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Sociodemographic Risk Factors of Suicide

Psychosocial Factors in Cardiovascular Disease

Identity Development and Emerging Adulthood

Pretend Play in Child Assessment and Treatment

Socioemotional Development and Dynamic Systems Theory      






Sociodemographic Risk Factors of Suicide

This paper originated from an innovative study of suicide risk.

pdficon_large.gifBoulifard, D. A., & Pescosolido, B. A. (2017). Examining multi-level correlates of suicide by merging NVDRS and ACS data. (U.S. Census Bureau, Center for Economic Stud­ies, Working Paper No. 17‑25).

In his classic examination of suicide, Emile Durk­heim argued that excesses or deficiencies in social integration (participation) or regulation (control) accounted for increases in suicide rates.  Soci­ologist Bernice Pescosolido has reconceptualized and expanded Durkheim's explanation within the context of social network theory, placing the act of suicide at the nexus of interacting individual and social phenomena.  Seeking to surmount long­standing limitations in suicide risk factor research, she proposed the development of a multi-sourced, multi-level database that would support conjoint evaluations of individual- and community-level risk factors.

In this paper, we describe the project's motivating circumstances, the design and construction of it's database, our analytic strategy, and a selection of our findings.  A vital aspect of this research was our use of datasets furnished by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  We describe some challenges we faced in working with these datasets, which resulted in our conducting part of the work at a U.S. Census Bureau Research Data Center.





Psychosocial Factors in Cardiovascular Disease

These papers originated from a study of how psychosocial factors relate to adult patients' recovery from major heart surgery.


libbas.JPGpdficon_large.gifIdler, E. L., Boulifard, D. A., & Contrada, R. J. (2012). Mending broken hearts: Marriage and mortality follow­ing cardiac surgery. Journal of Health and Social Be­havior, 53(1), 33-49.

Scientists have previously noted that married individuals live longer than unmarried individuals in both general and clinical populations.  In this paper, we examined the relationship be­tween marriage and five-year post-surgical survival, evaluat­ing several psychosocial factors as potential mediators of a positive association.


libbas.JPGpdficon_large.gifIdler, E. L., Boulifard, D. A., Labouvie, E., Chen, Y. Y., Krause, T. J., & Con­trada, R. J. (2009). Looking inside the black box of "attendance at services": New measures for exploring an old dimension in religion and health re­search. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 19(1), 1-20.

Scientists have long studied how religious affiliations, practices, beliefs, or attitudes may relate to health and survival.  Recent research has emphasized private and in­dividual aspects of religiosity over public and communal ones.  In this paper, we examined survey measures we developed to assess facets of congregate religious experience.  Through exploratory factor analysis, we distilled a set of dimensions along which these and conventional measures vary, and on which we compared people of diverse religious affiliations.


pfhs.JPGpdficon_large.gifContrada, R. J., Boulifard, D. A., Hekler, E. B., Idler, E. L., Spruill, T. M., Labouvie, E. W., & Krause, T. J. (2008). Psychosocial factors in heart surgery: Presurgical vul­nerability and postsurgical recovery. Health Psychology, 27(3), 309-319.

One important surgical outcome is the time patients require to recover before they can leave the hospital.  Knowing how various biological and psychosocial factors might affect this outcome is important to treatment providers and hospital administrators, who need to manage risks and resources.  In this paper, we considered high levels of psychological distress and low levels of perceived social support as pre-surgical vulnerabilities that could adversely affect post-surgical re­covery.  Treating them as mediators, we evaluated both their dependence upon comparatively stable psychosocial factors and their effectiveness in turn as predictors of hospital length of stay.


cds.JPGpdficon_large.gifContrada, R. J., Boulifard, D. A., Idler, E. L., Krause, T. J., & Labouvie, E. W. (2006). Course of depressive symptoms in patients undergoing heart surgery: Confirmatory analysis of the factor pattern and latent mean structure of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Psychosomatic Medicine, 68(6), 922-930.

Another important surgical outcome is how patients feel over the course of their recovery.  Of particular interest in patients with coronary heart disease are symptoms of depression, a syndrome associated with poor prognoses.  In this paper, we followed the course of these symptoms, which often rise before surgery, for a year after surgery by repeatedly administering a widely used depression inven­tory.  We also ascertained how consistently the inventory subscales measured distinct aspects of depressive sympto­matology by performing a confirmatory factor analysis.





Identity Development and Emerging Adulthood

This poster originated from a study of challenges that students in a rural Appalachian university face as they nego­tiate the transition from adolescence to adulthood.


eabie.JPGpdficon_large.gifBartoszuk, K., Boulifard, D. A., & Barton, A. L. (2010, March). Exploring associations between the IDEA and the EOM-EIS-2. Poster session presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Philadelphia, PA.

