DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY
OPIOID ADDICTION BREAKTHROUGH Seven Tomek and Foster Olive IN MEMORIUM Tom Dishion leaves a lasting legacy REFUGEE STUDENTS experience a life changing visit
GET PSYCHED, VOL 1 ISSUE: 2
SUMMER EDITION 2018
Chair’s Message Welcome back for another year of discovery, research, and advancement. We hope you enjoy a recap of everything you may have missed this summer!
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
3 Celebrating Thomas Dishion
5 Experts Q&A on Child Separation 8 Shelter Genotyping Reveals Inaccuracy 11 Resource Scarcity 14 Addiction Breakthrough 16 Ashley Thompson 18 Refugee Students Experience a Change in Perception
Steven Neuberg, Ph.D. Foundation Professor and Chair Department of Psychology
22 Mike Sladek 24 Can Parenting Skills Defeat Obesity? 26 Time Crawls with Carter Daniels 28 Studying Big Data 30 Protecting Against the Effects of Postpartum Depression 32 Studying How People See Themselves
Kim D’Ardenne, Ph.D. Research Professor and Science Writer Department of Psychology
34 Working to Solve the Puzzle of Drug Addiction 36 Studying the Emotions of Parenting 38 It’s Okay When You’re Not Okay
Robert Ewing Marketing and Communications Manager Department of Psychology For any comments or questions, please contact Robert at Robert.Ewing@asu.edu or call 480-727-5054
By Kim D’Ardenne
Arizona State University has lost a luminary in the field of prevention science: Thomas Dishion died June 1. He earned his Bachelor of Art in philosophy at the University of California, Santa Barbara before moving to the University of Oregon for his master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology. Dishion started his academic career at Oregon in 1988 and moved to ASU in 2011. He was named an ASU Regents’ Professor of psychology in February. Dishion was a central figure advancing the field of prevention
science, which brings techniques or interventions backed by research into the community. At Oregon, he founded the Child and Family Center, and at ASU, he re-envisioned prevention science by founding and directing the REACH Institute in the Department of Psychology. Dishion was described by his colleague Nicholas Ialongo, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath, as having an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
abuse, violence and delinquency. In 1999, he published a paper in American Psychologist that examined how peer reinforcement of deviant behavior can occur in group therapy, thereby causing clinical interventions designed to help teenagers to instead backfire. This paper influenced federal guidelines for group therapy interventions for adolescents.
This thirst led Dishion to study how deviant behavior can be reinforced among adolescent peers and can lead to substance
“Tom was not only an icon in prevention science; he was also a premier developmental psychopathologist. His research on the development of antisocial behavior and substance use over the early life course and into adulthood is among the most informative of its kind from both a theoretical and empirical standpoint,” Ialongo said. Sharlene Wolchik, professor and co-director of the REACH Institute, described Dishion as passionately believing that basic science research should form the foundation for interventions for at-risk youth. This conviction led Dishion to also focus on the parent-child relationship, specifically how interactions between a parent and child could unintentionally reinforce unhealthy behaviors that can then lead to problem behaviors in the future. To break the cycle of reinforcing unhealthy behaviors — in parent or child — Dishion took his research findings on group dynamics in adolescents beyond the university walls and developed the Family Check-Up program. “Tom’s developmental psychopathology research informed the development of the Family CheckUp and numerous other prevention interventions targeting antisocial behavior and substance abuse,” Ialongo added. The Family Check-Up program targets at-risk families with young children and teaches parenting skills that improve the interactions between parents and children. These simple parenting skills have wide-ranging effects and protect children against substance abuse and a range of mental health problems years later in life. “The Family Check-Up represents a leap forward from behavior problem treatment to the prevention of the problem behaviors, in a context that affords universal implementation,” said Kenneth Dodge, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. “This approach has the potential to move the needle in population health, which is rare for psychological interventions.” Dishion’s efforts developing and implementing the Family Check-Up program in the community earned him the 2010 Prevention Science Award from the Society for Prevention Science.
“Many, many families in the U.S. and four other countries are benefitting from Tom’s careful research and passion for making life better for atrisk youth,” Wolchik said. Daniel Shaw, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, collaborated with Dishion and described Dishion’s ability to translate basic science research into a successful intervention as unparalleled. “Tom is up there as one of the most creative and free-thinking scientists I will ever meet,” Shaw said.
“He has few equals in the field.” Dishion was a prolific scholar who was passionate about using rigorous methods in his research that he then applied to his interventions. During his 30-year career, he published over 300 papers in peer-reviewed journals, was awarded more than $100 million in federal research grants and trained myriad scientists. His papers were heavily cited, which means his work widely influenced other scientists. “Tom had a tremendous impact on research in developmental science. He introduced gamechanging questions, theory, and methods on a broad range of topics such as bullying, the developmental course of antisocial behavior, and the neurobiology of young adult romantic relationships,” said Nancy Gonzales, incoming dean of natural sciences, Foundation Professor of psychology and co-director of the REACH Institute. “For this work, Tom received the 2019 Urie Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society.” The Bronfenbrenner award is presented by the Developmental Psychology division of the American Psychological Association to scientists whose research has advanced developmental psychology but who also apply their research efforts to society. Dishion’s award will be presented
posthumously at the 2019 annual meeting of the association.
“Tom was a special man in so many ways,” said Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology. “As a scholar, his scientific contributions were remarkable. As a contributor to our broader society, his creation of empirically sound, evidence-based interventions to enhance the well-being of at-risk children, adolescents, and families is nothing less than inspiring. And he was a good friend to so many. We will greatly miss him.” Dishion strongly believed universities should be actively involved in the community, and his Family Check-Up program is used widely in the U.S. and also internationally. Through his efforts to offer research-based interventions to society, he exemplified the values and goals of the New American University. Dishion is survived by his wife, Thao Ha, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology; his children Tom Jr., Jacob and Briana; their spouses Lauriza, Cindy and Chris; and his grandchildren Lanie, Adriana, Dominic, Nathan, Isabelle and Nora. A celebration of Dishion’s life is being planned at ASU at the beginning of the fall semester.
Click to watch Tom’s Regents’ Acceptance Profile
ASU psychologists agree — unexpected separation from parents is harmful to children both in the short and long term By Robert Ewing
The Arizona State University Department of Psychology has a history of research supporting children and adolescents experiencing crisis, anxiety or trauma. Scientists in the department have produced several internationally renowned intervention programs to help improve their long-term outcomes. Experts all agree — separating children from their families is harmful to the child’s development and long-term physical, mental and emotional health.“The evidence underscores the importance of prioritizing keeping children secure with their families,” said Marc Bornstein, president of the Society for Research in Child Development.
In light of the recent separation of immigrant children from their parents at the U.S. border, ASU Now asked experts in the department to share their thoughts. Leah Doane, associate professor of psychology, is an expert on stress processes and consequences in children and adolescents. She leads the Adolescent Stress and Emotion Lab and is a principal investigator of the Arizona Twin Project. Her “Transiciones” project studies ways that Latinos adapt to stress in higher education. Armando Pina, associate professor of psychology, is an expert on anxiety and courage in children. He leads ASU’s Courage
Lab and helped launch the award-winning Compass for Courage project that is currently being used in 26 local schools. Pina also studies separation anxiety in children. Sharlene Wolchik, professor of psychology, and Irwin Sandler, ASU Regents’ Professor of psychology, are the cofounders of the New Beginnings program, an intervention program designed to help children cope during divorce. The program has expanded beyond ASU and Maricopa County to other family courts in other states.
