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Psychology in a Social Context
Psychology in a Social Context


What are the differences in how people in a relationship view, understand, and are affected by a shared experience? Can a parent’s attitude toward particular transportation choices influence their child’s attitude about different ways of getting around? Do social interactions in the workplace predict whether an employee will stay at a job? Are the various relationships people have at all responsible for health outcomes?

These are the kind of questions Dr. Cynthia Mohr examines in her research. Mohr is a social psychologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Portland State University. Much of her research focuses on how interpersonal relationships and emotions act on health. To understand how relationships and health are connected, she analyzes data gathered using daily process methodology, a research method wherein subjects record experiences, thoughts, moods, and behaviors daily or multiple times a day, for periods ranging from a week to a month. By illuminating the intricacies and complexities of how the many relationships people have inform and influence health behaviors, Dr. Mohr’s research may also shed light on ways individuals, small and large groups can augment behaviors to improve wellbeing overall.

Dr. Mohr is a Co-Investigator along with Dr. Todd Bodner and Principal Investigator, Dr. Leslie Hammer on the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans (SERVe); a study developing and testing the efficacy of a training intervention for supervisors of Oregon veterans that aims to help veterans transition back into the civilian workforce. The project received $5 million in funding from the Department of Defense in early 2013. A year later, the project is beginning to collect survey data from veterans and their spouses. The daily interviews used to collect data were designed by Dr. Mohr’s research team. As the study continues over the coming years, she will analyze the data they produce. If the intervention study is successful, it could one day be deployed nationally to the benefit of all those who serve in the armed forces.

Dr. Mohr and her colleagues are interested in the ways that positive and negative daily events and mood are related to the work, health, and leisure behaviors of returning veterans and their partners/spouses. The study is being conducted with participants of the SERVe study and their partners/spouses. The results will be used to understand the veteran reintegration experience and the daily health behaviors of veterans and their partners/spouses.

Over the past several years, Mohr has collaborated on several projects with Dr. Jennifer Dill, Director, Oregon Transportation Research & Education Consortium (OTREC), and Professor, Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies & Planning at PSU. In these projects, Dr. Mohr has carefully examined social influences on travel-related behavior. The Robert Wood Johnson funded “Family Activity Study” aims to understand how families get around Portland neighborhoods with a focus on active forms of transportation such as riding a bike or walking. Dr. Mohr contributes her expertise in the development and analysis of data collected using daily process methodology.

In the study, families with children between the ages of five and 16 completed surveys and used activity monitors to record their activity. Analysis of the data will help Dr. Dill and others better understand how and why families make active transportation choices. In the long run, the study may help Portland and other cities develop neighborhoods that encourage and are more conducive to walking and bicycling.

“This study was looking at the built environment, people’s attitude about walking and biking, and their activities,” said Mohr. “For me it’s interesting because many of these transportation issues are related to health issues. We are able to interview and collect data from entire families; what were their attitudes about active transportation; how often did they walk or ride a bike to work or school; did the infrastructure in their neighborhoods have something to do with that.”

According to Dr. Mohr, the benefits of projects like the “Family Activity Study” come from the understanding of how factors like the built environment and attitudes towards activity like walking and biking influence transportation choices that promote good health. Once city planners have such information, they can use it to plan neighborhoods that encourage healthy activities.

Dr. Mohr has also collaborated with industrial/organizational psychologist Dr. Bob Sinclair of Clemson University, and the Oregon Nurses Association on a project funded by the Northwest Health Foundation. Dr. Mohr noted that this project aimed to gain a better understanding of how to counteract attrition in the nursing field, which according to one study could lead to a shortage of over 500,000 RNs by 2025 (Mackusick; 2010)i. The study examined interpersonal, workplace, and health factors in a multi-wave longitudinal study of Oregon nurses.

“This is a study we recently completed a three year follow-up on,” Dr. Mohr said. “My graduate student wrote her dissertation on work that we did. We had nurses making weekly reports on their experiences; whether they experienced interpersonal conflicts with other nurses, physicians, patients, or patient families. We asked if their experiences changed their behaviors; did they exercise more, less; things of that sort. What we’re looking for are signs that over time these factors predict a nurse’s desire to stay in the profession, their health, and wellbeing.”

Relationships at home and work are more closely aligned to health choices and outcomes than many may think. Work stress experienced by one person may have a negative health impact on their partner. Likewise, shared positive experiences like exercising can lead to positive health outcomes. Researchers like Dr. Mohr are providing insight into the numerous complexities involving how the relationships we have with others influence our attitudes, activities, and health. Insights which we can use to better understand how our actions and relationships can promote quality of life and wellbeing for all.


i. MacKusick, C. I., & Minick, P. (2010). Why are nurses leaving? Findings from an initial qualitative study on nursing attrition. Medsurg Nursing, 19(6).

Authored by Shaun McGillis
Posted April 16, 2014