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Connecting the psychology of pain, fatigue and exercise

Kristen B. Morales

February 17, 2017

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If kinesiology has a family tree, then University of Georgia alumnus Dane Cook has just intertwined a few of the branches.

Cook (MS '95, PHD '98), will speak about his research later this month as part of the annual Lewis Lecture Series. He researches the psychological effects of exercise at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his family tree connection comes by way of two of his mentors while he was a graduate student at UGA: Pat O'Connor and Rod Dishman.

O'Connor and Dishman studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under famed professor William P. Morgan, considered by many to be one of the pioneers in researching the psychology of exercise. Years later, when Cook began teaching at the Madison, Wisconsin, campus, he moved into a position left by the newly retired Morgan.

"Working in the laboratory that Dr. Morgan founded is an awesome responsibility," said Cook, "and I'm often reminded that the research conducted by Dr. Dishman and Dr. O'Connor began largely at UW-Madison. This realization motivates me to be a careful and thoughtful scientist, something that was instilled in me as a graduate student at UGA."

Cook's lecture, "Psychology of Pain and Exercise: From Bulldog to Badger," covers his experiences from graduate school at UGA to his more recent research. Cook runs the Exercise Psychology Lab at the UW-Madison's School of Education, where he uses brain imaging methods to better understand how exercise influences the central nervous system, particularly for conditions involving chronic pain and fatigue. "The combination of exercise science and brain imaging methods to study chronic pain and fatigue is a fairly unique and potentially powerful approach for studying the mechanisms of disease maintenance as well as responses to treatment," he added.

The trip back to Athens will also be a homecoming of sorts. Kinesiology faculty members Ellen Evans and Bryan McCullick were graduate students alongside Cook, and he knows a few current graduate students in the department. But Cook's connection with the department goes back even further, to when he was an undergraduate student at Arizona State University. As a psychology major, Cook was looking for inspiration within the field. He stumbled upon a class taught by O'Connor, who at the time was a faculty member there. His interest in the exercise psychology course that O'Connor was teaching, "Introduction to Exercise Psychology," led Cook to help O'Connor with a research project. His interest was piqued. Then, O'Connor moved to UGA. "He said, if you ever consider graduate school, give some thought to UGA," Cook said. A year or so went by and he gave O'Connor a call. "Then, I traveled across the country and went into his office and said, 'Here I am. I want to be a sport psychologist.' To which Dr. O'Connor replied—and I am paraphrasing—'We don't do that here.' I was not deterred."

Along with funding a lecture, the Lewis estate also established a number of student awards starting in 1990. Cook, as a graduate student, received one of these awards; it allowed him to pay for two opioid-acting drugs that were an essential part of his research.

"It's been an interesting journey for me — starting at UGA and landing at UW-Madison. I have loved every step, from learning the very basics of research design to mentoring my own students and managing a federally funded lab," he said. "I'm fortunate to be a member of the Bulldog fraternity and I'm honored to have been invited to give the Lewis Lecture. I will leave other stories to be exaggerated over drinks downtown."

The 2017 Lewis Lecture takes place at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the UGA Hotel and Conference Center's Masters Hall.

Related links: Department of Kinesiology