Today@Sam Article

The Science Of Communication

Nov. 1, 2019
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti


While most of us are familiar with the old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” Sam Houston State University professor, Lisa van Raalte, looks at how affectionate communication may also relate.

“My research investigates how communication in close relationships influences one's health. I am particularly interested in how affectionate communication (though verbal messages or nonverbal touch) impacts our physical well-being,” van Raalte said.

In recent projects she has examined the health effects of increased hugging and relational health effects of cuddling. Her research utilizes several hormones and physiological markers found in saliva and blood that are measured to understand health indices such as inflammation, stress, and immunocompetence.

“We could request to have oxytocin levels tested which is the "love" or "bonding" hormone; or we could request to have cortisol measured which is the marker for stress. We also have the capability to collect a drop of blood through a fingerstick device (little to no pain) to measure participant's blood glucose (or sugar) levels,” she said.

Through the use of the new Communication Studies lab, faculty and students are able to explore the science of communication in a number of ways.

“So far, the lab has been used to conduct a research study of mine funded by an internal grant at SHSU. Examining the interpersonal and health effects of hugging, I had participants come into the lab to provide some baseline markers such as height, weight, blood glucose levels, blood pressure and heart rate. The lab was used as a meeting place for participants to complete surveys on the lab computers and to return their at-home saliva collection packets. The samples were shipped off on dry ice to a lab in California for analyses,” van Raalte said.    vanRaalte

Serving as the director of the Communication Studies Research Lab, van Raalte designed the space to simulate a comfortable living room where participants would feel at ease. The room is equipped with a flat screen TV that has the capability of being connected to computers in the adjacent room, allowing for video observation. The lab also includes computers for surveys and a round table to facilitate effective interviewing. The storage lab (next door) includes a refrigerator and ultra-low freezer for storing human specimen samples long-term.

“Unlike many other research labs that are stark white, cold and unwelcoming, I designed our research lab to simulate a living room,” she said. “By doing this, participants are more likely to feel at ease in a research study and, in a sense, forget they are being studied. Our department now has a space where we can interview, survey, or conduct experiments close to our offices and conveniently located for students.”

listen now

Learn more in Dr. van Raalte's recent interview on Houston Public Media. 

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