Health Behaviour and Emotion Lab


The Health Behaviour and Emotion lab is a multidisciplinary research environment focusing on psychosocial factors in physical activity and sport contexts. As such, our research foci involve the influence of motivation, self-conscious emotions (pride, shame, guilt, envy and embarrassment), stress, affect, and social support as it relates to physical activity, youth and adolescent sport involvement, and emotional wellbeing.

The aim of our research is to develop a broader understanding of physical activity behaviour across the lifespan in diverse clinical and community-based populations, including mental health, adolescents and youth, and cancer survivors. Research suggests that perceptions of competence and the physical-self, social support, and physical activities that are novel with opportunities for choice, greatly influence physical activity motives and behaviour. With a broader understanding of how such psychosocial factors influence health behaviour we hope to inform physical activity interventions and reduce the psychological and physical health risks associated with inactivity. 

Examples of some of the research foci explored in our lab include: 

  • Identifying and exploring body-related self-conscious emotions and associations to health and well-being
  • Lifestyle physical activity and emotional indicators of well-being in breast cancer survivors
  • Motivational correlates and health outcomes of physical activity and sedentary behaviour 

Areas of Focus in the Health Behaviour and Emotion Lab 

  • Exercise and health psychology 
  • Mental health 
  • Body image
  • Oncology
  • Physical activity intervention 
  • Physical activity measurement 

Meet the Health Behaviour and Emotion Team


Catherine Sabiston

Dr. Catherine M. Sabiston is a professor of exercise and health psychology at the University of Toronto and holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Physical Activity and Mental Health. Her research primarily focuses on strategies to improve physical activity, and reduce sedentary behavior, among individuals across the lifespan and how physical activity relates to mental health. Dr. Sabiston has over 160 peer reviewed articles, and over 300 conference presentations and community public health talks. She has received numerous career awards for her work in sport, exercise, and health psychology and has held more than $19 million in funding to conduct her research.

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Postdoctoral Fellows

Shea Balish

Shea completed an interdisciplinary PhD on sport participation at Dalhousie University and works as a postdoctoral fellow under the supervision of Dr. Sabiston. He studies the determinants and outcomes of sport participation, particularly during adolescence. Although most of his research is situated at the individual level and can best be categorized as sport psychology, he employs an interdisciplinary approach that focuses on multiple analytic levels (e.g., biological, individual, team, community, country). His research is informed by evolutionary theory and centers on how specific affective systems regulate status striving, social devaluation, and friendship alliances, including how these systems are related to youth sport participation, and gender differences therein. He often tests theories that make claims of universality or cross-cultural variability, and thus he strives to study diverse societies. In parallel to this research, he is part of a team that is building a digital platform that aims to democratize athlete development. This platform ( functions as a powerful tool that can translate research into actual interventions for amateur sport. I can be reached at or on Twitter: @SheaBalish.

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Isabelle Dore

Isabelle Doré holds a PhD in Public Health - Epidemiology from the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada. She recently joined Catherine Sabiston's Lab as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto; she’s also affiliated at CHUM Research Centre in Montreal. Her research focuses on various aspects of physical activity, with a specific interest in social contexts (informal group PA, team sports). She is interested in types of physical activity that can improve global mental health (well-being) and prevent common mental disorders (anxiety and depression), especially among adolescents and youth transitioning to adulthood. She is also interested in social mechanisms (social support, relatedness, social identity, sense of belonging) underpinning the effect of physical activity on mental health and mental disorders. As part of her postdoctoral research program, she will focus on sedentary behaviour and how it impacts physical and mental health outcomes among cancer survivors. 

