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Sarah  Pressman - UC Irvine. Irvine, CA, US

Sarah Pressman

Professor, Psychological Science | UC Irvine


Dr. Pressman's research focuses on the interplay of emotions, social relationships, and health, with a focus on physiological processes.





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Surprising Effects of Smiling on Stress - Positive Links Speaker Series ft. Sarah Pressman Why Doctors Should Care About Happiness | Sarah Pressman | TEDxUCIrvine




Sarah Pressman's research examines the role that positive emotions and other positive factors play in influencing stress and health outcomes. She is especially interested in exactly how these factors “get under the skin” to influence our well-being and protect us against the harmful effects of stress. Pathways that she has examined include physiological processes such as stress hormone reactivity, cardiovascular response, immune system change, as well as health behaviors like sleeping, exercise, and other leisure activities. In addition, Dr. Pressman also does research on the role of these positive psychosocial factors in buffering the detrimental effects of stress. For example, whether happiness is associated with an improved ability to handle stress, both from a psychological and a physiological standpoint. Another focus is using relationship and emotion markers outside of self-report as predictors of health. For example, computerized word encoding of writing, or positive facial emotion expression (e.g. smiling) as alternative, unobtrusive methods of understanding individual differences.

Areas of Expertise (5)

Social Relationships and Health

Emotion and Emotion Regulation

Stress and Coping

Mental Health & Wellness

Physiological Measurement

Accomplishments (2)

Chair of the 77th American Psychosomatic Society

2018 Annual Meeting

Chair of the 76th American Psychosomatic Society

2017 Annual Meeting

Education (3)

University of Pittsburgh: Post Doctoral Fellowship, Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine

Carnegie Mellon University: M.S. and Ph.D., Social, Personality & Health Psychology

Mount Allison University: B.Sc., Biopsychology


Media Appearances (7)

Speaking of Psychology: Why you should take a vacation—and how to get the most out of it, with Jessica de Bloom, PhD, and Sarah Pressman, PhD

Speaking of Psychology  online


Whether your idea of the perfect vacation involves the beach, exploring a city, or just relaxing at home, you probably look forward to your time off all year. [Professor] Sarah Pressman, PhD, of the University of California Irvine, and Jessica de Bloom, PhD, of Groningen University in the Netherlands, talk about why taking a break from work is important for physical and mental health, what you can do to make the most of your vacation time, and differences in work and vacation culture around the world.

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Can 1 million women be wrong about happiness and health?

Los Angeles Times  online


The key to the Lancet study is its statistical analysis of the data. The average participant was 59 when she enrolled in the Million Women Study. The women self-reported their health (from "poor" to "excellent") at the beginning of the study, and the authors then applied statistics to these data to counter the possibility that the participants' health itself was what was influencing their happiness, rather than vice versa. This makes sense, but it changes the nature of the question being answered. After all, a woman's happiness for the first six decades of her life could have affected her health, yet the analysis essentially took that out of the picture, as though the middle-aged subjects were a blank slate. The authors' question, then, was "Does happiness at 59 predict life span beyond its effects during the first six decades?"

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The Best Predictor of Relationship Success

Psychology Today  online


Decades of research show that this positive relational energy nourishes us and makes us come alive. For example, research by UC Irvine professor Sarah Pressman shows that the need for positive social connection is so great that the lack of it is worse for your health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure and reduces longevity. In contrast, positive social connection can not only lengthen our life, but it also can strengthen our immune system and lower rates of anxiety and depression. How's that for good news?

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The Best Leaders Have a Contagious Positive Energy

Harvard Business Review  online


There is a botanical term for these results: the heliotropic effect. That’s the phenomenon whereby plants naturally turn toward and grow in the presence of light. In nature, light is the life-giving force; photosynthesis occurs only in its presence. Human beings have the same inherent attraction toward life-giving and life-supporting energy. This form of energy is what you receive — and give — in relationships with others.Decades of research shows that this positive relational energy nourishes us and makes us come alive. For example, research by UC Irvine professor Sarah Pressman shows that the need for positive social connection is so great that the lack of it is worse for your health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure and reduces longevity. In contrast, positive social connection can not only lengthen our life, but also strengthen our immune system and lower rates of anxiety and depression.

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How Going for a Run May Improve Your Response to Vaccines

Yahoo News (Women's Running)  online


It should come as no surprise that sleep deprivation can interfere with your immune system. After all, rest is universally prescribed for just about any illness. A recent study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that people who slept less had a lower antibody response to the flu shot. Make sure you're not cutting corners on your sleep in the nights leading up to your appointment. "[Sleep] is truly a matter of health and a behavior we must take seriously, especially in the middle of a pandemic," Sarah Pressman said in a press release. Pressman, a professor of psychological science at the University of California Irvine, co-authored the study.

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Are Flip Phones Really Better for You?

Discover Magazine  online


Given the numerous cons associated with fancy phones, could simpler ones with fewer pestering notifications actually improve our mental and physical health? It likely depends on individual characteristics, like your age and the specific outcome you’re seeking, says Sarah Pressman, a wellbeing scientist at the University of California, Irvine who has studied the effects of cellphones on social interactions and stress levels. For example, a person in their twenties (the group with the highest percentage of smartphone ownership) with a simple Nokia may feel left out while watching the rest of their friends scroll away on their more luxurious devices. But the switch could pay off for someone seeking new companions or a more mindful existence, Pressman says. “The biggest benefit of switching to a non-smartphone is forcing you to be in the moment, make social connections and enjoy the thing that you’re doing.”

