Rebecca Pearl receives APA early career award for scientific contributions

By Jill Pease

Rebecca Pearl, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of clinical and health psychology at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, has received the Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology from the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Rebecca Pearl
Dr. Rebecca Pearl

The award recognizes excellent psychologists who have made significant contributions to the field in the first nine years following completion of their doctoral degrees. Pearl was recognized in the health psychology category.

“Rebecca Pearl is among the very best clinical-health psychologists of her cohort, as reflected by her enviable record of scholarship, publication and grant support at such an early stage of career. She also is a superb teacher and clinician who brings enormous distinction to the profession of psychology,” wrote nominator Thomas A. Wadden, Ph.D., the Albert J. Stunkard Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

Pearl directs the Body Image and Stigma Lab, which investigates appearance- and health-related stigma and associated health outcomes. Her research primarily focuses on weight stigma, with a particular interest in understanding and reducing internalized or self-directed stigma. She is the author or co-author of 80 peer-reviewed publications and has served as a principal investigator on four National Institutes of Research-funded grants, including a prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to support her examination of a novel group counseling intervention aimed at reducing self-stigma among patients with chronic health conditions.

Pearl’s research contributions include an innovative intervention that combines a program designed to reduce weight bias internalization, or WBI, with a traditional behavioral weight loss program. In findings published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Pearl and her colleagues reported that participants who received both interventions had greater improvements in behavioral and psychological outcomes, and expressed higher satisfaction with treatment, than participants who received the behavioral weight loss program alone.

“With additional replication of this work, I believe that key elements of Rebecca’s WBI reduction program will be incorporated into traditional behavioral weight loss programs,” Wadden wrote. “Her intervention complements traditional behavioral treatment and appears to resonate with participants’ desires to address feelings of stigma and shame surrounding their weight and shape. This could be a profoundly important contribution to practice in this area.”