Dr. Sally Powers is professor of psychology and a member of the Neuroscience and Behavior Program at UMass Amherst. She is the former faculty Director of the Center for Research on Families and currently serves as the Associate Dean for Faculty Development in the College of Natural Sciences. Professor Powers joined the University in 1988. She was an assistant professor of psychology from 1988-91 and an associate professor from 1991-95. She has been a professor since 1995. She served as coordinator of the Psychological Services Center from 1998-2000 and was head of the department of psychology’s clinical division in 2003-06. Prof. Powers has also been a professor in the neuroscience and behavior program since 2007.
As a developmental psychopathologist, Sally Powers investigates the interaction of normal developmental processes and psychopathology in adolescents and young adults. Her research focuses on understanding cognitive, personality and life history risk factors in the development of psychopathology, and the mediating roles of interpersonal behavior and neuroendocrine functioning within close relationships. Her most recent studies—funded by NSF, NIMH and NCI—investigate a biopsychosocial model of factors hypothesized to contribute to the sex difference in the prevalence of adolescent and adult depression and anxiety. Her previous work has been funded by NICHD, the William T. Grant Foundation, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. At UMass Amherst, Dr. Powers has been awarded a Conti Faculty Fellowship for excellence in research and the Chancellor's Medal as a Distinguished Faculty Lecturer. Colleague Paula Pietromonaco and Dr. Powers are currently conducting a longitudinal study of close relationships and health in early marriages of opposite-sex couples through the Growth in Early Marriage Project.
In order to learn how hormones act in the brain to modify brain function and behavior and how the social environment can influences these processes, we study the cellular and neuroanatomical mechanisms of ovarian steroid hormone action on reproductive behavior and the interactions between the environment, neurotransmitters and steroid hormone receptors.
Although much of our work has focused on the neural mechanisms by which the ovarian hormones, estradiol and progesterone, influence the expression of reproductive behaviors, a new interest of our group is the study of the long-term effects of exposure to particular stressors or immune challenges around the time of puberty on behavioral response to the hormones in adulthood. We have discovered that exposure to particular stressors, but not others, or immune challenge, only during the pubertal period causes enduring changes in behavioral response to ovarian steroid hormones in adulthood months later. In an effort to determine how wide-spread this phenomenon is, we have determined that, besides reproductive behavior, the effects of ovarian hormones on anxiety-like, depression-like and cognitive behaviors in adulthood are either blocked, or in some cases reversed, by stressor exposure during the pubertal period. We have observed long-term changes in levels of steroid hormone receptors in particular neuroanatomical areas in adulthood in response to these pubertal treatments, suggesting that this altered regulation of the receptors is part of the mechanism by which the stressors cause changes in behavioral response to the hormones. Our current work focuses on the mechanisms by which some stressors during a well-delineated developmental stage cause enduring changes in ovarian hormone receptors and consequently in an animal's response to the hormones.
Ellizabeth Bertone-Johnson studies nutritional epidemiology, focusing on Vitamin D and women's health conditions including premenstrual syndrome, depression and breast cancer. She recently received a five-year, $868,857 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institutes of Health to study women’s mental health, with special emphasis on premenstrual syndrome and the role vitamin D may play in counteracting its effects on women.
Paula Pietromonaco is a social psychologist whose work focuses on how people think, feel and behave in the context of their closest relationships. Her particular interest lies in how couple members influence each other’s ability to manage their emotions, and how these relationship processes are connected to emotional and physical health over time. Her current work, funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute, examines how newlywed spouses’ expectations and beliefs about relationships, together with their physiological stress reactions (e.g., cortisol reactivity and recovery) and behavior patterns when discussing disagreements, predict later risks for depression and anxiety.
Initial research from this project has demonstrated that the interplay between spouses’ attachment styles predicts distinctive cortisol and behavioral patterns in response to stress. Pietromonaco and collaborators (including former CRF director Sally Powers) have found that attachment insecurity in romantic partners predicts distinctive physiological stress responses (cortisol patterns) and behavioral disengagement during a conflict negotiation task. Ongoing longitudinal research will determine how spouses’ cognitive, physiological and behavioral processes evolve over time and, in particular, the extent to which cortisol responses to stress predict spouses’ later emotional and physical health outcomes.
David Arnold's research addresses how mobile technology could foster Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) success in young children from low socioeconomic status (SES) families.
For his Family Research Scholar year, Arnold developed a grant proposal entitled “Fostering STEM Success in Underrepresented Groups with Educational Apps.” Arnold’s project evaluated the benefits of existing educational apps (e.g., for smart phones and tablets) for preschoolers, and examined the processes by which children learn using mobile technology. Smart phones are rapidly penetrating even the poorest communities, and this project provided the first causal evidence regarding best practices in utilizing this ubiquitous technology. His program of study could eventually provide an important tool to help build critical early math skills and support STEM participation in underrepresented groups.
Gwyneth Rost studies how children learn language, with a focus on youth who have language impairment, a developmental condition that can be broadly defined as clinically and educationally significant disabilities in the comprehension and use of grammar, vocabulary, literacy and social language. Language impairment affects 7% of the general population but is prevalent in an estimated 67% of juvenile offenders.
Simply, the majority of youth who must navigate the dense and complex language used in interrogation and court proceedings are doing so with clinically disabled language skills. Rost used her year as a Family Research Scholar to develop a grant proposal entitled “Is disability incriminating? Language impairment in the juvenile justice system.” In this study, Rost asked how language impairment affects juveniles and their families as they progress through the legal system. She studied comprehension of legal language by the affected juvenile and family members, and production of language by the juvenile and by police officers in interrogation situations. Together these experiments began to address the clinical needs of adolescents in the juvenile justice system and long-term best practices for police and courts.
Lisa Harvey's research interests are in the early development of ADHD, disruptive behavior disorders and emotion regulation in preschool children. Specific areas of interest include executive function, emotion regulation, parenting, parent psychopathology, fathers, gender and culture. She seeks to understand these processes by studying the interplay between different levels of functioning including neural (using ERP), behavioral, emotional, individual, family and contextual.
Agnès Lacreuse’s research addresses the biological factors that contribute to differential aging trajectories in males and females. Because human cognition is strongly influenced by sociocultural and environmental factors, sex differences in cognitive and brain aging may be best studied in an appropriate primate model. As a Family Research Scholar, she developed a grant proposal for the National Institutes of Health entitled “Sex Differences in Cognitive and Brain Aging: A Primate Model.” Lacreuse has used her data to identify possible targets for sex-specific interventions designed to promote cognitive health throughout the lifespan in aging men and women.
Lisa Troy uses the novel application of pattern analysis to examine diet and exercise on chronic disease prevention. She also studies how government programs and policies impact diet quality and public health outcomes. Toward accomplishing these goals, she developed the DGAI_2010, an index to measure adherence to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The DGAI_2010 has been used in epidemiologic studies to assess how a diet consistent with federal guidelines relates to chronic diseases of aging such as hip fracture, inflammation, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
As a Family Research Scholar, Dr. Troy developed a grant proposal entitled “How Diet and Exercise Improve Sleep: Implications for Diabetes and Heart Disease.” This research examined diet and exercise patterns in younger (18 to 30 year old) and older (50 to 80 year old) adults as these age groups may respond differently to diet and exercise given the physiology of aging. Poor sleep at all ages is a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. A better understanding of the ways to improve sleep through diet and exercise will contribute to chronic disease prevention.
Joya Misra’s work focuses on gender inequality among advanced welfare states, where gender equality has made the most progress but also where national variation is most apparent. Her research analyzes this variation over time, considering how gender inequalities have changed over the last 25 years and the extent to which family and household dynamics contribute to this variation.
In her proposal entitled “Parenthood, Gender, and Earning Inequality in Advanced Welfare States,” she analyzed eighteen different advanced industrialized countries from 1985 through 2010 and considered how gendered cultural and policy contexts help explain variations between countries and over time. She argued that not only is the shape of gender inequality dynamic, but that the causes of gender pay gaps are also dynamic. Misra’s previous work examines policy impacts on poverty, income inequality and employment as well as carework, citizenship, and immigration in Europe. In 2010, Professor Misra won the Sociologists for Women in Society Feminist Mentoring Award. She is currently the editor of the journal Gender & Society, the top-ranked journal in gender studies worldwide.