Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Biopsychosocial Oncology Resources

The “Tools” of a Bio-Behavioral Researcher

  • What are our “Tools”?

The tools of a bio-behavioral researcher are used to learn specific facts about how an individual functions cognitively, emotionally, socially, behaviorally and physically. These tools are generally referred to as assessments. They are used by researchers to understand behavior and how individuals function across a wide variety of situations. Much like a complete blood count (CBC) gives doctors an idea of how critical body systems are functioning, assessments can give researchers a glimpse into a person’s state of mind. Assessments are often used in research to classify individuals. Classification involves placing individuals in strict or loosely defined categories in order to better understand how different characteristics impact functioning. This allows us to better understand behavior in general. It also gives us the opportunity to look at individuals’ behaviors in the context of a given disease process such as cancer.

  • Why are our “tools” important?

A good assessment tool is reliable, valid and has good norms. Reliability refers to the consistency of the test results. Validity refers to how well a test measures what it says it does. Norms are designed to tell you what the results of an assessment means in relation to other results; it also means the instrument has been thoroughly tested. When an assessment tool has these attributes they provide a wealth of knowledge about behavior and functioning that is useful.

Bio-behavioral researchers use valid and reliable measures which have been rigorously tested. This insures that the quality of the information is the best it can be. In the context of cancer, bio-behavioral researchers study how people react to diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment issues related to their disease. For example, anxiety is a very complex psychological phenomenon that impacts daily life and has significant implications for how a person responds when presented with challenges such as a diagnosis of cancer.

  • Spotlight: Anxiety

Anxiety does not occur as a single phenomenon. Its various forms of manifestation can be categorized as either trait anxiety or state anxiety. Trait anxiety is a relatively stable aspect of an individuals’ personality. Individuals who present with an anxiety trait will tend to filter their experiences through a lens that perceives stimuli and situations as threatening. In practice, these individuals are likely to be motivated by the worst case scenario in any given situation. For example, a smoker with an anxious perceptive style may be motivated to quit smoking because they recently lost a loved one to cancer. That lost is likely to provoke fears of lung cancer for someone with an anxious perceptive style.

On the other hand, a person experiencing ‘state’ anxiety will feel tension or worry in certain moments that are truly anxiety provoking. For example, the moment of diagnosis is a time of very high anxiety for cancer patients. The anxiety the patient feels is in response to the current condition. There are reliable and valid tools for assessing both state and trait anxiety. The BPSO staff can assist you in selecting the right tool for your research.

Please call our office at 305-243-1645 for additional information.

For more information on assessing anxiety see the link below.

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