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Looking Inward: A Student’s Explorations of Human Behavior

Giving News

By Lauren Edwards

Don’t you sometimes wonder why people act the way they do? Or what they might be feeling or thinking? So does Jenna Baddeley, a third-year graduate student who is pursuing both a PhD in social psychology and a clinical doctorate. Baddeley is fascinated by human nature, and is infinitely fascinated by tough personal issues such as depression and relationship conflicts. And thanks to a UT alumna who preceded her on campus by some 75 years, Baddeley is seeking answers to her questions. Alma Carlson, BA ’37, established the Alma Idell Carlson Fund in 1971 to study diseases of the brain and children’s diseases. Baddeley has received funding from the endowment to forge innovative approaches to learning more about why we behave the way we do.

Donor funding enables Jenna Baddeley to follow her passion: exploring the mind to learn more about human behavior.

Donor funding enables Jenna Baddeley to follow her passion: exploring the mind to learn more about human behavior.

“There’s a lot to be studied on why it’s so difficult for people to deal with not only their own distress but other people’s distress,” Baddeley says. “I think it’s important to do work that has an application, and I feel so grateful to be in a field where I can investigate intellectual questions about people.” Her recent research includes a study of the social lives of people suffering from depression and another project that examines the relationships of couples when one partner has returned from military deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In her depression study, Baddeley gave tape recorders to people in two groups: those who have depression and those who do not. Participants wear the recorders for several days, and then Baddeley listens to the tapes to see what goes on in their social lives. It’s a new approach. Baddeley discovered that for people who are afflicted with depression, participation in social groups and activities is the best predictor of getting better. She hopes to continue the study by inviting clinicians and people with depression to listen to the tapes to see what they can tell about participants by listening.

The deployment study, funded through a grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, took Baddeley, along with Professor James Pennebaker, to Central Texas’ Fort Hood, where they set up a venue for returning veterans and their spouses to engage in “expressive writing.” Pennebaker chairs UT’s Department of Psychology and is a pioneer in the study of this technique as a route to healing. The idea is that by expressing their thoughts and feelings through the writing process, the veterans and their spouses might help to improve their relationships.

Baddeley, who studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, became interested in psychology while doing her undergraduate work. She took some psychology classes, became involved in research, and eventually began to consider the idea of being a counselor. “I just thought at first that it might be nice to be a therapist,” she says. “But then I also got involved in research and I really liked it. That led me to try clinical psychology so I could get more training in both.” She is now leaning toward teaching and researching at the college level, a vocation that will allow her to continue following her passion: to discover more about the human mind.

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