RECENT AND ONGOING STUDIES
Some of our studies are not open to the public or have already completed recruitment. To keep up to date on developments in data analysis, dissemination of findings, and future directions, read on below.
AROUSAL AND IMMUNE RESPONSE (AIR)
Lead Researcher: Tierney Lorenz, Ph.D.
The purpose of this study is to measure changes in the immune system in women before and after sexual arousal. Prior studies have suggested that the immune system works differently in women who do and do not have sex regularly, but there has not been much research on why. One possibility is that sexual arousal changes the immune response to promote conception and/or to protect against sexually transmitted infections. This study was conducted to test if sexual arousal changes vaginal immune response and corresponds to other physiological changes (e.g. immune response in the blood, hormone levels).
This study recruited healthy, sexually active women ages 18 or older who were not taking hormonal contraception. All data have been collected, and analyses are currently underway!
Preliminary results were presented at the International Academy of Sex Research this past summer. Check back for publications soon.
WOMEN, IMMUNITY, AND SEXUAL HEALTH (WISH)
Lead Researcher: Tierney Lorenz, Ph.D.
While there has been much research on how sexually transmitted infections can influence the immune system, there is very little known about how sexual behavior changes immunity in healthy (pre-infection) women. The WISH study examined changes in immune function across the menstrual cycle in healthy women who were either sexually active or sexually abstinent.
We collected saliva and blood samples from women at several reproductively relevant time points throughout their menstrual cycles, as well as information about their health behaviors and psychosocial wellness. There were significant differences in immune and hormone patterns across the menstrual cycle in sexually active vs. abstinent women, with changes that reflected trade-offs between immune defense and reproduction.
You can read more about the results of the WISH study here or here.
MEN'S CONDOM-RELATED DECISION-MAKING
Lead Researcher: Amber Craig, Ph.D.
This study aimed to understand individual differences and contextual factors related to men's decisions to use condoms. Participants filled out surveys about their sexual attitudes, behaviors, and health. They also completed a hypothetical sexual decision-making task on a computer in a private room and watched a short, sexually explicit video.
Study sessions last approximately one hour in our lab on the Indiana University Bloomington campus. Compensation includes $10 for the lab session and a $5 bonus for arriving on time, for total potential earnings of $15.
Participants in this study are only recruited by referral from our collaborators at Indiana University.
POSTPARTUM EMOTION PROCESSING
Lead Researchers: Julia Heiman, Ph.D. & Heather Rupp, Ph.D.
The psychosocial and physiological changes inherent to motherhood leave many women vulnerable to mood disorders following childbirth. Maternal mood disorders have negative consequences not only for the mother, but also for her infant, partner, and family. Understanding the neuroendocrinological changes that occur with motherhood, such as oxytocin-mediated inhibition of negative emotional arousal, is critical to promoting optimal maternal care and protection from mood disorders during the postpartum period.
This study investigated the neurologic correlates of emotion processing in healthy nulliparous (never pregnant) and postpartum (recently gave birth) women with and without depression. Half of the women in this study received an oxytocin nasal spray and half a placebo. We found significant differences across groups in neural activation for emotional images and the effects of oxytocin on responses to infant-related stimuli.
You can read more about the results of this study here.
SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND MATERNAL STRESS
Lead Researcher: Kirstin Clephane
Previous research has focused on the first postpartum year as it relates to the demands of parenthood, commonly reporting negative impacts on sexual and relationship satisfaction. Increased stress during this time may also influence attentional processes, including how sexual stimuli are perceived. The purpose of this study was to determine if distractibility from sexual stimuli might help to explain or mediate the relationship between psychosocial stress and sexual/relationship satisfaction.
Adult women cohabiting with their romantic partners - half of whom had given birth within the past year - were recruited for this study. All participants watched one erotic and one neutral video while completing a listening task, then filled out surveys about their relationship, life stressors, and health.
Preliminary results have been presented at the Midwest Undergraduate Cognitive Science Conference and the International Academy of Sex Research. Thanks to all those who participated!
REWARD PROCESSING IN COLLEGE STUDENTS
Lead Researcher: Claire Wilson
Between July and November 2017, Indiana University students and recent graduates between the ages of 18-25 participated in two studies of reward processing - one in the laboratory and one in the MRI scanner. Participants completed a computer task, rated images, and filled out surveys about their personalities, preferences, and behaviors. These data will contribute to our understanding of how individual differences in sensitivity to different kinds of rewards (i.e. food, sex, alcohol) relate to neural activation, psychological processes, and risk behaviors. This study also helped to validate stimuli and other materials for future research.
This study has completed data collection and publications sharing the results are currently in preparation. Preliminary results have been presented at the International Academy of Sex Research.