Senior Shannon Sholds presents INBRE research at Eastern Psychological Association meeting

by Mackenzie Wild, '16

This past year, Shannon Sholds, a senior Psychology major, conducted research as part of the Idea Network of Biomedical Research (INBRE) summer research program.  The INBRE program gives students the opportunity to stay on campus, with housing and a stipend, during the summer to conduct research under shannonthe mentorship of Saint Anselm College faculty. Last summer, Shannon Sholds worked with Professor Paul Finn from the Psychology department to examine the effect of exercise intensity on body pH as well as changes in sleep, mood, and taste threshold. In this post, Shannon shares her experiences with her research, the INBRE program, and presenting this project at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association.

Could you tell me a little about your study and your hypothesis? The purpose of this study was to investigate changes in overall body pH, sleep, mood, and taste threshold that occur over the course of a collegiate Division II Cross Country season. Our hypothesis was as aerobic training decreased and anaerobic training increased, overall body pH (as measured by salivary pH) would shift from alkaline to slightly acidic. This shift in pH would effect a change in sleep disturbances in the athlete, with concomitant changes in mood and taste threshold. It was also hypothesized that before the championship meet, participants would exhibit negative changes in mood and decreases in sleep quality.

What were your findings? Were you surprised by your findings? Our hypotheses were partially supported. We did not find significant changes in salivary pH measured by pH strips, but changes in exercise intensity were demonstrated by the heart rate and mileage changes recorded from the Fitbit watches worn by the athletes. We also did not find significant changes in taste threshold using electrogustometry. We did find significant changes in mood: measures of vigor decreased, while measures of anger, confusion, fatigue, depression, tension, and overall mood disturbance all increased. The athletes also reported being significantly more tired and sad, and the Fitbit sleep data showed they were significantly more restless at night. Some of the findings were surprising, because although they reported being tired during the day, most of the athletes reported that they got plenty of sleep. The Fitbit data however, showed that this was not the case. Although they were sleeping for a normal amount of time, the athletes were restless for most of the night and missing out on the restorative REM sleep they needed. It was surprising to see how hard it can be to self-report sleep. It was also nice to see that the negative changes in mood that runners talk about while tapering is a substantial claim.

What made you interested in athletes in this way? Being a runner myself, I experienced what it was like to feel cranky and “off” during a taper (decreasing mileage). Tapering usually happens in the week or so before a championship meet, and it can be really hard to mentally feel prepared for that when you haven’t been getting much sleep and feel all these negative emotions. Running is truly addictive. When you become accustomed to a certain level of sympathetic arousal that you achieve from running 60 miles a week, dropping down to 10 miles that week feels similar to going through withdrawals. I wanted to do this study to help athletes understand this process, and hopefully prevent some burnout that they may be susceptible at this time. I also wanted to make coaches and trainers aware that these reports from their athletes are substantial and it may be difficult to motivate athletes during this time of the season.

How did you get involved with INBRE? Many of my friends from the chemistry department had been involved with INBRE over the summer and loved the experience. I was unsure about whether or not I was ready for the research process, but Professor Finn motivated me to try and I’m really glad I did.

What suggestions would you give to students who hope to apply for INBRE grants in the future? Make sure you choose to work with a professor that has the same research interests as you and that work well with. Start the process as early as possible, and make sure you love what you are researching.

What was your favorite thing about presenting at EPA? What was most difficult? My favorite part of presenting at EPA was getting to talk about my research to people with a wide array of backgrounds. It was a really fulfilling experience to talk to statisticians, sports psychologists, other undergrads, etc. because they all come with different questions and expertise. The most difficult part was feeling confident about my work. It is really hard to avoid comparing your work to everyone else’s and stressing over how much more you could have done.

What do you think the advantages are to presenting at a professional conference such as EPA? What did you gain? I would definitely love to present at a conference again. It is a great way to expand your knowledge, build confidence with your work, and make connections. For the most part the environment at a poster session is really supportive, which allows students to practice presenting their interests in an intimate setting with people that are genuinely interested in your findings.