Question: What immediate or longterm effects might be expected in children who have been unexpectedly separated from their parents? Doane: Family separations lead to serious physical and psychological consequences. Such separations represent sources of stress and trauma for children and parents alike. Research evidence is clear regarding the impact of child maltreatment and trauma on immediate and long-term outcomes for children. In the short term, childrenâ€™s basic psychological needs stemming from warm responsive caregiving and reassurance under stress are not met, leading to chronic activation of physiological stress processes and emotional distress. These experiences in children have been linked to the development of serious emotional disorders, worse cognitive performance, and changes in physiology in childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. Such disorders can include post-traumatic stress, depression and changes in physiological stress systems and brain function. Pina: Separation that is unexpected is stressful and traumatic. We know that the immediate or long-term effects on children who are separated from their parents can vary because of a number of factors: the age of the child, the nature and length of the separation, the childâ€™s reaction to the separation, and the childâ€™s coping ability. For example, among very young children, unplanned separation can increase behavioral problems at ages 5 to 6 years old. Developmentally and clinically speaking, there are different types of stressful events and separation, such as the death of a parent, divorce, foster home mobility, or abandonment, that we can draw on to better understand and predict the long-term outcomes for children. One could expect anxiety, depression, poor academic performance, low school liking, peer rejection, mistrust, illegal substance use, criminality, reliance on public assistance, residential instability, and even an increased risk
of suicide in some cases. In fact, the association of an increased risk of suicide remains even after adjusting for school and childhood mental health problems. Wolchik and Sandler: Based on other examples when children have been forcibly separated from their parents, we can expect that this situation would be a very traumatic experience. In the short term, children are likely to be anxious, depressed, scared, confused and wary of adults. They may cry inconsolably, bed wet, fight and worry about what is going to happen to them and their parents. The long-term effects depend on how long they are separated and the conditions in which they reside. But these children, many of whom have already experienced other traumatic events, might well develop serious long-term problems such as hypersensitivity to separation, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Q: What can be done immediately or in the future to lessen any negative effects on the children? Doane: Swift reunification without threat of additional separation will help both children and parents. Strategies must also be implemented to help families cope with this significant stressor both immediately and in the future. Pina: It is important to screen and identify children who might need social services. Unfortunately, there is no cure for any of the mental health factors that typically result from such an atypical separation. If children are identified as at-risk for illness or diagnosed with the psychiatric problems that can result from traumatic separation, then our best option would be to provide interventions known to help children learn coping strategies aimed at reducing the severity and impact of the symptoms associated with trauma. Sadly, the scars of trauma and traumatic separation tend to be lifelong and costly to all. Wolchik and Sandler: The most important thing is to reunite the children with their parents as quickly as possible and to allow their parents to take care of them. There is really no substitute for reunification.
More than a label: shelter dog genotyping reveals inaccuracy of breed assignments By Kim D’Ardenne
Imagine meeting a potential roommate for coffee but instead of questions that gauge how compatible you both would be living together, you were asked about the ancestry of your parents’ families. Though this situation seems ridiculous, it happens all the time in animal shelters where dogs are assigned breeds that are often just guessed from their physical appearance. These assigned breeds are then used to infer how the dogs might behave and also often impact the length of time a dog waits to be adopted. The first step to understanding how breed labels might affect shelter dogs is to identify who shelter dogs actually are, and
researchers in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology have done just that. The ASU scientists genotyped shelter dogs in Arizona and California and compared the genetic information to the breed labels assigned in shelters. The findings were published August 23 in PLOS ONE. Genetic diversity in shelter dogs and implications for breed labels
and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (AAWL) in Phoenix, AZ, and the San Diego Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SDHS) in San Diego, CA.
For the genetic testing, the researchers used the Wisdom Panel Canine DNA Tests from Mars Veterinary, which is a commercially available product. A small brush was used to collect cells from the dog’s Canine cheek swabs cheeks and gums, and the Who are shelter dogs? To answer samples were sent to a lab for processing. At the lab, DNA this question, ASU’s Canine Science Collaboratory researchers was extracted from the dog’s cells and compared to over 300 Lisa Gunter and Clive Wynne sites in the canine genome that collected DNA from over 900 have been matched to specific shelter dogs housed at the breeds. Arizona Animal Welfare League
The three most common breeds at both the AAWL and SDHS were the same: the American Staffordshire Terrier, Chihuahua and Poodle. Yet, these three breeds accounted for less than half of the dogs in the two shelters. “The level of genetic diversity in the shelter dogs exceeded our expectations: we found 125 distinct breeds,” said Gunter, who is a Maddie’s Research Fellow in the ASU Department of Psychology. “We also found that just 5% of the shelter dogs were purebred, even though it is commonly assumed that up to a quarter of dogs in shelters are purebred.” The genetic testing gave the researchers information about three generations of ancestors for each dog. On average, most dogs were comprised of three different breeds, with some dogs having up to five breed signatures identified at the greatgrandparent level. “Breed identification has quite an outsize role in people’s perceptions of dogs,” said Wynne, professor of psychology and head of the Canine Science Collaboratory. “‘What breed is he?’ is often the first question people ask about a dog, but the answer is often terribly inaccurate.”
The accuracy and unintended consequences of a label The genetic diversity among shelter dogs can make it difficult for shelter staff to assess the breed heritage of dogs. Gunter and Wynne partnered with ASU’s Rebecca Barber, assistant clinical professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, to compare the breed information from the genetic testing to the labels given to the dogs in the San Diego shelter. At the SDHS, shelter staff used the physical appearance of a dog and breed descriptions from the American Kennel Club Breed Identification Guides to identify a primary and secondary breed.
When the researchers looked at whether either the assigned primary or secondary breed matched the information from the genetic profile of a dog, they found the shelter staff accuracy was 67%. The accuracy fell to 10% when staff identified more than one breed. Though breed labels are common in animal shelters, they can have unintended consequences. In a previous study also published in PLOS ONE, the researchers found that dogs labeled as pit bulls waited over three times as long to be adopted. In this study, the researchers found that dogs in the San Diego shelter with a pit bull-type ancestry waited more than three times as long as other dog breeds. How a breed label impacts a shelter dog extends beyond identification. The relationship between behavior and breed is murky except for certain behaviors that are breed-specific, like pointing. “The genetics of behavior is so complex that a dog who is a cross of two breeds might not behave much like the typical members of either of its parents’ families,” Wynne said. “Then you have a situation where breed-typing is worse than stereotyping members of our own species. Breed labels would be better dropped altogether.”
Beyond breed labels to behavior The behavioral diversity even within single breeds has led Gunter and Wynne to advocate for the importance of behavioral assessments instead of breed labels. What really matters is a dog’s behavior and how it might fit into an adoptive family, Gunter said. “Shelter dogs are interesting and complex genetically,” Gunter said. “They really are individuals, and labeling them with a single breed can minimize their uniqueness.” An important goal of the Canine Science Collaboratory is to design and validate a behavioral assessment that would provide insight into how dog behavior in a shelter translates to behavior in a home. Such an assessment would be more informative than breed labels and might positively impact shelter dogs.
The AAWL in Phoenix recently stopped publicizing breed information on their website and on kennel cards, though the breed labels are available upon request. The shelter, which has a long-standing relationship with the Collaboratory, made the decision based on the findings from the previous study that showed how certain breed labels increased the length of stay in a shelter. “Everything about the life experience of a dog – where he was before coming to the shelter or any medical issues he might have – is what makes him who he is, not who his grandparents might have been,” said Michael Morefield, director of marketing and communications for the AAWL.
