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Special Section:

Department of Biobehavioral Health

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Special Section: Department of Biobehavioral Health

Up in Smoke A new laboratory will enable researchers to study cigarette smokers as they are smoking. Smoking in Penn State’s buildings is against the rules, yet certain smokers soon will be allowed to light up in a new facility in Chandlee Laboratory. Currently under construction, the Smoking Research Laboratory will enable researchers to conduct studies of smokers as they are smoking. For example, Steven Branstetter, assistant professor of biobehavioral health, and Joshua Muscat, professor of public health sciences, plan to evaluate the effectiveness of low-nicotine cigarettes as potential smoking-cessation aids. “It is speculated that reducing the allowable amount of nicotine in cigarettes is a likely approach to reducing smoking that will be taken by regulating agencies in the near future,” said Branstetter. “To see if reducing the nicotine in cigarettes will help people quit smoking, we plan to enroll active smokers to be randomly assigned to smoke either full-nicotine or low-nicotine cigarettes in the laboratory. We will then record symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, including cravings, concentration, and mood during a three-hour period of nicotine abstinence. We also will gather physiological and biological measures during this time. Afterward, the participants will be allowed to smoke their assigned cigarettes freely for another hour. We will then collect information on smoking behavior and satisfaction of cravings and urges.”

The laboratory is a collaborative effort among the College of Health and Human Development, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Social Science Research Institute. “The impetus to construct the new smoking lab came in response to what the administration viewed as an opportunity to support a growing number of researchers with similar interests in smoking and nicotine addiction research,” said Charles Geier, assistant professor of human development and family studies, who plans to use the laboratory space to examine the effects of smoking on cognitive control and reward processes in adolescents and young adults. “This lab space will truly be a cross-departmental facility.” Construction of the Smoking Research Laboratory is expected to be completed during fall 2012.

Photo Credit: Paul Hazi

The Smoking Research Laboratory will include a number of stateof-the-art features that will allow researchers to employ a range of

research methodologies and approaches that previously have been difficult to accomplish on the University Park campus. The key feature of the space will be independently ventilated rooms that will allow participants to smoke cigarettes during research sessions while the remaining areas of the laboratory remain smoke-free. The design of the rooms will allow researchers to collect data on smoking behaviors such as the volume of each cigarette puff, the number of puffs an individual smoker takes, the duration of puffs, and the time between puffs. Additionally, researchers can collect and monitor physiological data, such as heart rate or blood pressure, while the participant is smoking.

Photo credit: Paul Hazi

Faster Progress Through Puberty Linked to Behavior Problems Children who go through puberty at a faster rate are more likely to act out and to suffer from anxiety and depression, according to researchers. The results suggest that primary care providers, teachers, and parents should look not only at the timing of puberty in relation to kids’ behavior problems, but also at the tempo of puberty—how fast or slow kids go through puberty. “Past work has examined the timing of puberty and shown the negative consequences of entering puberty at an early age, but there has been little work done to investigate the effects of tempo,” said Kristine Marceau, graduate student. “By using a novel statistical tool to simultaneously model the timing and tempo of puberty in children, we present a much more comprehensive picture of what happens during adolescence and why behavior problems may ensue as a result of going through these changes.” The team—led by Elizabeth Susman, Jean Phillips Shibley Professor of Biobehavioral Health—created a unique nonlinear mixedeffects model that incorporated data from 364 white boys and 373 white girls that had been collected as part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, which had an initial goal of determining how variations in the environment are related to children’s development. The data included information about breast and pubic hair development in girls and genital and pubic hair development in boys as assessed by nurses, as well as weight and height for both boys and girls. The data also included information on internalizing and externalizing behavior problems as reported by boys’ and girls’ parents or other caregivers, and risky sexual behaviors as reported by the kids themselves. “We found that earlier timing for girls was related to a slew of behavior problems, and we also found that a faster tempo of development independently predicted those same sorts of problem behaviors,” said Marceau. “Although timing and tempo both predicted behavior problems in girls, timing and tempo weren’t related to each other. For boys, though, we found a strong relationship between timing and tempo. For example, we found that boys who have later

