Research Team Explores Mindfulness, Stress

Feb 21, 2022

Students team with professor on two research studies for their senior projects.

baranski and students

Senior psychology majors Emma McSurdy (left) and Hannah Burgess worked with Dr. Michael Baranski to research methods of coping with stress and anxiety.

A Cal U psychology professor is collaborating with two undergraduates on research into stress, anxiety and mindfulness.

Through a multi-site, empirical study, Dr. Michael Baranski, from the Department of Criminal Justice and Psychology, and psychology student Hannah Burgess are researching how different meditation practices can reduce stress in university students, staff and faculty.

In the second study, senior psychology student Emma McSurdy is surveying participants to rate their level of stress and anxiety before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, she will research how COVID-19 experience with stress and anxiety differ by gender. Both facts of the research will be presented as her University Honors Program thesis.

During the multi-site study, Baranski and Burgess will collaborate with international researchers from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) to collect data from participants in the U.S., Europe and Australia to analyze how brief mindfulness meditation can generally impact mental well-being, as well as which specific mindfulness practices are most beneficial.

This study, which will serve as Burgess’ senior project, will include reviewing literature, collecting and analyzing data, and interpreting and disseminating results.

“For Hannah, this could be a good springboard into her own research because, as she is entering graduate school, having a big study under her belt – with relevant skills and experience – will not only make her grad school application more competitive but also provide a foundation for her own lines of research” said Baranski, who arrived at California in August 2020.

Currently, the research team is recruiting student, staff, and faculty participants through California’s campus population. Each subject will receive a $10 Amazon gift card for their participation in the study, thanks to a stipend from California’s Center for Undergraduate Research and funding through California’s Faculty Professional Development Center.

In the research phase, participants will experience different types of meditation practices – such as mindful walking or mindful breathing – to measure their effectiveness in combatting stress.

“As someone who has recently learned of mindfulness meditation in a university seminar course, I have already felt the benefits within the last few months,” said Burgess, a senior Massillon, Ohio, native. “I am very excited to dive deeper into the unique effects of mindfulness relating to stress reduction.”

Baranski said that not only could the rigorous international mindfulness study impact Burgess while pursuing graduate studies, but it also may have implications for future academic research.

“Hannah as well as other researchers can use the results of this study for their own research, replicating and extending the findings in some new creative way,” he said.

In establishing the COVID-19 research project, McSurdy and Baranski discussed how college students face significant stress and anxiety as they transition from high school. Students experience anxiety related to a new learning style, new living arrangements and academic rigors. But now – due to COVID-19 – they must also compete with virtual/remote learning, mask mandates and limited entertainment options.

“What a perfect storm of increased stress and anxiety, which makes this a very relevant study,” Baranski said. “It must be hard being a college student – exploring new content material and navigating that difficult age. This research will be really important to see how COVID has exacerbated these issues.”

Like Burgess, McSurdy will also review literature on the topic, collect and analyze data, and interpret and disseminate the results to better understand stress and anxiety responses across different genders. She said that this project will give her insight on how professional research is generally conducted.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, physical health was the main focus – and mental health was put on the back burner,” said McSurdy, a senior Smock, Pa., native. “This project is bringing to light the impacts that the pandemic has had on mental health in a timely manner.”

Any California student, staff, or faculty interested in the multi-site mindfulness study can contact Hannah Burgess at Any California student interested in the stress and anxiety COVID study can contact Emma McSurdy at