Prof. Dr. Nicolas Rohleder

Chair of Health Psychology

Our research focuses on the question of the mechanisms by which acute and chronic mental stress has a negative impact on health.

Research projects

  • Stress Response Patterns and Health
  • Chronic Stress and Health
  • Traumatic Stress and Health
  • Regulation of inflammatory processes as a mechanism between psychosocial stress and health
  • Digital biomarkers for stress
  • Investigation of the ability to cope with recurrent stressors, taking into account anxiety and stress management modes
  • Psychological determinants and biological stress response patterns in digital stress (fordigithealth)
  • “Violence in Institutions (VIOLIN)” funded by the Emerging Fields Initiative (EFI) of FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg
  • “Psycho-biological treatment effects of trauma-focused painting therapy for patients with psychological and physical trauma sequelae” funded by the Staedtler Foundation

Current Projects

  • Applied Data Science in Digital Psychology

    (Third Party Funds Single)

    Term: 1. September 2022 - 31. August 2026
    Funding source: Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst (StMWK) (seit 2018)

    University education in psychology, medical technology and computer science currently focuses on teaching basic methods and knowledge with little involvement of other disciplines. Increasing digitalization and the ever more rapid spread of digital technologies, such as wearable sensors, smartphone apps, and artificial intelligence, also in the health sector, offer a wide range of opportunities to address psychological issues from new and interdisciplinary perspectives. However, this requires close cooperation between the disciplines of psychology and technical disciplines such as medical technology and computer science to enable the necessary knowledge transfer. Especially in these disciplines, there is a considerable need for innovative and interdisciplinary teaching concepts and research projects that teach the adequate use of digital technologies and explore the application of these technologies to relevant issues in order to enable better care in the treatment of people with mental disorders.

  • MODSTR: Modification of Biological Stress Response Patterns through Experimental Manipulation of Cognitive Coping Strategies

    (Third Party Funds Single)

    Term: since 1. April 2022
    Funding source: DFG-Einzelförderung / Sachbeihilfe (EIN-SBH)

    Changes in response patterns of biological stress systems, including responses of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to repeated stress, can promote the development and progression of chronic inflammatory diseases via changes in downstream inflammatory processes. The aim of the proposed project is thus to investigate, whether habituation of biological stress system activity including responses of the inflammatory system can be modified. Aiming to test for possible paths of action, a randomized-controlled study with two intervention programs designed to manipulate cognitive coping strategies will be carried out. By increasing either ruminative or self-compassionate thoughts among healthy young adults, the intervention programs are expected to affect the regulation of occurring emotions as well as the reactivity of biological systems during repeated stress exposure. The results should provide insight into whether modifying response patterns of biological stress systems could reverse a significant biological mechanism in the development of stress-related diseases.

  • FEARFALL: Chronic stress level and functional health in older adults: the impact and role of fear of falling

    (Third Party Funds Single)

