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Family Research Center helps children of family violence

Each year more than 1 million children in the United States are brought to shelters to escape family violence. Each of their families reports, on average, more than 60 acts of aggression at home during the past year, ranging from pushes and shoves to hits and kicks. More than half of the families report an incident involving a knife or gun.

“Research that studies children who witness violence in the home is fundamental to helping them,” says Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place in Dallas. The Family Research Center, a new program of SMU’s Psychology Department in Dedman College, works with shelters such as The Family Place to address the mental health problems of children facing domestic violence.


Family violence affects children’s physical health as well, says Candyce Tart, a second-year Ph.D. student in SMU’s clinical psychology program. Tart’s years of experience in pediatric nursing, mostly in inner-city school environments, sparked an interest in the psychology of her patients’ families.

“Many of these children’s illnesses were made worse by stress at home,” she says. “All sorts of psychological factors in their lives seemed to impact their lives more than physical health.”

Tart studies conduct-disordered children from dysfunctional or abusive families through the Family Research Center as part of her dissertation on biological and physiological underpinnings of behavioral problems.


“I’d like to know why some children come out of these violent households with more behavior or emotional problems, and others more resilient,” she says.

SMU’s faculty, especially its revitalized clinical psychology program under Psychology Department Chair Ernest Jouriles, had a lot to do with Tart’s decision to attend the University, she says.

“Ernest Jouriles is developing a fantastic research program with the facilities and support for doing research,” says Tart. “We have so much equipment available, as well as access into shelters and other community and clinical locations. And it’s a very collaborative environment. Not all schools have that.”

Related links:
Family Research Center
Candyce Tart
Ernest Jouriles
Department of Psychology
The Family Place
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences

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Who and why? Déjà vu gets a second look

brown.jpgIt is a discussion that seems familiar. But new findings show that people who travel frequently are more likely to experience déjà vu. Political liberals report more déjà vu experiences than conservatives do. And déjà vu becomes less common as people grow older.

Most of us have experienced déjà vu, which means “already seen” in French, yet few scientists have studied it. Understanding its causes, however, promises to explain other mysteries of the brain, says Alan Brown, professor in the SMU Department of Psychology in Dedman College and a leading researcher on memory.

“The community of research psychologists is largely silent on the topic, but findings from such research could expand our understanding of routine memory functions,” Brown says.

Many explanations for the déjà vu experience have been connected to the supernatural, he says. In a new book, “The Déjà Vu Experience: Essays in Cognitive Psychology” (2004, Psychology Press), Brown surveys scientific research as well as popular notions of déjà vu from the early 19th century.

From the scientific studies, Brown has identified common facts about déjà vu. A majority of people experience déjà vu, some two-thirds of the population. The frequency of déjà vu decreases with age and is most common among people ages 15 to 25. People with higher incomes and more education have more déjà vu experiences. Déjà Vu appears to be associated with stress and fatigue. Those who travel have more déjà vu experiences. For some, déjà vu experiences appear to repeat prior dreams.

Although there are no definitive answers for what causes déjà vu, Brown offers four scientifically plausible possibilities: two cognitive processes become momentarily out of phase; a brief dysfunction in the brain, such as a seizure, or disruption in the speed of normal neuronal transmission; a memory that we forgot connects with part of the present experience; and an initial perception under distracted conditions is quickly followed by a second perception of the same thing under full attention.

Déjà vu research presents a unique challenge for Brown.

“There is a thrill of examining something that seems to be on the fringes, then pulling it into the scientific realm,” he says.

Brown, who joined the Psychology Department in 1974, is the author of four books, including “Maximizing Memory Power: Using Recall in Business” (1986, John Wiley & Sons).

Related links:
Alan Brown
SMU Department of Psychology
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences