2009 Award Recipients


2009 Award Recipients

Excellence in Health Psychology Research Award

Dr. Howard Tennen

University of Connecticut, Medical Center

The Awards Committee of Division 38 is pleased to recognize the accomplishments of Professor Howard Tennen with this year’s Distinguished Scientist Award. Professor Tennen is best known for his research on coping with chronic illness, daily process analysis and the role of attributions in emotional and behavioral disorders. Howard Tennen received his PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1976 where Bonnie Strickland was his mentor. After completing his internship at UCLA, he moved to SUNY at Albany where he was on the faculty for three years. Then he was lured to the University of Connecticut Medical Center where he has been ever since. Currently he is Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology and Community Medicine and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor and Associate Director of the NIAAA Alcohol Research Center at UCONN.

A simple numerical, bean-counting summary of his research career is impressive. He has published 260 peer-review articles, chapters and/or books and been cited 5,363 times to date. He is an elected fellow of APA Divisions 1, 12 and 38 and of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, the Association for Psychological Science and the Society of Personality Assessment. Since 1991, Howard Tennen has served as Editor of the Journal of Personality. Those who have been around long enough, recall that JP was sleepy for a time, but since Steve West and then Howard Tennen’s extended tenure as editor, the journal has been vibrant outlet and a key reason for the revival of personality and individual differences research.

Albeit impressive, bean-counting does not, however, do Howard Tennen’s scientific career justice. Howard Tennen’s contributions have been creative, integrative, bold and brave. His recent work on the daily stress and coping process may be the best known. With a mix of idiographic and nomothetic methods, he and his colleagues used diaries, ecological momentary assessment and interactive phone technologies to map the trajectory of coping in alcoholics and other chronic illness populations. He has documented how within-person and across-person approaches can produce very different results, for example, about the relationship between the daily use of smoking and drinking. Also, he found that retrospective reports of coping bear little relation to real-time accounts and trait measures of coping do not predict actual coping attempts among chronically ill patients. However, dispositional optimism/pessimism may be important for understanding when people with arthritis can sustain progress toward their goals even when they experience barriers to health. A notable aspect of this work is the appeal it has had to proponents of both nomothetic and idiographic perspectives. Such is the integrative perspective provided by Howard Tennen.

In addition, Tennen’s compelling analysis and empirical demonstration of the use of benefit-finding as a coping strategy used by medical patients is broadly recognized in the field. He also was the first to empirically demonstrate how medical patients prefer control over minor daily stressors, but prefer to defer to their physicians for bigger problems. His research showed how patients with infertility, arthritis or chronic pain use social comparison to adjust to their physical condition.

Although he has studied many different kinds of medical populations, an overall theme of his work from the start has concerned perceptions of control and the role of attributions. In fact, he was among the very first to recognize the attributional underpinnings of the learned helplessness phenomena and its implications for research and practice. It is not surprising that his research has always had implications for depression. What is not always appreciated is that Howard Tennen was the first to make an in-depth analysis of the subtle role of attributions in depression even when this kind of research or analysis was not favored. Our contemporary understanding of depression and coping in medical populations has been appreciably advanced as a consequence of Howard Tennen’s insightful, courageous and pioneering efforts. And finally, in the interest of space, we have passed-over his important analysis of low self-esteem, search for mastery and personality disorders.

Over the course of his career (which is far from over), he has made a series of significant empirical and methodological advances to the science and practice of health psychology and offered conceptual clarity about problems that seemed murky before he approached them. For his contributions to the field, the Award Committee is pleased to award him with the Excellence in Health Psychology Research Award  for 2009.

Excellence in Health Psychology Research by an Early Career Professional Award

Dr. Angela Fagerlin

University of Michigan

The co-recipient of the 2009 Excellence in Health Psychology Research by an Early Career Professional Award is Dr. Angela Fagerlin. Dr Fagerlin is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, a cognitive psychologist in the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine, and a Research Health Science Specialist at the VA Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence. She received her PhD in experimental psychology in 2000, from Kent State University.

