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Connecting Emotional Well-being Interventions to Health Outcomes 2023/24 Awardees

Congratulations to the awardees of the 2023 Connecting Emotional Well-Being Interventions to Health Outcomes Funding opportunity!

The Network for Emotional Well-being: Science, Practice, and Measurement (NEW-B), a collaborative project between UCSF, UC Berkeley, and Harvard supports applicants doing projects that examine the mechanisms that underlie potential effects of EWB-promoting interventions on downstream biobehavioral health outcomes.

Learn more about the recent awardees and their projects below!


Dr. Ramona Martinez

Project Title: The Genomic and Well-Being Impacts of an Extraverted Behavior Intervention:

Assessing the Moderating Roles of Dispositional Introversion and Shyness

Project Description: Social connection is vitally important not only for emotional well-being (EWB) but for physical health. Loneliness negatively influences physiological functioning, disease onset, and mortality. One biological pathway connecting health and social disconnection is an epigenetic response known as the Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity (CTRA). CTRA is a biological vulnerability and physiological pattern impacting gene expression in immune cells.

Given the importance of social connection to EWB, a number of well-being interventions

have aimed to increase sociability. Well-being interventions targeting extraverted (sociable)

behavior are gaining traction, but the prospective mechanistic pathways connecting extraverted behavior and biological response are unclear. Accordingly, our first aim is to carry out a 10-week randomized, controlled experiment among an undergraduate sample to test the effects of enacting extraverted (i.e., sociable) behavior on proximal well-being (emotional, social, and psychological well-being) and psychological outcomes (subjective vitality, trait extraversion), as well as on downstream immune benefits, as indicated by downregulated CTRA.

Moreover, we will test whether and how a person’s natural disposition may impact the

extent to which acting more sociable brings potential benefits. Most extraversion interventions have found that both extraverts and introverts enjoy well-benefits as a result of acting more extraverted. In one exception, when asked to act more extraverted, introverts reported higher momentary tiredness and negative affect than extraverts. Replication efforts are needed to clarify the links between dispositional introversion, extraverted behavior, and subjective vitality.

Shyness may be another important personality difference that has not yet been explored

in this intervention space. Introversion, which involves being less sensitive to social rewards, is distinct from shyness, which entails anxiety about social situations. Thus, as part of our second aim, we will test the potential moderating role of dispositional introversion and shyness in the effects of extraverted behavior on well-being and CTRA expression.


Dr. Robin Blades

Project Title: Effects of a wellbeing intervention on inflammation through reward and

threat processes.

Project Description: Interventions that enhance wellbeing have the power to improve both mental and physical health, but the exact mechanisms through which they confer these benefits remain unclear. Inflammation may be a key pathway, as there is substantial evidence that both eudaimonic and hedonic wellbeing are associated with lower levels of inflammatory activity. However, wellbeing may influence inflammation through multiple mechanisms, including reward and threat processes. Identifying mediating circuitry will help guide the development of targeted interventions able to protect against inflammation-related diseases, like depression. This study aims to evaluate how wellbeing may influence reward and threat processing and downstream inflammation using a novel savoring intervention based on Positive Affect Treatment. Savoring is a common component of many positive psychology and mindfulness interventions that involves cultivating sustained enjoyment of positive experiences. It is designed to enhance reward processing, which should in turn decrease threat processing leading to blunted stress responses and reduced inflammation. We will collect daily diaries, questionnaires, neuroimaging, and blood samples pre- and post-intervention to assess wellbeing, reactivity to social and nonsocial rewarding experiences, buffering of stressful experiences, and levels of immunological biomarkers in a single-armed pilot trial of 20 participants from the diverse undergraduate population at UCLA. By examining reward and threat processing at multiple levels inside and outside of the laboratory, we aim to strengthen our understanding of how wellbeing alters the way we perceive and interact with the world, as well as how these changes impact downstream inflammation.


Dr Samantha Heintzelman

Project Title: Behavioral Mechanisms and Health Outcomes of Positive Psychological Intervention

Project Description: A variety of positive psychological interventions (PPIs) can improve emotional well- being. While there is a growing consensus that emotional well-being can be improved through PPI engagement, questions regarding how, to what end, and for whom remain mostly uncharted. There remain critical gaps in knowledge regarding (1) the generalizability of PPI efficacy for improving emotional well-being across diverse populations, (2) how behavior changes in everyday life might explain the emotional well- being change from PPI, and (3) the downstream health consequences of PPIs in general community samples. This project will use a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) design to compare PPI participation to alternative activity controls to examine the effects of a 4-week PPI on emotional well-being in a a racial-ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sample. Experience sampling reports and three fixed laboratory measurement waves will be used to examine the behavioral mechanisms that drive the emotional well- being gains caused by participation in a PPI, and test the downstream health outcomes associated with long-term emotional well-being gains.


Dr. Yoobin Park & Dr. Darwin A. Guevarra

Project Title: Examining transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation as a facilitator of social bonding

Description: As fundamental as the need to belong is to human survival and functioning, decades of research have shown that social connection is critical to emotional well-being. The current investigation seeks to use the knowledge and technological advances in the biomedical field to examine the causal role of the vagus nerve in promoting social bonding and emotional well-being. Specifically, building on the recent evidence suggesting the effects of transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation (tVNS) on improving social cognitive functioning, we propose to examine the utility of tVNS in modulating emotional, physiological, and behavioral experiences during and after social interactions. This investigation will provide insights into the mechanistic processes that undergird social connection and, importantly, be the first to examine the potential utility of tVNS as an intervention tool for promoting social bonding and emotional well-being in the long term.


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