psychology

Four professors honored with 2013 Ford Research Fellowships

SMU 2013 Ford Research Fellows Thomas Ritz, Bonnie Jacobs, Michael Corris and Suku Nair

Four SMU professors were honored with 2013 Ford Research Fellowships during the University’s May Board of Trustees meeting (left to right): Thomas Ritz, Bonnie Jacobs, Michael Corris and Suku Nair.

Four exemplary SMU researchers have been chosen as the University’s 2013 Ford Research Fellows. This year’s recipients are Michael Corris, Art, Meadows School of the Arts; Bonnie Jacobs, Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences; Suku Nair, Computer Science and Engineering, Lyle School of Engineering; and Thomas Ritz, Psychology, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Established in 2002 through a $1 million pledge from SMU Trustee Gerald J. Ford, the fellowships help the University retain and reward outstanding scholars. Each recipient receives a cash prize for research support during the year.

Learn more about the new Fellows under the link.

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SMU Psychology partners with Pakistani women’s university

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women’s University

(l. to r.) Javed Azam, program director at SMU; Nawal Shuaib, Ph.D. student and lecturer at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University; SMU Associate Psychology Professor Lorelei Simpson Rowe; SMU Psychology Professor George Holden, project director; Farhana Jahangir, Vice Chancellor of SBBWU; Mahwish Asmatullah, Quality Assurance at SBBWU; and Faiza Khan and Neelam Ehsan, both students and lecturers at SBBWU.

The Department of Psychology in SMU’s Dedman College, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, will work with a women’s university in Peshawar, Pakistan to strengthen that institution’s psychology studies and promote better understanding between the United States and Pakistan.

The three-year agreement between SMU and the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women’s University is scheduled to run through January 2016 and totals more than $1 million.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the Psychology Department as we form our first international partnership, and we look forward to sharing our expertise in research and clinical work to strengthen the psychology department at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University,” said George Holden, SMU psychology professor and project director.

“This grant will also allow us, through scholarly exchange visits, to develop research collaborations and learn from Pakistani colleagues.”

The partnership has five specific goals:

  • Enhancing faculty development through faculty exchange programs and distance learning courses
  • Facilitating the growth of the curriculum, teaching and research at SBBWU
  • To improve the SBBWU Psychology Clinic’s capacity to provide assessments and therapy for the people of Peshawar
  • To develop a psychology center at SBBWU that will be a resource center and sponsor an annual conference
  • To create cross-cultural research collaborations

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University was established in 2005, with a primary objective to provide quality education to female students in accordance with modern trends. Since 2012, enrollment has risen to 4,600 students in 18 different departments. In addition to rising enrollment, 16 colleges have become affiliated with the university with more than 5,000 additional registered students.

The participants from SMU consist of three psychology faculty members including George Holden, psychology professor and project director; Robert Hampson, associate professor of psychology; and Lorelei Rowe, associate professor of psychology. Javed Azam, M.B.A, MSc., is the program director.

“This grant affords our department, one that has been in existence for more than 90 years, a wonderful opportunity to share our expertise with a developing department founded less than 10 years ago,” said Holden. “In the process of helping them gain expertise in psychological education, research and counseling, we too will be enriched through our collaborations.”

Written by Christina Voss

> Read more from SMU News

SMU panel to explore the history (and future) of privacy Oct. 31, 2012

A panel of SMU faculty members from a wide range of disciplines will examine the history of and emerging ramifications for the concept of privacy in the 21st century at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31, in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center West Ballroom.

The program launches the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute’s IMPACT (Interdisciplinary Meetings to Address Pressing Current Themes) series of symposia. Sponsored by the Embrey Family Foundation, the symposium is free and open to the public and includes a 3 p.m. reception.

Lee Cullum, journalist and fellow in SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, will moderate the discussion. Panelists include SMU professors whose studies touch on some aspect of privacy:

  • George Holden is professor of psychology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. Holden specializes in developmental psychology with a focus on family violence and parent-child interactions. His current research involves analyzing home audio recordings of mothers and their preschoolers. “Psychologists are in the business of exploring people’s private lives — such as their secret thoughts and behavior behind closed doors,” Holden says. “Consequently, we are confronted with various thorny issues.”
  • Alexis McCrossen is associate professor of history in Dedman College whose specialty is U.S. social and cultural history. “Privacy is an institution that came of age in early modern Europe,” she says.
  • Beth Newman is associate professor of English and director of the Women and Gender Studies Program in Dedman College. Newman, whose specialty is 19th-century British literature, says “The concept of privacy developed alongside the rise of the novel, which reinforced its importance — especially for the middle class.”
  • Santanu Roy is professor of economics in Dedman College. Roy’s research interests are in industrial organization, natural resources and environment, international and economic growth.
  • Mary Spector is associate professor of law and director of the Consumer Law Project – both in Dedman School of Law. Spector’s research interests are in the areas of consumer credit, landlord-tenant law and clinical legal education.
  • Suku Nair is chair and professor of computer science and engineering in the Lyle School of Engineering. Nair’s research interests are in network and systems security and reliability.

The Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute was made possible by a $5 million gift from the Dedman Family and the Dedman Foundation. The Institute was created to bring together faculty and students from the humanities, sciences and social sciences for collaborative research and other programs. The Institute will host annual seminars bringing together faculty, graduate and undergraduate students and members of the community to discuss global issues.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

> Read the full story at SMU News

Three honored at 2012 Dedman College Celebration

Group photo from SMU's 2012 Dedman College Celebration, March 20

Dean William Tsutsui (left) and SMU President R. Gerald Turner (right) helped honor three award recipients at the 2012 Dedman College Celebration (from second from left): Psychology Chair Ernest Jouriles, senior student Kevin Eaton, and alumnus John F. Harper, M.D., ’68. (Photo credit: Hillsman S. Jackson, SMU)

Three outstanding members of the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences community received awards March 20 during the 2012 Dedman College Celebration.

Ernest Jouriles, professor and chair of psychology, was named Dedman Family Distinguished Professor. Jouriles is a noted researcher and expert on children’s responses to family violence and violence in adolescent romantic relationships. As co-director of SMU’s Family Research Center, he has developed (with co-director Renee McDonald) a series of research-based intervention and assessment programs for children exposed to frequent and severe relationship violence. Jouriles joined the SMU faculty as chair of the Department of Psychology in 2003.

Political science, economics and public policy major Kevin Eaton received the Robert and Nancy Dedman Outstanding Senior Student Award. The President’s Scholar from Duncanville served as the student representative to the SMU Board of Trustees Committee on Academic Policy and was a community assistant with Residence Life and Student Housing, as well as an Honor Council member. After graduation, Eaton plans to attend law school and pursue a career in appellate advocacy for the U.S. government.

Dr. John F. Harper ’68, a clinical cardiologist with Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, received the Dedman College Distinguished Graduate Award. A board-certified cardiologist and member of the Presbyterian Heart & Vascular Group, he has practiced his specialty for 33 years. Harper earned his M.D. degree from UT-Southwestern Medical School in 1972 and served his internship and residency, as well as a fellowship, with Parkland Memorial Hospital. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Dedman College.

Study: 64% of students willing to donate genetic material for science

Stock photo of DNA mapping and genetic research in a laboratoryA majority of college students is receptive to donating blood or other genetic material for scientific research, according to a new SMU study.

In what appears to be the first study to gauge college students’ willingness to donate to a genetic biobank, the researchers surveyed 250 male and female undergraduate and graduate students.

Among those surveyed, 64 percent said they were willing to donate to a biobank, said study author Olivia Adolphson, an undergraduate psychology researcher in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. Students filled out a two-page survey with 18 questions designed to assess their willingness to participate in a biobank, an archive of blood and tissue samples donated by individuals for the purpose of genetic research.

“Overall I found that my sample was very willing to participate in a biobank,” said Adolphson. “The reasons cited were altruism — people want to help others — as well as to advance scientific research and to help find cures. The barriers were concerns about privacy, lack of time, lack of interest and lack of knowledge.”

Adolphson has been invited to present two posters on her study, “College Students’ Perceptions of Genetic Biobanking,” in April at the 33rd Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in New Orleans.

“This appears to be the first study to gauge college students’ willingness to donate to a genetic biobank,” said the study’s principal investigator, Georita Frierson, assistant professor and health behaviors expert in the Department of Psychology.

Of the students surveyed, 73 percent self-identified as white, while 27 percent self-identified as an ethnic minority. Before being given a description of a genetic biobank, 36 percent said they’d heard of the term. After being informed, 64 percent said they were willing to participate.

“Overall I found that the students who were more educated, the seniors, were more familiar with the concept of a biobank, and they were also more comfortable with it,” Adolphson said. “So we think education plays a role in acceptance.”

The research indicates that the medical community should do more to inform people about biobanks, Adolphson said.

“The biobank community needs to educate people. And they need to use simple language that isn’t intimidating, because lack of knowledge is a big barrier,” she said. “From this research we saw that younger people are going to be willing to participate, because they are open-minded about the concept of research.”

Adolphson’s research followed a larger study by Frierson, which surveyed 135 adult Dallas-area residents who also attended one of Frierson’s 28 focus groups on the subject of biobanks. That study found that 81 percent of the participants had never heard of biobanking. Before the educational focus groups, 64 percent said they would participate in a biobank. After focus groups, that number jumped to 90 percent, Frierson said.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

Research Spotlight: The warning signs of sudden panic

Panic attacks that seem to strike out of the blue are not without warning after all, says SMU psychologist Alicia Meuret.

In a rare study in which patients were monitored around the clock as they conducted their daily activities, portable recorders captured changes in respiration, heart rate and other bodily functions. The researchers discovered that waves of significant physiological instability occurred for at least 60 minutes before patients became aware of an impending panic attack, says Meuret, associate professor of psychology and lead researcher on the study.

The new findings suggest sufferers of panic attacks may be highly sensitive to – but unaware of – an accumulating pattern of subtle physiological instabilities that occur before an attack, Meuret said. (By definition, the majority of the 13 symptoms of panic attack are physiological: shortness of breath, heart racing, dizziness, chest pain, sweating, hot flashes, trembling, choking, nausea and numbness.) Monitoring data also showed patients were hyperventilating on a chronic basis.

“Most patients obviously feel that there must be something going on physically,” Meuret says. “They worry they’re having a heart attack, suffocating or going to pass out. Our data doesn’t indicate there’s something inherently wrong with them physically, neither when they are at rest nor during panic. The fluctuations that we discovered are not extreme; they are subtle. But they seem to build up and may result in a notion that something catastrophic is going on.”

Notably, the researchers found that patients’ carbon dioxide (C02) levels were in an abnormally low range, indicating the patients were chronically hyperventilating. These levels rose significantly shortly before panic onset and correlated with reports of anxiety, fear of dying and chest pain.

“It has been speculated, but never verified with data recordings in daily life, that increases in CO2 cause feelings of suffocation and can be panic triggers,” Meuret says.

Meuret and her colleagues discovered these patterns using change-point analysis, a statistical method that searches for points when changes occur in a “process” over time.

“This analysis allowed us to search through patients’ physiological data recorded in the hour before the onset of their panic attacks to determine if there were points at which the signals changed significantly,” says SMU Associate Professor of Psychology David Rosenfield, lead statistician on the project.

The study is significant not only for panic disorder, but also for other medical problems where symptoms and events have seemingly “out-of-the blue” onsets, such as seizures, strokes and even manic episodes.

In a multidisciplinary collaboration, other authors on the study were psychologist Thomas Ritz, SMU Department of Psychology; psychologist Frank H. Wilhelm, University of Salzburg, Austria; electrical engineer Enlu Zhou, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and psychologist Ansgar Conrad and psychiatrist Walton T. Roth, both of Stanford University.

Meuret discusses their work in an SMU Research video. Click the YouTube screen at right to watch, or click this link to see the video on panic disorder research in a new window.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read more at the SMU Research blog
> Visit SMU’s Stress, Anxiety & Chronic Disease Research Program website

Research Spotlight: Reduced anxiety may be a breath away

A new treatment program teaches people who suffer from panic disorder how to reduce the terrorizing symptoms by normalizing their breathing.

The method has proved better than traditional cognitive therapy at reducing both symptoms of panic and hyperventilation, according to a new study.

The biological-behavioral treatment program is called Capnometry-Assisted Respiratory Training, or CART, said SMU assistant professor of psychology and panic disorder expert Alicia Meuret.

CART helps patients learn to breathe in such a way as to reverse hyperventilation, a highly uncomfortable state where the blood stream operates with abnormally low levels of carbon dioxide, said Meuret, one of the researchers conducting the study. Hyperventilation results from excessively deep or rapid breathing and is common in patients with panic disorders.

“We found that with CART it’s the therapeutic change in carbon dioxide that changes the panic symptoms – and not vice versa,” Meuret said.

During the treatment, patients undergo simple breathing exercises twice a day. A portable capnometer device supplies feedback during the exercises on a patient’s CO2 levels. The goal of these exercises is to reduce chronic and acute hyperventilation and associated physical symptoms. This is achieved by breathing slower but most importantly more shallowly. Contrary to lay belief, taking deep breaths actually worsens hyperventilation and symptoms.

“Most panic-disorder patients report they are terrified of physical symptoms such as shortness of breath or dizziness,” Meuret said. “In our study, cognitive therapy didn’t change respiratory physiology, but CART did effectively reduce hyperventilation. CART was proved an effective and powerful treatment that reduces the panic by means of normalizing respiratory physiology.”

