Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo Associate Professor of Psychology

Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo


Ph.D., Experimental Psychology, Specialization in Health Psychology, The Ohio University
M.S., Experimental Psychology, Specialization in Health Psychology, The Ohio University
B.A., Psychology, Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio

Areas of Expertise: 

Acute and chronic effects of stress on the brain and body; Stress reduction countermeasures; behavioral medicine including the biological, psychological, social, and behavioral moderators of disease pathogenesis.

Courses I Teach:

  • Introduction to Health Science
  • Introduction to Health Science Lab
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Psychology of Health and Illness
  • Research Methods
  • Lifespan Development
  • Neuroscience Senior Seminar



VanderKaay Tomasulo, M. M. & Richardson, A. E. (in preparation). Stress-induced HPA activation in virtual navigation and spatial attention performance.

VanderKaay Tomasulo, M. M., Scanlin, M., & Patterson, S. M.  (2017).  The effects of nicotine and nicotine abstinence on stress-induced cardiovascular reactivity:  Do habitual and intermittent cigarette smokers differ?  Journal of Psychophysiology, 31(3), 116-133.  doi:10.1027/0269-8803/a000174

Richardson, A. E., & VanderKaay Tomasulo, M. M. (2011). Influence of acute stress on spatial tasks in humans.  Physiology & Behavior, 103(5), 459-466. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.03.019

Patterson, S. M., VanderKaay, M. M., Shanholtzer, B. A., & Patterson, C. A.  (2008).  Influence of acute fluid hydration on stress-induced hemoconcentration and cardiovascular reactivity.  Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(4), 319-330. doi:10.1007/s10865-008-9162-7

VanderKaay, M. M., & Patterson, S. M.  (2006).   Nicotine and acute stress: Effects of nicotine versus placebo on stress induced hemoconcentration and cardiovascular reactivity.  Biological Psychology, 71(2), 191-201. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2005.04.006

Awards & Recognition

Grant Awards:

Vermont Space Grant and Vermont NASA EPSCoR Program, Small-Scale Award, “Can behavioral countermeasures modulate the risk of stress-induced altered immunity and latent virus shedding?” July 2020-June 2021.  Collaborator:  Dagan Loisel, Ph.D.

Vermont Genetics Network, Pilot Award, “Stress-induced physiological reactivity among daily and light female smokers”, June 2012-May 2013.

Saint Michael’s College, Faculty Development Expense Defrayment Award, “The effects of psychological stress on neuroendocrine functioning and cardiovascular reactivity during virtual navigation and spatial learning tasks”, September 2010 – May 2011, Collaborator:  Anthony Richardson, Ph.D.

Mentored Student Grants:

I have been the advising professor for several competitive student-faculty projects funded externally through the Vermont Space Grant Consortium, Vermont Genetics Network, and Psi Chi – the International Honor Society in Psychology; and internally at Saint Michael’s College through the Vice President for Academic Affairs, Social Science Research Center, and the Psychology Department.  My students and I have presented our findings at the annual meetings for the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, Association for Psychological Science, and the New England Psychological Association.


Life Off Campus:

I enjoy traveling, science fiction movies and books, organic gardening, art, hiking, and listening to music, particularly the thought-evoking lyrics and melodies from the band Incubus.

Recent News

Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo of the Saint Michael’s psychology/neuroscience faculty shares news of a recent publication that she co-authored with her psychology faculty colleague Anthony Richardson. Here is the citation for the work, to which the authors contributed equally according to a note that followed the citation: “Richardson, A. E., & † VanderKaay Tomasulo, M. M.  (2022): Stress-induced HPA activation in virtual navigation and spatial attention performance. BMC Neuroscience, 23(1), doi:10.1186/s12868-022-00722-y” The two faculty scholars have been involved in research on topics of interest to, among others, NASA experts.
(posted July 2022)

Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo of the Saint Michael’s psychology and neuroscience faculty and Dagan Loisel of biology were guests in July on host Ric Cengeri’s regular weekday Vermont Viewpoint show on radio station WDEV in Waterbury. The collaborating faculty pair talked about their grant-funded research with NASA into using virtual reality as a way possibly to reduce stress for astronauts on missions. They delved into how the human body adapts to space flight, astronaut health, how their project fits in with the Artemis/Deep Space missions. Melissa shared expertise on physiological responses to stress/stress reduction part of the research, while Dagan brought his expertise regarding the immune system and viral shedding. In October Melissa gave a talk entitled, “Stress and health:  From Earth, to the Moon, and on to Mars” to the Current Topics in Science course at Northern Vermont University – Johnson campus. The presentation was recorded by Green Mountain Access (public access television) to be broadcast on their local county TV station and uploaded to a statewide media exchange for other public access stations to air, and the talk was archived to YouTube.
(posted February 2022)

Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo of the psychology/neuroscience faculty and Dagan Loisel of the biology faculty – believe astronauts might combat stress and reduce health risks in space using virtual reality meditation, and they spent the past year testing their theories on students and emergency responders at Saint Michael’s, funded by $50,000 in NASA grants and $8,000 of internal funding through the Vermont Biomedical Research Network. Recently they learned they will receive an additional $50,000 in grants through the Vermont Space Grant Consortium — $25,000 apiece from two separate applications — to continue their promising and rewarding work. The NASA Space Grant offers research funds through similar consortiums in all states to encourage colleges and universities to partner with the agency.
(posted July 2021)

Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo of neuroscience/ psychology and Dagan Loisel of biology learned this semester that a “small-scale research grant” of $25,000 through Vermont Space Grant Consortium for which they applied earlier this year has been funded in full. The goal of the study funded by this grant is to identify stress-relieving countermeasures that astronauts could use during long-duration space missions to reduce stress and the resultant immune dysregulation (the term refers to negative changes in the body’s normal ability to fight off infections and disease). They will be collaborating with Dr. Brian Crucian, lead scientist for NASA’s Immunology/Virology Laboratory, and Dr. Satish Mehta, Virologist, who are scientists from NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) at Johnson Space Center. NASA’s HRP offered to match their grant funding if they were successful with our application, so the total award is for $50,000. Dagan said the project also will provide opportunities for Saint Michael’s students to get hands-on research experience studying human health. The project came about because of collaborative work that Melissa and Dagan did on the new Saint Michael’s Introduction to Health Sciences course this past fall. Basically, the activation of latent herpes viruses in humans is one consequence of stress in humans, and Dagan has expertise studying these viruses in other species, while Melissa’s research investigates stress using virtual navigation tools, so their collaboration fits neatly for this particular project.
(posted June 2020)

Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo of the neuroscience and psychology faculty joined Saint Michael’s neuroscience majors Jenna Blain ’21 and Megan Kain ’21 in presented their research on November 9 at the Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the New England Psychological Association held on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University.  The research projects were entitled, “Perceived Sleep quality, perceived stress, and stress-induced cardiovascular reactivity in college students”, and “Revised Sing-a-Song-Test – College and gender differences,” respectfully.  The presentations were the direct result of the students’ recent summer Trustees Scholar VPAA grants funding work with Melissa.
(posted February 2020)

Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo, associate professor of psychology and director of the Neuroscience Program, Adam Weaver, associate professor of biology and neuroscience, and Ruth Fabian-Fine, assistant professor of biology and neuroscience, joined Saint Michael’s neuroscience and biology majors in presenting a variety of neuroscience topics at Burlington High School this past Saturday, October 20, for students from Burlington, South Burlington, Rice, Milton and Essex High Schools.
(posted January 2019)

Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo, associate professor of psychology and director of the Neuroscience Program, was presented the annual major faculty award for service named for Norbert A. Kuntz during this year’s annual Academic Convocation in McCarthy Arts Center on September 21, 2018.
(posted January 2019)

Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo, associate professor of psychology and director of the Neuroscience Program, the weekend of Oct. 10-11, 2015 presented research with her student Kelcey Brigg’s ’15 at the New England Psychological Association annual meeting at Fitchburg State University in Fitchburg, MA.  The work was funded through the Alumni Fund for Undergraduate Research – 2014 summer grant from the office of the VPAA – and though the Psychology Department. Citation: Briggs, K. E., & VanderKaay Tomasulo, M.  (2015). Nutritional components and stress-induced salivary immunoglobulin A reactivity.  Poster presented at the New England Psychological Annual Meeting, Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
(posted January 2016)