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Five Questions with Faculty: Julia Hormes

Besides loving her job at UAlbany, Julia Hormes enjoys the outdoors. Here she is with her two dogs at  Grand Teton National Park. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 18, 2017) — Julia M. Hormes, and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences, came to UAlbany in 2012, after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Comprehensive Alcohol Research Center and the School of Public Health at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.

“I remember returning to New Orleans after my on-campus interview in Albany thinking that I would be very disappointed if I didn’t get the offer – everything about the Department and University just felt like a great fit,” she said. “I am happy to say that my initial impression was correct and it’s really been an honor and pleasure to be a part of this institution and community for the past four years.”

What are your working on now?

I am clinical psychologist and broadly speaking, my research focuses on understanding health-promoting and health-compromising behaviors in relation to eating and weight, addictive behaviors, and living with chronic illness. In addition to my own research, I am currently supervising six doctoral and five undergraduate students who are all working on diverse and exciting projects — so things in the lab are always busy and never boring!

An area of work that is currently on the forefront in the lab is a collaborative project with colleagues at Albany Medical Center Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. We are developing an intervention targeting food cravings in pregnancy as a predictor of excess gestational weight gain. The increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity in pregnancy is a major public health concern. Helping pregnant women more effectively manage food cravings could make a drastic difference in their risk of gestational diabetes mellitus and various other complications during gestation and delivery. It may also help lower their children’s risk of overweight and obesity, which is very exciting.

My lab is currently also very actively involved in research on behavioral addictions, in particular the causes and consequences of excessive or maladaptive use of the internet. The advent of the internet has changed our lives in profound ways, and while we all take our increasing dependence on modern technologies for granted, I believe that we still have a relatively limited understanding of its true effects on our mental and physical health. Being able to do work that adds to our knowledge of this issue has been very rewarding.

What made you decide to pursue your field?

I started college thinking I would major in economics and ended up in Introductory Psychology somewhat by accident, but was converted immediately. As a psychologist, I have always had an interest in the study of everyday human behavior, something that has traditionally been largely neglected by my field.

For example, my work on eating behaviors has focused predominantly on non-pathological aspects of food intake, including food cravings, cross-cultural differences in attitudes to food, and the psychology of meat avoidance or vegetarianism. My research in behavioral addictions was initially just a natural extension of that work and came out of the simple question of whether there is such a thing as a craving for Facebook (it turns out there is!).

If you weren’t teaching at a university, what would you be doing?

I feel very lucky to be able to say that I have my dream job. The only other career that I could see myself enjoying as much would be that of a veterinarian, which would combine a long-standing interest in medicine and my love of animals.

What’s your favorite class to teach?

I am fortunate to be able to teach a number of very different classes, from large undergraduate lecture courses to small graduate seminars to supervising doctoral students at our in-house training clinic. If I had to pick a favorite I would probably go with the very first class I taught at UAlbany, which is a course on the psychology of human food choice (APSY450 “Perspectives on Food: Calories, Cuisine, Commercialization”). In this class I cover all aspects of human eating behavior, from the physiology of the human digestive system to mechanisms underlying food allergies to the psychology of disgust to the marketing of food products. It allows me to draw on my various training experiences in behavioral neuroscience, social and clinical psychology, and public health, while working with a highly motivated group of students, which is always a lot of fun.

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Most of my “reading” for pleasure these days is in the form of audio books while walking our dogs or commuting to campus from our home in Schenectady. Recently I rotated between Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train and re-reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

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