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The Smile Behind the Mask

Aish  online


But don’t just smile because it will positively impact others. Smile because of the benefit it will bring you. A study from the University of California, Irvine recently showed that a genuine smile, the kind that brings up the corners of your mouth and produces creases around the eyes, can lower your heart rate and reduce the pain of a needle injection by up to 40 percent. One of the researchers, professor of psychological science Sarah Pressman, said that they don’t yet fully understand why displaying a smile can help reduce pain and stress, but they have a theory they call the “facial feedback hypothesis”. “The thought is that the nerves in your face, that when those muscles are activating they actually send a message to your brain that’s telling you that you’re happy. … The basic premise is that somehow that expression is sending signals back to your mind, and it’s altering your emotion in some sense.”

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Event Appearances (1)

Why Doctors Should Care About Happiness | Sarah Pressman

TEDxUCIrvine  Irvine, CA


Articles (3)

The Use of Smartphones as a Digital Security Blanket: The Influence of Phone Use and Availability on Psychological and Physiological Responses to Social Exclusion

Psychosomatic Medicine

John Hunter, Emily D. Hooker, Nicolas Rohleder, Sarah D. Pressman

2018 Mobile phones are increasingly becoming a part of the social environment, and when an individual feels excluded during a socially stressful situation, they often retreat to the comfort of their phone to ameliorate the negativity. This study tests whether smartphone presence does, in fact, alter psychological and physiological responses to social stress. Methods: Participants (N=148, 84% female, mean age=20.4) were subjected to a peer, social-exclusion stressor. Prior to exclusion, participants were randomized to one of three conditions: (1) phone present with use encouraged, (2) phone present with use restricted, or (3) no phone access. Saliva samples and self-report data were collected throughout the study to assess salivary alpha amylase (sAA), cortisol, and feelings of exclusion. Results: Participants in both phone-present conditions reported lower feelings of exclusion compared to individuals who had no access to their phone, F(2,143)=5.49, p=.005. Multilevel modeling of sAA responses revealed that the individuals in the restricted phone condition had a significantly different quadratic trajectory following the stressor compared to the phone use, υ=-0.12,, z=-2.15 p=.032, and no phone conditions, υ=-.14, z=-2.64, p=.008. Specifically, those in the restricted phone condition showed a decrease in sAA following exclusion, those in the no phone condition showed a gradual increase, and phone users exhibited little change. Cortisol responses to the stressor did not vary by condition. Conclusions: Taken together, these results suggest that the mere presence of a phone (and not necessarily phone use) can buffer against the negative experience and effects of social exclusion.

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Which Aspects of Positive Affect Are Related to Mortality? Results From a General Population Longitudinal Study

Annals of Behavioral Medicine

Keith J. Petrie, Sarah D. Pressman, James W. Pennebaker, Simon Øverland, Grethe S. Tell, Børge Sivertsen

2018 Previous research has shown a link between low positive affect and mortality, but questions remain about how positive affect is related to mortality and how this differs by gender and age. Purpose To investigate the relationships between positive affect, negative affect, and mortality in a general population sample, and to examine whether these relationships were related to age, sex, or cause-specific mortality. Methods We used data from 5,554 Norwegian participants aged 47–49 and 71–74 years who completed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and also provided data on demographics, health behaviors, and physical health as part of the Hordaland Health Study. The primary outcome was mortality after an average follow-up period of 16.5 years. Results Participants in the lowest positive affect tertile had a near twofold increased mortality risk, compared to those in the highest positive affect tertile. This association was driven primarily by the PANAS “active” item and persisted, even after controlling for activity-related confounds and other positive affect items. No significant associations were found between negative affect and mortality. The relationship between positive affect and mortality was not significantly attenuated by age or sex. Although low positive was associated with an increased risk of mortality, it was not related to a specific cause of death. Conclusions Low positive affect was significantly associated with mortality risk. The relationship was driven by the PANAS active item and not associated with cause-specific mortality. Findings suggest future research should examine the association between feeling inactive, sedentary behavior, and subsequent mortality.

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It just takes a text: Partner text messages can reduce cardiovascular responses to stress in females

Computers in Human Behavior

Emily D. Hooker, Belinda Campos, Sarah D. Pressman

2018 Despite the ubiquity of text messaging, little is known about the physiological impact of receiving texts. This study explored the cardiovascular effects of receiving text messages from romantic partners during a stressor. Seventy-five healthy females received either (1) scripted, supportive text messages from their partners, (2) scripted, mundane text messages from their partners, or (3) no text messages at all (control condition) prior to completing a laboratory stressor. Blood pressure and heart rate were monitored throughout the study. Analyses revealed that systolic blood pressure in response to the stressor was lowest in the mundane text message group and significantly lower than in the other two groups. However, the mundane text message group also exhibited systolic blood pressure that more slowly returned to baseline levels. These findings highlight one potential benefit of text messaging and signal a need for additional work to better understand texting.

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