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Pre-surgical evaluations for bariatric patients affected by socially desirable responses

Before having bariatric surgery, patients must undergo a psychological evaluation to assess psychopathology, eating habits and quality of life.

A head-and-shoulders professional photo of Melissa Butt

Melissa Butt, DrPH student

In recent research, Melissa Butt, a student in Penn State College of Medicine’s Doctor of Public Health program, examined self-reported responses to see if socially desirable responses impact the accuracy of preoperative questionnaires. Her research, Associations of social desirability on psychosocial assessment outcomes for surgical weight loss patients, was published in May 2020 in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings.

The study, led by Dr. Andrea Rigby in Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center’s surgical weight loss clinic, includes data from 249 patients. The patients range from 18 to 70 years old with body-mass index (BMI) of at least 35. Several patients had comorbid conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and heart disease.

The project’s goal was to evaluate the associations between socially desirable responses and clinical outcomes and to compare self-reported psychopathology with clinical diagnoses.

The self-reported assessments from 2018 and 2019 included validated questionnaires about anxiety, depression, disordered eating and social desirability. Results suggest that weight-loss patients may provide socially desirable responses during pre-surgical assessments in order to minimize the apparent presence of psychological disturbance.

Working as the lead author and data analyst, Butt examined patients’ answers and found relatively high levels of socially desirable responses. There was a significant negative association between higher socially desirable responses and depression, anxiety and binge eating disorder, as well as a significant positive association with quality of life. The findings revealed a mild/moderate agreement between the self-reported assessments and clinical evaluations by a licensed psychologist.

“Professionally, this project allowed me to improve my skills as a statistician,” said Butt. “It helped me gain more experience and knowledge in the field of psychology, which I can apply to my interests in dermatopsychology.”

In addition to Dr. Rigby, joining Butt on this project was University of Hawaii at Manoa PhD candidate Allison Wagner, MA. In addition, Fan He, MS, and Shouhao Zhou, PhD, of the Department of Public Health Sciences offered advice on statistical methods and coding.

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