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Stress Research Group

Stress is an increasingly pervasive theme in the modern family. The symptoms associated with stress in one individual can quickly cause stress throughout the entire family, making stress an important issue to research and address. The physiology of stress affects both hormone and immune function; if unchecked over time, symptoms associated with stress can contribute to disease.

The interdisciplinary Stress Research Working Group consists of about 25 researchers who have been meeting at CRF since 2008 to better understand the causes of stress, the effects of stress, and methods of stress measurement. The Stress Group has been working across disciplines to integrate techniques, tools, and perspectives to examine how and why stress manifests in the body throughout life, how the manifestation of stress influences relationships and mental health, and how we can address the negative effects of stress to improve health. The Stress Group applies a lifespan approach to study and measure stress from gestation and infancy, through adolescence and young adulthood, to menopause and beyond.

The interdisciplinary group meets bi-weekly to discuss their stress and family related research. The meetings stimulate cross-disciplinary analysis and assist each member with his or her research. Family relationships, animal bonding, developmental phases, and neuroscience are important aspects of this cluster’s research. Members of the Stress Group have co-authored articles, submitted grant proposals together, and supported each other in productivity and creativity of thought.

Want to get involved? Email crf@psych.umass.edu to find out more!

Group Members

All
B | D | G | H | K | L | M | N | P | R | T | W
Annaliese
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Smith College

Research

Beery's research lab studies the neurobiology of prosocial behavior, using group-living rodents to focus on pathways supporting affiliative social behavior between peers and a variety of species and behavioral paradigms.

In a second line of research, lab participants study the role of early life experience on development of later social behaviors and epigenetic mechanisms (among others) by which experience changes the brain and behavior. The lab studies stress in the context of its effects on affiliative behaviors, as well as connections between anxiety and social behavior as a function of early experience.

Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences

Research

Prof. Bergan's research interests include animal behavior and learning; neural and behavioral development; neuroendocrinology; and sensorimotor, cognitive and computational neuroscience. His specific research interests. His laboratory program seeks to understand the principles of how social and defensive stimuli are encoded in the activity of neurons, and how this process can be modulated by behavior state, experience, and neuromodulation.

Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson Photo
Associate Professor, School of Public Health and Health Sciences

Research

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.

Jeffrey Blaustein Photo
Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Neuroscience and Behavior Program
Co-Director, Stress Research Group

Research

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.

Matt Davidson headshot
Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Family Research Scholar, 2008-09

Research

Matt Davidson's research program targets a better understanding of the development of executive functions, including attention, working memory and cognitive control. Current studies are exploring the effects of physical activity on cognitive abilities and emotional stability in children and young adults, including gender related differences before, during, and after puberty. The influence of individual differences in genetic makeup are being tested in a gene x environment investigation of neurogrowth factors and physical activity. Finally, neuroimaging techniques are being used to address questions about the neural networks and transmitter/hormonal systems underlying these differences.

This interdisciplinary approach allows Dr. Davidson's lab to test interactions between different factors at several levels of analysis and will eventually provide a more holistic understanding of the benefits of physical activity. As a Family Research Scholar, Davidson prepared several grant proposals to test the effects of physical activity on cognitive abilities across development. The broader impacts of this research will be to expand scientific knowledge about these effects in humans and to encourage active lifestyles for children, adolescents, and adults.

Kirby Deater-Deckard
Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences

Research

Kirby Deater-Deckard is a developmental psychologist who studies child and adolescent cognitive and social-emotional development, and the role of parenting and peer environments on developmental outcomes. He is the director of the Healthy Development Initiative (HDI) based at the UMass Center Springfield. HDI is a group of UMass scientists and students who discover and share new knowledge about human development across the lifespan in collaboration with community partners. HDI strives to understand and promote the psychological and physical health and well-being of children, adolescents, adults and seniors in our communities.

Katie Dixon-Gordon, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences

Research

Dr. Dixon-Gordon is an Assistant Professor in the Clinical Division of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Her research focuses on understanding how emotions and the way people manage them can lead to self-destructive behaviors and other problems, especially in the context of psychopathology, with a focus on borderline personality disorder (BPD). This research uses laboratory-based and longitudinal and micro-longitudinal research, as well as clinical trials to identify how to relieve self-destructive behaviors and emotional suffering.

In addition, Dr. Dixon-Gordon is a licensed clinical psychologist, and is board-certified in DBT, and is a DBT Trainer in Training at Behavioral Tech LLC. She directs the DBT Program in the Psychological Services Center at UMass. Her clinical work focuses on evidence-based treatments for people who struggle with self-destructive behaviors and emotion dysregulation, to help them build a life worth living. 

Louis Graham UMass headshot
Assistant Professor, Health Promotion and Policy
Family Research Scholar, 2016-2017

Research

Using community-based participatory approaches, Dr. Graham's scholarship aims to understand psychosocial determinants of mental and sexual health among ethnic minority and sexually marginalized groups – including depression, anxiety, and HIV prevention among black and Latino gay and bisexual men and transgender women. His approach to CBPR facilitates power sharing whereby community stakeholders are engaged in the entire research process from beginning to end. Also central to his research is incorporating critical race theory and queer theory as frameworks and analytic tools. Though he employ mix-methods, Graham is most interested in narrative and visual methods.

Dr. Graham values transdisciplinary collaboration and locates his work at the intersections of theory, research, policy, and practice. He is a Kaiser Permanente Burch Policy Fellow and  a co-principal investigator of a five-year, Ford Foundation funded research project, “Detroit Youth Passages,” (detroityouthpassages.org) which seeks to examine and positively transform structural conditions that contribute to sexual vulnerabilities. In this role, he is the director of all research, communication, and dissemination activities in partnership with the Ruth Ellis Center and African-American transgender and gay communities in Detroit.

Susan Hankinson headshot
Professor, Public Health

Research

Susan Hankinson has been a senior investigator with the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and NHS II, two long-term ongoing cohort studies of women’s health for over 20 years, and was Principal Investigator of the NHS from 2006 to 2011. Her research predominantly focuses on breast cancer etiology and prevention along with the incorporation of biomarkers into epidemiologic research.

With funding from NIH for the past 18 years, she has concentrated on lifestyle and endogenous predictors of both breast cancer risk and survival. She also is interested in determining underlying mechanistic pathways for known breast cancer risk factors, is working to improve breast cancer risk prediction models, and would like to learn more about predictors of patient uptake of currently approved breast cancer chemoprevention options.

Mary Harrington headshot

Research

Mary Harrington researches circadian rhythm entrainment.  Her past research has been on neural systems mediating entrainment, in particular non-photic entrainment pathways utilizing neuropeptide Y and serotonin. Currently she is investigating the role of circadian disruption in health. 

One line of research examines effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines on circadian rhythms, in work related to fatigue and sleep disruption associated with illness, stress, and aging. She is also characterizing mouse models of jetlag using mice with a bioluminescent report for the circadian clock protein Per2. She is also conducting experiments on cultured hepatocytes to better understand cell coupling in the circadian clock in the liver.

KC Haydon headshot
Assistant Professor, Psychology and Education, Mount Holyoke College
Scholar-in-Residence, 2015-16

Research

Dr. Katherine (KC) Haydon studies attachment processes in adolescence and adulthood; romantic relationship development and maintenance processes; physiological correlates of relationship functioning; and close relationships as developmental contexts across the lifespan.

Dr. Haydon's research examines the developmental origins of how people behave in their closest relationships. One central question in her work is how romantic partners’ individual developmental histories affect what happens in their current relationship – how they resolve conflicts, regulate and express emotions, and support each other. She also studies how close relationships with parents, friends, and romantic partners contribute to developmental outcomes, such as navigating the transition to adulthood. Haydon’s research is guided by the premise that such outcomes are probabilistically shaped by experiences in multiple contexts.

Karen Kalmakis headshot
Associate Professor, Nursing
Family Research Scholar, 2012-13

Research

Karen Kalmakis studies the relationship between a history of adverse childhood experiences and the neurobiological stress response among young adults. During her year as a Family Research Scholar, Dr. Kalmakis developed a grant proposal for the project entitled, “Exploring the role of socio-environmental and demographic influences on the stress process.” This project focused on the impact that adverse childhood experiences,  socioeconomic status and individual demographics have on the coping strategies that are part of the stress process.

