Spring 2013

Getting to Know You...Steve Barger, PhD

Dr. Steven Barger is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Northern Arizona in beautiful Flagstaff, AZ. Dr. Barger earned his PhD from the University of Utah (1995) and completed postdoctoral training in cardiovascular behavioral medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Barger is broadly interested in health perceptions as well as in chronic illness risk amongst Hispanics of different backgrounds.

Hi Steve, welcome to your APS interview.


Tell us a bit about your path to APS Miami - where were you trained and where are you now?

I earned my undergraduate and masters degrees at SMU in Dallas and my PhD at the University of Utah. I did the cardiovascular behavioral medicine postdoc at Pitt and then was able to land a psychology faculty position at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. In between the MA and PhD I worked as a researcher for the Department of Defense in Anniston, AL.

You gave a talk at the 2013 APS meeting with the intriguing title, “Does the income-mortality gradient persist at higher income levels? It depends on whom you study.” Can you summarize this for us?

The basic message is that the inverse association of income and mortality flattens out at higher income levels. Additionally, the threshold is more pronounced for working-aged adults as compared to the population as a whole. If you look at relative (rather than absolute) risk, the slope of the gradient is not so different across these subgroups but there are clearly diminishing returns, at least for mortality risk, once a certain absolute income level is achieved.

Of course, for other outcomes one sees a perfect ordinal sorting by income. For example, for every $10,000 increment of family income, the average SAT score is higher than the next lower adjacent category. This sorting is almost as uniform for psychological distress. Socioeconomic status is powerful stuff.

Tell us a bit about your program of research

Perhaps “program” is too strong a word... I’m interested in social and economic resources and health. Currently I’m examining how social relationship resources stratify well being and other outcomes such as mortality. I also examine variation in these associations by race/ethnicity as well as potential mechanisms that may explain the health advantage for those with greater social relationship resources. I utilize large archival data sets to address these questions-the downsides are that they lack breadth in terms of psychological measures and they also are challenging to analyze. On the other hand, the challenges keep me growing professionally and I love the ability to produce population-based estimates.

You appear to be living the dream at the Northern Arizona University. Tell us about life and work there.

You are kind to say that. I do like it here. I enjoy teaching and I am able to pursue the research questions that interest me. My spouse and I have positions at the same University and my job involves lifelong learning - what more could I want? I also have the privilege of a fine 4-season alpine climate with snow and sunshine. There are hiking/biking trails near my house where I often find pre-Columbian potsherds. I feel connected to the land and these artifacts remind me of the fascinating human history of the Colorado Plateau.

As a long-standing member of APS, what keeps you coming back - why this group?

I go to socialize with my grad school and postdoc friends! It’s also one of those meetings where I find the content intrinsically interesting, even if it’s not exactly in my area. I am also grateful for the attendees’ active engagement in the meeting. Many of the authors cited on our poster showed up to talk about the work. Especially energizing were the many wonderful unplanned professional exchanges - that’s the “x-factor” of APS.

You’ve obviously been to many locations - any favorites and where is your dream location for a meeting.

I enjoyed Vancouver and Budapest was fantastic as well. I would vote for Stockholm for a future meeting, but given we meet in March perhaps I should plug Sedona, Arizona instead. It’s sunny and lovely then and exploring the red rock country is bound to take a few points off one’s blood pressure. Do you think APS would ever do an alpine meeting, say in Telluride?

How would your mentees describe your mentoring style - wire monkey or terry-cloth?

Terry-cloth, but perhaps at this stage I’m in need of reupholstering.

Finally, in an alternate life, what would your alternative dream career be?

The things I really enjoy I’m loath to turn into work-I’m afraid I’d enjoy them much less.

For more information on Dr. Barger, please visit his website at: http://nau.edu/SBS/Psych/Faculty-Staff/Barger/