Please do not hesitate to contact Isabelle directly should you have any questions or require further information about her research:

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Benjamin Sylvester

Ben completed his PhD at the University of British Columbia, and works as a postdoctoral fellow under the supervision of Dr. Sabiston. His primary research focus is on the association between the experience of variety and well-being, motivation and behaviour in physical activity contexts. He is currently conducting research on variety in a range of contexts (e.g., sport and exercise) and populations (e.g., adolescents, adults, and masters athletes) to further our understanding of when, for whom, and how variety can be used to improve adaptive outcomes. To learn more about his research please see his ResearchGate, or Google Scholar Profile. He can be reached by e-mail at or via twitter: @BenSylvesterPhD 

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Doctoral Students

Angela Fong

Angela is a fourth-year PhD student in exercise psychology under the supervision of Dr. Catherine Sabiston. She completed her Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in Kinesiology at Western University in London, Ontario. During her master’s degree, she specialized in exercise psychology interventions for smoking cessation and examined the acute effects of exercise on smoking behaviour following concurrent stressors. From there, her research interests shifted from using physical activity in cancer prevention to using physical activity in cancer survivorship. Currently, Angela is applying knowledge translation strategies to help breast cancer survivors become physically active because as many as 90% of breast cancer survivors report not meeting physical activity guidelines. She is also interested in positive psychosocial outcomes related to physical activity such as grit, post-traumatic growth and social support. To learn more about Angela's academic background and research, please find her on Research Gate. Angela can be contacted at


Anika Gentile

Anika is a second-year PhD student, supervised by Dr. Catherine Sabiston. Anika has a background in mental health, completing her Bachelor of Arts with Honours and Master’s of Arts in Psychology. Anika is a Clinical Counsellor at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (University Health Network) in the Department of Surgical Oncology as part of the supportive care team, and in private practice in the community. Broadly, Anika’s research interests have focused on survivorship issues faced by patients (and their partners) who have been diagnosed with urological cancers, including treatment decision-making, sexual health, physical wellness, exercise and health psychology, and supportive care. Anika has contributed to multiple research studies in the field of cancer survivorship. Building off of Anika’s clinical work with testicular cancer survivors, Anika will be examining the supportive care needs specific to physical activity and mental health in her PhD studies. Anika is working with a multi-disciplinary team of experts to develop supportive care programming that utilizes physical activity, peer support, and psychoeducation to help address short and long-term physical and mental health concerns related to the disease and its treatments. The goal of this research is to develop evidence-based supportive care intervention strategies that are sustainable and can be implemented across Canada to support testicular cancer patients long term and improve their overall health related quality of life. Please do not hesitate to contact Anika directly should you have any questions or require further information about Anika’s research:     

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Jennifer Gilchrist

Jenna is a fourth-year PhD student working under the supervision of Dr. Catherine Sabiston. Jenna completed her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Master or Arts in Applied Health Sciences at Brock University. She is interested in understanding how self-conscious emotions are associated with participation and performance in sport and exercise with an emphasis on within-person fluctuations in emotion and behaviour. More specifically, Jenna’s work examines the role of anticipated emotions in guiding goal-directed behaviours. For more information, Jenna can be contacted by email at or on Twitter @gilchrist_jenna.

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Eva Pila

Eva is a fourth-year PhD student in the Health and Exercise Psychology Unit, supervised by Dr. Catherine Sabiston. She completed an undergraduate BSc (Honours) in Kinesiology and Psychology (minor) at McMaster University, and an MSc in Exercise Science at both McGill University and University of Toronto. Broadly, her research focuses on understanding emotional body image concerns in at-risk individuals (i.e., adolescent girls, women with breast cancer, and individuals with psychiatric concerns). The overall goal of this research program is to develop empirically supported interventions, currently centered on self-compassion, to help mitigate the mental health consequences of chronic body and weight concerns. Eva has a longstanding history of leadership in community advocacy (e.g., Canadian Obesity Network; National Eating Disorder Information Centre; NEDIC). 