The findings, “Respiratory and cognitive mediators of treatment change in panic disorder: Evidence for intervention specificity,” appeared in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Meuret, who developed CART, is co-director of the the Stress, Anxiety and Chronic Disease Research Program in the Department of Psychology of SMU’s Dedman College. The Beth & Russell Siegelman Foundation funded the research.

The study pitted CART against a conventional cognitive therapy treatment, or CT. Traditional CT teaches patients techniques aimed at helping them change and reverse catastrophic thoughts in order to reduce fear and panic.

In the CART-CT study, 41 patients were assigned to complete either a CART or CT treatment program for panic disorder and agoraphobia, a fear of being trapped with no means of escape or help.

Both treatment programs were equally effective in reducing symptoms, said Meuret. But CART was the only treatment to physiologically alter panic symptoms by actively reversing hyperventilation in the patients. Cognitive therapy didn’t change the respiratory physiology, said Meuret.

he researchers plan to branch out with their studies on CART by taking the program into the community, particularly to ethnic minorities. They believe CART is a more universally understood treatment due to its physical exercises – as opposed to cognitive therapy’s more intellectual methods – and therefore more accessible to a broader range of people with varying levels of education and different cultural backgrounds. Ongoing studies will test the efficacy of CART in patients with asthma and fear of blood.

Co-authors of the study at SMU were David Rosenfield, associate professor of psychology, and psychology graduate students Anke Seidel and Lavanya Bhaskara. Stefan G. Hofmann, psychology professor at Boston University, was also an author on the paper.

Written by Austin Reed

> Read more from the SMU Research blog
> Watch a video demonstration of CART techniques through the SMU YouTube channel video

Research Spotlight: Exercise is the Rx for depression, anxiety

Exercies%20for%20anxiety%2C%20swimmer%2C%20150.jpgExercise is a magic drug for many people with depression and anxiety disorders, according to researchers who analyzed numerous studies, and it should be more widely prescribed by mental health care providers.

“Exercise has been shown to have tremendous benefits for mental health,” says Jasper Smits, director of SMU’s Anxiety Research and Treatment Program. “The more therapists who are trained in exercise therapy, the better off patients will be.”

The traditional treatments of cognitive behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy don’t reach everyone who needs them, says Smits, an associate professor of psychology.

“Exercise can fill the gap for people who can’t receive traditional therapies because of cost or lack of access, or who don’t want to because of the perceived social stigma associated with these treatments,” he says. “Exercise also can supplement traditional treatments, helping patients become more focused and engaged.”

Exercise%20for%20anxiety%2C%20weights%2C%20400.jpgSmits and Michael Otto, psychology professor at Boston University, presented their findings to researchers and mental health care providers March 6 at the Anxiety Disorder Association of America’s annual conference in Baltimore.

Their workshop was based on their therapist guide “Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders,” with accompanying patient workbook (Oxford University Press, September 2009).

The guide draws on dozens of population-based studies, clinical studies and meta-analytic reviews that demonstrate the efficacy of exercise programs, including the authors’ meta-analysis of exercise interventions for mental health and study on reducing anxiety sensitivity with exercise.

“Individuals who exercise report fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and lower levels of stress and anger,” Smits says. “Exercise appears to affect, like an antidepressant, particular neurotransmitter systems in the brain, and it helps patients with depression re-establish positive behaviors. For patients with anxiety disorders, exercise reduces their fears of fear and related bodily sensations such as a racing heart and rapid breathing.”

After patients have passed a health assessment, Smits says, they should work up to the public health dose, which is 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity.

At a time when 40 percent of Americans are sedentary, he says, mental health care providers can serve as their patients’ exercise guides and motivators.

“Rather than emphasize the long-term health benefits of an exercise program – which can be difficult to sustain – we urge providers to focus with their patients on the immediate benefits,” he says. “After just 25 minutes, your mood improves, you are less stressed, you have more energy – and you’ll be motivated to exercise again tomorrow. A bad mood is no longer a barrier to exercise; it is the very reason to exercise.”

Smits says health care providers who prescribe exercise also must give their patients the tools they need to succeed, such as the daily schedules, problem-solving strategies and goal-setting featured in his guide for therapists.

“Therapists can help their patients take specific, achievable steps,” he says. “This isn’t about working out five times a week for the next year. It’s about exercising for 20 or 30 minutes and feeling better today.”