“When you adopt a dog, you are not adopting a bully, a German Shepherd or St. Bernard, you are adopting Jerry or Mo. When you love a dog, you don’t love a German Shepherd. You love Jerry.”
Resource Scarcity Increases Support for Death Penalty By Kim D’Ardenne Death as punishment is ancient. It is also controversial. Worldwide, over 140 countries have outlawed the death penalty, yet in over 50 it remains the law of the land. Most research on death penalty attitudes searches for explanations in cultural influences or individual political or religious beliefs. An interdisciplinary research team of social psychologists, evolutionary psychologists and legal scholars from Arizona State University have identified a different influence on how people think about punishment: the availability of resources. In a study currently
in press at Evolution and Human Behavior, the team tested how resource scarcity or abundance was related to endorsement of the death penalty across the globe and among individuals. The paper was made available online last week.
The relationship between capital and punishment Instead of focusing on how political views or religion affect the perception of the death penalty, the ASU researchers tested whether available resources influenced punishment for serious offenses. This idea – that resource scarcity could
determine punishment – comes from approaches to understanding how humans evolved to deal effectively with different environments. “To understand why people feel the way they do about the death penalty, we looked beyond individual differences to features of the environment that might affect people’s punishment attitudes, sometimes in ways outside of their conscious awareness,” said Keelah Williams, who earned her doctorate in psychology and law degree from ASU in 2017 and is now an assistant professor of
psychology at Hamilton College in New York. Williams is lead author on the study. In four studies, using both archival and experimental methods, the researchers examined how the availability of resources might shape death penalty beliefs. The first study assessed the relationship between resource scarcity and the presence of capital punishment in nations around the world. The researchers discovered that countries with greater resource scarcity were more likely to have a death penalty. “Some might attribute the differences in countries deathe penalty laws to numerous factors including cultural differences,” said Ashley Votruba, who also earned her doctorate in psychology and law degree from ASU in 2017 and is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of NebraskaLincoln. To limit cultural differences at the country level as a possible explanatory factor, the researchers next focused on the United States, where the status of the death penalty is determined independently by each state and is currently legal in 31 states.Replicating the findings from the global study, U.S. states with lower per capita income were more likely to have the death penalty as a punishment option.
A causal link between environmental influences and the death penalty Based on the results from the first two studies – that countries and individual states with fewer resources are more likely to have the death penalty – the researchers decided to test for a causal link between resource scarcity and endorsement of the death penalty. In two additional experiments, the researchers had participants view pictures and read a short story about the economy. The story and pictures either detailed economic hardships like high unemployment and frequent home foreclosures or economic prosperity like high job growth and wages, rising stock prices
and many new home purchases. After viewing the photographs and reading the story, the participants answered questions about their attitudes toward the death penalty, along with their political views and socioeconomic status. In the first experiment, people randomly assigned to read about economic hardship tended to view the death penalty more favorably than those who read about economic prosperity, and this finding was independent of political ideology and socioeconomic status. Because the finding was statistically small, in the next experiment the researchers applied a “death qualification” criterion, also known as the Witherspoon rule, to the participants. The participants were questioned in the same way jurors serving on capital cases are screened. If jurors are staunchly opposed to, or staunchly in favor of, the death penalty, they are disqualified from serving on a capital case because jurors have to be willing to make the decision about the death penalty based on the evidence presented. The researchers reasoned that participants already committed to their death penalty beliefs would be less likely to be influenced by fleeting changes in their perceptions of resource availability. In addition, participants were queried about the riskiness of keeping convicted murderers alive, by responding to statements such as “Keeping convicted murderers alive is too great a risk for society to take” or “The death penalty is the only way to ensure a convicted murderer will not murder again.” These statements probed a potential mechanism for how resource scarcity affects the death penalty: resource scarcity leads people to see offenders as posing greater risks to society. Like the previous experiment, participants then answered questions about their views on the death penalty. Participants who were eligible to participate as jurors on death penalty cases were especially likely to support the death penalty if they had first read about economic hardship rather than economic prosperity. The perceived costs of allowing convicted murderers to live predicted this effect: Perceived scarcity led people to view convicted murderers as greater risks
to society, which then predicted their greater endorsement of the death penalty. Overall, the study findings suggest that the way a group deals with members who threaten the safety of others is influenced by whether people feel they are facing a world that is economically secure or not, said Michael Saks, Regents’ Professor of law and psychology at ASU. Saks, who is senior author on the study, added that the findings also suggest how society assigns punishment is fundamentally driven by the need for material well-being, and philosophical principles are developed afterwards. “One would think that fluctuating perceptions of resource availability wouldn’t shape beliefs about something as morally profound and consequential as the death penalty,” offered Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology. “These findings, along with others, help support the view that aspects of contemporary psychology rest on a deep, evolved rationality. They also have more immediate, practical implications: The ability of scientific psychology to better understand the peripheral factors that shape beliefs about the death penalty may be, for some, the difference between life and death.” The study was completed at ASU while Williams and Votruba earned their doctorates in psychology and degrees in law.
Addiction Breakthrough: Friendship is good, but opioids are better By Kim D’Ardenne
New ASU study shows animals choose heroin over helping others Each day in the United States, 116 people die from an opioid-related drug overdose. Opioid addiction has reach epidemic levels and is estimated to have cost the country $1 trillion since 2001. One of the criterion for opioid addiction is persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems as a result of opioid use, but the social influences on opioid addiction are just beginning to be studied. Researchers in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology have shown that animals who have been trained to rescue
a trapped animal stop helping when opioids are available, suggesting that animals have social deficits similar to the known social impairments in human opioid addiction. The study will be published in Addiction Biology, and an advance online copy was made available May 4. “We found that the opioid heroin basically erased the prosocial behaviors of our subjects,” said Seven Tomek, a psychology graduate student and lead author on the study. Tomek works in the Addiction Neuroscience Laboratory, which is led by Associate Professor Foster Olive. Like a key in a lock, opioid drugs activate very specific receptors on neurons instead of the neurotransmitters naturally made by the brain. Some of the receptors that opioid drugs activate are responsible for creating pleasurable feelings and relieving pain. Though opioids only target a few specific receptors, these drugs can affect
the entire brain, including in areas responsible for social interactions.
A need for an animal model of social deficits in opioid addiction Tomek has a master’s degree in psychology, and she worked with patients receiving treatment for substance abuse. “The main complaints of my opioid addicted patients were about social interactions and relationships,” she said. “When I read on the blog IFLScience about an experiment that tested social behaviors in animals by letting them choose whether or not to free a trapped animal, I immediately thought, ‘We need to test this with drugs!’” In the experiment, one animal is trapped in a plastic tube. A second animal is then trained how to open the tube and free the trapped animal. Tomek convinced Olive to let her conduct the experiment with heroin. To get started, she contacted the developer of the animal rescue experiment, University of Chicago neuroscientist Peggy Mason, for details the lab needed to perform the experiment. “The Mason paradigm is robust,” Tomek said. “Animals will routinely choose to rescue a trapped animal over a food treat, including chocolate.”
The value of helping a friend is greater than sugar but less than opioids After training the animals how to open the tube and free the trapped animal, the researchers divided the animals into two groups. When the animals poked their nose into a special hole, one group was given sugar pellets to eat and the other group received intravenous heroin. The animals in the heroin group were allowed to receive up to 100 heroin infusions, each separated by a 20 second waiting period.