timing combined with slower tempo exhibited the least amount of acting out and externalizing problems.” The team’s results appeared in the September 2011 issue of the journal Developmental Psychology. Why does going through puberty at a faster rate relate to external behavior problems and internal anxiety and depression? “The thought is that when the major changes of puberty are compressed into a shorter amount of time, adolescents don’t have enough time to acclimate, so they’re not emotionally or socially ready for all the changes that happen,” said Marceau. “This is the explanation that originally was attributed solely to early timing, but we suggest that the same thing also is happening if the rate of puberty is compressed.” According to Susman, timing and tempo of puberty vary dramatically across kids. “Children are extremely sensitive to how fast or slow other kids are going through puberty, and that may contribute to both the internalizing depression-type problems or the externalizing problems of acting out,” she said. In the future, Susman plans to examine the effects of tempo of puberty on later women’s health problems. “One of the things that has concerned me over the years is the relationship between early puberty and later women’s health problems,” she said. “Specifically, there is some indication that early timing of puberty relates to more reproductive cancers, with the speculated mechanism being estradiol. If you’re an early maturer, you have a longer exposure to this hormone. The question is whether the tempo of puberty has similar implications for women’s health.” The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging and the National Science Foundation funded this research. Nilam Ram, assistant professor of human development and family studies and of psychology, is also an author on the paper.

Special Section: Department of Biobehavioral Health

Faculty Retire After Decades-Long Service Gerald McClearn, Evan Pugh Professor of Health and Human Development and Biobehavioral Health, retired on July 1, 2011, after thirty years at Penn State. McClearn’s research has focused broadly on how genes and the environment influence complex biological traits. In particular, he has studied the effects of genetics and the environment on aging, using both mice and human twins as research subjects. Human twins are ideal for exploring nature-in-collaboration-with-nurture questions, as the roles of inherited and environmental influences are much clearer between twins than between those who do not share the same genetic blueprint. His famous study on octogenarian twins living in Sweden countered the prevailing assumption that as we age, environmental factors play a greater role in what we know and how we know it. Instead, the study demonstrated that as we age our genes contribute at least as much to our cognitive functioning as does our environment. McClearn’s research achievements have earned him a number of awards and honors. In 2009, he received the Robert W. Kleemeier Award from the Gerontological Society of America. He also is the recipient of the 2008 Longevity Prize from La Fondation IPSEN, the 1998 J. B. Isaacson Award from the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism, the 1995 Pauline Schmitt Russell Distinguished Research Career Award from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development, the 1994 National Institute on Aging Merit Award, the 1991 Royal Patriotic Society Medal from Sweden, and the 1989 Dobzhansky Memorial Award for Eminent Research in Behavioral Genetics from the Behavior Genetics Association. He is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, and the Society of Behavioral Medicine.

McClearn has always enjoyed life outside the lab, too. The photo above shows him at the controls of a Piper in the 1970s after earning his pilot’s license in 1969. While not ‘truly’ retiring (McClearn plans to continue to conduct research and contribute in other ways to the field), he does plan to spend more time traveling with his wife and visiting family.

In addition to conducting research and teaching, McClearn has served on several national committees, including the National Research Council’s Committee on Population, the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research’s Executive Council, the National Institute on Aging’s National Advisory Council on Aging, and the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council Committee on Substance Abuse and Habitual Behavior. He is an author on over 230 peer-reviewed publications and over 40 book chapters. His book Behavioral Genetics has been published through five editions. McClearn was an instructor at Yale University from 1954 to 1955; an assistant professor at Allegheny College from 1955 to 1956; an assistant and then associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1956 to 1965; and an associate and then full professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, from 1965 to 1981. He joined the faculty at Penn State in 1981. From 1990 to 1992 he was the head of the Biobehavioral Health program, and from 1992 to 1994 he was the dean of the College of Health and Human Development. From 1994 to 2002, he was the director of the Center for Developmental and Health Genetics. McClearn earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Allegheny College in 1951 and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in psychology at the University of Wisconsin in 1953 and 1954, respectively. He conducted postdoctoral research at Edinburgh University in Scotland and the University College in England.

