Psychology Department

 

Faculty

Susan Gans

Susan E. Gans
Professor of Psychology

Assistant Chairperson
Ph.D., The University of Chicago

Office Phone: 610-436-3270
Office Room #: PB 44
Email: sgans@wcupa.edu
Preferred means of contact: Email or drop-in.

Preferred period of time to contact before scheduling an advisee meeting: No set time, but the earlier you schedule, the more chance you have of getting an appointment time you want. 

 

Fall 2014 Office Hours:

Monday        1:00pm - 2:00pm; 3:00pm - 5:00pm

Wednesday 1:00pm - 3:00pm

Friday           1:00pm - 2:00pm

Courses typically taught:

  • PSY255 (Biological Psychology)
  • PSY245 (Statistics for the behavioral and social sciences)
  • WOS335 (Gender, Race, & Science)
  • PSY363 (Psychology of Learning)

Courses taught in the past:

  • PSY246 (Research methods)
  • PSY266 (Laboratory in Biopsychology)
  • PSY464 (Advanced Biopsychology)
  • PSY400 (Senior seminar)

Brief description of research interests:

My current research interests include the role of stress hormone responses and sleep during periods of life transition, particularly the transition to college in emerging adults. I investigate the role that parents play in the establishment of stress hormone responses and sleep patterns.

Representative publications & presentations:

Johnson, V. K., Gans, S. E., Kerr, S., & LaValle, W. (accepted for publication). Managing the transition to college: family functioning, emotion coping, and adjustment in emerging adulthood. Journal of College Student Development.

Johnson, V. K., Kerr, S., Gans, S. E., & Bierschwale, D. (2009). Adolescent adjustment to college before and after September 11, 2001. Journal of The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, 21, 91-112.

Johnson, V. K., Gans, S. E., Kerr, S. & Deegan, K. (2008). Managing the transition to college: the role of family cohesion and adolescents' emotional coping strategies. Journal of College of Orientation and Transition, 15, 29-46.

Kerr, S., Johnson, V.K., Gans, S.E., & Krumrine, J. (2004). Predicting adjustment during the transition to college: Alexithymia, perceived stress, and psychological symptoms. Journal of College Student Development, 45, 593-611.

Gans, S. E. & Johnson, V. K. (2009). Late adolescent cortisol response varies within individuals over time. Presented to the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology.

Gans, S. E., Johnson, V. K., Kerr, S., and Cairns, A. A. (2006). Sleep, cortisol, and the late adolescent transition to college. Presented to the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology.

Gans, S. E., Kerr, S., and Johnson, V. K. (2004). Cortisol reactivity, emotional expression, and the late adolescent transition to college. Presented to the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology.

Gans, S. E. and Johnson, V. K. (2002). Cortisol changes during the transition to college. Developmental Psychobiology, 41, 305. Presented at the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology.

Heil, M., Johnson, V. K., & Gans, S. E. (March, 2010). Social eating and the late adolescent transition to college. Poster to be presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Adolescence, Philadelphia, PA.

Johnson, V. K. & Gans, S. E. (2010). Cortisol reactivity as a marker for college adjustment during emerging adulthood. Poster to be presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Adolescence, Philadelphia, PA.

Johnson, V. K. & Gans, S. E. (2009). Gender specific risk and protective factors for maladjustment during the college transition. Paper to be presented at the PASSHE Women's Consortium Annual Meeting, West Chester University, West Chester, PA.

Johnson, V.K. & Gans, S. E. (March, 2009). Family adaptation and emotion coping during emerging adulthood: Explaining variance in college adjustment. Poster presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Denver, CO.

Johnson, V.K. & Gans, S. E. (March, 2008). Coping with emotion during the transition to college: Predicting college adjustment beyond the first college year. Paper presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Adolescence, Chicago, IL.

LaValle, W. D., Johnson, V. K., Gans, S. E., & Kerr, S. (March, 2008). Coping with Gender and Racial Stereotypes During the College Transition.Poster presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Adolescence, Chicago, IL.

Johnson, V. K., Gans, S. E., Kerr, S., LaValle, W., Kizewich, K., Middleton, J., *Miller, E., and *Palmeri, S. (March, 2007). Managing the transition to college: family cohesion, emotion coping, and adolescent behavior problems. Poster presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Boston, MA.

Johnson, V. K., Gans, S. E., Kerr, S., LaValle, W., Bee, S., Szeyller, E., and Wonsock, G. (March, 2007). Emotion coping and adolescent behavior problems: Validating the TMMS. poster presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Boston, MA.

Cairns, A. A. & Gans, S. E. (October, 2006). Sleep, cortisol, and the late adolescent transition to college. Paper presented at the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology.

More detailed description of research interests:

A few years ago I made an exciting change in my scholarship. I was trained as a graduate student to study interactions between behavior and biology in female rats. I now focus my attention on the behavior and biology of first-year college students. The two lines of research share in common a focus on hormone effects on behavior, and behavior effects on hormones, and the effect of environment on this reciprocal relationship. I have always had a concern with development; some of my early work at WCU focused on odors in the maternal nest and their effect on later mate choice. Now I focus on the interrelationships between physiology and adaptation to the college environment.

The body has a vast and complex array of physiological mechanisms that are mobilized in the service of protecting itself in times of challenge, such as important life transitions. The combined efforts of these systems are termed "allostasis," the process of a physiological system maintaining balance as it is challenged. Among the allostatic mechanisms available to the body, and perhaps most important to long-term psychosocial functioning, is the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. The main product of this system in the human body, cortisol secretion by the adrenal gland, helps us to adapt to an ever-changing environment, and make appropriate behavioral responses. Among its functions, cortisol increases behavioral and self-perceived levels of alertness, increases glucose utilization by muscle tissue (to facilitate "fight or flight" responses to danger), and decreases inflammation. Unlike shorter-term responses to challenge such as autonomic arousal, cortisol secretion has the potential to alter the function of multiple physiological systems, including the nervous system, in the long term.

The magnitude of a particular cortisol response is not equivalent to an individual's cognitive and emotional experience of any particular mood state in a given moment. Moreover, there is a great deal of variability in cortisol response among individuals; different individuals will have different cortisol responses to the same challenge and identical cortisol responses may be correlated with very different mood states. The characteristics of an adaptive cortisol response to a challenge include rapid cortisol release and equally rapid inhibition once a challenge has subsided. In contrast, some individuals will show consistently elevated, depressed, or disorganized patterns of cortisol secretion in response to challenge.

Cortisol level is a robust predictor of well-being during early life transitions, such as the transitions to day care and elementary school. My work aims to elucidate this relationship during a later developmental stage, late adolescence/emerging adulthood. It is possible that the patterns of cortisol secretion established during the formative years with one's family are imported into the college context, influencing and being influenced by successes and challenges during the transition to college.