Animals in the sugar and heroin groups were then given 30 minutes to decide whether to rescue the trapped animal, to eat sugar or be injected with heroin, or to do both. The animals in the sugar group kept rescuing trapped animals, just like before. None of the animals in the heroin group rescued. They walked around and looked at the trapped animals without opening the door. “Dysfunctional social relationships and social withdrawal add to the psychological strain of addiction, but we don’t know much about the effects of drug intake on social cognition. This pioneering paper is timely and might pave the way for more targeted and efficient rehabilitation and post-rehab treatment options,” said Tobias Kalenscher, professor of psychology at the Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf in Germany. “It is very important to know what it is about heroin that stopped the animals from prosocial behavior, and I hope future work begins to target the underlying brain mechanisms.” Next, Tomek and Olive plan to test ways to restore social functioning in animals addicted to opioids, which could suggest new treatment options for dealing with the human opioid epidemic. “These findings are very exciting, especially in light of the fact that the neurobiology of addiction is often scientifically investigated without accounting for important social influences,” Olive said. “In addition to identifying brain regions that are responsible for social deficits in opiate addiction, we also hope to eventually expand this line of research to other drugs that are consumed in social settings, such as alcohol, nicotine, stimulants and marijuana.”
Read the full study on Addiction Biology.
ASU student shows refugee children science research, opportunities of higher education By Robert Ewing
Arizona State University Department of Psychology undergraduate Ashley Thompson’s to-do list probably looks different than her peers’. In addition to her course load at ASU, Thompson volunteers in a Phoenix elementary school, working with refugee children.
Thompson was invited by a friend to join the ASU Community Outreach and Advocacy for Refugees (COAR), a student-run organization that provides assistance to the large refugee population in the Phoenix metro area. She started working with Crockett Elementary School through COAR.
Thompson recently organized a field trip so that the refugee students at David Crockett Elementary School could experience psychology research first hand. The students spent the day in the Dynamics of Perception, Action and Cognition Lab (DPAC).
COAR volunteers work as tutors at local elementary schools with large refugee populations. Thompson decided to reach out to the Balsz Elementary School District to see what she could make happen. After numerous attempts, she connected with the principal of Crockett Elementary, who happily facilitated an introduction to Patricia Skains’ class. Instead of just tutoring the students in the class, Thompson suggested and organized the “science day” field trip at the DPAC lab.
“I wanted to show the kids that higher education is possible even if they had not thought about it before,” Thompson said.
Left: DPAC Lab hosts students from Crockett Elementary School Watch a highlight reel of the day
Ashley is really special. “She was a star student in my learning and motivation class, and to learn about all that she does for these kids is really exciting,” said Nia Amazeen, associate professor of psychology and co-director of the DPAC lab. “She is the one who really connected us for this event and was integral in getting the day together.” Thompson also rallied her friends to help with the field trip. Even though it was the end of the semester, she convinced five of her friends to come to the DPAC and help introduce the children to psychology. Thompson grew up in Scottsdale and decided to come to ASU to pursue her dream of becoming an advocate for children in foster care. She studied psychology because she wanted to understand how the brain processes information and how it affects the decisions we make.
Question: What is one piece of advice you have for students coming to ASU? Answer: The one piece of advice I would give students would be to find something you are incredibly passionate about, and if you don’t find a club already on campus, start one! ASU makes it incredibly easy to take a passion and run with it and without the support from the university, it would have been almost impossible for me to do what I did.
Q: What do you do for fun when you are not working in a research lab or volunteering? A: I really enjoy working with kids; to me that is fun! When I’m not working with kids, I really enjoy baking and traveling. Q: What was rewarding about volunteering at Crockett Elementary? A: The most rewarding part of volunteering at Crockett Elementary was seeing how the kids improved in school. Knowing that our efforts are actually making a difference in their education and are at the same time keeping them interested in continuing education is so heartwarming. Q: If you were given $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would that be? A: I would improve education funding in the U.S., especially for arts classes. Children are our future. If we want to continue to improve and tackle some of the biggest issues we are currently facing as a nation, it’s important to educate our future generations to the best of our abilities.
Refugee students invited to experience a change of perception The Dynamics of Perception, Action and Cognition Lab (DPAC) in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology recently hosted a special on-campus field trip for elementary school students. The lab spent the day teaching third- and fourth-grade refugee students about how people perceive and understand the world.
educational backgrounds, but all share an interest in science.
Nia and Eric Amazeen, associate professors of psychology and codirectors of the DPAC lab, partnered with Crockett Elementary School teacher Patricia Skains and ASU psychology undergraduate student Ashley Thompson.
“It is important to reach out to the community because some children do not have the opportunity to otherwise see what it is like to be a student at a university. Many of the kids on the field trip were shocked to hear that you can study virtually anything here at ASU,” said Morgan Waddell, a graduate student in the DPAC Lab. “We hope that showing young kids around the lab allows them to picture themselves earning a degree here and that visiting the lab shows them that it is possible to go to college and be successful in studying what they are interested in.”
When Thompson was a student in Nia Amazeen’s PSY 320 Learning and Motivation class, she noticed an opportunity to share a life-changing opportunity with the students that she tutors each week. Many of the students don’t have any opportunity to even leave their neighborhood, and Thompson decided to organize a trip to help shift their worldview. “I want these students to see college as a reasonable goal and work to accomplish that goal,” explained Thompson. Skains’ class includes third- and fourthgrade students who are refugees from Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Congo, Rwanda, Mexico, Syria, Malaysia and South Africa. These students might have varied
Crockett Elementary is part of the Balsz Elementary School District in Phoenix, and the students at the school come from all over the world. More than 17 languages are spoken in the halls, and the diversity of the student body is a source of pride.
The DPAC lab uses math to study behavior: how people perceive the world, how they act and move, and how they think. The research in the DPAC lab uses methods from mathematics and ecological psychology to try to understand how sensations such as vision and touch, people’s movement, and attention and learning all work together to create human behavior.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
IN OUR COMMUNITY Above: Crockett Elementary School Students and the DPAC Lab Photo: Robert Ewing
The Crockett students participated in five experiments, including an experiment on proprioception, or how the brain understands where the body is in space. The students tested their proprioception with an experiment requiring different ways of balancing. They had to balance and walk along a slackline that was suspended above the ground; afterwards, they brainstormed how to improve their balance. In the second experiment, students used a driving simulator to drive a racecar around a racetrack that was projected on a big screen. After the students became used to how the steering wheel worked, the wheel was reversed so that they had to move the wheel right to turn left. This experiment tests how quickly someone acclimates to drastic changes in the environment.
The Amazeens said that the goal of the DPAC science day is to show young children that they can use science to learn more about things that interest them because science always starts and ends in the real world. They scale their lessons about the scientific method to the age of the students to teach them how to design experiments to answer their questions.
For the third experiment, the children watched how an electromyography device was used to measure muscle activity in Eric Amazeen’s arm as he flexed and lifted dumbbells. Waddell led them through a lesson on muscles of the body and how we use them to perceive weight.
The public outreach events of the DPAC lab began more than nine years ago. The Amazeens estimated that the lab outreach has helped hundreds of students from challenged backgrounds understand what higher education is and that it is an attainable goal.
Thanks to Crockett Elementary’s P.E. teacher and Arizona Teacher of the Year, Josh Meibos, the elementary students were well versed on their muscles because Meibos uses their individual languages as a method to break down cultural barriers and teach them about physiology.
“We have been privileged to have the support of our families, teachers and community that helped get us to the position that we are in today. It’s our time to give back to the community by helping these children to fulfill their dreams,” said Eric Amazeen.
