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Photo of Peggy Zoccola

Peggy Zoccola, Ph.D.

Areas of Expertise:
Cortisol, Emotions, Inflammation, Physiological Stress, Psychological Stress, Psychology, Rumination, Stress, Stress Hormones, Thought Processes, Worry

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Dr. Peggy Zoccola specializes in finding the basic mechanisms underlying the relationship between stress and disease. Her current research focuses on understanding how thoughts and emotions may prolong the body’s stress responses and the potential health consequences of this persistent activation. 

Zoccola focuses on this topic of research because she believes that stress is an inevitable part of life.

“Although a large body of evidence links the experience of stress to negative health outcomes, there is a great deal of variability in how individuals respond to stressful life events,” she says. 

Zoccola addresses a series of theoretical questions in her research in order to distinguish how the differences between individuals and the conditions of stressful situations impact health. 

These include: 

  • Do individuals who ruminate, or mentally rehearse past stressors, have greater increases in stress hormones (cortisol) or inflammation, in response to a stressful event? 
  • Do these cortisol levels and inflammatory markers remain elevated after the stressor is over? 
  • Does rumination on past stressors negatively impact sleep? Are some individuals at greater risk for rumination? 
  • Are certain types of stressors more likely to elicit ruminative thought?  

Zoccola and her team are the first to study acute immune effects of stress, rumination, and distraction in an experimental way. Zoccola’s program of research includes an interdisciplinary focus, varied research methods ranging from laboratory experiments to electronic daily diaries, sophisticated assessments across physiological and motor systems, such as noninvasive continuous blood pressure and electrocardiography, and advanced statistical analyses.  

Many researchers in the past have studied the correlational relationship between rumination and hormone and immune changes in the body, but few have examined the casual relationship with experimental designs, Zoccola says.

Zoccola's media placements include:

  • Good Housekeeping
  • Prevention magazine
  • Daily Telegraph UK
  • Irish Independent
  • Toronto Telegraph
  • MSN
  • Sunday Mail Australia

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