Under pressure: UM-Dearborn student examines how the body reacts to stress

Walaa ToutYou’re stuck in a traffic jam and late for a doctor’s appointment.

Or perhaps you’re supposed to give a presentation at work and your laptop crashes.

Your palms begin to sweat and your heart rate rapidly increases.

Walaa Tout knows the feeling. The University of Michigan-Dearborn student wanted to learn how others react to stress, so she joined graduate student Ledina Imami to ask research participants to recite a speech, then take a math test.

With help from UM-Dearborn student Sunpreet Singh and psychology associate professor Susana Pecina, Tout measured participants’ blood pressure before, during and after the exercise to determine how their body reacted to stress.

“When we looked at their blood pressure responses, we saw that our stress test was working,” Tout said. “We didn’t give participants any positive feedback until the end of each session, so it was pretty stressful for them.”

Tout also asked participants to complete questionnaires about their childhood socioeconomic status, and how that compares to their current financial standing.

Preliminary results show that childhood socioeconomic status plays a key role in how some people react to stressful situations.

Tout and Singh presented their research last month at the Sargon Partners’ Undergraduate Research Showcase presented by the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters (CASL).

“Socioeconomic Status and Stress Reactivity” is just one of many research projects Tout has tackled during her tenure at UM-Dearborn.

“I just really enjoy it because you get to apply everything you learned in the classroom in the research lab,” said Tout, who conducts both psychology and biology research. “It’s always rewarding.”

And although Tout will graduate this month with bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology, her passion for research will carry over well into her future, as she soon plans to enroll in medical school.

“Our campus has been blessed with many talented students over the years,” said biology professor John Thomas. “Ms. Walaa Tout’s many contributions rank amongst the best and brightest of all time. She is quite humble, polite and unassuming, yet confident, gregarious and mature. Her heart and mind remain focused on biology, psychology and helping her fellow humans.”

Tout’s passion for research, academic excellence and campus involvement earned her the CASL Chancellor’s Medallion, the most prestigious academic honor for UM-Dearborn students.

Her award came as no surprise to Arlo Clark-Foos, who has worked with Tout on a number of psychology research projects, three of which were presented at the Undergraduate Research Showcase.

“Her ability to pick up a new research area and learn the literature in a flash borders on miraculous,” said Clark-Foos, assistant professor of behavioral sciences. “She is amazing because she not only does all this with apparent ease, but she also spends countless hours with other researchers, teaching them the same skills.”

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