“The kids had a lot of fun testing their driving skills in the coordination experiment and enjoyed showing off their knowledge of muscles and bones of the body in the muscle experiment,” Waddell said. In the fourth experiment, students used different tools and their own bodies to measure the distance to near and far targets. They studied the relationship between height and arm span in a fifth experiment on correlation and compared their measurements to Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner.
Mike Sladek Wins APA Dissertation Award By Kim D’Ardenne Starting college is exciting, but it also can be stressful, especially for minority students. Researchers in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology are studying ways that Latinos adapt to the stressors of higher education and what promotes their academic success. Michael Sladek, a psychology graduate student, won a doctoral dissertation research award from the American Psychological Association (APA) for his proposal to study Latino students as they transition to college life at ASU. “I am interested in how cultural influences affect how people deal with stress,” Sladek said. The APA funds allowed Sladek to study how Latino students in their first semester at ASU handle stress. Sladek’s experiment is part of a larger study run by his advisor, Leah Doane, associate professor of psychology. “We are interested in how culture affects development,” Doane said. “We are looking at how culture impacts the effects that stress from adjusting to a new environment can have on health, mental health and academic success.”
The Doane lab “Transiciones” study tracks how ASU Latino students adjust to college by following them starting in their senior year of high school through their third year in college. It is funded by the William T. Grant Foundation and receives logistical support from ASU admissions and Educational Outreach and Student Services. Last year, Doane’s lab began tracking over 200 Latino students who had committed to attend ASU. The first part of the Transiciones study was an eight-day period when the students were still living at home and attending high school. The researchers asked the students to complete smart-phone based daily surveys, monitored the quality of their sleep and collected information about their stress levels and general health. The lab repeated the same eight-day protocol one year later, when the Latino students were in their second semester at ASU. Sladek’s experiment included a smaller group of Transiciones students who first watched a video and then spent a few minutes talking about themselves before a panel of two judges. The judges were trained researchers and the public speaking situation was designed to create stress. To measure stress, the researchers asked the students questions about their mood and collected saliva samples before and after the experiment. The saliva samples were
used to measure changes in cortisol, a hormone produced by the body during stress. Sladek wanted to know whether the video watched by the students affected their stress levels. “One video was made by ASU, and it focuses on how culture, diversity and inclusion are all really important at ASU,” Sladek said. “The other video was a generic tour of campus.” Sladek and Doane thought that the students who watched the video about how ASU values diversity and inclusion would feel less stress during the experiment. Sladek thought that reminding students of their background would help them feel more connected to their culture while they navigated the university environment. “We wanted to see if the students who watched the ASU inclusion video felt more comfortable and could draw from their own background when they stood up in front of the judges,” Sladek said.
already giving to incoming students can make a difference,” Sladek said. “The findings from this study highlight the cultural diversity among Latino students, which has important implications for students as they start college classes (and) interact with professors and other students.” To apply for the APA dissertation award, Sladek wrote a summary of the experiments he wanted to include in his doctoral dissertation. His application was one of two selected to be sent to the APA by Laurie Chassin, Regents’ Professor and director of graduate training in the psychology department. Sladek and fellow psychology graduate student Carter Daniels both were among the approximately 40 students nationwide selected by the APA for dissertation awards. “The APA dissertation award is an honor for our ambitious and entrepreneurial students,” Chassin said. “And it is a credit to the training they receive in the Department of Psychology.” After completing his doctorate at ASU, Sladek will move to Harvard University to work with former ASU professor Adriana Umaña-Taylor.
Sladek compared the answers to the questions about mood and the amounts of cortisol measured from the students who watched the supportive inclusion video to the students who watched the campus tour. He found that the students who watched the supportive inclusion video did not react as dramatically to the stress task, an effect that was strongest for students with a greater connection to their cultural heritage, like valuing family and respecting authority figures. “We’re excited by these findings because they supported our hypothesis and show that the initiatives and messages ASU is
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Can parenting skills prevent childhood obesity? By Kim D’Ardenne Researchers in Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology received a five-year grant for just under $2.5 million from the USDA to implement an intervention program that targets childhood obesity in a novel way: by teaching parenting skills. In the United States, approximately 9 percent of children ages 2–5 years and 17 percent of children ages 6–11 years are obese. Childhood obesity can lead to lifelong health problems, even early death, and is linked to greater rates of depression and mental illness
in young children and teenagers. Children who are ethnic minorities and who come from low-income families are the most likely to be obese. Cady Berkel, associate research professor of psychology, and Justin D. Smith, who was a postdoctoral scientist in the ASU psychology department and is now an assistant professor at Northwestern University, are the lead investigators on the grant, which begins July 1.
The Family Check-Up 4 Health program
Berkel and Smith are trying to reach at-risk children ages 2–8
years before unhealthy eating and physical activity habits become established. The centerpiece of their project is the Family CheckUp 4 Health (FCU4Health) program. The FCU4Health program relies on medical offices or clinics throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area that offer integrated primary care and behavioral health services. “The FCU4Health program is a unique childhoodobesity prevention program because it focuses on the parents to reach the kids,” said Berkel, who is also part
The future of FCU4Health of the ASU Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health (REACH) Institute. Research on childhood obesity shows that simply informing parents about healthy eating habits and the importance of physical activity is ineffective at preventing or overcoming obesity in children. Berkel said parents might already have information about how important physical activity and nutritious foods are to their child, but actually changing a child’s diet and behavior can be difficult. Parenting as a long-term intervention Like other REACH Institute programs, the motivation behind the FCU4Health program is that parenting skills are teachable. “Parenting skills are really a longitudinal intervention that happens across the life span,” Berkel said. “Because parents can give children an ongoing ‘dose’ as they grow up, teaching parenting skills is a robust and long-lasting intervention for childhood obesity.” In the FCU4Health program, families meet with an on-site health coordinator, who has been trained by scientists in ASU’s REACH Institute. The coordinator teaches the parents skills that will help them implement the pediatrician’s advice. Such skills might be as simple as providing praise when a child makes healthy choices.
Berkel and Smith’s project will study how effective the FCU4Health program is at preventing obesity in young children and will estimate how much money the program could save the health care industry. Another goal of the project is to broadly disseminate strategies parents can use to support healthy behaviors in young children. “Our goal is to create an online learning course about the FCU4Health program that could serve as continuing medical-education credits for health care providers and hopefully help them understand the power of teaching parenting skills to improve patient compliance,” Berkel said. “We would also want psychology students, nutrition students and community providers to have access to the online course.” Berkel and Smith will be supported by other ASU scientists. Meg Bruening, assistant professor in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, will oversee the nutrition information included in the online learning courses, and Anne Mauricio, associate research professor of psychology and implementation scientist in the REACH Institute, will help with the training and education of the health care professionals. Kevin Grimm, professor of psychology, will serve as the biostatistician for the project. Top photo by Thiago Cerqueira
“We know families are the center of children’s health,” Smith said, “and teaching parents to do the things we know benefit kids in the long-term is an effective intervention.” Some of the parenting skills taught in the FCU4Health program are setting limits, managing children’s screen time and rewarding positive behaviors. “Many of the parenting skills we teach in the FCU4Health program are not just relevant to health,” Smith said. “These parenting skills are generally applicable and can lead to other positive benefits for families.”
Can Parenting Skills Prevent Childhood Obesity?
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It crawls and flies: Carter Daniels wins award to study time perception
By Kim D’Ardenne Time seems to stand still during a cross-country flight, but then it flies while you’re reading a good book. Carter Daniels, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University, thinks a lot about this paradox. Daniels won an American Psychological Association (APA) Dissertation Research Award, with high distinction, for his work on time perception. Daniels is working toward his doctorate with Federico Sanabria, associate professor of psychology.
To apply for the award, students had to write a proposal, and Laurie Chassin, Regents’ Professor of psychology and director of graduate studies, selected which applications to send to the APA. Daniels was one of about 40 graduate students across the country, along with fellow graduate student Michael Sladek, who won the award. “The Department of Psychology was allowed to submit just two applications to the APA,” Chassin said. “And we received both!” The award provides money for research costs, which will help Daniels complete experiments for his doctoral dissertation.
“My research shows that our perception of time is not as sensitive as scientists previously thought,” Daniels said. “I am bringing a new perspective to how we understand the passage of time.” Theories that explain how we understand time assume that what motivates us is interconnected with our knowledge of time. After arriving at ASU, Daniels created mathematical models that contradicted this idea. “I was finding the opposite with computational models,”
Daniels said. “So we started thinking about how we could test this idea without a model.” Sanabria and Daniels use mathematical models and carefully designed experiments to ask questions about how animals understand time. In the experiments, animals might have to press a lever for a food reward or they might have to listen for a sound before performing an action. Results from experiments like these can help scientists understand how humans think about time. One of the experiments Daniels proposed for the award has the animals press a lever to receive a food reward, which arrives after a certain amount of time. “The animals pause for about two-thirds of the waiting interval before pressing the lever for more food,” Daniels said. “How long they pause is an estimate of how close they think they are to receiving the food.”
Daniels also suggested that his research might apply to how children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are accommodated. “An answer might be to let them pace the world,” Daniels said. “Give them a little bit of control in situations like school.” Daniels chose the ASU’s Department of Psychology for his doctorate because he wanted to work with Sanabria as a computational psychologist. He soon benefited from how the psychology department and university value collaboration and interdisciplinary research. “Fed (Sanabria) facilitates my ideas,” Daniels said. “And I don’t know of many other places where I would have received both computational and experimental training.”
Daniels and Sanabria thought up another simple way to test how animals understand time: they let the animals decide when to start the experiment. The researchers watch for the animal to perform a specific behavior at a certain time that lets the researchers know the animal is ready to begin. For example, the animal might poke his nose into a hole to indicate he is ready to start the experiment. “We have asked animals to start engaging in a timing task whenever they want,” Sanabria said. “When we do this and change their motivational state, they still perform just as well.”
Photo: Carter Daniels, PhD student in the ASU Department of Psychology. Photos by Robert Ewing
When the animals did not have control over when the experiment began, they did not track time as well. The animals’ ability to track time was also affected by their motivational state, or their mood. Daniels and Sanabria think this finding is likely true for humans too. “Imagine a kid walks into class and the teacher gives a pop quiz. Their performance is based on their knowledge but also on the stress of the timing,” Daniels said. “Maybe if the kid were able to choose when to take the quiz, performance would improve.”
New ASU psychology professor suggests best practices for data analysis
By Kim Dâ€™Ardenne Psychology is the study of human behavior, but not all psychologists directly study people. Some psychologists like Daniel McNeish, a new assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University, figure out the best ways for scientists to understand their data. McNeish creates methods to answer questions when only a small amount of data are available. A small dataset can be the only option for scientists when studying a special group of people such as children with a specific learning disability, or when it is too expensive to gather a large dataset, like when scientists collect human neuroimaging data.
Psychologists analyze their data using statistics, and most statistical methods assume there is a large dataset. To test which statistical methods work well with small datasets, McNeish creates simulated data, which he calls â€œhis imaginary friends.â€? He creates a new small dataset and, because he knows what the answer is from the start, he can figure out which ways of analyzing the data are the most accurate. Some of his recent findings were published in the flagship journal of quantitative psychology, Multivariate Behavioral Research, and this paper was the mostread article in the journal during 2016. McNeish is also interested
in how findings from small datasets are interpreted. In a recently published article in Educational Researcher, he investigated how well standardized test scores, such as those used for college admission, predict performance compared to testing data acquired throughout a student’s education. “Standardized tests give a snapshot of performance at one time point,” McNeish said. “Our proposed method looks at data from many time points, and you can get a better picture of student performance.” Using publicly available testing data of test scores from kindergarten through eighth grade, McNeish and his collaborator indeed were able to better predict student performance. “If you look at the whole dataset over time, some criticisms of standardized tests, such as they are biased against low-income students, are reduced.” McNeish said. “The problem is not necessarily with the test itself, but with how scores are interpreted. A snapshot gives limited information, and if you can expand the scope [of the data], you can make more reliable inferences.”effects that stress from adjusting to a new environment can have on health, mental health and academic success.”
From the Midwest to the desert Southwest McNeish, who hails from Massachusetts, started his undergraduate studies at Oakland University in Michigan. He quickly realized that he enjoyed studying both math and psychology, so he asked his first-year statistics instructor for advice on how to choose between the two disciplines.
“She told me all about psychometrics,” McNeish said. “I transferred to Wesleyan University because they had psychometrics, and I basically did independent studies for two years.” Soon after moving to Connecticut, McNeish started studying with Steven Stemler, associate professor of psychology at Wesleyan University. McNeish would go to Stemler’s office, and Stemler would ask what he wanted to learn about that day. They delved into topics such as item response theory and structural equation modeling as McNeish earned his undergraduate degree in psychology. Next, McNeish moved to the University of Maryland to pursue graduate studies in statistics. “Maryland has so many statistics departments because the government is so close by,” he said. “Some are very nuanced and focused, like the program in survey statistics. Many of those graduates go work at the census bureau.” At Maryland, McNeish earned his master’s and doctoral degrees through the department of behavioral statistics. He worked as an assistant professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and as a research scientist at the University of North Carolina before joining the psychology department at ASU. “Coming to ASU was a no-brainer because the quantitative group is world-renowned,” McNeish said. “When I found out I had an interview with the ASU psychology department, I withdrew from my other interviews so I could put all my efforts into getting the job. Fortunately, it worked out!”
Less variable heart rate in children is protective against effects of postpartum depression By Kim D’Ardenne Each year, approximately 1015% of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression, which translates into almost 1 million women. Women from low-income and ethnic minority families have disproportionately high rates of postpartum depression, which puts their children at risk for a wide range of behavioral problems during their lifetime. Scientists in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology have discovered biological characteristics of young babies can forecast how vulnerable they might be to their caregiving environment. The researchers measured
infant vagal tone, a non-invasive indicator of cardiovascular function, at 6 weeks of age and found it predicted how maternal postpartum depressive symptoms affected the child’s behavior at 3 years. Children with low vagal tone fared worse when their mothers suffered from more postpartum depressive symptoms. The findings will be published in Child Development on July 18.
A biomarker for resilience? ASU psychology graduate student Jennifer Somers, who is the lead author on the study, wanted to know if biological factors could explain how the caregiving environment during infancy affects
children as they develop. “We know children are affected unequally by maternal postpartum depressive symptoms, and our goal was to start to understand which kids are more susceptible,” she said. “Little is known about how biological factors influence risky behavior and resilience among ethnic minority children raised in impoverished environments.” The experiment was a longitudinal study of 322 low-income, MexicanAmerican families. It is part of a larger study called Las Madres Nuevas that focuses on what predicts postpartum
depression in low-income ethnic minority women, who are at higher risk. The researchers asked how biological factors during the earliest phases of a child’s life and maternal postpartum depressive symptoms jointly contributed to children’s behavior problems at ages 2 and 3. “It is so important to understand for whom and under what circumstances depression in mothers is associated with negative effects on children’s functioning and what might explain those associations,” said Sherryl Goodman, professor of psychology at Emory University. Goodman is an expert on the effects of postpartum depression in children and was not involved with the study. “This study has important implications for theory, particularly in terms of understanding variability in the strength of association between depression in mothers and child functioning.”
When a less variable heart-rate is a good thing To test whether characteristics of a child’s cardiovascular system might buffer against the effects of postpartum depressive symptoms in the mother, the researchers measured the respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) in 6-week old infants. The RSA indicates how variable the heart rate is and is easily and non-invasively measured using electrocardiography. Also at 6 weeks postpartum, the depressive symptoms of the mother were assessed using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, a standardized measure of postpartum depression. The mother’s depressive symptoms were assessed every three weeks until the baby was 6 months of age, to create a complete picture of the caregiving environment instead of a snapshot.
can have an enduring effect for some children and make them less likely to use their caregivers as a scaffold in situations where they need help to adapt.” Three years after the study began, the mother provided a report on the child’s behavior. Children with less variability in their heart rate, or low RSA, showed more behavior problems when their mothers had postpartum depressive symptoms in the first six months. These same children fared better when their mothers reported fewer symptoms. “The prevailing theory has been that higher RSA or vagal tone was associated with children being more vulnerable to their caregiving environment, but our findings suggest the opposite,” said Linda Luecken, professor of psychology and a principal investigator on the study. “Mothers in this study experienced mild-to-moderate postpartum depressive symptoms, so low vagal tone could be protective for infants with that kind of environmental exposure.” Somers is hopeful the findings from this study can lead to more focused interventions for the children who need it most. “Understanding how different caregiving environments affect the development of a child and the different ways a child might respond to their environment can help improve or create personalized interventions for children from high-risk populations,” she said. Tracy Spinrad, professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, and Keith Crnic, Foundation Professor of psychology, also contributed to the study.
When the children were 24-months old, the mother and child visited ASU, where the researchers observed the mother-child pairs and noted how the child related to their caregiver. “At age two, toddlers should be able to use their caregiver to regulate their behavior, to adjust and adapt to new environments,” Somers said. “Postpartum depressive symptoms in mothers
ASU professor studies how people view themselves By Kim D’Ardenne
The Department of Psychology at Arizona State University promoted Virginia Kwan to full professor this year. Kwan joined ASU in 2009 and directs the Culture and Decision Science Lab. Her research focuses on selfperception, or how people see themselves. Research in her lab examines how people’s selfperception changes in relation to other people, to nonhuman entities
like cybertechnologies and to versions of themselves at different points in time. Kwan’s journey to ASU began in Hong Kong and included stops in Massachusetts, Minnesota, California and New Jersey. One stop in California was a sabbatical at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Kwan credits the time she spent there with broadening her research program to include how inanimate objects influence self-perception.
“And my research went to the dogs,” Kwan joked. She teamed up with Sam Gosling, a former labmate at University of California, Berkeley, who studies canine personality and how people anthropomorphize nonhumans such as pets. Kwan said she started thinking about her work from a wider perspective and began to think about self-perception as a special case of perception between people. Her lab now focuses on how different situations can affect how people view themselves and interact with others and technologies. Based on how people relate to others — if they have anxious or avoidant relationships, for example — Kwan and her lab can predict how they use mobile devices like a cell phone.
together was participating in lessons with the Arizona Model Aviators, where kids learn to fly and build model airplanes as big as they are.
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Why Leah Chose ASU Psychology
“We can tell if they keep the cell phone close to their bed, and if they engage in inappropriate and dangerous texting habits, like while driving,” Kwan said. Kwan said mentoring ASU students is one of the most rewarding aspects of her job. She enjoys it so much that she and her husband Oliver Graudejus, associate research professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, are volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona. They spend every other Saturday with their little brothers, and one of their first Saturday activities was, of course, to attend the ASU Open Door event on the Tempe campus last year. Another fun activity they did 33
Working to solve the puzzle that is drug addiction
By Kim D’Ardenne Drug addiction is complex, and Arizona State University neuroscientist Foster Olive has spent his career working to unravel why and how the brain becomes addicted to drugs. The ASU Department of Psychology recently promoted Olive from associate professor to full professor because of his research efforts.
A feel-good piece of the drug addiction puzzle Olive runs the Addiction Neuroscience Lab at ASU. His interest in drug addiction began when he was in graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA, he spent some time working in a lab that studied how morphine affected endorphins in the brain, and he was fascinated by how endorphins might contribute to drug addiction. “Endorphins do not receive as much attention as other neuromodulatory systems that are involved in drug addiction, like
dopamine,” Olive said. “But, they play an important role in addiction and recovery.” Endorphins are chemicals made by the nervous system that block pain and create good feelings. Exercise and laughter cause endorphins to be released, but opiate drugs like heroin also work on the same neuronal systems. Olive recently received a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how alcohol activates the endorphin system in the brain. This particular NIH grant
program was motivated by the finding that naltrexone, an endorphin-blocking drug that is well-known for its capability to reverse opiate overdoses, is also effective at treating alcoholism. To test how alcohol affects the brain’s endorphin system, Olive and his team use special animals who have endorphin neurons that literally light up, or fluoresce, when the neurons become active. The researchers can measure how the endorphin system responds to alcohol. Currently, they are focusing on an area of the brain called the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a “clearing house” in the brain, and neurons in this area are involved in wide-ranging processes like control of body temperature, hunger, thirst sleep and emotions. “Once we identify a region or circuit in the brain that is affected by alcohol, we can start to figure out how to dampen the effect of alcohol without interfering with other functions,” Olive said.
A social piece of the addiction puzzle The Addiction Neuroscience Lab also focuses on how social relationships affect drug addiction.
who received heroin completely stopped rescuing. This study could lead to a possible mechanism for dysfunctional social behavior in opiate addicts or to improved treatments for opiate addiction.
West to east, and back again Olive’s path to Tempe started in California and went through South Carolina. After earning his doctorate at UCLA, Olive completed two postdoctoral fellowships: one at Stanford University and a second at the University of California, San Francisco. He worked for five years at the Medical University of South Carolina before moving back west. Olive joined the ASU Department of Psychology in 2010. “Foster Olive is an extremely productive researcher of how drugs of abuse create dependence and addiction; his work is theoretically thoughtful and sophisticated, methodologically innovative, and highly influential in the field. Indeed, he is a leading scholar, nationally and internationally,” said Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor of psychology and department chair. “He is also an excellent, dedicated teacher and mentor, and goes far beyond the call with his service to the discipline, the department and university, and the broader community. The Department of Psychology and ASU are significantly stronger because of Professor Olive.”
“Opiate addicts are known to isolate themselves, and strong relationships are known to be protective and helpful for recovery,” Olive said. “Social effects are only partially understood in addiction research but are a very important area.” Olive and his graduate student Seven Tomek recently published a paper in Addiction Biology that examined how the opiate heroin affected prosocial behavior in an animal model. The study looked at what happened when animals were given a choice between sugar pellets and rescuing a trapped animal or between heroin and rescuing the trapped animal. The researchers found that the animals who received sugar pellets kept rescuing the trapped animals. The animals
ASU psychology graduate student studies the emotions of parenting
By Robert Ewing Parenting is challenging and important, and it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Sometimes, parents have to figure out situations that are unfamiliar or that they might not understand. Such situations can be stressful, and stress can be detrimental to the long-term health of both parent and child. Makenzie O’Neil, a doctoral student in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology, studies the emotions
associated with the parent-child caregiving relationship. Her focus is on the emotions of parents in different child-focused situations, such as when one’s child is being particularly cute and clumsy as compared to when one’s child is presented with an external physical threat. “Studying the emotions associated with parenting will provide greater understanding about the prevalence of certain parenting behaviors like playing with or protecting one’s child,” O’Neil said. O’Neil works with Michelle Shiota, associate professor of psychology and the director of the
Shiota Psychophysiology Laboratory for Affective Testing (SPLAT) lab. The SPLAT lab studies the nature and implications of human emotions by using combinations of physiological, behavioral, cognitive and qualitative measures like narratives and questionnaires. “Makenzie is feisty and an independent thinker,” Shiota said. “She knows what she wants to accomplish with her teaching and research. I respect her commitment enormously.”