Written by Sarah Hanan

> Read more at the SMU Research blog

Research Spotlight: Breathe right for asthma relief

SMU's Alicia Meuret with an asthma study participantAs the health care reform debate turns to cutting costs and improving treatment outcomes, two SMU professors are expanding a study that shows promise for reducing both the expense and suffering associated with chronic asthma.

Thomas Ritz and Alicia Meuret, both of SMU’s Psychology Department, have developed a four-week program to teach asthmatics how to better control their condition by changing the way they breathe.

With the help of a four-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, they plan to engage 120 Dallas County patients in four weeks of breathing training by the study’s projected end in July 2012. Their co-investigators include David Rosenfield, also of SMU’s Psychology Department, and Mark Millard, M.D., of Baylor University Medical Center.

More than 22 million Americans suffer from asthma at an estimated annual economic cost of more than $19 billion, according to the American Lung Association. The number of cases doubled between 1980 and 1995, prompting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to classify the disease as an epidemic in 2000.

During an attack, sufferers tend to hyperventilate, breathing fast and deep against constricted airways to fight an overwhelming feeling of oxygen deprivation.

Unfortunately, this makes the problem worse by lowering the body’s carbon dioxide levels, which restricts blood flow to the brain and can further irritate already hypersensitive bro nchial passages.

Patients who “overbreathe” on a sustained basis risk chronic CO2 deficiencies that make them even more vulnerable to future attacks. Rescue medications that relieve asthma symptoms do nothing to correct breathing difficulties associated with hyperventilation.

As part of SMU’s Stress, Anxiety and Chronic Disease Research Program, Ritz and Meuret use their biofeedback-based Capnometry-Assisted Respiratory Training (CART) to teach asthma patients to normalize and reverse chronic overbreathing. A hand-held device called a capnometer measures the amount of CO2 exhaled. Using this device, patients learn how to breathe more slowly, shallowly and regularly.

CART techniques could have a positive impact on quality of asthma treatment even as they reduce the need for acute care, Ritz says.

“The research shows that this kind of respiratory therapy can limit both the severity and frequency of asthma attacks,” he says. “That means fewer doctor visits and less frequent use of rescue medications, with the associated savings of both time and money.”

And for those who count any year without a trip to the emergency room as a year with a good treatment outcome, that means a higher quality of life, says Meuret, who lives with asthma herself.

“The training gives patients new ways to deal with acute symptoms, and that helps them to feel more in control,” she says.

Read more at the SMU Research blog

Above, SMU Professor Alicia Meuret (at right in photo) uses biofeedback data to demonstrate the relationship between oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in hyperventilation.

By | 2009-09-22T11:24:29+00:00 September 22, 2009|Categories: Research|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Research Spotlight: Once an abuser, always an abuser?

artist-dolls-fighting.jpgPreliminary anthropology research in French Polynesia seems to confirm what psychology and sociology researchers have observed about domestic violence in general: There are two different types. One kind endures and escalates, while the other gradually fades away after a few years.

The findings are those of SMU’s Victoria Lockwood, who for three decades has studied the lives of women on the chain of South Pacific islands that includes the tropical paradise of Tahiti.

Few anthropologists study domestic violence. What Lockwood has found initially confirms the existence of “battering,” which is long-lived, versus “situational couple violence,” which is short-lived.

“If we don’t acknowledge there are two different kinds of domestic violence, then we’ll never understand what the causes are,” says Lockwood, associate professor of anthropology in SMU’s Dedman College. “The causes are very different, so if we wish to devise policies or social programs, we need to be doing two different things to address the issues.”

For 28 years, Lockwood has studied the impact of modernization and globalization on the women of Tahiti and its tiny rural neighbors, Tubuai and Rurutu. Her research took a turn, however, when the women began disclosing that arguments with their husbands at times resulted in physical violence.

Now she is investigating the prevalence, causes, meanings and consequences of domestic violence on its victims on the islands. The research is funded by a three-year, $128,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The islands are a fairly gender-egalitarian society, she says. Domestic violence is no more common there than anywhere else. The women expressed distress to Lockwood that their husbands hit them, but said the assaults gradually stop after the early years of marriage. That’s not the stereotype of domestic violence, Lockwood notes, citing the widely held belief that one incident of abuse indicates more to come.

“The word on the street, at least in American society, is that domestic violence doesn’t go away. ‘Once an abuser, always an abuser,’ and the abuse escalates over time,” Lockwood says. “But that wasn’t the case in Tahiti. And that’s what got me interested in looking at the issue in Tahitian society.”

Read more at the SMU Research blog

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