Elizabeth Susman, Jean Phillips Shibley Professor of Biobehavioral Health, will retire on December 31, 2012, after thirty-three years at Penn State. Susman’s research focuses on individual differences in biological transitions, stress, and antisocial behavior and emotions, particularly the biological aspects of puberty and stress. She is considered one of the leading experts on the relationship between hormones and behavior during adolescence and was among the first researchers to connect hormonal changes in adolescents with changing behavior and physical development. Susman has received funding in support of her research from the National Institutes of Health, private foundations, and industry since joining the faculty at Penn State in 1986. She has published her findings in over 150 peer-reviewed journal papers and has presented talks at conferences throughout the United States and the world. Her honors include a 1990 Outstanding Woman Faculty Award from the Penn State Panhellenic Society, a 1994 Evan G. and Helen G. Pattishall Research Award from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development, a 1999 Excellence in Teaching Award from the Penn State Department of Biobehavioral Health, a 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Penn State Graduate School, and the John P. Hill Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research on Adolescence from the Society for Research on Adolescence. From 2004 to 2006, Susman served as the president of the Society for Research on Adolescence, an international, multidisciplinary association with more than 1,100 members in twenty-seven countries. She also served on initial review groups of the National Institutes of Health, such as the Risk, Prevention, and Health Behavior Integrated Research Group (IRG). In addition, she has been a member of numerous committees and advisory boards, including a member of the Governing Council of the Society for Research on Child Development and the Committee on the Science of Adolescence of the National Academies of Science. She currently is a member of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research. In addition, Susman has served on the editorial board of Developmental Psychology, and as a consulting editor and former co-editor of the Journal of Research on Adolescence and numerous others. She has been a visiting professor at Harvard University, Louis Pasteur University, Stockholm University, and the University of Southern California. Susman received a diploma in nursing from St. Michael’s Hospital School of Nursing in Toronto, Canada, in 1962. She earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degree in human development and family studies at Penn State in 1971, 1973, and 1976, respectively.

Elizabeth Susman (right) reconnects with former Ph.D. students Lorah Dorn ’89g HDFS, professor of pediatrics, University of Cincinnati (left), and Samantha Dockray ’07g BBH, assistant professor of psychology, University of Cork, Cork, Ireland (middle), at a conference in Brittany, France.

Special Section: Department of Biobehavioral Health Photo Credit: Dept. of Biobehavioral Health

Second Cohort of Global Health Minor Students Heads to Africa After fifteen hours in the air, Melina Czymoniewicz-Klippel, lecturer, and twelve Global Health Minor students landed at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. The goal of their six-week trip, which began on May 14, 2012, was to engage in a global health fieldwork experience in South Africa and Tanzania. Specifically, the students worked with African faculty members from the University of Limpopo in Polokwane, South Africa, and Muhimbili University of the Health and Allied Sciences in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on a range of current public and community health projects. “By working directly with global health professionals and communities across cultural and linguistic boundaries, the students developed a more nuanced understanding of what it means to form equitable and productive relationships with individuals and groups in low- and middle-income settings,” said Czymoniewicz-Klippel. According to Czymoniewicz-Klippel, the Global Health Minor, which has been offered by the Department of Biobehavioral Health since fall 2010, is a critical component of Penn State’s vision to foster global citizenry among its students.

“The program is designed to provide undergraduate students exposure to the theoretical, scientific, and practical issues affecting the health of individuals and populations in various countries and regions of the world,” she said. Requirements of the minor include on-campus coursework in global health and related disciplines, as well as a six-week international fieldwork experience, which provides students an opportunity to translate their scholarly knowledge of global health issues and interventions into practice by observing and engaging in global health and health-related research and development projects that address locally identified needs and issues. Undergraduate students from across the University Park campus are eligible to apply for admission to the Global Health Minor. Applications are accepted each spring semester. For more information about the Global Health Minor, visit

Top Left: Global health minor students interacting with Antoinette Pieterson at the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto, South Africa. Top Right: Global health minor students lunch at the Muhimbili University canteen in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Being Ignored Online or In Person, It’s Still Exclusion People who are excluded by others online, such as on Facebook, may feel just as bad as if they had been excluded in person, according to researchers. “If you’ve ever felt bad about being ‘ignored’ on Facebook you’re not alone,” said Joshua Smyth, professor of biobehavioral health and of medicine. “Facebook—with its approximately 800 million users—serves as a place to forge social connections; however, it is often a way to exclude others without the awkwardness of a faceto-face interaction. Most people would probably expect that being ignored or rejected via a remote source like the Internet would not hurt as much as being rejected in person. Yet, our studies show that people may experience similar psychological reactions to online exclusion as they do with face-to-face exclusion.” Smyth and a colleague conducted two studies that examined the perceptions of and reactions to being excluded face-to-face and in online chat rooms. In the first study, the team asked over 275 college students to anticipate how they would feel in a hypothetical exclusion scenario in which they were ignored during a conversation. The participants said they expected that they would feel somewhat distressed and that their self-esteem would drop, regardless of whether the rejection occurred in a chat room or in person; however, they expected the in-person exclusion to feel worse. According to Smyth, such anticipated reactions are important as they may help determine how people make decisions in their life that they perceive as holding some risk of rejection; for instance, attending a party where they do not know anyone or participating in an online dating event. In the second study, the researchers set up two scenarios in which 77 unsuspecting college students were ignored during a staged “get to know each other” conversation. Half of the participants was excluded

