Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Learning to see the bigger picture in research

Written by Anabelle Hessong, BA candidate, Wake Forest University, and participant in the 2023 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Somers Family Hall (left) and Alvin Goldfarb Hall (right) on the Danforth Campus at Washington University in St. Louis

Our lives are shaped every day by our emotional experiences. The impact of our emotions does not disappear with age, but older adults are said to have better emotion regulation than their younger counterparts. Why this occurs is still unclear, and this is one question my lab hopes to answer. For the past month, as part of the summer program’s Aging & Neurological Diseases track, I have had the privilege of spending my weekdays at the Emotion and Mental Health Lab, where researchers learn exactly what is happening when we regulate and respond to our emotions.

My time in the lab has been primarily devoted to the MARCER study, which aims to show how aging impacts emotion regulation. My favorite part of the project and the lab is the diversity of methods and the expansive team working together. Not only are there answers to an array of questions from gathered data, but being behind the scenes, I have an appreciation for the multiple methods employed to answer these questions. Whether it is a blood draw testing for Alzheimer’s biomarkers, a session recording heart rate and respiration data in response to emotional videos, an MRI session looking at the neural bases of emotion regulation tactics, or daily survey data from participants, the lab has a collaborative environment where many people are working to see the research carried out.

Additionally, working on MARCER has taught me to understand the bigger picture when it comes to research. MARCER is a project that began a year and a half before my arrival and will continue for multiple years after my departure. The ultimate data analyses will be conducted long after I say farewell to Somers Family Hall. However, the quality of the data and the ability of MARCER to shed light on emotion regulation depends on the work we do in the lab today. A project of such an immense size requires teamwork and humility- the same can be said for the fields of psychology and neuroscience research.

Beyond my time in the lab, a significant benefit to being part of the Summer Research Program through the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging, is that twice a week the center organizes lectures with guest speakers. It has been a privilege to learn about topics in aging and neuroscience research from so many passionate and knowledgeable experts. One of my favorite seminars was given by Ana A. Baumann, PhD, and Dani Adams, PhD, two implementation scientists who are part of Dissemination and Implementation Research at WashU. Their seminar was my first exposure to implementation science, the study of how evidence-based interventions can be carried out in everyday life. I had not previously considered the importance of understanding how to implement research outcomes. This was only one of the many seminars that have taught me something novel and important.