Dr. Kalmakis’s research expanded the current stress literature by  examining how both socio-environmental and demographic variables may influence coping strategies and thereby modify the neurobiological stress response. The research also provided knowledge about the impact of coping strategies (effective and ineffective) on allostatic load. The results of this research may be used to assist young adult patients more effectively cope with stress and avoid negative health outcomes.

Agnès Lacreuse headshot
Associate Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Family Research Scholar, 2013-14

Research

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.

Lynnette Leidy Sievert headshot
Professor, Anthropology
Interim Director, Center for Research on Families, 2015-16
Family Research Scholar, 2004-05 & 2008-09
Co-Director, Stress Research Group

Research

Lynnette Leidy Sievert is a biological anthropologist whose research has focused on age at menopause and symptom experience at menopause as two aspects of human variation. She is also interested in the evolution of menopause and post-reproductive aging as a human trait. As a Family Research Scholar, Leidy Sievert studied three interconnected aspects of everyday life: marriage and family, religion and spiritual practices, and economic security in relation to symptom experience among women at midlife.

She conducted this research in Mexico. She is currently working to understand variation in age and symptom experience at menopause in Puebla, Mexico; Asuncion, Paraguay; and Hilo, Hawaii. She has received funding in the past from the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the AAAS, and UMass Amherst. She has also received the Young Investigator Award (twice) from the North American Menopause Society.

Jennifer Martin McDermott headshot
Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Neuroscience and Behavior Program
Family Research Scholar, 2011-12

Research

Jennifer McDermott’s research explores the role of early experience in relation to children’s cognitive and affective development. Her past work reveals that early adversity impairs physiological and behavioral indices of children’s self-regulation and that these effects can be partially ameliorated by improved caregiving conditions.

During her year as a Family Research Scholar, Dr. McDermott developed a grant proposal to unpack the effects of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors on the emergence of children’s regulatory behaviors in a project entitled “Social and Biological influences on the Development of Children’s Self-Regulation.” This proposal took a critical step towards defining, at the molecular level, the complex interplay through which caregiving experience directs the organization of neural systems implicated in self-control and helped inform novel invention approaches aimed at promoting regulatory skills in children at risk.

Jerrold Meyer headshot
Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences

Research

Jerrold Meyer’s research program has two major themes. The first theme concerns the neurotoxic and behavioral effects of drugs of abuse, with a current focus on MDMA (“Ecstasy”). He and the researchers in his lab are particularly interested in MDMA preconditioning (the ability of moderate MDMA pretreatment to blunt the serotonergic neurotoxic effects of a subsequent MDMA binge) as well as the interactions between MDMA and THC in a rat model of adolescent Ecstasy/marijuana co-use.

The second research theme involves a collaboration with Dr. Melinda Novak to study the role of stress and anxiety in spontaneously occurring self-injurious behavior in rhesus monkeys. These studies led to the establishment of a novel method for measuring cortisol in hair, a technique that is opening up new avenues for non-invasively assessing chronic stress in both human and animal populations.

David Moorman Photo
Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences

Research

Research in our lab focuses on understanding how networks of neurons control complex behavior.  We use animal models to study motivation, learning, and executive function (e.g., decision-making).  We are also interested in neural changes underlying disorders such as addiction, ADHD, obesity, and depression, also using animal models of these diseases. 

We address these questions by monitoring (using electrophysiology and cellular imaging) and manipulating (using optogenetics, chemical genetics, and pharmacology) precisely-defined neural networks.  We also collaborate with computational neuroscientists and statisticians to develop new ways of understanding how neural ensembles are related to behavior.

Melinda Novak headshot
Professor and Former Chair, Psychological and Brain Sciences

Research

Melinda Novak is a past recipient of the College Outstanding Teacher Award, the Distinguished Faculty UMass Alumni Association Award and a recent recipient of the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Faculty Lecturer—the highest honor bestowed on faculty for exemplary research and service contributions. 