Webinar of research sample


Master's Students

Garcia Ashdown-Franks

Garcia is a first-year Master’s student under the supervision of Dr. Sabiston. Her research interests include exercise and its effects on anxiety and depression. She is currently the program administrator for MoveU.HappyU, an exercise program for students seeking relief from high levels of worry and stress. Garcia can be contacted at


David Di Fonzo

David is a second-year MSc. student under the supervision of Dr. Sabiston and is examining the effect of exercise upon inflammation levels and how body image and depression mediate the relationship.

Douglas Rosa

Douglas completed a Bachelor of Physical Education and Health from the University of Toronto. He is a first-year MSc. student under the supervision of Dr. Catherine Sabiston, he is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and certified nutritionist. Since graduation Douglas, has started a professional career where he experienced first hand the importance that research plays in the creation of good policies and programming, and with the practical experience and knowledge he brings a valuable contribution to research. His research interest includes, health psychology, motivation, strength and conditioning and inclusion. For further information, please contact him at

Madison Vani

Madison is a second-year MSc student, working under the supervision of Dr. Catherine Sabiston. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Brock University. Madison’s research focuses on breast cancer survivors’ experiences of body-related self-conscious emotions (e.g., shame, guilt, pride) and stress (psychological and physiological) during physical activity. The goal of this research is to identify potential intervention strategies aimed at improving breast cancer survivors' overall well-being. For more information, Madison can be contacted at


Former Trainees of the Health Behaviour and Emotion Lab  

Holly Howe, MSc. student, University of Toronto (2014-2016). Area of interest: women’s health, weight training, mental illness.

Jason Lacombe, MSc. student, University of Toronto (2013-2015). Title of thesis: Sedentary behaviour profiles and links to depression among women with breast cancer

Tanya Scarapicchia, PhD. student, University of Toronto (2012-2015), McGill University (2011-2012). MA student, McGill University (2010-2012). Area of interest: Social contagion, physical activity motivation, weight status. 

Gina Pinsonnault Bilodeau, MA. student, University of Toronto (2012-2014), McGill University (2011-2012). Title of thesis: Exploring weight and health communication in the family environment.

Samantha Taran, MA. student, McGill University (2012-2014); Title of thesis: Cognitive function among Master’s athletes

Natalia Bessette, PhD. student, McGill University (2010-2012). Area of interest: Physical activity, emotional health, breast cancer.

Andree Castonguay, PhD. student, McGill University (2008-2013). Title of Dissertation: Development and evaluation of scales to assess body-related self-conscious emotions

Jennifer Brunet, PhD. student, McGill University (2007-2011).  Title of Dissertation: Self-presentation among breast cancer survivors: Implications for physical activity behaviour. MA. student McGill University (2005-2007). Title of thesis: Social physique anxiety and physical activity and sedentary behaviours: A self-determination theory perspective.

Erin O’Loughlin, MA. student, McGill University (2009-2011). Title of Thesis: Investigating the relationships Among Depression and Anxiety Symptoms, Self-Esteem and Physical Activity in Women Treated for Breast Cancer: a Pilot Study Comparing Two Physical Activity interventions

Kara Egelton, MA. student, McGill University (2009-2011). Title of Thesis: Women’s Body Image Challenges Across the Lifespan. 

Bianca Segatto, MA. Student, McGill University (2008-2010). Title of Thesis: Exploring relationships between basic psychological need satisfaction, motivation, and physical activity among transplant recipients. 

Patricia-Ann Crombie, MA. student, McGill University (2007-2009).  Non-thesis paper: Reducing social physique anxiety in physical education. 

Caitlin Love, MA. student, McGill University (2007-2009).  Title of thesis: Examining the path to psychological growth among young adult cancer survivors. 

Hailey Bannack, MA. Sport Psychology McGill University (2007-2009). Title of thesis: Autonomy-supportive coaching behaviours and links to self-determined motivation in Paralympics athletes. Co-Supervision. 

Kristina Hassell, MA. student McGill University (2005-2007). Title of thesis: Exploring coaches, parents, and peer influences on self-determined motivation among elite youth athletes.