Featured AME Researcher: Yoobin Park, PhD.

Yoobin Park, PhD.

Dr. Yoobin Park is a postdoctoral researcher at UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, working with the NIH Network for Emotional Well-Being: Science, Practice, and Measurement. She holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Toronto, and her research focuses on close relationships and well-being, examining well-being in and out of romantic relationships, relational decisions, and how our close relationships may affect our physical health. 

We spoke with her about her work with the EWB, her research interests, and her plans for future projects. 


Can you tell us more about your work with the NIH Emotional Well-Being Network? 

There are several research projects I am leading as a member of the EWB network. One project that I think most closely aligns with the network's goals looked at the link between EWB and mortality risk, with a focus on the shared effects among different EWB facets. We know from the literature that various EWB facets such as positive affect or purpose in life are associated with (reduced) mortality risk, but it was not clear whether this body of evidence speaks to something unique about each facet. As an analogy, say you find that consuming ice cream, cakes, and donuts all show similar associations with one outcome (e.g., increases in happiness or weight). It could mean that each item has its own unique effects, OR they simply share a common ingredient - sugar - driving the effects. In my project, I examined the shared vs unique effects of various EWB facets on mortality risk using two cohort studies. I found that there indeed was something common across various EWB facets and this “shared ingredient” was what was most robustly related to mortality risk.

What have you learned about how close relationships affect our physical health? What are the mechanisms you are most fascinated by? What don’t we realize?

As a relationship researcher, I’m fascinated by various ways in which close relationships can affect physical health outcomes. One pathway I have been long interested in involves eating behaviors. For example, in one of my recent studies, I showed that habitual stress eaters tend to engage in less stress-eating on days they feel more cared for by others (regardless of how much stress they experienced that day). While the idea that caring, supportive others can help with stress management is not new, we don’t know very well about the mechanism. One possibility, that’s consistent with this finding about habitual stress eaters, is that emotional intimacy (socially rewarding experiences) can serve as a non-food reward substitute. I’m hoping to look at this more closely in my future work.

What is next for you in your work?

Much of my work has been observational, so I would love to adopt a more experimental approach to look at the causality of the effects. One of my recent projects used mobile app data to show that people tend to report having slept better, feel more positive and have lower blood pressure in the morning when they did vs did not have sex the previous night (another behavioral pathway linking romantic relationships to health!). Looking at this experimentally in a naturalistic setting is of course tricky so I’m hoping to come up with a new study design. I also plan to integrate biosensing data (e.g., during sleep) as I continue this line of work.

Read more about Dr. Park's work here.

Read "Maternal Caregiving Stress and Metabolic Health: Sexual Activity as a Potential Buffer" here.