Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


40th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2014

Event Details

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Symposium #488
CE Offered: BACB
Strengthening College Survival: Contextual Behavioral Science and College Student Well-Being
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
9:00 AM–10:50 AM
W179a (McCormick Place Convention Center)
Area: CBM; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Kristian LaGrange (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
Discussant: Michael Bordieri (University of Mississippi Medical Center)
CE Instructor: Michael Bordieri, Ph.D.

College has been described as one of the most challenging periods of adjustment in many individuals' lives. Many factors can influence students' well-being, such as adjusting to university culture, newfound independence and responsibilities, and exposure to sociocultural diversity. Improved college well-being could have substantial effects, not only for students and their families, but also for communities at large. Emerging research focuses on training students in psychological flexibility to improve psychological well-being. Psychological flexibility is the capacity to respond effectively and meaningfully across a number of situations, regardless of difficult experiences that may be present. It may be that learning psychological flexibility provides students with a buffer against the challenges inherent in college and the stress that results. The papers in this symposium seek to contribute to this body of work by exploring the impact of flexibility on college well-being. The first paper will explore coping strategies and the implications of stress. The second paper will explore the long term effects of bullying. The third paper will explore the impact of a flexibility-based intervention on procrastination. The fourth paper will explore the impact of a flexibility-based intervention on GRE preparation. Implications for further work in this area will be discussed.

Keyword(s): college well-being

When College Gets Hard: Exploring the Relationship between Coping Strategy Engagement and Severity of Stress

CHARLES KATE DINGUS (University of Mississippi), Nadia Bethley (University of Mississippi), Maureen Kathleen Flynn (University of Mississippi), Lindsay W. Schnetzer (University of Mississippi), Solomon Kurz (University of Mississippi), Kelly G. Wilson (University of Mississippi), Kate Kellum (University of Mississippi)

According to the most recent data released by the American College Health Association, 51.5% of college students sampled reported feeling more than average or tremendous stress within the past 12 months (42% and 9.5%, respectively) (ACHA, 2012). When stressed, people engage in coping strategies that differentially affect psychological distress. Strategies associated with psychological flexibility are associated with more positive outcomes (e.g., Ruiz, 2010; Sturmey, 2009), while psychologically inflexible strategies have been linked to greater psychological distress (e.g., Marcks & Woods, 2005; Hayes et al, 2006). Within the psychological flexibility model, few studies have looked at the interaction between severity of naturally occurring stressors and coping strategy and their influence on psychological distress. The purpose of the current study (ongoing) was to investigate the relationship between coping strategy and severity of stressor in a college population. Participants (n = 538) were prompted to write a brief description of a recent stressful event then indicate whether or not they used certain coping strategies to deal with this stressor. Preliminary results indicate there may be significant effects of coping strategy engagement on psychological distress in the predicted direction (e.g., alcohol use: = 0.18, t(535) = 4.34, p < .001, pr2 = .034).


It's Not About Lunch Money: Effects of Past Bullying on Present Functioning in College Students

EMMIE HEBERT (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Kate Kellum (University of Mississippi), Kelly G. Wilson (University of Mississippi)

By the time they reach college age, most students have been through at least 12 years of schooling. Though we hope that most of it has been a positive experience, we know that this is not always the case. One thing many students struggle with in their primary and secondary school years is bullying. While it certainly has an effect on the student while it is happening (e.g. Espelage & Swearer, 2003), this paper focuses on the long-term effects of bullying. College students who have reported being victims of bullying in the past report higher rates of distress than those who do not report being bullied (e.g. Schafer et al, 2004). In addition to exploring effects of bullying on distress, this study examined how psychological flexibility may play a role in these effects. Preliminary data suggests that there is a relationship between students' past experiences with bullying and their current psychological flexibility. In addition to findings, implications for future research will be discussed.


It Can't Wait: Psychological Flexibility for Procrastination of College Students

ASHLYNE MULLEN (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

Ninety-five percent of college students procrastinate (O'Brien, 2002). Not only does procrastination lead to poor grades (van Eerde, 2003), students who engage in procrastinatory behaviors are generally more anxious (Rothblum, Solomon, & Murakami, 1986). People seek to avoid aversive stimuli, therefore the more aversive a situation, the more one will avoid (Steel, 2007). Procrastination does not simply involve avoidance of a task or situation, but the avoidance of experiences associated with that task. Rather than changing ineffective behavior, many suppress or avoid negative experiences, often resulting in ineffective functioning (Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, & Lillis, 2006; Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999). This process, known as experiential avoidance, is at the core of the psychological flexibility model and is linked to psychopathology (Hayes & Gifford, 1997). Given that procrastination is an avoidant behavior, the psychological flexibility model can be a useful treatment method. The current study examines the impact of a flexibility-based intervention on procrastination with incoming 'at-risk' college students, meaning students at risk for failing out of school. Preliminary data suggests that using psychological flexibility techniques decreased procrastination while increasing well-being. Implications for effective education interventions will be discussed.


Knockin' on Grad School's Door: The Impact of Acceptance and Commitment Training on Graduate Record Examination Preparation Behavior

MADISON GAMBLE (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Shiloh Eastin (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Emily Squyres (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Emily Kennison Sandoz (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) presents a significant challenge for most students who plan to attend graduate school. Juggling regular coursework with GRE preparation can result in significant anxiety, which many respond to by avoiding preparation altogether. Flexibility-based interventions, such as Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT), increase purposive action by facilitating increased acceptance of and flexibility with uncomfortable experiences. This study evaluated a flexibility-based workshop targeting GRE-related anxiety and how it might impact engagement in GRE preparation above and beyond the typical workshop, focusing on 'tips and tricks' to improve GRE performance. Undergraduate students who were interested in graduate school and GRE preparation volunteered to participate in the study in return for access to computer-based GRE study materials for one month. Participants were randomly assigned to either a traditional GRE workshop or the ACT-based workshop. We then tracked the time they spent preparing for the GRE over the following month. Preliminary data suggest that ACT may, in fact, increase engagement in GRE preparation over and above traditional educational workshops. The more complex contributions of pre-intervention anxiety and flexibility will be discussed.




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