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4 faculty, alumni behavior analysts publish physical activity studies

Published on September 29, 2021

4 faculty, alumni behavior analysts publish physical activity studies

Heart rate monitor

Three Eastern Connecticut State University alumni and one faculty member have been published in a special edition of the academic journal “Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice." Published by the American Psychological Association, the edition highlighted studies that conducted individual heart rate assessments (IHRA). Four of only 12 articles published in the edition featured Eastern-affiliated scholars.   

Eastern professor Christopher Krebs.
Eastern professor Christopher Krebs.

Among the published researchers is psychology professor Christopher Krebs. His article, titled “Increasing physical activity in adults using self-tailored deposit contracts,” investigates the impact of deposit contracts on physical activity. Deposit contracts were crucial to the study, described by Krebs as “behavioral contracts that specify the relation between the completion of a specific behavior and access or removal of a specified reinforcer.” 

He continued by saying, “we had participants self-identify the number of minutes they wanted to exercise at the end of the six-week study. They then determined an amount of money that they would wager each week to meet their goals. If they met the weekly exercise goal, they would earn back a portion of the money they deposited. If they failed to meet the goals, then the money was forfeited and would have been donated to an anti-charity (a charity with values or goals opposite those of the participant).” 

The study found that this intervention increased physical activity in all three participants. While they did not continue the same rigorous exercise in follow-ups, participants continued to work out, exceeding their previously set baseline.  

Krebs, who works as both a behavioral analyst and professor, pursued the study because of his passion for staying physically active. “I believe in and try to maintain a physically active lifestyle.” He also wanted to help raise physical activity in adults -- according to the Center for Disease Control, four out of five adults do not meet the physical activity guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Jack Spears ’07.
Jack Spears ’07

“This is problematic for numerous reasons,” says Krebs, “including the adverse short- and long-term health effects and health care costs (approximately $117 billion annually) associated with physical inactivity.” Krebs recently presented his research at the University of Saint Joseph’s Applied Behavioral Analysis conference, an event well attended by current and past Eastern students.  

Eastern graduate Jack Spears ’07 is an assistant professor of applied behavior analysis at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Through this work, he collaborated with members of a dissertation committee to complete an article titled “The effects of heart rate feedback on physical activity during treadmill exercise.” 

Spears says that the study aimed to see how immediate feedback on heart rate would impact the physical intensity of an exercise. “It appears that knowing what's going on physiologically while we exercise helps us to change the intensity of our workout more often.” These motivators, combined with his curiosity as a behavioral analyst, allowed him to complete this research.  

Following  Sydney Batchelder's graduation in 2017, she pursued a Ph.D. program at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, graduating in spring 2021. Batchelder now works as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Vermont Center on Behavior and Health. Batchelder’s study is titled “Effects of incentives and prompts on sedentary and walking behaviors in university employees.”

Sydney Batchelder ’17
Sydney Batchelder ’17

She said, “I chose this topic because I’ve always been interested in understanding why people choose to engage in an unhealthy behavior rather than a healthy behavior. I tried to come up with the best ways to change people’s preference from doing the easy, preferred behavior of sitting to doing the more difficult, non-preferred behavior of walking every hour.” 

Batchelder says that the study helped her and her colleagues to understand why people may be seated for a large portion of their day, providing examples such as practicing the piano. “Every person’s motivation for sitting and not engaging in active behavior is different, and it may be critical to understand these motivations when developing an intervention.”

Ryan Blejewski ’15
Ryan Blejewski ’15

Ryan Blejewski ’15 has continued his education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, first earning his master’s degree in 2017. He is now pursuing a degree in UNC-Wilmington's doctoral program. His study, which stemmed from his interest and passion for physical activity, resulted in his research titled “Physical activity in children: An evaluation of an individualized heart rate assessment.”

The study utilizes IHRA to determine individualized heart rate zones that show light, moderate and intense physical activity. Through this study, Blejewski and his peers found that “not all of the activities the participants engaged in were consistently indicative of the level of physical activity they were said to correspond with. For example, although running resulted in the highest heart rate for all participants, it was indicative of vigorous physical activity for some participants and moderate physical activity for others.”  

All four articles can be found in the “Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice” journalpublished by the American Psychological Association. To explore the journal and learn more about the association, visit 

Written by Molly Boucher