Synopsis: Exercise Psychology is the study of psychological responses and adaptations to acute and chronic physical activity. The graduate program at UW-Madison focuses on the psychobiological aspects of physical activity in both healthy and diseased populations.
Purpose of MS and Ph.D.: Applicants for graduate study with specialization in exercise psychology are ordinarily only accepted where there is an interest in pursuing the Ph.D. In most cases where an applicant does not possess an MS degree, it is customary to obtain the master’s degree as formal evidence of progress toward the Ph.D. If a candidate for the Ph.D. has not completed a master’s degree, or in those instances where a non-thesis master’s degree has been completed, it is necessary to publish a manuscript in a refereed journal as evidence of satisfactory progress toward the Ph.D. Students in this area are trained in the theory and methods required for understanding the psychological and biological bases of behavior. The Department of Kinesiology requires that all candidates complete KINES 991 (Research in Physical Activity – Theory and Design) or its equivalent, but with this single exception, there are no specific courses required of candidates for the Ph.D. with specialization in exercise psychology. Candidates must complete a minimum of 54 credits beyond the baccalaureate degree in accordance with Graduate School policy, but most students in the exercise psychology program elect to take additional credits beyond this minimum. Emphasis is placed upon the demonstration of competence in general psychology, exercise psychology, exercise science, statistics and research design rather than completion of specific courses. Each candidate’s program of formal course work and independent study is tailored in a personalized manner to accommodate the individual’s research and career goals.
This program is committed to providing graduate students with the best available training to prepare them for a variety of careers in academic, clinical, research, government, and other settings. Emphasis is on both extensive academic training in quantitative methods, kinesiology, and general psychology along with extensive research training in the area of exercise psychology. Students are expected to become creative scientists and to exhibit early and continuing commitment to research and scholarship. Most students have several publications in refereed journals to their credit before receiving their Ph.D.’s. While most of the graduates of this program are currently teaching and conducting research at the university level, some have elected to pursue clinical, administrative, and research careers in government, university, and commercial settings.
Laboratory Facilities and Research Paradigms: The Exercise Psychology Laboratory includes two sound-dampened chambers for use in conducting experimental research, and testing facilities are supported by state-of-the-art hardware employed in gathering psychophysiological data. A MRI simulator, located in the adjacent Sensory and Motor Control Laboratory is available for MRI training and behavioral testing. Research in the Exercise Psychology Laboratory has been generally concerned with quantifying the psychophysiological responses to exercise. Numerous behavioral methods have been used to determine affective and perceptual responses to exercise including the use of biofeedback, hypnosis, imagery, meditation, and traditional relaxation interventions such as autogenic training. More recently, the laboratory’s focus has been on the psychophysiological aspects of pain, fatigue, and perceived exertion during and following exercise. These studies are being conducted in both healthy participants and patients with chronic pain and fatigue, and are aimed at understanding the psychophysiological mechanisms that underlie the perceptual experience. Neuroimaging experiments using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are also being conducted to determine neural responses related to pain, fatigue, and exercise.