Exciting opportunity for Dr. Tracie Stewart

Dr. Tracie Stewart has been invited to work with the Social Security Administration to create a training segment on unconscious bias that will be part of a “Diversity and Inclusion” training series for their 65,000 employees.  Although Dr. Stewart is “appropriately anxious” about developing this important training segment, this opportunity reflects well on her and the department in general.  Please offer your congratulations to her on this impressive request from such a large government agency.

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New Publication

Melissa Loria and other members of Dr. Ken Sufka’s laboratory group have just had a manuscript accepted for publication in the journal Behavioral Brain Research.  The citation and abstract are as follows:

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor in vulnerable and resilient genetic lines in the chick anxiety-depression model

Loria ML, White SW, Robbins SA, Salmeto AL, Hymel KA, Murthy SN, Manda P, Sufka KJ


Altered BDNF-mediated synaptogenesis is a major contributor to stress-vulnerability and depression. This study sought to determine patterns of hippocampal BDNF expression in stress-vulnerable and -resilient strains in the chick anxiety-depression model. Socially raised Black Australorp and Production Red strains were tested at 5-6 days post hatch under either 30, 60, 90, or 120 min of social separation stress; chicks tested with 2 social companions for 120 min served as a controls. Distress vocalizations were recorded throughout the test session and latency to behavioral despair calculated. Following tests, bilateral hippocampal sections were harvested and analyzed via ELISA for BDNF levels. Black Australorps had shorter latencies to behavioral despair than Production Reds reflecting greater stress vulnerability. No differences were detected in BDNF levels between a No-Test and Social group within or between strains. The stress resilient Production Reds showed stable BDNF levels across the isolation test period whereas the vulnerable Black Australorps showed an increase in hippocampal BDNF levels that peaked at 90 min and declined thereafter. These findings fit well with the notion that strain-dependent stress-vulnerability reflects, in part, poor homeostatic mechanisms controlling synaptogenesis.

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Two new publications by Dr. Smitherman and graduate students

Dr. Todd Smitherman and a number of graduate students have just had two papers accepted for publication in the Journal Headache.  The citation and abstract for each paper are given below.  Congratulations to Dr. Smitherman, Michael McDermott, Kelly Peck, Brooke Walters, Elizabeth Kolivas and Jenn Bailey for their efforts in getting these published.

Do Episodic Migraineurs Selectively Attend to Headache-Related Visual Stimuli? Headache
McDermott, M. J., Peck, K. R., Walters, A. B., & Smitherman, T. A.

To assess pain-related attentional biases among individuals with episodic migraine.

Prior studies have examined whether chronic pain patients selectively attend to pain-related stimuli in the environment, but these studies have produced largely mixed findings and focused primarily on patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain. Limited research has implicated attentional biases among chronic headache patients, but no studies have been conducted among episodic migraineurs, who comprise the overwhelming majority of the migraine population.

This was a case-control, experimental study. Three hundred and eight participants (mean age = 19.2 years [standard deviation = 3.3]; 69.5% female; 36.4% minority), consisting of 84 episodic migraineurs, diagnosed in accordance with International Classification of Headache Disorders (2nd edition) criteria using a structured diagnostic interview, and 224 non-migraine controls completed a computerized dot probe task to assess attentional bias toward headache-related pictorial stimuli. The task consisted of 192 trials and utilized 2 emotional-neutral stimulus pairing conditions (headache-neutral and happy-neutral).

No within-group differences for reaction time latencies to headache vs happy conditions were found among those with episodic migraine or among the non-migraine controls. Migraine status was unrelated to attentional bias indices for both headache (F [1,306] = 0.56, P = .45) and happy facial stimuli (F [1,306] = 0.37, P = .54), indicating a lack of between-group differences. Lack of within- and between-group differences was confirmed with repeated measures analysis of variance.

In light of the large sample size and prior pilot testing of presented images, results suggest that episodic migraineurs do not differentially attend to headache-related facial stimuli. Given modest evidence of attentional biases among chronic headache samples, these findings suggest potential differences in attentional processing between chronic and episodic headache subforms.


Panic Disorder and Migraine:  Comorbidity, Mechanisms, and Clinical Implications. Headache
Smitherman, T. A., Kolivas, E. D., & Bailey, J. R.

A growing body of literature suggests that comorbid anxiety disorders are more common and more prognostically relevant among migraine sufferers than comorbid depression. Panic disorder (PD) appears to be more strongly associated with migraine than most other anxiety disorders. PD and migraine are both chronic diseases with episodic manifestations, involving significant functional impairment and shared symptoms during attacks, interictal anxiety concerning future attacks, and an absence of identifiable secondary pathology. A meta-analysis of high-quality epidemiologic study data from 1990 to 2012 indicates that the odds of PD are 3.76 times greater among individuals with migraine than those without. This association remains significant even after controlling for demographic variables and comorbid depression. Other less-rigorous community and clinical studies confirm these findings. The highest rates of PD are found among migraine with aura patients and those presenting to specialty clinics. Presence of PD is associated with greater negative impact of migraine, including more frequent attacks, increased disability, and risk for chronification and medication overuse. The mechanisms underlying this common comorbidity are poorly understood, but both pathophysiological (eg, serotonergic dysfunction, hormonal influences, dysregulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis) and psychological (eg, interoceptive conditioning, fear of pain, anxiety sensitivity, avoidance behavior) factors are implicated. Means of assessing comorbid PD among treatment-seeking migraineurs are reviewed, including verbal screening for core PD symptoms, ruling out medical conditions with panic-like features, and administering validated self-report measures. Finally, evidence-based strategies for both pharmacologic and behavioral management are outlined. The first-line migraine prophylactics are not indicated for PD, and the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors used to treat PD are not efficacious for migraine; thus, separate agents are often required to address each condition. Core components of behavioral treatments for PD are reviewed, and their integration into clinical headache practice is discussed.


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New publication by Dr. Miller

Dr. Stephanie Miller, a new developmental psychologist in the department, has recently had a paper accepted in the Review of Philosophy and Psychology.  The citation and abstract are below:

Miller, S. E., & Marcovitch, S. (in press). How theory of mind and executive function co-develop. Review of Philosophy and Psychology. DOI: 10.1007/s13164-012-0117-0


Theory of mind (ToM) and executive function (EF) have traditionally been measured starting in preschool and share a similar developmental progression into childhood. Although there is some research examining early ToM and EF in the first 3 years, further empirical evidence and a theoretical framework for a ToM-EF relationship from infancy to preschool are necessary. In this paper we review the ToM-EF relationship in preschoolers and provide evidence for early development in ToM, EF, and the ToM-EF relationship. We propose that models of cognitive control (i.e., Hierarchical Competing Systems Model: Marcovitch & Zelazo (Journal of Cognition and Development 7:477– 501, 2006), (Developmental Science 12:1–25, 2009)); and Levels of Consciousness Model: Zelazo (Trends in Cognitive Science 8:12–17, 2004) account for the ToM-EF relationship across childhood through domain-general developments in the ability to form and reflect on relevant representations that can guide behavior in both ToM and EF situations. The combination of these models also presents unique, domain-general considerations for interpreting early ToM from infancy to preschool.

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Some Recent Successes from the Multicultural Lab

Chris Drescher, Eugene Chin, and Laura Johnson have an article entitled “Exploring Developmental Assets in Ugandan Youth in the newest issue of the International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies: http://journals.uvic.ca/index.php/ijcyfs/index

Chris Drescher, Laura Johnson and colleagues have an article in press “Cultivating Youth’s Capacity to Address Climate Change in Uganda” in the new APA journal, International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation.

Two students have applied for international research grants – Regan Stewart has applied for a Fulbright grant to study school-based mental health screening in Costa Rica and Chris Drescher has applied to Psychology Beyond Borders for work with former child soliders in a treatment program in Uganda. Eugene Chin is finishing up data collection in Malaysia for study funded by an international research grant from the graduate school that he won last year.  These students should be commended for their efforts to secure international research funding – quite impressive!

Laura and her colleagues have a new book chapter out, The psychology of ethnopolitical conflict in Uganda. In R Albert and D. Landis (Eds), Handbook of Ethnopolitical Conflict. Springer and two more in press: African perspectives on invasion. In K. Malley-Morrison (Ed.) Perspectives on Peace and a State’ s Right to Invade, Springer and African perspectives on peace and civic engagement. In K. Malley-Morrison (Ed.) Perspectives on Peace and Social Protest, Springer.

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New publication

Katherine Moyer and Dr. Alan Gross, along with colleagues at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, have just had a manuscript accepted for publication.  The citation and abstract are below:

Moyer, K.H., Willard, V.W., Gross, A.M., Netson, K.L., Ashford, J.M., Kahalley, L.S.,
Wu, S., Xiong, X., & Conklin, H.M. (2012). The Impact of attention on social functioning in survivors of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia and brain tumors. Pediatric Blood and Cancer, 59, pp. 1290-1295.


Background: The cognitive late effects experienced by many survivors of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and brain tumors are well-established.  The most commonly reported deficit is difficulty with attention.  Problems with social functioning have also been identified, but their relationship with cognitive functioning is not well understood.  This multi-site, cross-sectional study aimed to examine the impact of attention on social functioning.  Procedure: 469 survivors of ALL and brain tumors (55% ALL; 57% male) completed study procedures, including parent- and teacher-report measures of attention (Conners’ Rating Scales, Revised) and parent-report of social functioning (Social Skills Rating System) as part of their screening evaluation for a large clinical trial.  Survivors were 12.1 years of age and 4.9 years from the end of treatment at the time of study.    Results:  Results revealed that survivors’ parent-reported attention problems were uniquely associated with their social functioning, relative to known demographic- and treatment-related risk factors.  Teacher-reported attention problems, in contrast, were not, despite a significant correlation between the two.  Deficits in intelligence and female gender were also significantly associated with poor social functioning.  Conclusions:  Attention problems uniquely impact difficulties with social functioning in survivors of pediatric cancer.  Future studies will need to further examine the relationship between attention and social functioning in survivors, particularly when assessed by teacher report.

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New accepted manuscript

Dr. Carrie Smith and an Honors College student, Ashley Hill, have just had a manuscript accepted by the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.  It is set to be published in June, 2013.  The title and abstract follow:

Autonomy in the Obstetrician/Gynecologist-Patient Relationship as a Predictor of Patient Satisfaction

A considerable amount of recent medical research focuses on factors involving patient satisfaction. This study attempts to examine the role of autonomy in the gynecologist-patient relationship as it relates to patient satisfaction. Fifty-five patients at a women’s clinic completed measures assessing autonomy preference (API) before the medical visit and patient-perceived autonomy support (HCCQ) and patient satisfaction (MISS) after the visit. Analyses revealed patients prefer a more equal level of decision making with their doctor (a medium level of autonomy) when asked general questions about medical decisions but preferred less autonomy when presented with actual scenarios. Results show a significant relationship between scenario-based autonomy preference level and visit satisfaction for both satisfaction measures. A significant relationship between perceived autonomy support and visit satisfaction was also found for both satisfaction measures. The findings of this study suggest autonomy is important to the gynecologist-patient relationship and worthy of future study.

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