Scholars have coined the term emerging adulthood to identify the period between adolescence and adulthood that has length­ened in modern society.  They have devised new measures to study psychological processes within this period, which raises the question of how these measures relate to those traditionally used for studying identity.  In this poster, we addressed this question by classifying students on identity status measures to compare their scores on emerging adulthood measures.  Our findings suggested that identity development in this population may relate to self-perceptions of capability and autonomy.





Pretend Play in Child Assessment and Treatment

My doctoral dissertation and a graduate program examination paper I wrote were inspired by my experiences using play therapy in clinical work with children.


pdficon_large.gifBoulifard, D. A. (2004). Effects of a puppet-based interview technique on young children's behavioral self-report (Doctoral Dissertation, Rutgers Univer­sity, 2003). Dissertation Abstracts In­ternational, 64(9), 4604B.

Many clinicians believe that conversing with young children through hand puppets pro­motes comfort and candor in talking about sensitive subjects.  Although this idea seemed plausible, I found a dearth of empirical re­search about it.  I decided to conduct a study myself, comparing a play-based assessment technique with a more conventional one in regard to the quality of information it yielded.  I arranged for interviewers to ask kindergartners a set of questions about their behavioral dispositions, once with and once without the use of hand puppets; and I asked mothers the same questions about their children's behaviors and self-perceptions.  These data supported conclusions about the content of children's self-reports and the effectiveness of different interview techniques.


pper.JPGpdficon_large.gifBoulifard, D. A. (2000, November). Pretend Play and Emotion Regula­tion. Unpublished qualifying exam­ination paper, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.

Because children referred for clinical ser­vices often deal with difficult emotions, many play-therapeutic techniques aim to enhance their skills at emotion regulation.  I wondered if childhood pretend play might foster these skills naturally during devel­opment as well as deliberately through intervention.  I addressed this question in three stages.  First, I reviewed modern theo­ries of pretend play, tracing their progress towards an adequate explanation of its fea­tures.  Next, I considered how, according to these theories, pretend play might influence children's emotional states and development.  Last, I reviewed findings from naturalistic, experimental, and case studies regarding the effects of pretend play on emotion in children.





Socioemotional Development and Dynamic Systems Theory

A book chapter I coauthored, a conference poster I presented, and a graduate program examination paper I wrote were inspired by my interest in applications of dynamic systems theory to the study of human development.

pdficon_large.gifHaviland-Jones, J., Boulifard, D., & Magai, C. (2001). Old-new answers and new-old questions for personality and emotion: A matter of complexity. In H. A. Bosma & E. S. Kunnen (Eds.), Identity and emotion: Develop­ment through self-organization (pp. 151-176). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

A fundamental question for students of socioemotional development is how we come to have a sense of who we are.  For many years, a cognitive perspective dominated research on human identity.  Subsequent scholarship has attended more to the influences of emotional processes and experi­ences.  My graduate study advisor recruited my assistance in writing a book chapter that considered these influences from a dynamic systems perspective.  One part of this work involved our use of Hierarchical Classes (HICLAS) Analysis to examine the role of emotions in organizing self-experience.  Another part involved our use of computer modeling to illustrate ideas from a theory by Sylvan Tomkins concerning the role of stimulus energy (rather than interpretation) in generating affect.



dmasb.JPGpdficon_large.gifBoulifard, D. A. (2011, January). A dynamic systems model of parent-child interaction in the development of antisocial behavior. Unpublished paper, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.  [Expands a poster presented at the 2001 meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Minneapolis, MN.]

Among the studies I reviewed for my transactional models paper (see below), those reported by Gerald Patterson in his classic book, Coercive Family Process, were especially in­teresting.  Patterson invoked operant conditioning prin­ciples to study reciprocal influences among family members in moment-to-moment interactions.  I decided to explore his ideas in a dynamic systems context, by building a computer model of parent-child interaction based on social learning processes.  I showed how adjustments in learning efficiency could influence the model's time evolution towards distinctive patterns of interpersonal behavior.


tmasb.JPGpdficon_large.gifBoulifard, D. A. (2000, November). Trans­actional models of antisocial behavior devel­opment. Unpublished qualifying examination paper, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.

I wondered how dynamic systems principles might explain the development of antisocial behavior, a problem I had encountered in doing clinical work with children and adolescents.  To address this ques­tion, I reviewed etiological research guided by the transactional model of development, which empha­sizes reciprocal influence between organisms and environments, and then proposed a scheme for integrating thematic findings into a dynamic systems framework.