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Health behaviors, affect, and academic performance: A longitudinal study across times of high stress

English title Health behaviors, affect, and academic performance: A longitudinal study across times of high stress
Applicant Wittig Mata Jutta
Number 140991
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Fakultät für Psychologie Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.07.2012 - 31.08.2015
Approved amount 303'124.00
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Keywords (6)

Stress; Academic performance; Physical Activity; Exercise; Affect; Eating Behavior

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

Research suggests that health behaviors such as regular physical activity and balanced eating play a central role in emotion regulation and emotional well-being. Other research shows that these same health behaviors also improve cognitive and academic performance. However, these two separate lines of research have rarely been combined. With the study described in this research proposal we plan to assess health behaviors, emotions, and academic performance simultaneously and repeatedly over one academic year in the same sample of younger adults, using field research, laboratory experiments, and biological markers.

An academic year varies considerably in the amount of stressors and perceived stress. Next to common hassles such as having a work deadline or having an argument with a significant other, there are stressors such as important examinations. Importantly, adherence to health behaviors declines during stressful times: Individuals under stress typically engage in less physical activity and increase their food intake, particularly the consumption of foods high in calories and palatability. Consequently, this proposal further aims to test the idea that stress is an important factor that can influence the link between health behaviors, emotion, and cognitive performance.

Young adults are an important target group concerning research on health behaviors because unhealthy behaviors often develop early in life and are difficult to tackle once they become habits. In addition, first-year university students are particularly suited to research on the link between health behaviors, affect, and cognitive performance across periods of relatively high and low stress: First-year university students are regularly engaged in cognitively demanding activities and experience similar stressors throughout the academic year, including clearly defined instruction, examination, and vacation periods. Consequently, this target group allows comparing individual differences in the links between health behaviors, emotion, and cognitive performance in the face of similar external stressors in a real-world setting.

The results of this study can contribute to a better understanding of how stress moderates one’s ability to maintain physical activity and healthy eating behaviors. This has important consequences for emotional well-being and academic performance. In addition, more than 40% of young adults enter university-level education in Switzerland, suggesting such a study is relevant to a specific but substantial portion of the younger population. Specifically, our results have the potential to directly inform policy makers about crucial targets for health-promotion and stress-prevention programs that can help reduce negative impact of unhealthy behaviors in a student population.


Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
How health behaviors relate to academic performance via affect: An intensive longitudinal study.
Flueckiger L. Lieb R. Meyer A. & Mata J. (2014), How health behaviors relate to academic performance via affect: An intensive longitudinal study., in PLOS ONE, 9, e111080.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Prof. Dr. Ralph Hertwig, Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Dr. Andrea Meyer, Clinical Psychology and Epidemiology, University of Basel Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Prof. Dr. Ian Gotlib, Mood and Anxiety Laboratory, Stanford University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Prof. Dr. Pedro Teixeira, Exercise & Health Laboratory, Technical University of Lisbon Portugal (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Conference of the European Health Psychology Society Talk given at a conference Day-to-day variations in health behaviors and daily functioning: Two intensive longitudinal studies 01.09.2015 Limassol, Cyprus Wittig Mata Jutta; Lieb Roselind; Flückiger Lavinia Heidy;
Summer School „The Interplay of Work, Health & Organisational Success“ Poster Good days bad days: How health behaviors relate to academic performance and affect in daily life: Two longitudinal studies 29.09.2014 Nürnberg, Germany Wittig Mata Jutta; Flückiger Lavinia Heidy; Lieb Roselind;
Conference of the European Health Psychology Society Talk given at a conference Good days – bad days: How individual day-to-day variations in health behaviors relate to affect and academic performance over the first year at university: Two longitudinal studies 26.08.2014 Innsbruck, Austria Flückiger Lavinia Heidy; Wittig Mata Jutta; Lieb Roselind;
International Congress of Applied Psychology Talk given at a conference The relation between physical activity and eating behavior over the first year at university 08.07.2014 Paris, France Lieb Roselind; Wittig Mata Jutta; Flückiger Lavinia Heidy;
Conference of the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Talk given at a conference Good days – bad days: How day-to-day health behaviors relate to academic performance via affect 21.05.2014 San Diego, United States of America Flückiger Lavinia Heidy; Wittig Mata Jutta; Lieb Roselind;
Congress of Swiss Psychological Society Talk given at a conference Day-to-day health behaviors are associated with academic performance via positive affect 11.09.2013 Basel, Switzerland Wittig Mata Jutta; Flückiger Lavinia Heidy; Lieb Roselind;
Conference of the European Health Psychology Society Poster Well-rested, happy, and successful: Positive affect mediates the association between health behaviors and academic performance 16.07.2013 Bordeaux, France Wittig Mata Jutta; Flückiger Lavinia Heidy; Lieb Roselind;
Conference of the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Talk given at a conference Feeling well means doing well: Positive affect mediates the association between health behaviors and academic performance 22.05.2013 Ghent, Belgium Flückiger Lavinia Heidy; Lieb Roselind; Wittig Mata Jutta;
Conference of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy Poster Be happy – be successful: Positive affect mediates the association between health behaviors and academic performance 09.05.2013 Trier, Germany Lieb Roselind; Flückiger Lavinia Heidy; Wittig Mata Jutta;


Abstract

A number of studies suggest that health behaviors, such as physical activity and balanced eating, play a central role in affective experience and regulation. Other studies suggest that these same health behaviors impact cognitive performance. This research plan combines these two lines of research to assess these relations simultaneously and longitudinally in the same sample of younger adults and test the idea that improvements in affective experience and regulation are one mechanism mediating the relation between health behaviors and cognitive performance. Adherence to health behaviors declines during stressful times: Individuals under stress typically engage in less physical activity and increase their food intake, particularly the consumption of foods high in calories and palatability. Consequently, this proposal further aims to test the idea that stress is an important moderating factor that can influence the link between health behaviors, affect, and cognitive performance.The proposed study aims to use self-report and objective assessment methods to measure levels of physical activity and eating behavior, experienced affect and stress, as well as academic performance over the course of an academic year in a first-year university student population. Young adults are an important target group concerning research on health behaviors because unhealthy behaviors often develop early in life and are difficult to tackle once they become habits. In addition, first-year university students are particularly suited to research on the link between health behaviors, affect, and cognitive performance across periods of relatively high and low stress: First-year university students’ are regularly engaged in cognitively demanding activities and experience similar stressors throughout the academic year, including clearly defined instruction, examination, and vacation periods. Consequently, this target group allows one to compare individual differences in the links between health behaviors, affect, and cognitive performance in the face of similar external stressors in a real-world setting. Importantly, a longitudinal study that follows individuals over a 1-year period will allow us to disentangle short- and longer-term effects of health behaviors on affect and cognition.The findings from the proposed studies are of potential applied value. In particular, results of this study contribute to a better understanding of how daily hassles moderate one’s ability to maintain physical activity and healthy eating behaviors. This has important consequences for subjective and objective outcomes, including well-being and academic performance. In addition, more than 40% of young adults enter university-level education in Switzerland, suggesting such a study is relevant to a specific but substantial portion of the younger population. Specifically, our results have the potential to directly inform policy makers about crucial targets for health-promotion and stress-prevention programs that can help reduce negative impact of unhealthy behaviors in a student population.
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