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CIE Researcher of Distinction, September 2017

Sarah Bannon

Sarah Bannon

Each month, the Center for Inclusive Education showcases the outstanding research being conducted by one of our talented scholars in our Research Café series. In addition, we recognize this scholar as a Researcher of Distinction and share the details of his/her journey to becoming an accomplished scholar. This month's Researcher of Distinction is Sarah Bannon, PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology. Sarah presented her work, ‘Conversational Efficiency Predicts Relationship Satisfaction in Dating Couples on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.


Sarah's Path Into Research

Sarah Bannon is a PhD candidate in Stony Brook's Program of Clinical Psychology. She focuses on the impact of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on both individual and romantic relationship functioning and has worked on developing and implementing novel treatments for perpetrators of partner abuse.  Her research advisor is Professor K. Daniel O'Leary. Sarah obtained bachelor's degrees in Psychology and English from the University of Iowa. She is a Turner Fellow in the Center for Inclusive Education. 

Sarah's Current Research

Describe the work you presented for your Research Café.

Effective communication between romantic partners is of paramount importance for long-term satisfaction and stability. However, it is unclear whether communication patterns that are not about relationship problems relate to relationship satisfaction. Language researchers assess communication between strangers in terms of conversational efficiency, and linked efficiency to increased understanding and liking. Such an assessment in couples can indicate compatibility, and thereby contribute to relationship satisfaction. The present study evaluated conversational efficiency as a predictor of relationship satisfaction. Couples (N=60) completed a conversational task requiring matching of abstract geometric figures. Conversational efficiency was associated with higher self-reported satisfaction and effective communication of both partners, and it predicted changes in satisfaction over time. In short, assessing couples’ conversational efficiency, independent of their relationship problems, allows for an evaluation of couple interactions that is not confounded by the emotionally valenced topics mentioned in standard problem discussions.

How did you become interested in research?

I became interested in research in Psychology by doing a series of volunteer activities with my
AP Psychology teacher in high school, and thinking about related careers. As a senior in high
school preparing to go to the University of Iowa, I applied to the Iowa Biosciences Advantage
program, an NIH-sponsored program designed to put underrepresented students on the fast track
to PhDs in the sciences. I started research my first semester of school and it stuck.

Are there any other projects you are currently working on? 

I have several research projects investigating the long-term impact of traumatic brain injury and
stroke on interpersonal relationships, projects working with the corrections system in Suffolk
County for violent criminals, and some understanding various aspects of romantic relationship
functioning. My research interests are broad, and SBU’s psych department has been tremendous
in encouraging my creativity. I also work as a therapist as part of my training, and have
substantial experience working with families and children in community and forensic settings,
and am currently working in a day treatment program designed for rehabilitation of individuals
following traumatic brain injury.

What was the deciding factor for you to come to Stony Brook for your graduate studies?

The Turner Fellowship was a HUGE factor. I love the mission of the CIE and what related programs do on campus because they remind me of my undergraduate experiences and have connected me to peers that are also committed to inclusion in academic settings. The financial component was also a factor in my decision.

What are your future goals?

I would like to be a therapist, mentor, researcher, and teacher. I don’t know what type of position I will have, but if I could do those things, I would be happy. I also value work-life balance, and know that it will factor into my career trajectory.

What do you enjoy most about research?

The thing that I enjoy most about research is the potential for broader impacts on long-standing issues. My first research experience was with a treatment program for men convicted of domestic violence. A lot of people (both researchers and community members) are biased against violent individuals because of their negative impact on loved ones and society, and it seems to be almost a natural tendency to want to cast those individuals aside. I worked on a study that developed a new treatment for these men, a treatment that assessed trauma and the reasons for the abuse, rather than taking a punitive approach. We evaluated the effectiveness of the program after 5 years of implementation, and observed that it cut rates of re-offense in HALF. These sorts of findings don’t happen every day, but the program was much more appealing and therapeutic (vs. punitive) for the men involved, saved the state of Iowa a tremendous expense, and presumably improved safety for survivors of abuse. It has since spread across the state of Iowa. In my work as a therapist and instructor, I see change on a smaller level, but these research projects have shown me that it is possible to change things on a societal level (of course with more time).