Mariana Pereira UMass headshot
Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Family Research Scholar, 2016-2017

Research

Mariana Pereira’s research program explores the basis of cognitive, motivational and affective mechanisms of parenting at the behavioral, neural and neurochemical levels, both under healthy conditions and in the context of maternal neuropsychiatric disorders; emphasis on limbic-cortical-striatal interactions, mesocorticolimbic dopamine system and animal models of depression and drug addiction.

Maureen Perry-Jenkins headshot
Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
CRF Faculty Director
Family Research Scholar, 2006-07

Research

Maureen Perry-Jenkins is a nationally renowned scholar whose contributions on the national, state, regional and university levels have had a profound impact on family research. Her work focuses on the ways in which socio-cultural factors such as race, gender, and social class shape the mental health and family relationships of parents and their children.

Using a longitudinal research methodology, Perry-Jenkins's research examines the work and family experiences of blue-collar families, with particular attention to the experiences of people transitioning to parenthood, their early return to paid employment and the effects on working-class parents' psychological well-being and personal relationships. As a CRF Scholar, Dr. Perry-Jenkins continued to work on her research considering the unique challenges facing low-income families as they juggle the demands of work and new parenthood. She was named CRF Faculty Director in Fall 2013.

Paula Pietromonaco headshot
Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Family Research Scholar, 2003-04 & 2015-16

Research

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.

Sally Powers headshot
Associate Dean, College of Natural Sciences (Faculty Development)
Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Former CRF Faculty Director

Research

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.

Rebecca Ready headshot
Associate Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Family Research Scholar, 2008-09

Research

Dr. Ready is a geriatric neuropsychologist with research interests in the assessment of emotion regulation in healthy aging and in clinical populations. She studies emotion reactions in the lab and in daily life and is interested in how individual difference factors, such as executive functions, memory, and personality affect emotion regulation outcomes. She utilizes multiple methods to measure emotion variables, such as subjective reports, neuropsychological testing, observation, cortisol and physiological data.

Luke Remage-Healey headshot
Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences

Research

The Healey Lab studies the electrophysiological and neurochemical phenomena that govern natural behavior. It focuses on songbirds because of their many biological/behavioral parallels with humans. Many of these phenomena are readily accessible in the laboratory, including lifelong pairbonds, biparental care, vocal learning and widespread production of steroid hormones in the brain.

The lab's work and the work of its collaborators have demonstrated that the neurobiological and neuroendocrine mechanisms of social bonding are conserved between songbirds and mammals. These observations, together with the ability to conduct rigorous experimental studies, make songbirds an attractive system for future research on stress and social behaviors.

Heather Richardson headshot
Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Family Research Scholar, 2010-11

Research

Heather Richardson studies the influences of heavy, episodic alcohol consumption (i.e. “binge drinking”) on neurological and behavioral development using rodent models. Early onset alcohol use is one of the strongest predictors of a lifetime prevalence of alcohol dependence and is associated with cognitive impairments and emotional dysregulation in adulthood.

Unfortunately, scientists have limited understanding of the exact connections between alcohol intake and various addiction-related structures in the brain. As a Family Scholar, Richardson explored these connections and their differences in male and female rats (the latter have been greatly neglected in past research). This research has the capacity to contribute greatly to understanding what drives binge drinking in male and female adolescents and how this risky behavior impacts mental health in adulthood.

Lisa Troy headshot
Assistant Professor, Nutrition
Commonwealth Honors College Professor of Nutrition
Family Research Scholar, 2013-14

Research

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.

Brian Whitcomb
Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Public Health

Research

Brian Whitcomb's research focues on epidemiologic evaluation of the immune system and inflammatory factors in adverse pregnancy outcomes and menstrual cycle function and dysfunction. Using serum samples collected early in gestation from participants in a large study of pregnancy, we have considered levels of a panel of cytokines, including Th1, Th2 and growth factors, comparing cases of miscarriage and matched controls.

We have also considered serum levels of granulocyte-colony stimulating factor in preterm birth, an outcome suspected to be affected by infection. Additionally, we have evaluated cytokine levels in urine specimens in a longitudinal study of menstrual cycle function among healthy normally menstruating women to assess relations with hormones and other factors.