Doctoral student Tiarå Freeman connects the environment to mental health

Closeup of Tiarå Freeman.
Tiarå Freeman

Tiarå Freeman, doctoral student in experimental psychology at Washington State University, presented research at the recent Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP)’s annual conference in San Diego on why certain people are more likely to experience negative emotions during uncomfortably hot weather.

As part of WSU’s Social, Cognitive, Environmental, Neuroscience (SCENe) Lab, Freeman works with Kim Meidenbauer, assistant professor of psychology, to study how different environments affect human cognition and behavior. At the SPSP conference, Freeman shared findings from her research that showed people who rated higher in neuroticism, a personality trait associated with negative emotions, might respond more intensely to environmental stressors, such as excessive heat.

Her research also showed that neurotic individuals tend to have decreased emotional regulation and might benefit from targeted emotional wellness interventions during hot temperatures. These interventions could be reminders through text messages or an app to reduce exposure to ambient temperatures where they can.

Freeman was raised on an organic farm in New Mexico where her family grew foods like squash, peppers, okra, and “swaths of cosmos,” which come from the sunflower family. Her family also foraged for wild spinach, water cress, mushrooms, and mountain herbs, all while caring for a menagerie of dogs, cats, ducks, geese, chickens, horses, and peacocks. Freeman’s deep appreciation for nature and the stewardship of land and people fuels her passion for environmental and social justice. She promotes science and scholarship that intentionally fosters positive changes for people. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a career in research and/or education as an environmental psychologist.

Freeman has worked with veterans’ groups, studying suicide prevention, workplace interventions, substance abuse research, and in community outreach. She likes blending psychology and neuroscience in her approach to working in the lab. During COVID, she studied whether spending more time in nature helped students cope with sleep disruptions and other health factors.

“Environmental psychology is still an emerging field,” Freeman said, “especially in the states, so it took me a long time to find someone whose research aligned with my interests, and I am absolutely thrilled to be at WSU.”

Freeman, who self-identifies as a biracial adult learner, returned to school after working in the service industry for many years. Her life experience gives her unique insights in her role as a Graduate Diversity Advancement Pathways Program (GDAPP) Scholar, a program that aims to increase access and opportunities for domestic students from underrepresented groups.

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