Graduate Student Lauren Forrest: Predicting Self-Injurious Behavior

Written by Tori Levy, CAS Communications Intern

Lauren Forrest 2018

 (Lauren Forrest, Clinical Psychology Graduate Student)

Lauren Forrest is currently a graduate student in clinical psychology at Miami University and the recipient of the dissertation scholar award. She is researching suicidal and nonsuicidal self-injurious behaviors.

Her dissertation project is informed by recent research indicating that the prediction of lethal and nonlethal suicidal behavior is very poor and not much better than chance. Forrest explained that because of the self-injurious behavior field’s limited ability to predict suicide attempts, “the field has had a call that we need to be studying new risk factors, [because] what we’ve been studying isn’t necessarily improving our ability to predict or prevent self-injury.”

This purpose of Forrest’s research is attempting to test a new risk factor for self-injurious behavior, which is called interoceptive deficits. Interoception is the ability to perceive any sensations happening in your body, such as your heart rate, what emotions you’re feeling, or if you’re hungry or full. Interoceptive deficits occur when people are disconnected from what’s going on inside their body. Forrest is testing whether interoceptive deficits might actually facilitate engaging in self-injurious behavior. She explained that “if you’re not feeling a lot of bodily sensations, it would be a lot easier to harm your body if it feels like you’re harming a table [or some other object] rather than an actual body.”

Forrest started studying interoception and suicide because she was interested in eating disorders. People with eating disorders often have poor interoceptive abilities, meaning that they are often disconnected from their internal sensations. People with eating disorders also have elevated risk for suicide attempts and suicide deaths. Forrest wondered whether interoceptive deficits might be related to self-injurious behaviors among people with eating disorders specifically and among people in general. So, she collaborated with her advisor, Dr. April Smith, and together they developed the current project, examining interoceptive deficits among people with self-injurious behaviors. Smith has been with Forrest every step of the way. “By no means is this my idea, it’s a product of a lot of amazing mentorship and discussions with her.”

In the future, Forrest would like to apply her current research methods to her inherent interest in the eating disorders field. She wants to understand why interoceptive deficits occur among people with eating disorders and how these deficits affect eating disorder symptoms. “Once I’m done with project I would like to apply the same methods to my primary interest area.”