Her initial research, conducted in collaboration with her mentor, Peter Ditto, concerned the use of living wills or advanced directives at the end of life. This research found that adult children were not good at predicting what their parents wanted if they became seriously ill. Even systematic exposure to parents’ preferences did not seem to increase the accuracy of their offspring’s choices. This frequently cited research has stimulated lively debate by psychologists, physicians, policy-makers and the general public.

More recently, Dr. Fagerlin has studied cognitive biases and risk communication in medical decision making, particularly about cancer-related decisions. Patient decision aids have become common, but only recently have these been carefully evaluated. Dr. Fagerlin has been one of the leaders in these efforts- evaluating prostate cancer decision aids to determine their balance, accuracy, and thoroughness.

She also has examined the best methods for presenting statistical information to patients and is associated with the development of a measure numeracy to identify those patients who may have the greatest difficulty understanding risk information. Altogether, Dr. Fagerlin has published 59 articles in peer reviewed journals-an impressive statistic for a young investigator.

In addition to receiving the Award for Outstanding Paper by a Young Investigator from the Society for Medical Decision Making, she serves on the editorial board of Medical Decision Making and is a consulting editor for Health Psychology. She recently completed an MREP career development award from the VA and is the PI of a VA Investigator Initiated Research (IIR) grant. She is/has been a co-investigator or co-principal investigator on 11 NIH R01s and on 4 VA IIRs.

For her pioneering efforts and prolific record, Division 38 is pleased to recognize Dr. Angela Fagerlin for her contributions to date, with best wishes for continued innovation and success.

Excellence in Health Psychology Research by an Early Career Professional Award

Dr. Angela Grippo, PhD

Northern Illinois University

This year’s co-recipient of the Excellence in Health Psychology Research by an Early Career Professional Award is Dr. Angela Grippo. Dr. Grippo received a B.S. from Drake University in 1998, a M.A. from the University of Iowa in 2000, and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 2003. Following receipt of her Ph.D., Dr. Grippo completed two postdoctoral fellowships from 2003-2008, at Loyola University Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2008, she joined the Department of Psychology at Northern Illinois University as an Assistant Professor.

Dr. Grippo’s research program is focused on investigating neurobiological mechanisms that mediate the interactions of mental health and cardiovascular health. Her research investigates the association between mood disorders and cardiovascular disease, as well as neurobiological mechanisms underlying stress, emotion, and cardiovascular function using a combination of behavioral and neuroscience methods in preclinical animal models.

Dr. Grippo’s research strategy includes an integrative approach to investigating associations among the brain, behavior, and the heart, contributing to our understanding of the important overlap of mental and physical health. Her research program encourages the active participation of undergraduate and graduate students, facilitating the career development of future health psychologists. The significance and translational utility of Dr. Grippo’s research is evident in her ability to secure research funding at the federal level, several peer-reviewed articles in multidisciplinary journals, many invited national and international presentations, and several research-based awards.

Dr. Grippo’s research program employs rodent disease models, such as models of stress, depression, and heart disease, as tools for investigating the biological mechanisms underlying mood disorders and cardiovascular dysfunction. Her research has demonstrated that several cardiovascular and autonomic functions are disrupted in a rodent model of depression, similar to changes that are observed in humans with depression and heart disease. Further, rodents with cardiovascular disease display behavioral signs of depression and altered immune function. The specific mechanisms that underlie these behavioral and physiological changes include elevated sympathetic tone to the heart, increased susceptibility to life-threatening arrhythmias, immune system activation, and changes in serotonin.

More recently, Dr. Grippo has extended her findings by focusing more specifically on social and neural mechanisms underlying the association of mood and cardiovascular regulation. She is currently investigating interactions of the social environment with behavioral, autonomic, and central nervous system processes by conducting studies with the socially monogamous prairie vole — a unique rodent species that displays social behaviors similar to those of humans. Her studies using this species have revealed that social isolation (isolation from family members or opposite-sex partners) produces cardiac changes indicative of an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, behavioral signs of depression and anxiety, and increased reactivity to stress. The specific neurobiological mechanisms underlying these changes include disrupted autonomic balance and altered hormone and peptide responses.

The findings from Dr. Grippo’s research contribute significantly to our understanding of the interactions among stress, the brain, and the cardiovascular system, and can lead to the development of improved treatments for individuals with mood disorders and heart disease. She is extremely deserving of the Division 38 Award for Excellence in Health Psychology Research by an Early Career Professional Award.

Excellence in Clinical Health Psychology Award *Timothy B. Jeffrey Memorial Award

Tu Ngo, PhD, MPH

Bedford VA Medical Center

“Remember Joe,” Steve replied, “thoughts aren’t facts-just take a deep breath man, and notice what’s going on in your mind, in your body, around you….remember what we talked about in mindfulness class.” I recently heard the previous interchange between two Vietnam combat Veterans sitting in a waiting area at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial VA Medical Center in Bedford, Massachusetts. These Veterans, like countless others, found themselves locked behind the doors of PTSD, substance abuse and chronic pain following their service in Vietnam. Now, both Joe and Steve are living examples of what transpires when the very best of clinical health psychology is given away. In this case, two Veterans are empowered to support one another as brothers, living hope-based meaningful lives with mindfulness and self-management as personalized skeleton keys.

Dr. Timothy B. Jeffrey likely had something in common with Joe and Steve. As a Vietnam combat Veteran Dr. Jeffery spent his professional life giving clinical health psychology away to the U.S. military. He advanced psychology in the military in his mentoring of numerous military psychologists, who provided incalculable clinical benefits to those who gave so much in service of others-fellow Veterans. A spirit of generosity and commitment to clinical health psychology as an agent of empowerment, hope and change is the legacy of Dr. Jeffrey. The Division 38 and American Psychological Foundation Annual Award bearing his name, recognizes the work of a clinical health psychologist who brings Dr. Jeffrey’s legacy to life in their work. For those of us who know her, we were unsurprised to learn that this year’s recipient of the Timothy B. Jeffery Memorial Award is Dr. Tu Ngo.

Dr. Ngo moved from a post-doctoral fellowship position to Lead (read only) Health Psychologist at the Bedford VAMC three years ago. Since that time Dr. Ngo’s approach to clinical health psychology practice and program development has not only touched the lives of numerous Veterans like Joe and Steve, but has also contributed to the transformation of Bedford VAMC’s Primary Care Clinic to one of Integrated Care, where “warm handoffs,” “self-management support” and ongoing innovations are now commonplace. Dr. Ngo serves as co-Director of Bedford VAMC’s Primary Care Behavioral Health program and serves as VISN 1’s Integrated Primary Care Mental Health Coordinator. Committed to excellence in training, this past year Dr. Ngo established a VA primary care health psychology training program, including two funded psychology post-doctoral fellowship positions at Bedford in collaboration with national leaders at the University of Massachusetts. In her spare time, Dr. Ngo co-founded the Integrated Primary Care Collaborative in the VA New England Healthcare System (VISN 1), which serves to promote best practices in integrated care and behavioral medicine throughout VISN 1 facilities. All of this and more while maintaining an active commitment to practice. I could go on and on about Dr. Ngo’s accomplishments, but space precludes me from doing so and she wouldn’t want all the accolades anyways.

When Tu learned that she received this award her first response was one of disbelief. She pondered with me and several colleagues that possibly she received the award because “no one else applied.” After we encouraged her to embrace this well-deserved recognition, Tu did what she does best-generously extended the honor to the entire Bedford VAMC community, noting that “in the Asian collective culture, the product of what the individual bears is a reflection of the community of that individual.” If Tu’s spirit of generosity and “giving away” as a clinical health psychologist does not reflect the legacy of Dr. Jeffrey, I’m not sure what does.