Max Levine, Siena College – Nausea

When was the last time you felt nauseous?

Max Levine, associate professor of psychology at Siena College, describes how helping people who constantly suffer from this affliction can be good for the rest of us as well.

Dr. Levine received a B.A. from Franklin & Marshall College and an M.S. from The Pennsylvania State University in biological psychology. He also earned his Ph.D. in biological psychology from Penn State and held a post-doctoral fellowship there.

He served as assistant professor of internal medicine and psychology at Wake Forest University. He came to Siena College as an assistant professor of psychology in 2006; he earned tenure and was promoted to associate professor in 2011.

Dr. Levine conducts research in gastrointestinal psychophysiology; ingestive behavior; and stress and health.



The incapacitating unpleasantness of nausea is something most of us are only occasionally forced to endure, but for millions of sufferers, nausea is a debilitating condition experienced on a daily basis. Chemotherapy patients, pregnant women, and individuals with gastrointestinal disorders are among the many who are desperate for an improved understanding of nausea – because the unfortunate truth is that nausea is not managed well by standard medical interventions. My research is focused on the role of psychosocial factors like expectation, perceived control, and psychological stress on the development of nausea and gastric dysrhythmia. Attention to these factors might ultimately lead to the identification of a more successful management strategy than drug therapies have been able to establish.

The healthy stomach contracts slowly and rhythmically at a rate of about three times per minute. Reports of nausea are typically accompanied by an abnormal pattern of stomach activity called gastric tachyarrhythmia, in which the contractile activity of the stomach becomes more rapid and erratic. The magnitude of gastric dysrhythmia is directly related to the severity of nausea that is reported. The goal of a successful intervention, therefore, may be to arrest the development of gastric dysrhythmia, through pharmacological, behavioral, and/or psychosocial means.

Many of the studies I’ve done involve inducing nausea in the laboratory with a motion sickness simulator; participants sit inside a device that induces the illusion of self-motion while physiological signals and symptom data are collected. Recent studies have explored the potential benefit of predictability, distraction, and progressive muscle relaxation. Each has been demonstrated to significantly reduce the development of nausea and its underlying physiological mechanisms. The results of studies like these could inform the development of effective intervention strategies for patients with nausea, and for everyone else who is fortunate to suffer only occasionally.

  1. Tami Mullins