current studies include:

  1. Project IDEA: This study uses ecological momentary assessment (EMA) approach to examine the within person, within day variability in body dissatisfaction and explore determinants and consequences of intraindividual variability in body dissatisfaction in individuals with binge eating pathology.
  2. The BODY+ Project: This Cotswold Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship funded trial examines the feasibility, acceptability and efficacy of a brief web-based self-help treatment augmented with a smartphone application designed to deliver momentary interventions (called just-in-time, adaptive interventions, JITAIs) for body image disturbances in individuals with binge eating symptomology.

Contact:

Paakhi Srivastava, PhD, Assistant Research Professor
215.553.7157 | ps887@drexel.edu

Olivia Clancy, Research Coordinator
215.553.7125 | omc27@drexel.edu


LAFATA Lab

The primary aim of Erica LaFata’s (formerly Erica Schulte) lab is to understand the causal contribution of the modern food environment to overeating and obesity. Ultra-processed foods (e.g., sweets, packaged snacks, fast food dishes, sugary beverages) do not exist in nature and contain artificially high amounts of rewarding ingredients like fat, sugar, and salt. Ultra-processed foods have been created by the multi-billion dollar food industry to maximize consumers’ cravings and potentials for overeating, which in turn maximizes industry profits. The rising availability of ultra-processed foods in our environment in the past 40 years has paralleled the timeline of the increasing prevalence rates of obesity and diet-related diseases like type 2 diabetes.

LaFata’s prior research has added to emerging literature demonstrating that ultra-processed foods may be capable of triggering addictive responses, such as withdrawal. In addition, her studies have found that approximately 15% of adults in the United States may experience “ultra-processed food addiction,” a clinical presentation in which problematic intake of ultra-processed foods resembles the diagnostic criteria for substance-use disorders.

The current studies conducted in the LaFata Lab implore biological and behavioral methodologies to investigate three overarching empirical questions: 1) which attributes of ultra-processed foods (e.g., sugar vs fat) may be reinforcing in a manner that directly drives overeating, 2) whether core mechanisms of addictive disorders (e.g., withdrawal) may contribute to eating-related problems for certain individuals, and 3) if persons exhibiting indicators of ultra-processed food addiction may benefit from novel weight management treatments. LaFata’s research is funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

Current studies include:

  1. Project Response: This NIH-funded clinical trial aims to evaluate whether fat, refined carbohydrates (e.g., white flour, sugar), or the combination of both is the most influential for determining the reinforcing natures of ultra-processed foods. This is assessed by systematically comparing individuals’ metabolic and psychological reward responses to ultra-processed foods varying in fat and refined carbohydrates and minimally processed foods. Methodology involves a combination of laboratory eating paradigms and ecological momentary assessment (EMA).
  2. Project SWAP: This project uses EMA to operationalize individuals’ experiences when they stop eating ultra-processed foods for 14 days. In addition, this study tests the feasibility and acceptability of a novel app-based treatment for reducing ultra-processed foods that was developed based on evidence-based interventions for smoking cessation. This new treatment is delivered as part of the EMA surveys and includes both standardized daily modules and ecological momentary intervention (EMI) informed by any negative symptoms endorsed by individuals in the EMA surveys.
  3. Development of the Food Addiction Symptom Inventory (FASI): This study involves the development and validation of the FASI, which is the first semi-structured clinical interview for assessing individuals’ symptoms of ultra-processed food addiction.

Additional research studies in the lab involve exploring the prevalence and correlates of ultra-processed food addiction in high-risk populations and developing assessment tools for operationalizing addictive responses that may be triggered by ultra-processed foods.

Contact:

Erica LaFata, PhD, Assistant Research Professor
es3344@drexel.edu