Purdue University
Sport and Exercise Psychology

Research Emphasis:

Research in the sport and exercise psychology lab is focused on social relationships in physical activity and the role that they play in motivation, emotion, well-being, and adaptation to adversity. Our research is informed by theoretical and empirical work on emotional and motivational processes, coping with stress, posttraumatic growth, and self-perceptions. We take a broad view of physical activity, investigating these phenomena in sport, exercise, physical activity, and health behavior. Depending on the nature of the research question, we employ qualitative and quantitative methods in our research.

For information on our published research, please see the Publications page. See below for a description of some of our current work.

Current Research:

Physical Activity-Based Positive Youth Development for Undeserved Youth

In this program of research, we are examining links between participation in sport and life skills programs for underserved youth and participants' psychological, academic, and behavioral outcomes. We work in collaboration with a local summer physical activity-based positive youth development program for underserved youth. In our previous research, we have found that perceptions of self-worth, physical self-worth, social competence, and physical competence improve over the course of the program. Furthermore, the social relationships participants build with other program participants and staff are associated with physical activity motivation, self-esteem, hope for the future, and social competence. Some of these factors are also linked to retention in the program. We are currently examining (1) how youth interpret and understand the life skills curriculum and the role the program plays in their lives; (2) how global self-worth and hope predict each other over time among participants; (3) how staff behaviors are linked with social relationships and psychosocial outcomes; (4) reasons for discontinuation among youth who leave the program; and (5) academic outcomes among program participants.

Physical Activity Programs for Breast Cancer Survivors

In this line of research we are examining the role of physical activity and social support in the lives of cancer survivors. In particular, we are interested in the role that they play in positive psychological growth and adaptation following the often traumatic experience of cancer. Many of our studies have focused on group physical activity programs for breast cancer survivors, particularly dragon boating teams (a dragon boat is a 22-person canoe-like boat). Our previous research has documented changes novice participants experience in social support and physical self-perceptions, how experiences in the program are perceived as facilitating posttraumatic growth, and how social relationships and posttraumatic growth develop over the first two years after the formation of a new team. We have also documented stressors and challenges faced by survivors in such programs, and validated measurement instruments to assess body image and posttraumatic growth in this population. Currently, we are examining (1) how breast cancer survivors make the decision to join a group physical activity program such as dragon boating; (2) participants' perceptions of physical activity-based groups and support groups; and (3) psychosocial and fitness changes among cancer survivors in group fitness programs.

Physical Activity Programs for Individuals with Parkinson's Disease

This project examines the role that a group physical activity program plays in the life of individuals with Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's disease has numerous physical and psychological effects on patients, and physical activity may play a role in alleviating or helping patients cope with some of these challenges. In this study, we are recruiting individuals who have experience participating in a boxing-based physical activity program for people with Parkinson's disease. We are exploring participants' perceptions and understanding of the effect that participation has on their psychological and social well-being, and coping with Parkinson's.