Best of Both Worlds
Assistant Professor of Psychology Meghan Morean came to Oberlin in fall 2014 from a postdoc position at Yale, where she was part of a research group conducting trials on alcohol and substance use in adolescents. She maintains a collaborative relationship with her colleagues at Yale, and she has an affiliate position at the medical school.
For students in Morean’s lab, this collaborative tie to Yale provides access to large data sets that are publishable in the top research journals.
“Right now we have two papers under review with student coauthors that have to do with alcohol-related research I conducted at Yale,” Morean says. “Students who are looking for opportunities to work on data analysis, submit posters, coauthor papers, make academic contributions, and build up their CV—things that are really important for gaining entrance to graduate school—some of the Yale data are great for that. It’s been a really nice way to involve a lot of students.”
Broadly, Morean’s research focuses on the causes and consequences of substance use, with a particular focus on alcohol and tobacco. One area of study examines the risk factors for initiating alcohol use during adolescence and early adulthood. Another line of research focuses on tobacco and the use of electronic cigarettes and vape pens.
In a paper published in September in the journal Pediatrics, Morean coauthored with her Yale colleagues the first ever study to collect data on high school students’ use of e-cigarettes to vape marijuana. They found high rates of teenagers using e-cigarettes and vape pens to vaporize marijuana, hash oil, and wax infused with THC.
“Over the last year or two there have been popular media articles on how adolescents are vaping pot,” Morean says. “But when I looked to the research literature, I couldn’t find any published studies. There were no data. This study was a simple stab at ‘are kids doing this, yes or no.’ There will be future iterations to get more information about why teens are vaping and who they are getting it from. We also want to know if teens know the actual concentration of the hash oil or other vaporizable forms of pot they buy.”
Because e-cigarettes and vape pens are so easy to conceal and don’t have a noticeable odor, there’s a concern that the concentrations of hash oils and THC waxes can be a lot higher than cannabis.
“The health effects of vaping pot have not been established,” Morean says. “We didn’t assess this, but there is a perception that vaping is healthier than smoking. I’m collecting data from adults right now, and they seem to believe that.”
Morean also has a particular interest in psychometrics. This fall, she’s teaching a statistics course, Advanced Methods in Psychometrics, as well as Introduction to Clinical and Counseling Psychology and a seminar called Mental Illness in the Media.
For the seminar, she received a course development grant from the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Students are visiting the museum throughout the semester to examine depictions of mental illness in fine art and comparing those impressions with criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders. “We cover a range of disorders and talk a lot about stigma,” she says.
Other projects under way in Morean’s lab include a trial evaluating the efficacy of a new student-developed bystander intervention program called Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct, and the installation of bar lab to run alcohol studies on adult participants.
The bar lab will fulfill Morean’s research interest in alcohol expectancies, which is what people think will happen when they drink versus what actually happens. “Here’s an extreme example. Everybody knows someone who thinks they’re the fun, life of the party person, and that’s their expectation of what’s going to happen, but then they’re actually kind of a jerk and no one likes to be around them, yet the person never makes that connection. I’m developing a paradigm to look at relationships between beliefs and subjective experiences, looking at discrepancies between those two things and how they relate to drinking outcomes. For example, if you underestimate how intoxicated you’re going to get, are you more likely to drink and drive?”
Morean says she enjoys teaching as much as she loves research, and her students’ excitement makes it all worthwhile. “I really wanted to come to a place like Oberlin where teaching is valued, there’s a strong focus on research, and the students are really smart and engaged. They make it so much fun.”