Research Highlights

Dr. Loren Toussaint

Is forgiveness related to living longer? This is one of the questions Dr. Toussaint has been addressing in his research at Luther. In a longitudinal study of 1500 adults age 66 and over, Dr. Toussaint and his research team found that those who rated high in “conditional forgiveness”—that is, they could only forgive others who said they were sorry—were more likely to have died over the course of the study than those who were low in conditional forgiveness. Dr. Toussaint and his colleagues have published this research in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, and this promising area of research has been written up in Psychology Today.

Dr. David Njus

Our attachment relationships to parents and to romantic partners are psychologically important to us—they can provide a safe haven in times of distress, and a secure base from which we can explore the world.  Recent research has suggested that for people who are theists, God can serve as an attachment figure.  Dr. Njus and Lexi Scharmer (’16) explored whether the psychological benefits of having a secure attachment relationship with God are similar to the benefits of secure attachment relationships to adults in our lives.

In a sample of American adults who believe in God, Dr. Njus and Scharmer found that secure attachment to God is associated with lower levels of depression and higher levels of self-esteem.  Interestingly, these relationships held even after statistically controlling for levels of attachment to parents and romantic partners and for levels of self-control subjects perceived themselves as having.  This research provides further evidence that God can serve as an attachment figure, and that a secure attachment relationship with God is associated with psychological well-being.

Dr. Stephanie Travers

Dr. Travers has initiated a translational research program directed at applying the basic cognitive science of memory to healthy functioning and attention, memory, and cognitive aging in the elderly. Translational science takes the best of what a field knows from laboratory studies and “translates” that information into useful interventions and approaches in patient care. Dr. Travers has developed a unique translational approach that uses gardening and other activities, sometimes referred to as horticulture therapy, to help elderly persons in nursing homes retain functional ability and improve cognitive performance.

Over the summer of 2010, Dr. Travers developed a horticulture therapy program and implemented it at Aase Haugen nursing home in Decorah, Iowa. This program consisted of several gardening sessions with the residents over the course of the good growing months, mainly June and July. Residents also participated in a pilot assessment program where Dr. Travers was able to collect initial data examining the relevance of horticulture therapy to cognitive functioning.

The results of this initial pilot horticulture intervention will be presented at the National Wellness Conference in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Dr. Travers will lead a 1-hour symposium explaining the planning, logistics, intervention, assessment, and relationship-building aspects of this project. As one of the first students to participate in this program, Mitchell Demers (11) will present a summary of this work at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Dr. Travers continues to build relationships in the community in hopes of growing this program and offering it more widely in other nursing homes in Decorah and throughout the region.