Grantees: Shelby Langer and Laura Porter

Shelby Langer

Shelby Langer, Ph.D.

Social Psychologist
BBPSB FEATURED GRANTEE
Organization:
  • Arizona State University

Current Title
Associate Professor
Arizona State University

Describe your scientific identity.
I am a social psychologist conducting research on dyadic interactions within the context of chronic illness. My primary line of investigation focuses on couples coping with advanced cancer. I am interested in how patients and their caregiving partners communicate with respect to diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, and how those communicative behaviors (both enacted and perceived) affect adjustment and clinical outcomes. We know from the extant literature on relationships and health that marriage is health-protective. But how couples interact on a day-to-day basis and across years is so important. What we're finding is that emotional expression per se is perhaps less informative than what is not conveyed. I find that piece particularly intriguing and want to better understand the motivations behind and effects of withholding.

What are your research interests?
Dyadic communication, emotional expression, emotion regulation, social behavior, psychosocial oncology, oncology, pediatric pain, caregiver needs, and pediatric pain.

What is the significance of your current research project?
Our NCI-funded R01, titled Couple Communication in Cancer: A Multi-Method Examination, provides a comprehensive, longitudinal assessment of communication processes in over 400 couples coping with breast, colorectal, or lung cancer. This project will afford rigorous evaluation of mechanisms underlying two conceptual frameworks of couple communication (relationship intimacy and social cognitive processing) in predicting individual and relationship adjustment, using multiple indicators of communication (global self-report, ecological momentary self-report, and behavioral). Findings will advance relationship science and guide the development and delivery of psychosocial interventions designed to optimize patient and partner adaptation to cancer. Aside from the scientific significance and potential translational impact, we see day-to-day impacts from building a multi-site, multidisciplinary team and the diversity of perspectives that brings, and from involving undergraduate and graduate students who are learning firsthand about the research process.

What motivated you to work in biobehavioral or psychological science research?

  • An inherent interest in personality, dyadic communication, health behavior, and health outcomes
  • A strong belief that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors impact our mental and physical health, thereby creating potential points for intervention

Describe something that had a profound influence on your program of research or scientific interests (an "ah-ha!" moment).
In graduate school, I was pursuing a degree in Personality/Social Psychology. I loved the program (very basic cognitive science) but also sought to pursue my applied, health-related interests. A faculty member approached me about a research assistantship that would require me to work at a local hospital, to support the medical residents in their research endeavors. I'll never forget my first day at the hospital. It was that feeling of being in one's element! I have been in interdisciplinary settings ever since.

During my post-doc at the University of Kentucky, Annette Stanton visited our department. She was so giving of her time and wisdom. I mentioned some of my findings, and she pointed out that the phenomenon I was describing might be protective buffering. It was the first I'd heard of the term/ construct and now the crux of what I study!

Selected training, awards, and honors:

  • B.A., Psychology, Furman University (1989)
  • M.S., Experimental Psychology, Villanova University (1992)
  • Ph.D., Personality/Social Psychology, Lehigh University (1996)
  • Post-doc in Behavioral Science, University of Kentucky (1999)
  • Post-doc in Cancer Control, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (2002)
  • Recipient, Carol LaMare Social Work Oncology Research Award (2010, 2012)
  • Fellow, Society of Behavioral Medicine (2017)


We know from the extant literature on relationships and health that marriage is health-protective. But how couples interact on a day-to-day basis and across years is so important.”
Co-Principal Investigator:
Laura Porter

Laura Porter, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist
Organization:
  • Duke University School of Medicine

Current Title
Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Medicine
Duke University School of Medicine

Describe your scientific identity.
I am a licensed clinical psychologist who focuses in research in health psychology and palliative care. I maintain a small clinical practice; however, the majority of my time is spent conducting research with medical populations, including cancer, persistent pain, arthritis, critical illness, and dementia.

What are your research interests?
My research focuses on developing ways to help patients with chronic illnesses and their family members cope with the symptoms and psychological demands associated with their diseases. I am particularly interested in dyadic interventions that help patients and their partners/family caregivers communicate effectively about illness-related concerns and work together to cope with symptoms and challenges. Given the profound impact of advanced and life-limiting disease on both patients and family, my research has increasingly focused on palliative care populations.

What is the significance of your current research project?
Our NCI-funded R01, titled Couple Communication in Cancer: A Multi-Method Examination, provides a comprehensive, longitudinal assessment of communication processes in over 400 couples coping with breast, colorectal, or lung cancer. This project will afford rigorous evaluation of mechanisms underlying two conceptual frameworks of couple communication (relationship intimacy and social cognitive processing) in predicting individual and relationship adjustment, using multiple indicators of communication (global self-report, ecological momentary self-report, and behavioral). Findings will advance relationship science and guide the development and delivery of psychosocial interventions designed to optimize patient and partner adaptation to cancer. Aside from the scientific significance and potential translational impact, we see day-to-day impacts from building a multi-site, multidisciplinary team and the diversity of perspectives that brings, and from involving undergraduate and graduate students who are learning firsthand about the research process.

What motivated you to work in biobehavioral or psychological science research?
I was always interested in the mind-body connection. I had considered a career in medicine, but it never seemed like quite the right fit. As an undergraduate, I took a class in behavioral medicine and did a research project in the psychophysiological aspects of emotion, which led me to graduate school in psychology. My work in graduate school focused on associations between stress, coping, and health, which I was then able to translate into interventions to help patients and families cope with illness.

Describe something that had a profound influence on your program of research or scientific interests (an "ah-ha!" moment).
From my personal experience of having a father with a chronic progressive illness and a mother who is a cancer survivor, as well as observing the experiences of others, I was always acutely aware that illness has a profound impact not only the patient but also on the people close to them. In particular, I noticed that the way in which patients and family coped with the illness experience impacted their relationships and either brought them closer together or became a source of conflict, driving them apart. I have therefore strived to find ways to help patients and family leverage their relationships to address illness-related challenges together in ways that benefit them as individuals and as a couple, and help them derive meaning from the experience.

Selected training, awards, and honors:

  • Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, State University of New York at Stony Brook (1996)
  • Post-doctoral fellowship, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1999-2001)
  • C. Tracy Orleans Distinguished Service Award, Society of Behavioral Medicine (2013)
  • Fellow, Society of Behavioral Medicine (2018)


I have ... strived to find ways to help patients and family leverage their relationships to address illness-related challenges together in ways that benefit them as individuals and as a couple, and help them derive meaning from the experience”

Selected Grants



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