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Psychology student uses statistics to change lives

Professional dancer embraces her love of quantitative psychology

Kiana Guarino, a senior undergraduate psychology major at ASU, is pictured from midsection up smiling in an outdoor setting.

Kiana Guarino, fourth-year undergraduate psychology major at ASU.

January 04, 2023

Kiana Guarino entered college, like many students, unsure about what direction to take. She explored biochemistry at Arizona State University before landing on psychology but was still not settled on which part to focus on.

A class taught by Research Assistant Professor Julie Patock-Peckham changed everything. 

Now the fourth-year undergraduate student conducts research in Patock-Peckham's Social Addictions Impulse Lab, or SAIL, as well as the Research and Prevention Lab, directed by Regents’ Professor David MacKinnon.

“I got involved with the SAIL lab because I was a student in Dr. Patock-Peckham’s statistical methods class and she noticed that I really liked helping the other students with the coding. She actually asked me to sign up to be part of her lab and I really loved it. I love prevention and research — it was a great fit,” Guarino said.

SAIL investigates problematic drinking behavior in a social context in emerging adulthood. The lab researches resilience in substance use disorders, the impact of parenting on addiction, and the role of internalizing and externalizing disorders in addiction. Guarino’s experience with using data to understand addiction sparked a new interest in quantitative psychology. 

“In high school, I was never that great at math, and I never loved it until I got into college. I was able to see the ways that we can use it as a tool to get at complex data and the phenomenon that we study as psychologists,” she said. 

Quantitative psychology is the study of mathematical modeling, research design and methodology, and statistical analysis in order to better understand psychology. Many quantitative psychologists focus on what statistics actually mean and how we can conduct research that impacts lives. 

One of those psychologists is MacKinnon, who Guarino was introduced to through Patock-Peckham. MacKinnon is considered by Thomson-Reuters and Clarivate as one of the top 1% cited in his field, and conducts mediation analysis for public health behavior, including steroid prevention and drug prevention in adolescents. 

As Kiana learns more about quantitative psychology, she becomes increasingly enthusiastic about a career in this field. That is fun to watch," MacKinnon said. 

His lab, the Research in Prevention Lab, focuses on using prevention research to influence public health and increase healthy behavior. The concept that you can use statistics to positively influence real-life outcomes excited Guarino. 

“I love research, I love quantitative psychology and I'm just excited to do more with all of that. How can we solve problems with missing data? How can we solve problems with things like nested data? All of that just seemed like a puzzle to me, and there's a lot of work to be done still,” Guarino said. 

In addition to her interest in statistics and analysis, Guarino is a professional tap dancer and teacher. She spends 10 to 20 hours each week leading dance classes for young dancers and has traveled the world dancing. Guarino is also a coach in the Department of Psychology's Student Success Center where she tutors other students on the advanced statistics required for a degree in psychology. The ability to balance all of these interests along with her research stood out to her mentor.

“Kiana is so voracious in her desire to learn the most complicated math and statistics that I am humbled to work with such a genius,” Patock-Peckham said. “But what I love the most about working with Kiana is that she really is a generous team player for someone so extremely analytical.” 

Guarino hopes to complete a PhD in quantitative psychology and aims to conduct research in the future.

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