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ECU researcher to study 'fun' with NIH
(May 17, 2008) — An East Carolina University professor will take his study of the healing benefits of fun to the National Institutes of Health this summer.
Dr. Carmen Russoniello will spend two months as a guest researcher at the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center in Bethesda, Md., to further the findings of his doctoral dissertation, which uncovered links between recreational activity and improvements in participants' physical and psychological symptoms.
By examining shifts in participants' brainchemistry, hormone levels and mood, Russoniello hopes to expand thestudy and track how recreational activity can affect symptoms caused by depression, stress and pain.
"It's hard to be worried when your mind is occupied with doing something, especially when it is something you enjoy. While we intuitively know that it is impossible to have fun and be depressed at the same time, we had never looked at what biochemical changes occur when people engage in activities they enjoy," Russoniello said.
Establishing a link between recreational activity and feeling better could someday provide a "prescription" for fun, Russoniello said, where a person could reliably engage in certain kinds of activity in order to boost desirable chemical and hormone levels.
Biochemical changes, such as levels of cortisol, serotonin and dopamine, will be measured and compared to how participants report they feel before and after the recreational activities.
"By doing so we hope to further understand the processes that underlie enjoyment and how they affect dysfunctional conditions such as depression," he said.
While the recreation for this particular study will be limited to sedentary activities such as making crafts, playing cards or chess, Russoniello hopes to expand the inquiry to include recreational activity requiring moderate physical activity, such as ping pong, billiards or walking. An important aspect in the study is that the participant enjoys the activity.
The study could last as long as two years and could help further establish the effects of recreational therapy intervention. Ninety participants will be randomly assigned to three groups. One group will watch a set of videos about stress management, another group will engage in a recreational activity with a therapist and a third group will be asked to do recreational activity alone. Russoniello said he would like to see how the presence of a therapist affects improvements in reported symptoms.
"This lets us compare the recreational activity from a non-recreational activity and from participation alone or with a therapist. We want to measure how these interventions work, whether they are effective in reducing physical and psychological symptoms and to determine if a therapist enhances that progress," he said.
Russoniello, who teaches in the recreation and leisure studies department at ECU, will conduct his study with Lynn Gerber, chief of the NIH rehabilitation medicine department, and George D. Patrick, chief of recreation therapy at NIH.
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