    Term: since 1. April 2022
    Funding source: DFG-Einzelförderung / Sachbeihilfe (EIN-SBH)
    Maintenance of physical function, mobility and ability to live independently are important goals for older persons. However, this is counteracted by age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function. Furthermore, this degenerating process can be reinforced if the older person avoids physical activity and exercise due to fear of falling. We established that fall-related psychological concerns (FrPC) are not only leading to decreased physical activity, but are also associated with elevated levels of inflammation. Consistent with that, long-term exposure to adverse psychological conditions, including chronic stress and anxiety, have been linked to the upregulation of inflammatory activity. This chronic low-grade activation of the immune system was shown to intensify the decay of skeletal muscle. Therefore, a vicious, feed-forward cycle of fear of falling, inflammation, loss of muscle mass and decreasing physical function is created that ultimately results in negative health outcomes, i.e. falls, dependence and death. Exercise training alone is not likely to interrupt this cycle, because a person with elevated FrPC would experience high stress and thus more inflammatory cytokines, blunting the anabolic effects of the intervention. Therefore, the planned study will utilize a multi-component intervention with exercise training and cognitive-behavioral components to address FrPCs and oppose muscular decay. For this aim, the expertise of a psychological and a geriatric institute is necessary. The randomized controlled trial will be conducted using established effective training programs for reduction of FrPC. The intervention group will conduct at least one 60 min exercise session per week and an additional home program, while a sham control group will receive a multicomponent intervention including sham activity, cognitive training and educational health lecture at the same frequency. For the operationalization of specific FrPCs the Falls Efficacy Scale - International (FES-I) will be used. Stress and related psychological symptoms will be monitored by established self-reports and by measuring salivary cortisol. Concentrations of Creactive protein (CRP), interleukin 6 (IL-6), interleukin 10 (IL-10) and tumor-necrosis-factoralpha (TNFα), as well as gene expression of select inflammatory transcripts, will be used as surrogate parameters of the inflammatory status at baseline and at several time-points during the intervention and follow-up. This will allow us to test whether the reduction of specific FrPCs or general psychological symptoms will reverse alterations in stress systems, and / or slow down low-grade inflammation. We will measure changes in activity, as well as psychological and biological pathways leading from FrPCs to muscle loss, to disentangle the individual contribution to sarcopenia, and to provide an additional pathway to break or slow-down the vicious cycle of FrPCs and sarcopenia.
  • Novel Methods for Remote Acute Stress Induction

    (Own Funds)

    Term: since 1. September 2021

    Repeated exposure to acute psychosocial stress and the associated stimulation of biological stress pathways over a period of time can promote the transition from acute to chronic stress. Unfortunately, established laboratory stress protocols are limited for repeated use due to high personnel and resource demand, creating the need for novel approaches that can be conducted at a larger scale, and, possibly, remotely.

    Therefore, this project aims to develop and test novel methods for inducing acute stress without requiring extensive personnel and resource demands. The project will explore the use of digital technologies, such as virtual reality and mobile apps, to create stress-inducing scenarios that can be experienced (remotely) by study participants. The project will also investigate the use of physiological and behavioral measures to validate the effectiveness of the stress induction methods.

  • BioPsyKit – An Open-Source Python Package for the Analysis of Biopsychological Data

    (Own Funds)

    Biopsychology is a field of psychology that analyzes how biological processes interact with behaviour, emotion, cognition, and other mental processes. Biopsychology covers, among others, the topics of sensation and perception, emotion regulation, movement (and control of such), sleep and biological rhythms, as well as acute and chronic stress.

    While some software packages exist that allow for the analysis of single data modalities, such as electrophysiological data, or sleep, activity, and movement data, no packages are available for the analysis of other modalities, such as neuroendocrine and inflammatory biomarkers, and self-reports. In order to fill this gap, and, simultaneously, combine all required tools for analyzing biopsychological data from beginning to end into one single Python package, we developed BioPsyKit.

  • Berührungslose Messung von Stress, seiner Determinanten und Konsequenzen

    (Third Party Funds Group – Sub project)

    Overall project: Empathokinästhetische Sensorik
    Term: 1. July 2021 - 30. June 2025
    Funding source: DFG / Sonderforschungsbereich (SFB)

    Ziel dieses Teilprojekts ist es, Stress durch empathokinästhetische Sensorik berührungslos messbar zu machen. Aufgrund der Auswirkungen auf menschliche Gesundheit und Leistungsfähigkeit hat die Erforschung von Stress eine hohe Priorität, wird jedoch durch aufwändige und meist invasive traditionelle Erfassungsmethoden erschwert. In D03 werden in laborexperimentell induzierten, akuten Stresssituationen empathokinästhetische Sensormodalitäten erforscht, die es erlauben, Stress durch berührungslose Erfassung von Makro- und Mikrobewegungen in Zusammenarbeit mit A02, A04 und A05 messbar zu machen.

Recent publications






Related Research Fields