A sketch, done in shades of blue and white, shows three profile views of a man in different emotional states.

One might say that with more than 15 years of research experience—and her inquiries while studying at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor before that—Katherine Fiori, PhD, professor and associate dean in the Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology, is something of an expert at turning an idea into scholarship.

Now, one of her favorite aspects of her work is to help her students bring their own fascinating research interests to fruition.

“It’s wonderful to see my students have an idea that I may not otherwise be exposed to and to share my expertise to help them explore it,” Dr. Fiori said. “While each student’s topic might be different, the process of collecting and analyzing data and then writing about and presenting their findings follows a similar path. With this guidance, it’s amazing to see all they accomplish.”

Dr. Fiori’s own research focuses on the mental and physical health implications of social relationships across the adult lifespan, with her most recent work highlighting the importance of weak or peripheral ties to our well-being. She has been published in a number of both gerontological and relationship journals, and her most recent theoretical work outlining the processes of social network development in adulthood—the Differential Investment of Resources model—was published in Personality and Social Psychology Review (“Rethinking Social Relationships in Adulthood: The Differential Investment of Resources Model”).

Having served as a member of the Adelphi University faculty since 2009, and primarily teaching Psychological Statistics and Psychological Research, she says her students’ research interests run the gamut from religious coping, to music and emotion, to stressful life events, to combating mental health stigma with theater.

“It’s especially satisfying to see students present their work in venues like Adelphi’s Scholarship and Creative Works Conference, having mentored them throughout the entire research process,” Dr. Fiori added.

Seeking Understanding Through New Psychological Research

Examining questions beyond classroom learning is a central part of Adelphi’s vision for educating the next generation of scholars. In the case of undergraduate psychology student Shayne Georges, he noticed that existing research on stressful life events (SLEs)—undesirable and/or unplanned events that may induce anxiety or other negative mental health consequences—focuses primarily on those negative mental health consequences. Georges wondered if the childhood experience of SLEs might actually make individuals more resilient against stress in young adulthood. As such, he hypothesized that SLEs might moderate the association between coping styles and mental health (anxiety, depressive symptoms).

“Creating and sharing my project with others at the Scholarship and Creative Works Conference was such an unforgettable feeling—I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to connect with so many people,” Georges said. “For example, I spoke with an individual at the conference who helped me learn that cultural competence and experience is such an integral part of real world change. As an aspiring licensed mental health counselor, it is so important to me to educate myself about different ways of life, languages, customs and teachings that are unfamiliar to me.”

Georges calls Dr. Fiori a beacon of knowledge and guidance throughout his journey. “She made me a better researcher by pushing me beyond my comfort zone—I cannot thank her enough for believing in me and my research,” he said.

Melissa Garber, an undergraduate student majoring in psychology and minoring in theater design and technology, decided to pursue a research topic that incorporated both of these interests: “Attitudes on Autism: The Impact of Theatre on Stigma.” She presented this research at the Scholarship and Creative Works Conference.

Garber conducted a longitudinal research project examining whether a live theatrical performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, held at Adelphi University, decreased stigma among audience members. Following a pretest-posttest design, her research included a survey of audience members right before, within 48 hours and one month after the performance.

“Consistent with the existing literature showing that live theatrical performances can decrease mental health stigma, our research indicated that such performances may also decrease autism stigma,” Garber said. She notes that this study is limited due to the very small sample size, but she is now taking her research to the next level—after presenting her work at a national conference, Garber connected with the producers of the Broadway musical How to Dance in Ohio, which has a neurodivergent cast, and is currently analyzing data collected from its much larger sample of theatergoers. Her future research may utilize an experimental design to investigate the use of theater as a potential intervention to reduce autism stigma.

“Research has taught me so much—one of the biggest things is that it’s okay not to know everything,” Garber said. “Dr. Fiori has always approached my ideas for research with excitement and curiosity, even if the ideas are different than other work going on in the lab she runs with Christina Marini, PhD. Working with her these past few years has truly been a highlight of being a student at Adelphi, and I am so grateful that she is my mentor.”

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