Student receives award to study cognition in pregnancy

June 15, 2009

Sarah Pugh, a junior in Biobehavioral Health, will undertake a research project to examine the relationship between cognition (mental ability) and exercise during pregnancy. Pugh is the recipient of an Undergraduate Discovery summer grant from Penn State.

Pugh will work with Danielle Downs, associate professor of kinesiology and obstetrics and gynecology in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development. As a freshman, Pugh began working in the Exercise Psychology Laboratory, directed by Downs, which is where she and Downs came up with their research project.

“I have always been interested in cognition,” says Pugh. “And right now, there aren’t many studies that understand how cognition changes during pregnancy and whether exercise offers any protective effects from cognitive declines. D. Downs and I came up with this research project after seeing a feature article in Monitor on Psychology, which brought up the question as to whether or not a woman’s mental functioning changes during pregnancy and how that benefits women.”

Pugh and Downs will be looking for relationships between women’s own reports of their mental functioning, their levels of exercise, and their general psychological health.

To capture this information, Pugh developed a survey that she will administer to pregnant women during their third trimester and postpartum. These are two time periods in which women report having the most difficulty with common mental tasks such as memory, reaction time, attention, and concentration. After administering the survey, she will be compiling and analyzing the data, and helping to write literature for peer-reviewed journals.

Collaborating with a faculty member from outside of her major will allow Pugh access to a broader knowledge base and expertise, which is a unique opportunity for any student. With this, she will be able to learn more about the many sides of cognition.

“This is a great opportunity for me to learn about cognition in a practical, research-oriented way,” said Pugh.

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Last Updated June 16, 2009