Dr. Starr’s Research Interests
Our lab’s research centers on the origins and consequences of depression and anxiety disorders in adolescence and adulthood. These interests have developed along several interrelated pathways.
Life Stress/ Interpersonal Functioning. Although the term “internalizing” was coined within psychopathology research to describe symptoms and disorders directed inward or toward the self, internalizing disorders also markedly impact the social environment, through the deterioration of close relationships, adaptation of interpersonally destructive behaviors, self-generation of stressors, and a range of other mechanisms. My research explores processes by which depression and anxiety reciprocally influence interpersonal functioning.
Most depressive episodes follow a stressful life event, but the staggering majority of stressful life events don’t precipitate depression. Why? Identifying components of stressful experiences and intrinsic risk factors that together increase risk for internalizing outcomes is critical for early identification. My prior work has explored how biological factors (e.g., neuroendocrinological, genetic), affective processes (e.g., negative emotion differentiation), and other variables (interpersonal, cognitive) interface with stress to influence internalizing outcomes.
Measurement of Life Stress. Life stress is a complex, heterogenous construct, which essentially encompasses the entirety of human experiences. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s hard to measure. Sadly, poor measurement can lead to grievous errors in research. Although high-quality measures of stress have been available for decades, they are not always readily implemented. I am interested exploring how life stress can be most efficiently and validly measured, and how existing models of life stress assessment can be extended to adjacent constructs.
Depression/Anxiety & Affective Science. I have a growing “dabbling” interesting in how internalizing disorders influence—and are influenced by—basic emotion processes/ experiences (emotion regulation, emotion differentiation, daily emotion dynamics, emotion reactivity to positive and negative experiences, rumination, etc.). Ultimately, this ties back with my interest in stress and interpersonal functioning, as emotions are encoded with important information that help people navigate the social world.
Daily Processes. I have a longstanding methodological interest in applying intensive longitudinal designs (daily diary studies, ecological momentary assessment, etc.) to study psychopathological processes. I’ve been involved with this kind of research in some form for over 18 years. I have used these approaches to examine interpersonal functioning, symptom presentation, affective reactivity, emotion regulation, and basic emotional dynamics in relation to depression and anxiety.
Stress & Depression in Sexual & Gender Minorities. Risk for depression and suicide among people who identify as sexual and gender minorities (SGM) far outstrips their straight, cisgender peers. Although not a primary focus of my work, a small branch of our lab hopes to leverage knowledge about life stress, affective science, and developmental psychopathology to better understand risk and promote resilience among SGM youth and adults.
Comorbidity. Finally, one of my oldest interests (dating back to my first publication) is in the causes and implications of the extensive comorbidity between depression and anxiety disorders, including delineating their natural boundaries, identifying shared and unique features, and exploring etiologic relationships between symptoms.
Like most scientists, my interests continually evolve, and are shaped in part by the students in my lab. If you are interested in joining our team, check here for an update on interests that I envision as compatible for the upcoming cycle.