Research at the Department of Behavioural Medicine and Principles of Human Biology for the Health Sciences

A main goal of our research is to improve the evidence-based treatment of psychological stress and disorders in patients with somatic diseases. An often neglected aspect is that the burden on physicians, nurses and relatives who care for these patients is an important accompanying factor. Not every kind of social support is helpful, and only those who can cope well with stress themselves - particularly in the long term - remain efficient and can "be there for others" with full commitment.

In this domain, research can help to improve the (early) detection of stress, to identify protective factors and risk factors for stratified prevention, but also to better understand underlying processes (mediators) and interactions between the physical level, thoughts, feelings and behavior by including affective bio- or neuropsychology.

In addition to clinical studies conducted under real-life conditions, we use laboratory experiments to refine models and theories. The tightly controlled framework in the paradigm of experimental psychopathology makes it possible to specifically isolate individual processes in the biopsychosocial model and record their effects. At its core, this often involves the effects of stress, how these are mediated depending on context conditions, and how the consequences of stress can be (positively) altered. Of note, stress can cause cardiovascular responses, which can be particularly problematic for individuals with already damaged or vulnerable hearts. Therefore, we seek strategies to cope with or even prevent excessive or prolonged cardiovascular responses to prevent potential damage to the heart or related factors (e.g., vessels).

Current research projects and typical examples with annotated literature references

  • Psychological stress and needs analysis regarding innovative vs. traditional support services in cardiac patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillator in the course of the Corona pandemic (comparison with pre-pandemic data and inclusion of somatic key variables) in cooperation with the German Center for Heart Failure (DZHI) Würzburg (Prof. Chistoph Maack, Prof. Stefan Störk, Prof. Stefan Frantz, PD Dr. Peter Nordbeck).

  • Further developments of, a web-based intervention to improve the psychosocial well-being of cardiac patients towards a multiprofessional platform that enables integrated disease management and structured exchange of information between the involved parties and uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to optimize care in a self-learning manner.

  • Mediators and moderators of the effectiveness of a web-based intervention to improve psychosocial well-being in cardiac patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (authors of EHJ publication on ICD Forum).

  • Cross-cultural studies on psychological distress of cardiac patients, their relatives and the role of cultural mediators (e.g. religiosity) in cooperation with Riphah International University, Pakistan (Prof. Hina Ghafoor), cf.

  • Early detection of high stress events among caregivers in palliative care using psychophysiological indicators in an innovative machine-learning approach including experiential and behavioral indicators in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute Rostock, Germany (Dr. Wencke Chodan, Dr. Marian Haescher)

  • Multiple online longitudinal studies on the impact of the Corona pandemic on psychological distress and the effect of protective (e.g. resilience, positive coping strategies) vs. risk factors (e.g. burnout distress, negative coping strategies) over time (samples: Physicians and nurses in anesthesia at the University Hospital of Würzburg [UKW, Prof. Ritter], employees of the UKW as a whole [Prof. Dr. Grit Hein, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Deckert, Prof. Dr. Peter Heuschmann], psychotherapists in training [Germany-wide; in cooperation with Prof. Michael Witthöft, University of Mainz], personnel in emergency medical services [Würzburg]).

  • Emotional (stress) reactivity, the benefits of social support, and other coping strategies (e.g., cognitive reappraisal, transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation), cf.

  • Neural correlates of anxiety, interoception, and biopsychological/genetic moderators, cf.,

  • Treatment of mental disorders with innovative technologies such as virtual reality (basic principles and application), cf.

  • Psychotherapy process research, cf.

  • Psychophysiological correlates of stress processing and stress reactivity, cf.