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Alternative Title

Practice intervention with college students using orienting and interoception for stress management and self-regulation

Publication Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School for Social Work


Behaviorial neuroscience, Brief intervention, Psychophysiology, Self-regulation, Stress management


As today’s college students report increasing levels of distress, college counseling centers are tasked with finding creative ways to provide additional supports. This study tested a brief, skillsbased intervention for stress management and self-regulation with undergraduate students (n = 30). Informed by behavioral neuroscience and somatic psychotherapy, the intervention consisted of Orienting (attention to the external environment) and Interoception (attention to internal somatic experiences). The primary research questions were: Do Orienting and Interoception have distinct physiological signatures? Does this intervention reduce stress? Does racial identity, trauma history, or PTSD moderate the effectiveness of the intervention? The intervention was delivered by video to undergraduate students both in a lab setting and in the context of the students’ everyday lives. Outcome measures included physiological data (heart rate (HR), skin conductance response (SCR), respiratory period (RP), and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) as well as self-report measures (perceived stress, somatization, and daily stress ratings). Orienting and Interoception initially showed distinct physiological signatures; Orienting initially increased SCR, Interoception initially increased RSA, RP, and SCR. After one week of daily practice, Orienting also significantly increased RSA. Participants also reported significant reductions in daily stress, overall perceived stress, and somatization after practicing the intervention for one week. Participants with childhood trauma histories reported greater improvement in perceived stress, and those with interpersonal trauma histories showed greater RSA increases with Orienting. Students reporting more daily stress reduction after practicing the intervention generally showed greater increases in RSA during their second lab visit. The few participants with probable current PTSD (n = 4) reported increased daily stress and found the intervention video more difficult to use, suggesting this intervention may not be suitable for students with current PTSD. Though Black students also showed an increase in daily stress ratings, the intervention was no less effective for these participants in reducing perceived stress or somatization, or increasing RSA while orienting. In fact, Black students were more likely than other students to report that the video-based intervention was easy to use. The dissertation also includes the results of a pilot effort to compare this sample with a non-randomized smaller sample (n = 11) that were similarly assessed over a one week period without learning the intervention. Though no significant differences were observed in changes in RSA, perceived stress, or somatization between these two groups, the means were in the expected direction with small effect sizes suggesting that significant differences might have been observed with a much larger sample. Overall, these findings suggest that this brief, virtual intervention can effectively support students with reducing stress and increasing self-regulation. In addition, this study advances intervention research of this type by incorporating physiological measures.


©2018. Elizabeth Steck Anable. Access limited to the Smith College community and other researchers on campus. Smith College community members also may access from off-campus using a Smith College log-in. Other researchers may request a copy through Interlibrary Loan for personal use.




vii, 153 pages : color illustrations. Includes bibliographical references (pages 106-126)