Understanding and helping others O’Neil is also interested in prosocial behaviors, which are helping behaviors like giving to others in need. She is especially interested in studying prosocial behaviors toward so-called outgroups, or groups of people different from you, like the distinction between New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox fans. O’Neil’s research seeks to find solutions to the tendency of people to dislike, compete with and be aggressive against outgroups. “Prosocial behavior tends to lead to a suite of positive outcomes including feeling more positively about someone who helps you and wanting to reciprocate, or wanting to ‘payit forward’,” O’Neil said. “These behaviors can also leave you feeling happier when you help someone else and to more cooperative interactions with someone who has helped you.”
Q: What would you like to study in the future? A: I plan to continue learning about caregiving emotions and prosociality. The biggest problem I’ve had lately is that I have so many interesting and unanswered questions related to my dissertation research that I have trouble knowing which ones to tackle first. Q: What are your career goals? A: I would like to be a professor at a small liberal arts school. I absolutely love teaching and mentoring undergraduate students, and I really appreciate the low student-to-faculty ratio that exists at smaller schools. Q: What are your hobbies? A: Anything outdoors! Hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing are some of my favorites, unless it’s June, July or August. Then you can find me in the A/C or by any body of water!
The interactions within social groups and close interpersonal relationships are treated as distinct areas of psychological research, but O’Neil’s work brings them together. “Makenzie’s research is innovative and applies an evolutionary perspective to the experience, expression, and social consequences of positive emotions. Her work comes from a genuine concern with understanding, and ultimately amplifying, the mechanisms of human nature that foster positive relationships of all kinds,” Shiota said. We spoke with O’Neil about her life in and out of the lab
Question: What brought you to ASU psychology? Answer: The research is so fascinating and complements my interests well. When I came out to interview, I just felt comfortable and welcomed by everyone in the program, and that was very important to me.
Itâ€™s okay when youâ€™re not okay: ASU study re-evaluates resilience in adults
By Kim D’Ardenne Adversity is part of life: Loved ones die. Soldiers deploy to war. Patients receive terminal diagnoses. Research on how adults deal with adversity has been dominated by studies claiming the most common response is uninterrupted and stable psychological functioning. In other words, this research suggests that most adults are essentially unfazed by major life events such as spousal loss or divorce. These provocative findings have also received widespread attention in the popular press and media. The idea that most adults are minimally affected by adversity worries Frank Infurna and Suniya Luthar, of the Arizona State University Department of Psychology, because it could negatively affect people living through adversity. Infurna and Luthar closely examined the research studies and found problems with how they were designed and how the data were analyzed. The pair summarize the problems and re-evaluate adult resilience research in a new paper in Clinical Psychology Review.
A dip and recovery Infurna and Luthar are an ideal team to tackle the discrepancy between studies on adult responses to adversity that contradict 80 years of research in child development. Infurna, an associate professor of psychology, is an expert on using complex statistical models to study health and well-being in adulthood and old age. Luthar, a Foundation Professor of Psychology, is an international expert on resilience in children, with 30 years of experience and highly influential publications on the concept of resilience and how best to study it. “As experts, the onus is on us to be careful about how research is conducted and communicated,” Luthar said. “There has been a message percolating in the popular press that most people are unaffected by major life events like bereavement or a deployment, but that is not the whole picture.”
The project started over two years ago when Infurna downloaded publicly available data for re-analysis. The data had been analyzed using “growth mixture modeling” — a statistical model that can classify how different people in a population respond to adversity. After classifying the study participants into groups based on their response to adversity, the model outputs the response patterns for each group.
The graph shows some possible response patterns in adults following adversity. The top line (hashed) shows the response that has been reported as the most common. This flat line indicates that living through an adverse event causes minimal or no disruption to psychological functioning. When the data are analyzed with growth mixture models that are set up using appropriate assumptions, the most common response pattern after adversity is shown by the bottom line. The most common response to adversity is a decrease in psychological functioning followed by a return to normal or near-normal after a period of time. Infurna and Luthar noticed the results depended on how the model was set up in the software used for statistical analysis. Setting up a model for data analysis requires a researcher to define some assumptions or educated guesses about aspects of the model — like how the data are organized or how much error was included in the experimental measurements. The assumptions identified as problematic by Infurna and Luthar were that the variations in the data were the same for the entire participant group and that the psychological functioning of all participants changed at the same rate. These assumptions also corresponded to the default settings in several software programs
commonly used for statistical analysis. When the default software settings were used to run the growth mixture model, the most common response pattern was a flat line, which indicated stable and largely uninterrupted psychological functioning after adversity. When the growth mixture models were set up with more appropriate assumptions, the researchers found the most common response pattern was a temporary decrease followed by an increase. Such a response pattern indicates a decline in psychological functioning followed by a return to normal, which agrees with 80 years of resilience research in children. This response pattern also agrees with the conventional wisdom that in general, most people struggle to some degree after a major life event and recover after a period of time. “The idea that ‘It is okay to not be okay’ following adversity is important,” Infurna said. “Sometimes it can take months or years to recover after a traumatic or upsetting event because resilience depends on the person and the resources they have available to them, their past experiences and the type of adverse event.”
Life is multidimensional and so is resilience How adults respond to adversity has typically been measured with longitudinal assessments or surveys that are repeated over a time interval like once a year. Many research studies have tracked just one psychological outcome, such as life satisfaction, positive or negative emotions or general physical health. “How do you define doing well?” Luthar asked. “An individual’s response to adversity is multidimensional so that success in one area can coexist with considerable trouble in others. Just because a person is effectively meeting deadlines at work does not mean she is not struggling at home, perhaps crying herself to sleep or estranged from her partner.” Infurna and Luthar recently examined how resilience depended on measures such as life satisfaction, negative or positive emotions, general health or physical health. When just one measure was considered, the percentage of people classified as resilient was high, ranging from 19 to 66 percent, but when all measures were considered, only 8 percent of the adult participants were resilient.
Child development researchers have solved the problem of defining resilience by qualifying different types. For example, children who have lived through adversity and are functioning well in school are described as having “academic resilience.” Researchers are also careful not to generalize a child’s performance in school to how they might be functioning in other aspects of their lives.
The way forward for adult resilience research and its applications In the Clinical Psychology Review paper, Infurna and Luthar’s main goal was to prevent the misinterpretation of what a common response to adversity looks like. The correct model is typically some decline followed by an increase back towards normal. Infurna and Luthar made several recommendations to improve adult resilience research in the future, in addition to changing the assumptions used with growth mixture modeling. They also encourage researchers to assess more than one measure of psychological functioning and to administer longitudinal surveys at more frequent time intervals. “It is very important for the public and for policymakers to know what a normal or common response to adversity is,” Luthar said. “This knowledge can help people avoid self-blame when they are hurting or have a setback in the aftermath of a major loss or other traumatic events. And it can help clinicians and policymakers continue to provide support resources that are often critical in helping adults overcome major life adversities.”