University of Wisconsin–Madison

Elizabeth Larson Research

Elizabeth Larson, Ph.D., OTR

Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of Southern California

Please visit Prof. Larson’s profile page for additional information and a list of publications.

My research investigates caregivers’ and students’ participation in daily activity as related to levels of well-being. Using mixed-method designs that combine survey and qualitative interviews, current projects examined: the dimensionality of well-being of caregivers of children with disabilities (life satisfaction versus thriving); varying spiritual beliefs about time-use in caregiving associated with higher and lower levels of well-being; the construction of daily routines to manage participation of a children with autism; characteristics of stressful caregiving episodes; and caregiver’s opportunities for restorative activities to bolster well-being such as daily leisure. In addition a second research strand investigates perceived temporality and stress experienced by college students in daily activities related to their experience of challenge, skill, and interest in the activity.  Current research is focusing on changes in caregiver’s well-being over time as they adapt and develop caregiving strategies. This project combines biological and qualitative measures assessing well-being using biomarkers, surveys and participant’s descriptions of their daily lives.

Grants Awarded

UW System Assistance for ARRA Grant, July-October 2009, $11,076.75. “Sensory Sensitivity & Stress in Everyday Life for Children with High Functioning Autism. E.A. Larson, P.I.

Vilas Life Cycle Professorship Award ($22,055) from the Women in Science and Engineering Leadershop Institute for May 2007-June 2008. This will provide personnel support to investigate biological markers for premature aging of stressed caregivers of children with disabilities and the Virginia Horne Henry Award ($20,360) to cover the costs of biomarker assays for this project.

Fall 2006 DOIT Podcasting Grant to enhance a previously developed series of audio-casts with visual and video features. The podcasting series facilitates students’ Spanish-language skills for conducting a developmental and occupational history interview. The current upgrade will pair pictures with the audio track and pair video-audio interactions that simulate converstations to promote language mastery.

Beth Larson has received $22.055 grant for the Vilas Life Cycle Professorship Award from the Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute. These funds will provide support for a research assistant and phlebotomist for a pilot study examining potential biological markers accounting for the premature aging of stressed caregivers of children with disabilities when compared to the low-stress group (Epel et al, 2004). There are two promising biomarkers that may elucidate biological mechanisms that differentiate the vulnerable from the resilient group in regards to advanced aging or diminished health. The serotonin has been identified as a key genetic alteration in mental health disorders (Hammer et al., 1999; Lesch, 2004; Murphy et al., 2004). The short allele variations in the serotonin transporter gene promoter (5-HTTLPR) have been associated with anxiety-related personality traits, social impairments, and psychopathology (Hammer et al., 1999; Lesch et al., 1996). When a series of significant life events occurred greater depression was noted in individuals with the short 5-HTTLPR allele. Some suggest this genetic alteration “prekindles” depressive episodes. In addition the biomarker Interleukin-6 is being used as an indicator of health and immune system functioning. Elevations of IL-6 occur in response to psychosomatic and somatic stress; this is likely one mechanism by which vulnerable high-stress caregivers experience diminished health compared to the more resilient group.