in person, whereas the other half was excluded in an online chat-room setting. The students believed they were participating in a study on the formation of impressions in casual settings. Thus, they believed they would briefly interact with two other student participants and then supply the researchers with their impressions of themselves and of the others. The students involved in the chat-room conversation believed they were participating in a study to investigate the formation of impressions when individuals do not receive visual cues from one another. In reality, both scenarios—the in-person conversations and the chat-room conversations—were set up so the student participants would be ignored by student research assistants who were trained to pose as study participants. The team found that the participants in both scenarios responded to being excluded similarly. “Contrary to our expectation, the students’ responses to rejection were not primarily characterized by severe distress, but rather characterized by numbness and distancing or withdrawal,” Smyth said. Overall, the team demonstrated that the participants expected the exclusion to be much worse than what they actually reported when they experienced the exclusion. The results of both studies appeared in the March 2012 online issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior. According to the researchers, the results suggest that our culture may not differentiate between in-person and online experiences as much as we might think. “Although the meaningfulness of online or remote interactions may seem troubling, these data may also hold a more positive message,” Smyth said. “Meaningful online interactions may support the utilization of remote interventions that can enhance physical and psychological well-being, in turn providing increased access to opportunities for people who are in need.”

Special Section: Department of Biobehavioral Health

Robert Turrisi Receives Prevention Science Award

Turrisi­­—who is also a faculty member in the Penn State Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development and the Children, Youth and Families Consortium—is committed to reducing risky behaviors in adolescents, teens, and college students. His research on skin cancer and alcohol abuse prevention has not only fostered increased communication within families, but also has provided a dataset that can serve as the evidential backbone of prevention programs. By informing parents about the risks of alcohol abuse, Turrisi’s prevention programs have been effective at lowering alcohol abuse in teens. One of his parent-training handbooks currently is used in an adapted form by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Turrisi’s

skin cancer prevention research aims to increase parents’ knowledge of the dangers of the sun and of tanning salons, and asks parents to communicate this knowledge to their children. In addition to expanding the reach of his alcohol- and skin cancer-related prevention programs, Turrisi also is investigating college students’ knowledge of and abuse of steroids and other performance enhancers. Turrisi has authored hundreds of articles and co-authored several books on topics that range from statistical analysis to the role of parenting in preventing risky behavior in children. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Rhode Island in 1983 and a Ph.D. degree in social psychology from the University at Albany—the State University of New York in 1988. He has been a member of the Penn State faculty since 2004.

Biobehavioral Health Affiliate Program Group The Biobehavioral Health APG seeks to unite BBH alumni in order to serve alumni, faculty and staff members, and students of the Department of Biobehavioral Health. Below is an update from the BBH APG’s president about current APG activities and ways to get involved. The BBH APG nominates outstanding alumni for awards given by the College of Health and Human Development Alumni Society. Anyone wishing to make the APG aware of outstanding alumni should contact Jennifer Storm. Members of the APG attended the college-wide mentoring event in February 2012. For more information about how to mentor a BBH student, please contact Diane Collins at or visit The APG hosted a career panel discussion for students during the fall semester, and is hoping to organize a “speed networking” event for alumni and students. Alumni who wish to participation should contact Jennifer Storm.

Connect with the Affiliate Program Group Website LinkedIn “Biobehavioral Health Affiliate Program Group” APG President Jennifer Storm ’03 BB H

Photo Credit: Gene Maylock

Robert Turrisi, professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, has received the 2012 Prevention Science Award from the Society for Prevention Research. The award is given to an individual or team of individuals for producing a significant body of research that applies scientific methods to test one or more preventive interventions or policies. Turrisi was presented with the award on May 31, 2012, at the society’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Health and Human Development Magazine - Summer 2012 / SPECIAL SECTION: Biobehavioral Health  
Health and Human Development Magazine - Summer 2012 / SPECIAL SECTION: Biobehavioral Health  

News for alumni and friends of the Penn State College of Health and Human Development and the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH)