Ronnie Janoff-Bulman Appears on the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast


Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, Professor Emerita of Psychology and Brain Sciences at UMass Amherst, was recently invited onto the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast to discuss a variety of psychological topics, including implicit beliefs, human emotional reactions, blaming yourself for random events, flawed theories of motivation and types of morality. “If you look at liberals and conservatives, they don’t differ in terms of how much they think you should be helping—they may say you should help different people—but where you start seeing huge differences is the group-based morality,” Janoff-Bulman says.

Celebrate Our Seniors Newsletter

students smiling with awards

Learn about the latest student, faculty, and alumni news in our Celebrate Our Seniors Newsletter!

Read full issue

Highlights include:

• Senior Awards
• Undergraduate Research Symposium
• Senior Profiles
• DDHS Hosts Neurodiversity and Disability Studies Summit
• How Children's Evaluations Change Based on a Leader's Conforming or Nonconforming Behaviors
• Unprecedented Research Probes the Relationship Between Sleep And Memory In Napping Babies And Young Children

Plus other research briefs, awards, and updates from PBS!

How Children's Evaluations Change Based on a Leader's Conforming or Nonconforming Behaviors

kids put arms around each other

Members of a societal group put trust in their leaders to act in line with certain values and political stances a group embodies. When leaders conform to the prescribed norms of their core group, conceivably their standing is maintained. Any violation of these prescriptive group norms can be viewed negatively. Psychologists today are studying the social processes behind leaders’ conformity or nonconformity to their core group’s ideals. More specifically, researchers at UMass Amherst examined points in a child’s development when their opinions about a leader’s actions start to form and change.

Yuchen Tian in a garden
Yuchen Tian

In a new study by PhD Student Yuchen Tian, UMass Amherst, and Assistant Professor Lin Bian, University of Chicago, children from ages 4-11 from the United States and China evaluated leaders versus nonleaders violations of group norms. They also examined in what manner beliefs of how leaders should conform shifted across a child’s development. Additionally, the team wanted to see if there were any differences between U.S. and Chinese children’s evaluations of leaders’ nonconformity. This work was funded by the Cornell China Center and an NSF Career grant (to Dr. Lin Bian).

Children from the U.S. and China participated in the study online. They were introduced to the experiment by being shown two novel groups named the hibbles and the glerks. Each group wore a certain type of outfit (i.e., green stripes, orange triangles). The subject was then keyed into some group norms like eating a certain type of berry or speaking a certain language. Next a target individual was described to the child as either a leader, “This hibble is powerful and in charge of other hibbles. Every day, this hibble decides how many cookies to give to other hibbles.” Or a nonleader “This hibble has the same power as other hibbles. Every day, this hibble and other hibbles, receive cookies to eat.”

The team tested how prescriptive norms (unwritten rules that are understood and followed by society and indicate typical behaviors) could be broken by having a group leader or nonleader eat a different kind of berry, speak a different language, or listen to the favorite music of the alternate group. The subject was then prompted to evaluate the behavior of the leader or nonleader, whether they thought it was good or bad that they were nonconforming.

“I remember that when I was in elementary school, I really aspired to be the class monitor. So, I felt like kids would be sensitive to leadership. Today, we see economic inequality widening every day and across all cultures. It’s a very important social issue and it’s not only at the society level, but also within social organizations, companies, or small groups. There are hierarchical structures everywhere, so I think this topic is really interesting,” conveys Tian.

The researchers theorized that Chinese children would be more sensitive to group leaders’ violation of group norms due to a strong emphasis on group harmony and social relations in Chinese culture. Children from the U.S. were envisioned being more likely to think about the innovative aspects of being group leader, possibly reacting more positively to a leader who does something different from the norm in the name of progress or innovation.

kids raise hands togetherThe results of this first experiment found that for kids aged 4-7, they gave a more positive evaluation of group leader’s non-conforming behaviors compared to an ordinary group member’s non-conforming behaviors. The researchers were questioning whether it was because of the positive bias that kids usually have for high-powered people, so a second experiment was performed with the same age group. This time kids evaluated a leader's conforming behaviors versus a group member’s conforming behaviors. “We found that they didn't make any difference in evaluation between these two conditions, which means that it was only when the kids were evaluating the non-conforming behaviors that they showed a positive bias for the leader,” says Tian.

Older kids aged 10 and 11 made more negative evaluations of leader’s non-conforming behaviors compared to an ordinary group member’s non-conforming behaviors. So, this age group was harsher towards a group leader, meaning they believed leaders should follow group norms more strictly.

Tian suggests, “at this point in their age, kids observe in their daily life group members taking on more group responsibility. For example, kids are serving as a class monitor, are helping their teacher with class work, or something like that so they're more sensitive to the responsibility that a leader should take. They believe that a group leader should be a prototypical group member who should follow group norms without breaking these norms for their own benefit.

“But for younger kids, it’s totally different. They perceive that power brings people freedom—if you are a leader, you can do what you want with more freedom. With age kids tend to think that if you are leader, you must take responsibility.”

It turns out that the researchers did not find cross-cultural differences in leader expectations and preconceptions. Across the U.S. and China, the developmental trend of these two conditions were similar.

Tian states, “We believe that by gaining a deeper understanding of children's leadership cognition, we will better know what ‘group leaders’ means in kids' minds and which traits people possess that will make them more likely to be selected as group leader. By unveiling the development of children's expectations for a good leader, we hope to see educational programs arise that help children build their own leadership skills and learn how to better lead now and in the future, from a small group to political entity.”

Tian would like to continue her cross-cultural research on leadership in group contexts, especially to what degree children expect leaders to be innovative. For her dissertation, Tian is exploring how kids think about social status, economic inequality, and specifically social mobility (change in a person's socio-economic situation). She wants to understand whether children are aware of the disparity in upward social mobility across different social groups and cultures.

Psychology Students Win 21st Century Leader Awards

NaichaNaicha Chamille Christophe, of Taunton, is earning dual degrees in psychology and public health, with a certificate in criminology. Christophe’s dedication to social justice and public health is evident in her extracurricular and research endeavors. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, she is president of the Haitian American Student Association and reactivated the organization’s charity initiative, P.E.A.C.H., to help raise nearly $6,000 for the Haitian Health Foundation and for winter blankets to donate to a local migrant shelter.  

She has interned at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School’s Center for Law, Brain and Behavior, as well as its Center for Addiction Medicine, where she co-authored a research paper about opioid-use disorder and smoking cessation.  

Christophe is a strong advocate for students of color, making their voices heard through her involvement on the executive boards of multiple student organizations, in peer mentoring programs and with the “Day by Day” podcast that explores the unique challenges faced by students of color. She has also served the community as a tour guide, residential assistant, teaching assistant and as secretary of registry for the Student Government Association.  

After graduating, Christophe plans to move to North Carolina to join the emerging leaders program at Fidelity Investments, after which she hopes to attend law school.

VandreyVandrey Sisson, of Newton, a Commonwealth Honors student, is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

His research projects and extracurricular activities demonstrate his passion for a wide range of biological fields. Under Ph.D. candidate Joshua Medina in the Irschick Research Lab, Sisson participated in a four-year research project that examined sexual dimorphism in tanagers. The project, which is pending publication, earned him a Peter K. Hepler Field Research Scholarship. In January 2024, he traveled to Teresópolis, Brazil, to study the vibrant radiation of neotropical songbirds in their natural habitat.

Among his other accomplishments at UMass, he is the co-president of the BioSci Club, a peer advisor for the Pre-Med/Pre-Health Advising Office, and a peer mentor at the Learning Resource Center.

Sisson has flourished as a leader on campus, participating in and steering community organizations that help people with developmental disabilities. He is the president of the Autism Awareness Club, a member of the Developmental Disabilities and Human Services letter of specialization program, and founder of the UMass LEGO Playgroup, a respite care program for children with a range of abilities.

After graduation, Sisson will study for the MCAT as he works as a patient care associate on Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s pediatrics floor. He hopes to matriculate into a research clinician program specializing in pediatric oncology and eventually join the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Business Manager Karen Genereux Retires

Karen GenereuxAfter over 33 years, Karen Genereux, Business Manager in PBS, has decided to officially retire on June 28th.  Karen, and her infectious smile, have been an integral part of our department. Her contributions to this community were numerous. Her hard work, commitment, dedication to her job and to the members of PBS are worthy of admiration.  Our office will not feel the same without her cheerful presence. We wish her well in this, her new chapter in her life. May it be filled with much happiness, relaxation and less stress.

Karen will be greatly missed and filling her shoes will be an almost impossible task. Happy Retirement!

Principal Academic Advisor Carolyn Cave Retires

CarolynCarolyn Cave came to PBS in 2006 as a Lecturer and Associate Undergraduate Advisor and worked tirelessly for the department until 2013, when she was appointed as Assistant Dean for the College of Natural Sciences. After serving in that role from 2014 – 2020, we were lucky to bring her back to PBS in 2021. For the past three years, Carolyn served as our both Principal Academic Advisor and Scheduling Representative, both demanding roles which she executed seamlessly. As the head of the advising team, Carolyn brought about many positive changes to advising that helped our 2200+ majors successfully navigate their way through UMass. As the scheduling representative, she completely redesigned the scheduling process for our 90+ courses/year. Carolyn’s attention to detail, thoughtful problem-solving style, and warm approach was noticeable in all that she did for PBS. It is hard to imagine our department without Carolyn, but we wish her well for the next phase in her life.  Congratulations on your retirement, Carolyn! You will be greatly missed.

Demetrius Napolitano of Fostering Meditation Leads Workshops with Student Groups

class poses with Demetrius

In May the Rudd Adoption Research Program teamed up with the Learning Lab, UMass Psi Chi and Professor Amanda Hamel’s seminar class (The Neuropsychology of Stress & Meditation) to host a visit with Demetrius Napolitano - wellness expert and 2022 Re-envisioning Foster Care in America (REFCA) Champion.

During his visit Demetrius met with students and faculty, and shared how his life journey, which included extended time in the foster care system, led him to create the non-profit organization Fostering Meditation. He currently teaches youth (grades K-8) in a wellness room he designed in his former public school in NYC. Another wellness room to support students with autism is being built in an adjacent school!

While at UMass, Demetrius also led several sessions of mindful breathing and light movement for students and faculty – these were much appreciated moments of calm during the busy last week of classes!

*Fostering Meditation is a Harlem-based Wellness Nonprofit committed to nurturing the mental development of at-risk youth and those in foster care by teaching The Five Steps to Wellness: Meditation, Yoga, Expressive Writing, Community & Nutrition. Learn more here:

Truc Do Awarded Health Tech for the People Graduate Fellowship on Ethics of Health Technology

Truc DoTruc Do, a rising second-year PhD student in the Developmental Science program, has been awarded a Health Tech for the People (HT4P) Graduate Fellowship on Ethics of Health Technology. Funded by the IALS/CPHM, the purpose of the HT4P graduate fellowship is to encourage graduate students to integrate considerations of ethics of technology and accountable, human-centered design, evaluation and translation of health monitoring technologies for the public interest into their program of research with mentorship support and community engagement.

Do was also selected as a scholar for the 2024 cohort of the Towards 2044: Horowitz Early Career Scholar Program of the Society for Research in Child Development.

The Towards 2044: Horowitz Early Career Scholar Program takes its name from the year when the adult population of the United States is estimated to become a diverse majority. The program will provide educational and professional development for scholars from underrepresented groups, giving them a launching point for a career in the field of child development with the guidance and mentorship from more advanced scholars.

The selected scholars and mentors will meet in Washington, DC to kickstart the program, and then participate in a series of monthly virtual seminars and one-on-one mentor/mentee meetings through December 2024. These experiences will enable the rising scholars to gain valuable exposure to the field and allow them to network not only with their mentors, but also with other scholars and professionals.

2024 PBS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Awards

These peer-nominated awards are given annually to PBS graduate students and a faculty/staff ally who work to improve the quality of life in the department and/or their program. These awards recognize passionate individuals who, like Wendy Helmer (a beloved PBS staff member who passed away in 2015), have actively contributed to an environment that embraces inclusion, community, collaboration, mentorship, and social justice.

Graduate DEI Service Awards

TihitinaTihitina Bekele made multiple strong contributions to the Associate Chair for DEI faculty search committee and her mentoring of undergraduates through the Diversity Committee.

Aylin Aylin Fernandez's many contributions start with serving as a mentor to the many undergraduate students with marginalized identities involved in research in the Mercado lab.  But it doesn’t end there - she is active in supporting students at community colleges and high schools, as well as non-student community members in having a voice in research, in academic trajectories, and in their own life journeys.

Eleni Eleni Kapoulea has done extensive work to build meaningful community partnerships with Cambodian Americans that raise the standard for how we interact with underrepresented communities in research. Eleni also co-presented an invited talk on Advocacy for Refugee & Immigrant Services for Empowerment (ARISE) at Smith College.

Minji Minji Lee is both incredibly hard-working and a leader. Minji has served the department as co-chair of the diversity committee and a member of multiple sub-committees, served the clinical program on the colloquium and admissions committees, and the university as Vice President of the UMass Amherst Korean Graduate Students Association. In all that she does, Minji looks for ways to give back to her communities.

Wendy Helmer Memorial Graduate Student Award 

AndreaAndrea Mah "has spent five years dedicated to her peers and this department… and there are probably few individuals who have given more time and energy to PBS-related commitments than Andrea, and even fewer individuals who would be so relentlessly humble and quiet about these endeavors."  She has served on the PBS diversity committee throughout her time at UMASS and she has been a long-serving GEO rep for students. Beyond this work, Andrea is "the type of person that other students know they can trust and who they know will show up."

Minji Minji Lee was described as a “great leader in our department” and as someone “who strives to increase belonging and inclusion”. She has been co-chair of the Graduate Student Diversity Committee for the past year and has “done an amazing job connecting and organizing students”.  Additionally, her nominators described her as someone who is “extremely supportive of her colleagues’, “puts a lot of effort into her service work”, and as someone who “makes the department a better place with her innovative ideas and positivity.”

Faculty/Staff Ally to Graduate Students Award

MaureenAmong many positive comments received through nominations, Maureen Perry-Jenkins is described as an understanding, accommodating that creates an inclusive atmosphere in her teaching and in the department as a whole. She was described as a kind and compassionate person who has worked relentlessly to support and champion grad students. Throughout her tenure as department head, Maureen has sought out and listened to the perspectives of graduate students, providing much needed space. Most notably, she set up summer funding for students, which has greatly improved the well-being of graduate researchers, and been something graduate students have been long asking for. Under incredibly difficult circumstances, Maureen has been a person in our department that refused to let good things fall apart. That doesn’t mean her role or position was perfect (how could it be?) but that her adamant commitment to showing up, and showing up fundamentally on behalf of students, is something that should be recognized and valued.

Yun Zou and Diego Barcala-Delgado Receive Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Awards

Yun smilingYun Zou, a third-year student in the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Program working with Dr. Alexandra Jesse, was awarded the ninth annual Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Award. His project, titled Adjusting to “foreign accents”: Change in perception or flexibility, will investigate how native English speakers cope with mispronounced speech sounds in nonnative accents. More precisely, it aims to test whether adaptation to mispronounced sounds involves changes at the perceptual level (i.e., adjusting phonetic representation for a mispronounced sound) or at a post-perceptual level that entails improvement in the flexibility of speech sound interpretation. This project will further our understanding of the mechanisms underlying nonnative accent adaptation and provide insights into developing effective strategies to improve comprehension of nonnative speech.

Diego smilingDiego Barcala-Delgado, a fourth-year student in the Clinical Psychology Program working with Dr. Maureen Perry-Jenkins, was the runner-up for the ninth annual Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Award. His project, titled Black Mother’s Perinatal Mental Health: Contributions from Black Fathers’ Work and Mental Health, seeks to integrate qualitative and quantitative methodologies to understand (a) the associations between Black fathers’ and mothers' perinatal mental health, and (b) whether Black fathers’ work conditions influence Black mothers' mental health. Study findings will help to illustrate how early work conditions affect Black fathers’ and mothers’ perinatal mental health – illustrating potential areas to intervene at work and policy levels.

Unprecedented Research Probes the Relationship Between Sleep And Memory In Napping Babies And Young Children

EEG brain waves on graph

UMass Amherst study seeks more than 300 infants and preschoolers to assess the importance of napping on brain development in neurotypical and neurodiverse children

A University of Massachusetts Amherst sleep scientist, funded with $6.7 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has launched two unprecedented studies that will track over time the brain development of infants and preschoolers to confirm the role of napping in early life and to identify the bioregulatory mechanisms involved.

child with electrode cap on
Research fellow Emma Frey fits Miles, 4, with an electrode cap
to record his brain activity during a nap in the Somneurolab.

Rebecca Spencer, a professor of psychological and brain sciences who is well-known for her groundbreaking research into napping, is testing her theories about what’s happening in the hippocampus–the short-term memory area of the brain–as babies and young children undergo nap transitions.

This new research is expected to become the gold standard of scientific evidence that emphasizes the importance of healthy sleep for young children as their brains develop. The findings will help inform nap policies for preschool and pre-kindergarten and be useful to teachers and parents of both neurotypical and neurodiverse children.

“The work we’ve been doing has always pointed to this interaction of sleep and brain development,” says Spencer, who carries out research in her Somneurolab at UMass Amherst. “We think that kids get ready to transition out of naps when the brain is big enough to hold all the information of the day until night-time sleep.”

The study involving preschoolers is a collaboration between Spencer at UMass Amherst; Tracy Riggins, a developmental psychologist specializing in memory development at the University of Maryland; and Gregory Hancock, a UMD professor of human development and quantitative methodology. Previous research by Spencer and Riggins showed differences in the hippocampus of kids who nap compared to those who have transitioned out of naps.

“So far, we’ve used cross-sectional approaches,” says Spencer, referring to research that analyzes data at one point in time, as opposed to longitudinal studies that involve repeated observation over time. “We really need to show longitudinally within a child that the point when they transition out of naps is predicted by a transition in the development of their hippocampus.” 

The hippocampus is the short-term location for memories before they move to the cortex for long-term storage. Naps allow children with an immature hippocampus to process memories. Young children give up their afternoon nap, not based on their age, but their brain development, Spencer hypothesizes. “Naps are beneficial to everybody. Naps protect memory for everybody, no matter what age. Kids who are habitual nappers really need the nap. If they don’t nap, they get catastrophic forgetting. That’s the difference between habitual and non-habitual nappers – not how good is the nap, but how bad is staying awake,” Spencer explains.

electrode locations shown on computer screen
Research fellow Lena Gaudette prepares the electrode
cap that will record Miles Dumlao’s brain activity
during his nap in the Somneurolab.

Adds Riggins, “In the end, being able to tell parents that those little deviations from routine that keep their children from napping might not have these huge implications for a neurotypical child in the long run would be great. And, the more we know about how the brain works in a typically developing child during this nap transition, the more we will be able to know about where we could possibly intervene to help neurodiverse children–like children with autism and ADHD, whose sleep patterns tend to be disrupted–since we will have some sort of scientific basis.”

The research team is recruiting 180 children, ages 3 to 5 years. The researchers will track their brain development, memory performance and nap status over the course of one year at three checkpoints. During the first and second sessions, the children will wear activity-tracking watches and EEG equipment to record naps and overnight sleep. They will also play memory games before and after naps. The children will undergo an MRI brain scan during the third session. 

Monica and David Dumlao, of Chicopee, Mass., signed up their son Miles, 4, for the preschool study after watching the Netflix documentary series, “Babies,” which featured Spencer in the episode about sleep. “We like learning about the neuroscience behind brain development,” Monica Dumlao said at a recent study session in Spencer’s lab. “We thought this was a good opportunity to contribute to the science about the importance of naps.” 

In the three-part infant study on nap transitions and memory, Spencer is studying the period before and after babies transition from two naps–one in the morning and one in the afternoon–to one, richer afternoon nap. She is recruiting 140 infants 7 to 9 months old. The babies will play a memory game before and after their naps. Their brain activity will be recorded during their naps using a noninvasive electrode cap. The sessions will take place at 9, 12 and 15 months.

“We think as they are getting ready to drop the morning nap, staying awake in that morning interval will be less and less damaging to their memory,” Spencer says. “But we don’t think that’s going to happen with the afternoon nap at this age. We think the afternoon nap stays superimportant.”

Parents interested in participating in the preschool sleep study are invited to fill out a screening form here; the screening form for the infant nap study is available here.

2024 Undergraduate Research Symposium

students review research on a poster

Every spring we're proud to showcase undergraduate research in a poster-fest attended by students and faculty alike.

student posing with research poster

This study explores whether children expect ability status to affect the likelihood of upward social mobility. Preliminary results show (1) that children expect families without disability to be more likely to experience upward mobility, and (2) children were more likely to allocate resources to families with disabilities. Kailin Huang

Children's Belief About Social Mobility: The Role of Ability Status
Click to enlarge poster

student posing with research poster

Machine learning algorithms were able to classify whether young children were engaging in a therapy-like task vs a mindless coloring task from their neural activity, suggesting that fNIRS and less resource-intensive tools can detect distinct neural correlates of emotion-related thoughts and language. Alex Dhima

Machine Learning to Predict Therapy Engagement in Young Children Using fNIRS
Click to enlarge poster

Colby Myers

My study investigates the high levels of impact and prevalence that parental substance misuse has on youth as well as a review of clinical and non-clinical supports through a qualitative survey review of mental health clinicians’ point of view. Colby Myers

Clinicians' Perspectives on the Impacts of Parental Substance Misuse on Youth and Optimal Supports
Click to enlarge poster

student posing with research poster

Online secondhand clothing study: Framing products as the "sustainable option" didn't increase purchase interest, but measures of eco-consciousness influenced sweater purchase interest. This highlights the need for a nuanced approach to sustainable fashion promotion. Amanda Sellke

Online Secondhand Clothing Purchasing Attitudes
Amanda Selke
Click to enlarge poster

student posing with research poster
Ashley Abi Chaker and Katie Clifford

In older adults with late-life depression, does depression severity or neuroticism hold greater significance in triggering rumination? Our research at McLean finds that depression severity is more influential. Prioritizing treatment for depressive symptoms is key in reducing rumination, although personality interventions can also be beneficial. Ashley Abi Chaker

Personality vs Depression Severity as Predictors of Rumination in Later Life Depression
Click to enlarge poster

student posing with research poster

My study focuses on uncovering the molecular interactors of Ca2+/Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase II (CaMKII). CaMKII is a protein in your brain required for long term potentiation. Finding these interactors can tell us more about CaMKII regulation and function in cells. Brooke Abouhamad

Uncovering Molecular Interactors of Ca2+/Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase II (CaMKII)
Click to enlarge poster

student posing with research poster

We found that the relationship between role overload and depressive symptoms was weaker for mothers with access to paid leave. Our study just goes to show that adequate leave policies are crucial for mental health and overall well being. Anna Peet

Role Overload and Mothers' Depressive Symptoms: The Moderating Role of Paid Maternity Leave
Click to enlarge poster

students review research on a poster

students review research on a poster

students review research on a poster

students review research on a poster

students review research on a poster

students review research on a poster

students review research on a poster

students review research on a poster

students review research on a poster

students review research on a poster


DDHS Hosts Neurodiversity and Disability Studies Summit

people watch presentation in auditoriumstudents present posters with lively discussion

On April 26th in Furcolo Hall the Developmental Disabilities and Human Services Program hosted the Neurodiversity and Disability Studies Summit. The summit included a poster session of undergraduate and graduate student research projects, oral presentations from alumni and adjunct faculty, and a keynote presentation with discussion. 

Capria Berry presents to an audience

Capria Berry, instructor for Disability Identity: Intersections of Race, Gender, and Sexuality at UMass Amherst, gave the welcome address entitled "Introduction to Neurodiversity and Disability Studies".

Ariel Pliskin presents to an audience

Ariel Pliskin, MSW, LICSW, instructor of the Autism class at UMass Amherst, gave the presentation "Neurodivergent Sex" which reviewed the research on autistic sexuality and gender to reveal parallels between approaches that pathologize sex and those that pathologize neurodivergence.

Griffin Leistinger presents to an audience

Griffin Leistinger, MPPA, Assistant Director of Accessibility Resources and Services at Hampshire College, led the talk "Becoming the 'Proper' Disabled Student: How Academic Access is Negotiated in the Classroom". This talk presented their research on disability accommodations, examining the nuanced ways that students, faculty, and staff leverage their power to negotiate access within the classroom.

presenter shows slide of children drawing

The keynote presentation "Self-Advocate, Advocate, Ally, Accomplice: Coming Together to Create New Paradigms around Neurodiversity" was given by Jennifer Brunton, PhD writer/editor/speaker and co-author of The #ActuallyAutistic Guide to Advocacy: Step-by-Step Advice on How to Ally and Speak Up with Autistic People and the Autism Community. She discussed ways to truly live our inclusive values and uplift intersectionality in our daily lives, and address the ableism, discrimination, and stereotypes that pervade professional practices.

student presents poster to another

Overall the summit was an excellent opportunity to connect with members of UMass and the community and translate new ideas and mindsets into allyship and advocacy action. The summit was supported by the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the Developmental Disabilities and Human Services Program, the Department of Psychological and Brain Science, and the Hampshire College Office of Accessibility Resources and Services.

2024 Senior Awards

seniors pose with awards

We honor our outstanding seniors for their academic excellence, contributions to research, and scholarship. As truly exceptional members of our community, we recognize their hard work and dedication to the field of psychology.

Outstanding Overall Senior Award

Van Le

Van Le
L-r: Linda Isbell, Van Le, Christina Metevier

"My most sincere shout-outs to Dr. Isbell, Dr. Metevier, Dr. Fefer, Dr. Huff, Dr. Woodman, Dr. Hamel, and the wonderful friends, faculty, and colleagues I have met along my journey at UMass. You have changed me in the best possible way, and I'm forever grateful that we met!"

Academic Excellence Award

Maurice Powe

Maurice Powe, Allecia Reid
L-r: Maurice Powe, Allecia Reid

"Shout-out to Dr. Allecia Reid and everyone at the Social Processes and Health (SPAH) Lab! Keep up the good work, I'll miss you guys next year!"

Elizabeth Powers

L-r: Elizabeth Powers, Maria Galano

"My academic success is largely due to the mentorship and countless lessons from Dr. Maria Galano who has been the best leader and thesis committee chair I could have hoped for. Dr. Galano has fostered an amazing community that uplifts and roots for each other's success in the one and only ViTAL Lab. Thank you Dr. Galano and thank you to all of the members of the ViTAL Lab for your support and for giving me a home within the massive Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences!"

Outstanding Thesis Award

Samir Kassem

Samir Kassem
L-r: Evelyn Mercado, Samir Kassem

Berni Leidner Exceptional Achievement Award

Ngoc Sophia Nguyen

Ngoc Sophia Nguyen
L-r: Nilanjana Dasgupta, Ngoc Sophia Nguyen, Hector Sosa

"I would like to thank the Implicit Social Cognition Lab for supporting my research aspirations, and especially Professor Nilanjana Dasgupta and my mentor Hector Sosa for all their guidance that shaped me into the student I am today!"

Outstanding Research Assistant Award

Lanelle Garcia

Lanelle Garcia
L-r: Maria Galano, Lanelle Garcia

Aisling Finnegan

Aisling Finnegan
L-r: Aisling Finnegan, Andrew Cohen

"I would love to give a special thanks to RDCL professors Andrew Cohen and Jeffrey Starns, as well as RDCL graduate student Tejas Savalia. Each of these researchers has had a profound effect on my undergraduate experience by creating such a supportive and exciting lab environment to thrive in. I am so thankful that they worked with me to come up with an experimental design I was passionate about and facilitated the research process at each step."

Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award

Seamus Fennelly

L-r: Seamus Fennelly, Christina Metevier

Colby Myers

Colby Myers
L-r: Colby Myers, Amanda Hamel

"I want to give a huge shoutout to my mentor and thesis advisor Dr. Amanda Hamel for supporting me throughout my time at UMass! I also want to thank everyone that is a part of UMass EMS and to UMEMS for helping me to meet some of my best friends! Also thank you to CHC particularly Ashley Braziel and Dr. Ann Marie Russell for their guidance and support over the past 3 years!"

Outstanding Senior Service Award

Fiona Lyons

Lori Astheimer, Fiona Lyons
L-r: Lori Astheimer, Fiona Lyons

"I would like to shout-out Dr. Lori Astheimer. I know I speak for many students when I say Dr. Astheimer has shaped my time at UMass. Beyond being an amazing professor and advisor, she is someone you can always count on to put everyone in a good mood even during stressful times of the semester."

Outstanding Internship Contribution

Winfred Sanchez Rodriguez

L-r: Winfred Sanchez Rodriguez, Christina Metevier

Stand By a Senior During This Year's UMassGives | Letter From the Chair

UMass Gives logo with buildings

Dear Friends,

a group of students pose together by research postersPart of our mission in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS) is to bring exceptional teaching and research training to our students, giving them the knowledge and real-world experience they need to advance their careers. We take great pride in the exceptional abilities of our students, who serve as dedicated teaching assistants, research assistants, club leaders, and even mentors to other students here at UMass Amherst.

We want to help ensure more seniors can graduate and reach their full potential without being hindered by expenses they can’t catch up with. PBS is asking for your help during UMassGives on April 24 and 25 to raise funds for senior scholarships. 

Noteworthy upcoming seniors with financial need will have a chance to receive a $500 scholarship to help them complete their degree and take the next step forward. Also, the Department will match our total donations received up to $2,500.

These awards are very meaningful and important to our students. As one shared:

"My scholarship has allowed me to teach higher education to incarcerated students. I have had the ability to do this work for credit due to the scholarship which has ultimately led to many people receiving an education who otherwise would not have."
—Talia DeLuca '24

How You Can Help

  1. Make an online gift to the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences by going to our Stand By a Senior webpage!  Please note that the more donations we receive during our POWER HOUR Challenge on Wednesday, April 24 from 12 – 1 p.m. the closer we get to winning first prize! The UMass fund with the most individual donations during this hour will receive $2,000 while 2nd and 3rd place winners will receive $500*.
  2. Tell your friends about #UMassGives and follow us on social media! Use hashtags #UMassGives and #StandBYaSenior to let us know why you support Psychological and Brain Sciences.

Help our inspiring students grow and support them through UMassGives! Your gift will make a positive difference in their lives for years to come.


Maureen Perry-Jenkins, PhD
Department Chair

* (Donations must be unique: only one gift per donor allowed. $5 minimum donation.)

Faculty Shorts

Through Instagram stories, PBS faculty provide insight into their research, practice, and teaching


Carolyn Davies
What are the sujects you teach, and why do you like these subjects?
What is one thing you love about teaching?
What do you enjoy about helping a student complete a thesis?
What is your favorite memory from teaching?

Richard Halgin
What is your focus within clinical psychology?
What are the sujects you teach, and why do you like these subjects?
What are some lessons you have learned from the field of sports psychology?
What's one of your favorite memories from teaching?

2024 Senior Profiles

We asked some of our outstanding seniors about a couple of their most memorable experiences at UMass Amherst


Van Le

Van LeEvery Spring semester, as a Peer Financial Coach at Smart About Money (Student Success), I participate in an event called Cash Cab where we drive around campus in a golf cart, offer students rides to their classes, and ask them financial literacy questions. We even have Sam the Minuteman join us every time! I love engaging UMass students from various cultural and financial backgrounds in financial education and bringing their awareness to the resources we have at UMass and beyond. Plus, driving the golf cart is super fun!

Van and friends ride go kart cash cabFor my senior research project, I'm writing a manuscript for a past research study that aimed to better understand the physical care experiences of patients with psychiatric conditions and/or substance use disorders in the Emergency Department (ED). Using Grounded Theory, I have worked with Dr. Linda Isbell and PhD Student Nathan Huff to analyze patients’ positive experiences, negative experiences, and recommendations for improved care at the provider, treatment, and system levels. Our findings will help inform research, practice, and policies to improve care and outcomes for vulnerable patient populations in the ED.

Julian Esmer

Julian EsmerThough I had found it difficult to single out a particular moment, my favorite memories from UMass have to be the ones I’ve made within the Filipino Student Association (FSA); as the president of a newer cultural RSO on campus, it was imperative to me that this community exist to help facilitate a space for cultural awareness. Through FSA, I found not only my closest friends, but also a deeper understanding and appreciation for finding the little nooks and crannies on campus that can help make such a large crowd feel just a little bit smaller and less intimidating. I would like to think that my fellow PBS seniors, too, found their space within UMass to find this sense of home and belonging. Outside of FSA, I am also an undergraduate research assistant in the Learning Lab studying developmental psychology under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer McDermott. Within this lab space, I have since further cultivated my love for psychology and research. Additionally, Dr. McDermott helped me pursue and secure a post-baccalaureate position in Boston, MA where I will be a clinical fellow at the McLean-Franciscan Child and Adolescent Inpatient Program beginning this summer!

Julian plays guitar with his band
Left to right: Sophie Belarmino, Brandon Ho, Julian Esmer, Dan Tiamzon

My honors thesis project is “Exploring the Correlation Between Family Caregiver Burnout and Predispositions for Depression and Anxiety Related Disorders in Young Adults.” I hope to draw statistically significant findings within the broader scope of caregiver mental health; I am using standardized measures such as the Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-Item Scale (GAD-7) to assess for relevant psychopathologies among individuals who have provided care for family member(s) with disabilities and chronic illnesses. This project would not be possible without my incredible faculty sponsor Dr. Ashley Woodman and her thesis seminar!

Julian presents in front of an audience

Colby Myers

Colby MyersOne of my favorite memories from UMass was being a part of UMass Emergency Medical Servies (UMEMS) where I was the Executive Director for one year and Director of Finance for another year. This agency has given me so much, from best friends to great experiences, to professional development and my time at UMass would most definitely not have been complete without it! Thank you to Dominic Singh our staff advisor and all my friends in UMEMS for making this such a great experience!

My honors thesis project, “The Effects of Parental Substance Misuse on Pediatric Psychopathology, Mental Health, and Developmental Outcomes”, surveyed mental health clinicians in multiple settings to investigate trends, common themes, and impacts of parental substance misuse and addiction on children’s mental health across the lifespan. I want to thank my Faculty Sponsor, Dr. Amanda Hamel, and my secondary sponsor, Dr. Elizabeth Evans. They were both amazing advisors, and the project would not have been possible without them and the guidance they provided on the project.

Colby with fellow EMS members at the campus center

Pallavi poses by Niagara Falls

Pallavi Karra

I have had many favorite experiences at UMass both inside and outside of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. I have had the opportunity to work in a lab, be a teaching assistant, and much more!

Pallavi plays trumpet with UMass bandI have been a member of the Learning Lab with Dr. Jennifer McDermott for 2 years and it was an amazing experience. I worked on many projects where I recruited participants, conducted study visits, and worked on data collection. I learned so much from being in this lab not only about how to conduct research, but also how to prepare for after college. Dr. McDermott is a really supportive advisor who taught me all I know about research. She helped me a lot with my Graduate School applications, and I am forever grateful that I was a part of her lab.

One of my favorite experiences outside of the Psychology Department is being a part of the UMass Symphony Band for the past 4 years. I have played trumpet for many years and being a part of Symphony Band was a highlight of my college experience. I was able to be a part of a group of people who enjoyed performing and took music seriously. I learned so much from being in this group and met some great people. I have performed in over 15 concerts so far with the Symphony Band and every time I am on the stage I feel so much joy!

Pallavi plays trumpet in symphony orchestra

Aisling plays keyboard with her band
Left to right: David Blair (Neuro-psych junior), Aisling Finnegan (Neuro-psych senior), Dylan Waters (Psych senior). Photo by @lawlessconcerts / UMass Student Union Ballroom

Aisling Finnegan

Aisling Finnegan playing bass guitarOutside of my education and research, the most fulfilling aspect of my college experience has been starting a band with 4 close friends. My band, Stock Goblin, has been playing shows in the area for over two years now. We released our first EP, "Trinkets", on Spotify this past March, and we intend to keep writing and performing after graduation. From local venues (such as The Drake) to locations outside of Amherst (such as The Middle East Club in Cambridge), we perform the songs we've written together as well as all our favorite covers. I play keyboard for half of our songs, and electric bass for the other half! I am so thankful to UMass for allowing me to meet such wonderful friends.

I have been assisting with neuroscience research at UMass for over two years and I conducted my own study this semester. As a musician, I am interested in how music influences learning, so I designed an experiment combining statistical learning with musical stimuli. This experiment compares how ordered associations and sonic associations interact and influence motor task performance. I am grateful to have worked alongside the graduate students in the RDCL lab, especially Tejas Savalia, who has helped so much with this research. I would also like to shout out my PIs, Andrew Cohen and Jeffrey Starns, and recommend RDCL to any undergraduates to join!

the band plays at the Middle East in Cambridge
Left to right: Declan O'Regan (UMass graduate), Aisling Finnegan (Neuro-psych senior), Dylan Waters (Psych senior), Elijah Feldman (on drums in background - also UMass graduate), David Blair (Neuro-psych junior)

Anna in a forest, giving peace sign

Anna Peet

Emily Gaddy, Anna Peet dressed in costumes
Emily Gaddy, Anna Peet

Favorite Memory: Meeting my lifelong best friend in the bathroom my first day on campus. She got me into research and our talks about what we’ve learned in psychology are the highlights of my academic career.

My Research Project: Examining the relationship between role overload and depressive symptoms in working class mothers and whether this relationship is moderated by paid maternity leave. If you told me a year ago that I would be doing a senior project I would be in denial. I got to this point because of the amazing graduate students, Ciara Ventor and Diego Barcala-Delgado, in my lab who have inspired me and empowered me over my senior year. I would also like to thank Maureen Perry-Jenkins for giving me the opportunity to grow in her lab. I am eternally grateful to them.

Lydia Harrison

Lydia HarrisonMy favorite memory of UMass would probably be just meeting all my friends and getting to spend the past 4 years with them!

Under the mentorship of my advisor Maureen Perry-Jenkins, my research focuses on understanding Perinatal PTSD (PPTSD) as well as the risk factors and moderators that can affect people with this condition. More specifically, the potential for a supportive healthcare staff to help at-risk mothers. Perinatal PTSD (PPTSD) is a disorder that affects approximately 9% of the U.S. population and an additional 18% of mothers could be at risk for developing it. PPTSD has been defined as the development of PTSD in the context of childbirth causing a traumatic association with the event. 

Researchers have found that childhood sexual abuse (CSA) was shown to be a prevalent risk factor. My research aims to examine the relationship between adverse childhood experiences (i.e., childhood sexual abuse) and risk for developing perinatal PTSD in a sample of low-income, expectant parents. Furthermore, I am interested in examining whether there are certain protective factors (e.g., having a supportive medical staff) that may serve to moderate this relationship and reduce the negative impact of these adverse childhood experiences on PPTSD symptoms. 

With my project, I hope to highlight the importance of understanding how early adverse experiences can predict later perinatal experiences. This research could be used to improve at-risk-mothers' experiences, and better detect PPTSD to improve health outcomes on both an individual and familial level.

Rhea Mukherjee

Rhea MukherjeeMy favorite experience at UMass has been meeting and advising so many amazing undergraduate students in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences through the different departmental positions I’ve held, whether that be being a Peer Advisor and helping them select their courses, answering their questions for upcoming exams during Teaching Assistant office hours or being part of research panels where I can talk about my responsibilities as a Research Assistant! 

Undergraduates at UMass are filled with curiosity, and their enthusiasm to learn and their appreciation for the support provided consistently reinforce my passion for mentoring. Combining both research and teaching roles at UMass has been immensely rewarding for me. These experiences have not only enriched my understanding of psychology but have also enabled me to make meaningful contributions to the academic community. Through these roles, I've cultivated valuable skills and forged lasting relationships that have profoundly influenced my academic journey.

Leslie Hernandez

Leslie in lab coatI have tons of favorite memories at UMass. Most recently, I loved the experience of watching the solar eclipse with everyone on the Metawampe lawn. I have also loved working at Disability Services since Fall 2021. I’ve met great people there and it’s been an honor helping accommodate students on campus. Another favorite memory of mine was attending my first research conference (SRA) with my lab, the FAM lab, in Chicago, Illinois. My poster was centered around examining the longitudinal association between discrimination and depression in middle and high school students. Shoutout to Dr. Evelyn Mercado for being an amazing mentor and advisor! She is an inspiration to me and has helped me so much throughout my years on campus. My undergraduate experience would not have been the same without the amazing humans I’ve met in the psychology department at UMass. Thank you so much! 

Leslie presents poster at conference

Psychology Students Win Center for Research on Families Research Awards

Several psychology undergraduates have received Center for Research on Families (CRF) research awards, recognizing these students for their outstanding research on issues related to families. CRF recognizes the importance of supporting family researchers at all stages of their careers and is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Since its inception in 2010, the Student Research Awards program has awarded close to $500,000 to over 200 students in support of their research efforts and assisted them in presenting their findings at professional meetings and conferences throughout the world. These undergraduate research awards were supported by a collaboration between CRF, Commonwealth Honors College, the Rudd Adoption Research Program, Women for UMass, and the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

Learn more about our student awardees:

Grace BonoGrace Bono

College of Natural Sciences, Psychological & Brain Sciences

Iris BurnsIris Burns

College of Natural Sciences, Psychological & Brain Sciences

Lydia HarrisonLydia Harrison

College of Natural Sciences, Psychological & Brain Sciences 

Brenna JorgensenBrenna Jorgensen

College of Natural Sciences, Education and Psychological & Brain Sciences

Samir KassemSamir Kassem

College of Natural Sciences, Linguistics and Psychological & Brain Sciences

Mariya KrasakovaMariya Krasakova

College of Natural Sciences, Psychological & Brain Sciences

Van LeVan Le

College of Natural Sciences, Psychological & Brain Sciences

Kaela LearyKaela Leary

School of Public Health and Health Sciences, Public Health Sciences and Psychological & Brain Sciences

Shreya ThakurShreya Thakur

College of Natural Sciences, Psychological & Brain Sciences and Neuroscience 

Oluchi UkairoOluchi Ukairo

College of Natural Sciences, Psychological & Brain Sciences 

Winter 2024 Newsletter

students sit around camp fire

Learn about the latest student, faculty, and alumni news in our Winter 2024 Newsletter!

Read full issue

Highlights include:

  • Motivational Interviewing Beneficial as an Additive or Stand-Alone Therapy
  • To Make Science and Engineering More Diverse, Make Research Socially Relevant
  • UMass Social Psychologists Create Toolkit for United Nations Group To Facilitate Social Mixing Programs That Promote Migrant Inclusion
  • Catch Up With Our Student Clubs
  • Alumni Spotlights

Plus other research briefs, awards, and updates from PBS!

Catch Up With Psi Chi

donutsThis semester Psi Chi has thoroughly enjoyed becoming more active, increasing its presence and engagement across campus, and interacting with new and existing members of the club.

Our Donuts & Cider fundraisers have been extremely successful. Freshmen and sophomore members of the club have gotten the unique opportunity to get to know the core e-board through this endeavor and club ties have strengthened! We will be continuing our fundraising efforts for the Spring semester every alternate Monday starting February 12th from 10AM-2PM in Bartlett Hall.

club member sits at Psi Chi table with swag

The President and Vice President of Psi Chi also participated in the PBS Open House where they had the opportunity to talk to prospective members about the benefits of joining the club, securing sign-ups, and distributing merch and informative flyers.

speaker in front of podium

Apart from educational programming and leadership opportunities, Psi Chi also strives for academic excellence and welfare. In the same vein, we hosted workshops last semester and are planning fun events for the Spring ranging from a graduate student panel, talks with professors on their research interests and resume-writing workshops! 

Visit the Psi Chi Instagram to check out the latest club updates, fundraisers, and meetings!

PBS Faculty Member Maria Galano Selected as APS Rising Star

Maria GalanoMaria Galano has been chosen as an APS Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science. Rising Stars are in an early stage of their research careers post-PhD. This designation recognizes researchers whose innovative work has already advanced the field and signals great potential for their continued contributions.

Galano's research integrates culture, development, and mental health to investigate the effects of early-life exposure to interpersonal violence in diverse populations. Within this program of research, she examines how family processes and the broader social environment differentiate individual pathways to psychopathology and resilient outcomes following violence exposure. She is especially interested in understanding how structural inequities (e.g., uneven access to resources, experiences of discrimination) help explain the emergence of ethnic and racial disparities in the effects of early-life violence. The ultimate goal of this work is to enhance the effectiveness of community-based programs designed to ameliorate the effects of early-life exposure and prevent future violence involvement.

UMass Social Psychologist Linda Tropp Honored For Decades Of Research And Social Action

Linda TroppSocial psychologist Linda Tropp, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and faculty associate in the School of Public Policy, has been named the 2024 recipient of the Kurt Lewin Award, which recognizes “outstanding contributions to the development and integration of psychological research and social action.”

The award, bestowed by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), is named for the late pioneer in the science of group dynamics, who is widely regarded as the founder of social psychology and was also a founder of SPSSI.

“I must admit, this award means more to me than any other award in psychology, given how central the goal of conducting socially relevant research has been to my own professional development and career trajectory,” Tropp says.

She adds, “I’ve been particularly touched by the congratulatory notes I have received from past recipients and luminaries in the field, which make me feel very honored to be continuing the legacy of the work by walking in the footsteps of those who came before me.”

As is customary for recipients of the annual award, Tropp will deliver the 2024 Kurt Lewin Address at the SPSSI Summer Conference, which will take place June 21-23 in Philadelphia.

The award committee noted that Tropp is recognized as a leading authority of using psychological science to ease social divisions and improve relations between social groups. Along with graduate students in her Intergroup Relations and Social Justice Lab, Tropp studies how members of different groups experience contact with each other, and how group differences in power and status can affect cross-group relations. 

“In addition to a remarkable career as a social psychologist studying intergroup contact theory (with more than 125 papers and multiple books), Dr. Tropp also works with a wide range of organizations (eight of whom provided glowing letters of support) seeking to implement evidence-based intergroup contact programs to build positive intergroup relations in various sectors,” the SPSSI award announcement states. “Her synthesis of expertise in strong theoretical work and application to social issues is an excellent reflection of Kurt Lewin’s legacy.”

Fall Semester Wrap Up from Diversity in Psychology Club President Katie Hogan

Katie HoganMy name is Katie and I’m a senior here at UMass, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Education. After graduating, I want to go to grad school and become an adolescent therapist. I was a part of the Diversity in Psychology Club (DIPC) before I studied abroad last semester and wanted to step up my role in the club as President upon coming back to UMass. I’m hoping to see more familiar faces with different psychological interests in our club so we can have a range of perspectives! I think psychology is so fascinating and has such a large scope that classes themselves don’t have the time to cover everything! Let me tell you a bit more about the club:

Our organization focuses on increasing awareness, knowledge, and skills regarding multicultural/diversity/psychological/social justice issues whilst creating a space that flourishes upon open discussion, team bonding, and expanding cultural horizons.

A major highlight of our club is trying new kinds of foods to celebrate a diverse array of cultures. We had a variety throughout the semester, including basic pizza all the way to the tastes of Tibet, Puerto Rico, Japan, etc. At each meeting, we aimed to try a different food, and below is a snippet of one of the many cultural food choices of the day!

Club members enjoy sushi!
Club members enjoy sushi!

movie screenFor those interested in forensic psychology, clinical psychology, and analysis, we watched psychological documentaries. Upon completion of the film, we would share opinions, insights, analogies, theories, hopes, and questions with all members in a group-based discussion. This was a great way to tune into a more virtual experience of psychological interests and to share one’s voice.

drawing of meditationAdditionally, we prioritized everyone’s mental health and homework load by listening to music, meditating, and using the space to study and catch up on homework with new club member friends during high stress points throughout the semester. This was a great time for those with hectic schedules, unable to attend previous meetings, to come and join everyone by working on what they needed—whether it was help with an essay, prep for an exam, or to meet new people and take a breather.

pieces of paper with questions written downFor those who enjoyed hands on activities, we played psychological brain teasers! In one such game we were given a series of “think out of the box” questions and limited time to think about an answer. When the game was finished, I asked members to question the purpose of the game. A typical response might yield “a good brain exercise”, but a psych major might relate the game to other more generalized aspects of psychology where thinking outside of the box is extremely salient when evaluating differing psychological principles from multiple angles. Thus, we may play fun games, but it always ties back to the bigger picture!

Wrapping up the semester, we asked members to write down their biggest takeaways and as a group, voted on which we deemed the most essential takeaway. The winner of the vote chose our next meeting’s cultural food choice! Throughout this semester, I hope to do more activities that involve prizes!

whiteboard with text

All in all, whether you are looking for new friends, a fruitful homework environment, help with finding post grad opportunities, expanding your cultural horizons, participating in group debates on important psychological concepts, or wanting to get more involved on campus, DIPC is a place where all are welcome. Our schedule of activities places huge emphasis on what members want to do, so they can get the most out of their time. With enticing documentaries, free discussion, brain teaser games, delicious food, and good company, we thrive on increasing awareness, knowledge, and skills in the many multicultural, diverse, and social issues that pertain to our member’s psychological interests. The field is psychology is so vast and much of the time our classes can’t cover it all or tune into more specific topics of interest, but here, we invite all interests!

Check out the DIPC webpage for more information

Motivational Interviewing Beneficial as an Additive or Stand-Alone Therapy

two people build a stack of puzzle pieces

When an individual wants to improve their life in some way, end bad habits, or restore their mental health but is feeling insecure about moving forward, motivational interviewing (MI) could help. MI is a counseling method that can assist a person in resolving ambivalent feelings and nervousness about initiating change, helping them to foster an internal motivation to alter their behaviors.

Therapists who utilize MI employ a person-centered approach, encouraging patient-led decision-making and leadership. Patients are given the chance to come up with their own strategies for treatment, working collaboratively with their therapist to create plans of action initiating positive change.

MI was originally developed in the area of addiction treatment, used to work with individuals who had ambivalence about changing their lifestyle or substance use. At first, maybe someone doesn’t realize they have a problem, or the idea of change is unfamiliar and therefore anxiety provoking. Another scenario might be that a person is trying to change but the way they are going about it is currently ineffective or does not fit well with their future goals. MI has since been used more widely as a treatment for conditions like anxiety and depression.

There are four main values MI therapists apply to their treatment. The first is displaying empathy, which involves showing respect for the patient, validating their feelings and concerns, and understanding the unique experiences and challenges they possess. This value can help establish the patient/therapist alliance and build patient confidence and assertiveness.

two people in hot air balloon see a mountain topThe second value of MI is developing discrepancy, or helping the patient to realize differences between who they want to be and who they are today. As Michael Constantino, professor of clinical psychology and director of the Psychotherapy Research Lab at UMass Amherst whose team researches how to improve psychotherapy, states: “Part of what MI therapists do is to help people see that change is most effectively motivated when a patient realizes that they’re somewhat distant from the most ideal and valued person they'd like to be.”

The third value is rolling with resistance. This entails showing empathy and humility right at the moment when a therapist encounters patient resistance to a treatment direction. One MI technique is to recognize and reflect this resistance rather than confront it—by reiterating and respecting the patient’s concerns and collaboratively determining ways to move forward.

The final value MI therapists bear in mind is supporting self-efficacy, or the idea that patients are capable of guiding their own care. Therapists can help support this value by recognizing and commending any personally meaningful steps forward that the patient initiates.

Reflecting one way MI can be administered, Constantino and Alice Coyne ‘21PhD, clinical psychology alumna and assistant professor of psychology at American University, have investigated whether integrating MI into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to specifically address moments of patient resistance would improve outcomes. Historically CBT has been the treatment of choice for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), but research has shown that it may only help about 50 percent of people who receive it.

Coyne states, “The idea of our main form of integration is that it's about doing the right thing at the right time. In these key moments when a person expresses ambivalence about change through resistance, that's when the therapist needs to hear it, take a step back, and use MI strategies…explore it and help the person hopefully resolve it by coming to their own reasons and intrinsic motivation for change before then going back to CBT.”

Constantino adds, “Instead of pushing forward or doubling down on CBT in those moments, we could instead train CBT therapists to put their usual strategies to the side for a moment and use this more person-centered, validating, MI-like spirit and strategy.”

In the initial 2016 study testing this type of integration, patients were randomly assigned to receive either typical CBT or CBT with MI. Results showed that after a 12-month follow-up period, patients who received CBT with MI exhibited greater improvement in their GAD-related symptoms than those who received typical CBT. In a follow-up 2019 study, the team found that the main factor contributing to this enhanced improvement in the MI-CBT group was the successful management of resistance during treatment. Thus, when therapists encounter a certain contextual scenario (in this case patient resistance), they can utilize tools like MI to keep treatment moving forward in a positive way. This finding has contributed to the context-responsive psychotherapy integration (CRPI) framework developed by the team.

Former Psychotherapy Research Lab member Heather Muir ‘23PhD, now a clinical psychology postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, performed a related study for her master’s thesis which concluded that a treatment combination of MI and CBT for GAD also outperformed CBT alone by improving interpersonal relationships in the patient’s life.

“Our hope is that MI not only has an impact on symptoms that are the primary characteristics of a disorder, like worry for GAD, but also on improving relationships,” says Constantino.

Coyne adds, “We found that the MI-CBT intervention was most helpful for people who reported prior to treatment having difficulties asserting their interpersonal needs. Something about a therapist validating, expressing empathy, and encouraging autonomy was particularly helpful for these individuals.”

MI has also been used as a pre-treatment—a prelude to another type of psychotherapy or intervention. This can help someone who is considering making changes to their life get to a point where they feel like they have a solid plan and a desire to act. Used in this way, MI can better prepare a patient to enter a longer-term therapy of any type.

Overall, the importance of a healing relationship between therapist and patient is at the center of the MI belief system. Overcoming challenges together can build a stronger alliance and lead to better treatment outcomes.

“One of the ways I like thinking about MI is as a spirit or stance of collaboration and a way to help people resolve their own complicated feelings or ambivalence,” says Coyne. “It's not telling people how to change…it’s like leading from the back seat.”

Dr. Marjorie Rhodes Selected to Present 2024 Anderson-Myers Colloquium

Marjorie Rhodes

We are excited to announce our invited speaker for the 2024 Anderson-Myers Colloquium, Dr. Marjorie Rhodes, Professor of Psychology at New York University!

Date and time will be announced soon!

Dr. Rhodes's research examines how children learn and reason about the world around them. She is interested in understanding how children form categories of animals, everyday objects, and people, and how children make sense of human social behavior. Learn more about Dr. Rhodes

The Daniel R. Anderson and Jerome L. Myers Colloquium Series is funded with a generous donation by their students, Robert and Elizabeth Lorch, to honor the scholarship of these two UMass Amherst distinguished professors emeriti. The goal of the Anderson-Myers Colloquium Series is to bring in a prominent scholar whose research has revolutionized their field of study and is at the intersection of developmental and cognitive psychology.

Mohammad Atari Discusses Research on the Morality of AI

the thinker statue

Research by Mohammad Atari, psychological and brain sciences, is referenced in an article about the morality of AI. Atari and his colleagues found that large language models tend to parrot the values of societies that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD), due to the data that was used to train the models.

The New Yorker

Can meals help in jet lag recovery?

jet flying in sky

Professor Ilia Karatsoreos comments on a study that found that older travelers eating a hearty breakfast in their final destination’s time zone may help jet lag recovery. He said meal times can be a “very powerful resynchronization” of the body’s circadian rhythm.
The Washington Post

Mohammad Atari discusses how often conversations about morality occur in everyday life

two women talk together

Assistant Professor Mohammad Atari discusses his research about the frequency at which morality gets talked about in everyday conversations. “The answer was surprising...while many people think they talk much about morality, we did not find that in our naturalistic observations of everyday life,” he says. “People don’t talk about moral issues much in their everyday lives (they might still think about them, though).”

Rebecca Spencer comments on research about the impact of sleep deprivation on learning

woman sleeping on bed

Professor Rebecca Spencer comments on research about the impact of sleep deprivation on learning. “Sleep plays a very active role in memory consolidation,” she says. She describes the hippocampus as a desk where papers get piled up throughout the day. “When you sleep, those ‘papers’ are filed away into a long-term filing cabinet to be retrieved as needed.” That “filing cabinet” is the cerebral cortex. “While memory consolidation can happen while awake, this process is stronger or greatest during sleep.”
National Geographic

Tara Mandalaywala Gives BU Symposium Keynote Address 'Children’s Awareness of a Racist World: Unveiling their Reality'

Tara Mandalaywala
Tara Mandalaywala

PBS faculty member Tara Mandalaywala, an acclaimed expert in the role of social essentialism on racial prejudice in young children, gave the keynote address "Children’s Awareness of a Racist World: Unveiling their Reality" at the Developmental Science Emerging Scholars Symposium sponsored by Boston University (BU).

The Developmental Science Program in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University hosted the symposium on the themes of (1) cultural and/or ethnic influences on child development and (2) the impact of structural racism on child development. The Emerging Scholars Program at Boston University brings scholars from historically excluded racial and ethnic groups to campus to participate in symposia with the goals of providing visibility, networking, and support to the scholars and enabling students and faculty in our community to learn from the scholars about critical and growing areas of research.

For this two-day symposium, BU invited scholars to present their research and participate in panel discussions and workshops, including a roundtable discussion with the Boston University Institute for Early Childhood Wellbeing. 

UMass Social Psychologists Create Toolkit for United Nations Group To Facilitate Social Mixing Programs That Promote Migrant Inclusion

icons of people's faces connected with arrows

Social psychologist Linda Tropp and social psychology graduate student Liora Morhayim have developed a toolkit, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to provide practitioners around the world with an accessible and practical overview of theory and research on social cohesion and intergroup contact.

The IOM, the leading migration agency within the United Nations system, has published the free, downloadable 123-page work, titled “Designing, Implementing, and Evaluating Impact of Social Mixing Programmes.” The IOM partnered with Tropp, an expert in intergroup contact, to create the toolkit because the value of facilitating “meaningful social mixing” among people from different racial, ethnic, religious and national backgrounds is increasingly recognized as relevant to the UN’s Global Compact on Migration and its broader goal of promoting peaceful and inclusive societies.

The toolkit explains how practitioners can apply psychological theory and research within social mixing programs to maximize their effectiveness, and it guides organizations on how to evaluate the impact of their programs on people’s perceptions and attitudes toward other groups.

“We hope civil society organizations (both those affiliated with IOM and beyond) will find the insights provided in this toolkit useful,” says Tropp, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and faculty associate in the School of Public Policy.

“More than anything,” she adds, “we want to support practitioners in easing tensions and conflicts between social groups, and we want them to be able to gain insights from the research literature without having to read hundreds of academic articles. And, as much as possible, we want these practitioners and organizations to be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs, so that they can continue to do this important work.”

Along with graduate students in her Intergroup Relations and Social Justice Lab, Tropp studies how members of different groups experience contact with each other, and how group differences in power and status can affect cross-group relations. For more than two decades, her work has sought to foster the dual goals of promoting positive relations between groups while achieving ever-greater levels of societal equality and justice.

The complete toolkit is available for download on the IOM website.

To Make Science and Engineering More Diverse, Make Research Socially Relevant

female student smiles in biology lab

In an article in Issues in Science and Technology, Nilanjana (Buju) Dasgupta argues that science and engineering face two mutually reinforcing problems. First, people think that STEM research is disconnected from societal problems in the real world. Second, these fields struggle to attract and retain diverse students in STEM higher education and careers. Dasgupta offers compelling evidence showing that solving one of these challenges can remedy the other.

When STEM research tackles real world social justice problems, it generates evidence-based solutions for social issues and inspires and attracts underrepresented students in large numbers. Dasgupta articulates how this approach led her to create the Institute of Diversity Sciences at UMass Amherst. She calls upon fellow universities to unite in a shared national endeavor to propel and amplify this important insight.

Read full article

Alicia Duca '13

Alumni Spotlight

Alicia Duca with small dogDegree(s): Psychology

Current Position Title and Affiliation: User Experience Researcher

Summary of Position:
I am an UX Researcher & prototyping designer. As a UX researcher, I collect and analyze data that is responsible for creating an optimal experience for the user when they interact with a digital product. In order to develop products that satisfy user needs (and delight them in the process), I help my company to understand who our user is, and what their needs are. As a prototyping designer, I get to create MVP's and conduct usability tests with potential users.

What do you love most about this career path?
UX involves the psychology of Human Computer Interaction. Computers, as we all know, are bicycles for the mind. We have allowed ourselves to access the world at the touch of a button. It is rewarding to be a part of the innovation that is rapidly occurring.

website user interfaceHow did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
Psychological and Brain Sciences prepared me by giving me a good foundation of lab skills to improve my analytics capabilities. I will always remember the project that we did where we surveyed students on campus about a topic, and analyzed the results with SPSS. Fast forward to 11 years later, and I do that type of work daily at my job.

Advice for Current Students:
My advice is to take as many labs as possible. Having tangible projects on your resume, builds your portfolio. A portfolio is stronger than a resume, because it allows you to dive into detail about your hypothesis, testing method, and the outcome of your experiment.

app on mobile phoneAdvice for Alumni:
Don't give up your dreams if your dream job isn't your day job. I graduated during a recession, and had a hard time finding a research job. It took me 8 years and a mini-masters in the tech field, to get my dream job. I love collaborating, and jamming on creative ideas. Reach out to me if you are interested in UX or HCI ;)

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PBS Faculty Hold 2nd Okteacherfest

This October, PBS faculty held its 2nd Okteacherfest focused on "Creating Belonging in the Classroom." There were group workshops and presentations including PBS Climate Data (Maureen Perry-Jenkins); Classroom Equity and Inclusion Practices (Kirsten Helmer); PBS Faculty Panel – Successes and Challenges with Building Belonging in the Classroom (Adam Grabell, Tara Mandalaywala, Rebecca Stowe, Carolyn Davies); and Designing Social Vaccines: Belonging, Self-Efficacy, and Meaning as Key Ingredients (Nilanjana Dasgupta).

The PBS Faculty Panel touched on subjects such as Universal Design for accessible classroom learning, the importance of hands-on group exercises for students, self-evaluation, point systems and pass/fail grading, promoting inclusivity, and keeping students in touch with each other and with the professor. 

The talk "Designing Social Vaccines: Belonging, Self-Efficacy, and Meaning as Key Ingredients" by Nilanjana Dasgupta discussed longitudinal research that concentrated on finding effective solutions for STEM student retention. Dasgupta highlighted several core motivations that drive human behavior, emotions, and affect our relationships including the "need to belong", the "need to feel competent", and the "need for meaning or purpose". 
Learn more:

Mohammad Atari Awarded the SAGE Emerging Scholar Award by SPSP

Mohammad Atari

Assistant Professor Mohammad Atari has been awarded the SAGE Emerging Scholar Award by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) recognizing his outstanding achievement in social and personality psychology as an early-career scientist. Congratulations!

In collaboration with SAGE Publications, SPSP offers the SAGE Emerging Scholar Award in order to recognize exceptional accomplishments in teaching, research, or service to the field.

Atari, who joined the Psychological and Brain Sciences faculty in fall 2023, studies how culture shapes moral values and norms. His research team uses diverse methods, including computational techniques, lab experiments, and fieldwork. Their research falls under three interrelated lines. The first line of research examines the “how” and “why” of cultural variation in psychological variables both across historical time (i.e., historical psychology) and space (i.e., cross-cultural psychology). The second line of research takes a pluralistic approach to human morality to understand how different flavors of morality can bind people together in ultra-cooperative groups or divide them into an “us vs. them” mindset that justifies violence and hatred. The third stream of research focuses on both developing and using state-of-the-art computational methods, particularly Natural Language Processing, to tackle social psychological questions.

Learn more about Atari's research

Visit the Culture and Morality Lab (CAM-L)

Shane Ziemba '22

Alumni Spotlight

Shane Ziemba in Las VegasDegree(s): Major in Psychology (Neuroscience), Minor in Biochemistry

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Clinical Trial Associate at Acumen Pharmaceuticals

Summary of Position:
As a clinical trial associate, I’m involved in the planning, execution, and closure of an Alzheimer’s drug clinical trial. Currently, I’m helping close out a phase I study and preparing for phase II. My main responsibility is to oversee and verify the documents that enter our study database. Also, I write summaries of any important meetings, and make sure outstanding tasks are followed up on.

What do you love most about this career path?
I find clinical research very rewarding both personally and professionally. Firstly, I get to contribute toward the development of a therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, a condition close to my heart as it has directly impacted my family. Secondly, the operational side of clinical research is very stimulating. There are many logistical challenges that need to be navigated when coordinating a global clinical trial, and I get to be at the heart of it all, which I love. Lastly, being a remote worker allows me to have an excellent work life balance.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
I came to UMass like many, unsure what I wanted to do for a career. I only knew that I wanted to be in some way involved in the drug development process. UMass PBS equipped me with the knowledge and skills to prepare me for many careers in many fields. I am very thankful for professors like Lori Astheimer and Kirby Deater-Deckard for sparking my curiosity and inspiring me to learn more. As well as mentors like Cheyenne Tait, Paul Katz, and Erin Cherewatti for giving me the confidence needed to be successful in my career.

Advice for Current Students:
Be as proactive as you can in building your network. Do not be afraid to ask for advice/guidance. Giving is a prosocial behavior, and many people want to help (myself included). I found the CNS alumni list very helpful. For example, an alumni I reached out to pointed me in the direction of a research lab they were a part of. Had I not reached out, I wouldn’t have known about the lab, nor would I have a referral to increase my odds of joining. I completed an honors thesis for Paul Katz' lab, and I’d assert that my lab experience played a big role in getting my first job out of college.

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Fall 2023 Newsletter

Learn about the latest alumni, student, and faculty news in our Fall 2023 Newsletter!

Read full issue

Highlights include:

  • Restoring Employee Health and Safety by Applying Occupational Health Psychology
  • Historical Psychology Illuminates New Perspectives on Morality
  • How Children's Mental Health and Family Mechanisms are Influenced by Intimate Partner Violence
  • Upcoming Event: PBS Open House
  • Alumni Spotlights

Plus other research briefs, awards, and updates from PBS!

Appointment of Dr. Jennifer McDermott as Interim Rudd Family Foundation Chair in Psychology

Jen McDermottThe Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at UMass Amherst is proud to announce the appointment of Dr. Jennifer Martin McDermott as Interim Rudd Family Foundation Chair in Psychology, effective September 1, 2023. During her term as Interim Rudd Chair, Dr. McDermott will provide leadership for Rudd programming, including organizing the Rudd Visiting Professorship program and facilitating interdisciplinary working groups to tackle pressing adoption related issues, and collaborate with scholars and practitioners to inform policy efforts to support adopted children and their families.

She will also lead the search process for the new Rudd Chair, who will succeed Dr. Harold Grotevant, Inaugural Rudd Chair, now Emeritus.  Dr. Grotevant stated, “I am thrilled that Dr. McDermott will be leading the Rudd Program and the search for the next Rudd Chair. As a developmental psychologist with a broad understanding of the issues involved with adoption in all its forms, she is positioned to continue the progress we have made in the past 15 years and provide a smooth transition for the next Chair.”

Dr. McDermott received her doctoral degree in Human Development from the University of Maryland, College Park with a specialization in Developmental Science. After completing postdoctoral work at the Waisman Center in Madison Wisconsin, she joined the faculty at UMass Amherst in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Dr. McDermott’s program of research focuses on the development of children’s self-regulation, with an emphasis on understanding the role of early adverse experience in relation to cognitive and emotional development. Her collaborative work assessing children in international orphanage care, as well as domestic foster care settings, has shown that negative developmental effects arising from early adversity can be partially ameliorated by high-quality caregiving interventions.

Dr. McDermott’s research and work as a faculty mentor corresponds with the mission of the Rudd Program, which is to advance knowledge about the psychology of adoption through innovative and collaborative research; mentor the next generation of adoption-competent researchers; engage with community partners and provide research-based information to influence practice and policy at agency, state, federal, and international levels. 

Dr. McDermott shares, “I am honored to be working with the Rudd program staff, affiliated scholars, and community partners to carry forward the momentum of this program. In the coming year we will remain focused on advancing research knowledge and informing collaborative efforts that center the needs of children and families involved in foster, kinship and adoption-related care.”

This November, the Rudd Program looks forward to supporting colleagues at the Treehouse Foundation at the upcoming Re-envisioning Foster Care (REFCA) conference in Boston, MA. Members of the Rudd program, including current and former scholars, will also be presenting at the International Conference on Adoption (ICAR) in Minneapolis, MN in spring of 2024.


Understanding Change in How People of Color Respond to Narratives of Rising Diversity

 Linda Tropp (Psychological & Brain Sciences), Tatishe Nteta (Political Science), Seth Goldman (Communication).
From left: Linda Tropp (Psychological & Brain Sciences), Tatishe Nteta (Political Science), Seth Goldman (Communication).

Linda Tropp is member of a research team that recently received a new grant award from the Russell Sage Foundation, entitled "How People of Color Respond to Narratives of Rising Diversity." Seth Goldman (UMass Communication) is the Primary Investigator (PI), and Linda Tropp (UMass Psychological and Brain Sciences) is a co-investigator along with Tatishe Nteta (UMass Political Science), Yuen Huo (UCLA Psychology), and Efren Perez (UCLA Political Science).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation is undergoing a historic demographic shift: collectively, Asian, Black, Latino, and Multiracial Americans are projected to become the numerical majority, while non-Hispanic Whites will become the numerical minority. To date, most social science research has employed experiments to study the responses of Whites, whereas this project centers people of color and takes advantage of a natural experiment to understand real-world responses to narratives of rising diversity. To evaluate the nature and effects of media narratives surrounding these reports, this project employs a content analysis of media narratives and a three-wave panel survey with nationally representative samples of Asian, Black, Latino, Multiracial, and White Americans.

PBS Welcomes Charlotte Wilinsky as Lecturer

Charlotte WilinskyCharlotte received her B.A. in Psychology from Amherst College, and her PhD from UMass Lowell in Applied Psychology and Prevention Science with a concentration in Applied Developmental Psychology. She comes to us from HCC where she was an Assistant Professor of Psychology.

"I am broadly interested in the intersection of child development, trauma, and the legal system. My teaching interests center mainly on developmental psychology, including child and adolescent development. I truly enjoy working with students and my hope is that they leave my courses with a better understanding of how humans change due to both biological and environmental factors across the lifespan."

PBS Welcomes Elizabth Curry as Office Manager of Psychological Services Center

Elizabeth CurryElizabeth has worked in the medical field as a Registered Medical Assistant, employed at many exceptional hospitals and outpatient facilities. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Human Resources Management/Personnel Administration from UMass Amherst and has since moved into HR/non-clinical work.

Welcome Elizabeth!

Christina Metevier Appointed Associate Provost for Academic Programs at the UMass Mount Ida Campus

Senior Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Michelle Budig sent the following email to faculty on Sept. 12 regarding the appointment of Christina Metevier as associate provost for academic programs at the UMass Mount Ida Campus.

Dear Colleagues,

Christina Metevier
Christina Metevier

It is my pleasure to announce the appointment of Christina Metevier, Senior Lecturer II in Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS), to the new position of Associate Provost for Academic Programs at the UMass Mount Ida Campus. This appointment is effective September 3, and is the culmination of an internal search that launched in April, 2023.

As Associate Provost for Academic Programs at the Mount Ida Campus (MIC), Metevier will provide leadership and oversight for the academic function at MIC, including development and expansion of curricular offerings and experiential learning opportunities, supporting student success and professional development, and management of faculty resources and support.

Metevier brings a compelling set of skills, vision, and enthusiasm for developing and facilitating academic programming at MIC. Her demonstrated experience in creating experiential learning programs, establishing relationships with industry partners, supporting student success and professional development, and utilizing evidence in program development and assessment together form a powerful springboard as she embarks on this leadership role.

Most recently, Metevier was the Director of Linking Employment and Academic Development (LEAD) in PBS, a new and innovative program located at MIC that supports students with a coherent set of curricular and co-curricular activities to prepare them for careers in fields related to Psychology. She has over seven years of experience in establishing community partnerships for internships, employment, and graduate program admission. Metevier served as the Associate Undergraduate Advisor in PBS from 2014-2022, during which she established the Psychology Career Fair in 2017.

Metevier earned her PhD in Neuroscience and Behavior from UMass Amherst in 2016 and joined the faculty at UMass in 2010. She was a recipient of the Outstanding Advising Award in 2017 in recognition for her commitment to student success. As a first-generation college student, Metevier is dedicated to fostering academic innovation and an inclusive community. 

The search committee for this position was co-chaired by John Wells, Senior Vice Provost for Lifelong Learning, and Jeff Cournoyer, Assistant Chancellor and Managing Director of the Mt Ida Campus. The committee was comprised of Cheryl Brooks, Associate Provost for Career and Professional Development; Margaret Felis, Director of Student Life at MIC; Karl Rethemeyer, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; and Jenny Reynolds, Director of Campus Career Programming at MIC.   


Michelle Budig
Senior Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs

How Children's Mental Health and Family Mechanisms are Influenced by Intimate Partner Violence

family with children walk across bridge

Intimate partner violence (IPV) exposure during childhood can cause internalizing and externalizing problems that may even become evident years later. Previous research has shown a wide variability in the effect of IPV on children’s mental health, with preschool-age children notably understudied. There is a great need to provide person-centered interventions to children and families experiencing IPV and to help those who are at risk of perpetrating IPV, to reduce the detrimental outcomes of this abuse.

Minji Lee
Minji Lee

A study recently published in Development and Psychopathology led by Minji Lee, Clinical Psychology PhD student of the Violence & Trauma Across the Lifespan (ViTAL) Lab (PI: Maria Galano), explored different parenting mechanisms present in families where IPV is occurring. Lee wanted to see how parenting practices (warmth, overreactivity, and laxness) and parental depression affected children’s mental health. Child temperament was also taken into consideration to see if it influenced outcomes relating to IPV exposure.

Data was gathered from a large-scale longitudinal study headed by Professor Lisa Harvey and Sungha Kang ‘23PhD which was principally aimed at understanding early development of ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder. A sample of 186 children (101 boys, 85 girls) who lived with parents full-time was used during the present study. Parents completed reports of child temperament (using an array of irritability and activity items) and child mental health (internalizing and externalizing problems) at ages 3, 4, and 6. Both parents also recorded their own experiences with conflict, perpetrating or being a target of IPV, mental health, and parenting practices.

“We looked at IPV which involves two parties in the family,” Lee says, “and we really need to have a more accurate picture of how parents are interacting with their kids and also how they interpretate their kid’s behavior from their own perspective.”

Results from the study showed IPV perpetration by both mothers and fathers had a harmful effect on child mental health outcomes. Mothers’ IPV was associated with greater paternal depression, paternal overreactivity, and maternal laxness. Fathers’ IPV was associated with more paternal overreactivity.

The most significant finding was that mothers’ IPV gave rise to more paternal depression, which worsened child internalizing and externalizing problems. This study and others have shown that fathers are very influential on their child’s development, even after committing IPV themselves. Mothers’ IPV appeared to yield more maternal depression, and this depression was associated with child externalizing problems. Gathering the unique perspectives of both mothers and fathers was an innovative component of this study.

Ultimately, parenting practices did not have an impact on child outcomes. One reason parenting practices may not have shown an effect is the somewhat broad measures that were used. For instance, parental warmth was a category that included certain parental behaviors like affection, praise, and positive reinforcement; but this category did not capture certain nuances of good parenting such as setting healthy boundaries or providing structure to a child’s home environment. The study did find negative parenting practices like harshness or laxness did predict more child problems, but this fact was not necessarily affected by IPV.

The effect of child temperament was also found to be nonsignificant. In future studies, children’s physiological and regulatory changes following IPV exposure could be monitored more closely and in real-time. One theory is that effects of IPV could overpower any moderation by a child’s temperament. The study also looked primarily at depression but other parental mental health issues like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance abuse can play a significant role in shaping child mental health outcomes.

Overall, this study indicates the need to engage the whole family in interventions confronting IPV, making sure to include fathers. Lee mentions the critical need for IPV pre-screening for families, “3-6 years old is a really critical period of development for a child’s emotions and parent-child relationships, and this period could determine their future relationship style with peers and significant others later in life. When it comes to these preschool ages, I think early intervention is the key to making changes and making things better.”

This project is also a great example of a student-run cross-laboratory endeavor. Lee developed the core ideas and models, Sungha Kang led the data analysis, graduate student Ana Uribe contributed writing and review. Faculty advisors Maria Galano and Lisa Harvey supported students in all aspects of the project, including idea development, data analysis, and manuscript writing and review.

Lee and other student colleagues are also members of the Early Childhood Psychopathology (ECP) Mentorship Consortium, a joint research training effort between the SEED Lab (PI: Adam Grabell), the Learning Lab (PI: Jen McDermott), the FAM Lab (PI: Evelyn Mercado), the Harvey Early Behavior Development Lab (PI: Lisa Harvey), and the ViTAL Lab (PI: Maria Galano). At ECP meetings, Lee received guidance in the early stages of preparing her cross-laboratory project, working with senior graduate students and faculty.

For Lee’s dissertation, she is hoping to explore a mechanism called “parent-child dyadic coping”, historically used among couples, the way they cope with stress together, plan how to deal with demands put on their relationship, and support each other. She hopes to learn more about how dyadic coping can affect parent-child relationships and family processes.

Historical Psychology Illuminates New Perspectives on Morality

PBS Welcomes New Assistant Professor

Mohammad Atari
Mohammad Atari

Mohammad Atari, who joined the Psychological and Brain Sciences faculty in fall 2023, is uncovering what factors influence how psychology changes across historical time and cultural space. Along with his colleagues at Harvard University, he has developed the emerging field of historical psychology. Researchers in this area are trying to understand why psychology theory, social influences, and practice continue to change as time progresses.

Atari uses cutting-edge Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques to comb through collections of textual data, extracting psychological information that relates to, for example, moral values or emotions. NLP is a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) that gives computers the ability to understand text and spoken words in much the same way human beings can. It is used in the app ChatGPT, gaining widespread popularity as an AI-driven language model capable of generating human-sounding text from user-spoken prompts.

During Atari’s PhD at the University of Southern California (USC), one of his areas of focus was social media analysis. His team scraped the internet for millions of tweets and Reddit posts, then applied NLP techniques to extract psychological data. One project looked at the effect of moral homogeneity on violence and intergroup hate.

“We have a paper showing that moral homogeneity in social networks, especially right-wing social networks, can result in hate speech and derogatory language. The idea is that when you are in a bubble so to speak and you think that everyone around you shares your moral values, you are going to be more confident, you're going to feel a kin-like bonding with your group, and you're going to be surer about your attitudes and convictions. This leads you to draw a stronger line between your in-group and your out-group and potentially become more violent or potentially more derogatory towards the out-group member.”

Examples of out-group members could be someone from another faith, ethnicity, or nationality. Atari is also exploring moral diversity, and whether this diversity has a positive impact on society. He raises the question, “What are the boundary conditions for the effect of moral diversity on different psychological outcomes?” Currently he is working with a colleague at the University of California, Berkley investigating how moral diversity affects perceptions of norms and potentially attitudes about violence.

Atari has taken a pluralistic approach to studying moral values, he treats morality as not just one concrete principle but a network of connected beliefs. “For example, ideas around justice are part of morality, harm avoidance is obviously a big part of morality, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, respect for sanctity of things or entities, or purity,” Atari notes, “these things are also a part of morality, and we have moral intuitions that guide our judgment in everyday life about these issues.”

A population’s culture also plays a significant role in shaping how psychological domains change. The cross-cultural aspects of Atari’s research examine the differences in thinking and behavior between individuals from different groups. He employs NLP, surveys, experiments, and fieldwork to analyze how topics like religion or political attitudes contribute to the diversity of psychology across the globe.

As a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, his team led by Professor Joseph Henrich applied several NLP techniques to extract cultural-psychological information from text resources like historical newspapers, novels and non-fiction books, and even political speeches.

Using a corpus of published newspapers in the U.S. that went back to the late 18th century, the researchers found that individualism has been constantly rising in the US in the 19th and 20th centuries. “We also found that the culture is "loosening up" (social norms are becoming more relaxed, fewer rules and restrictions exist, and norm violations are not as strongly punished). Much of this work is still ongoing, and we are still experimenting with various NLP techniques and different corpora. I am collaborating with classicists, historians, and anthropologists, expanding this new line of research to include classical Chinese, Latin, and Persian,” Atari states.  

So how can we learn more about our own moral values? Atari co-directs the website with Professors Morteza Dehghani (USC) and Jesse Graham (University of Utah), founded by Jonathan Haidt (NYU), which contains an online questionnaire where individuals can get scores on six moral concerns. These include care, equality, proportionality, loyalty, authority, and purity. After submitting, people can see how concerned they are about these moral domains compared to the broader population in the United States.

When asked what he is looking forward to at UMass, he replies, “I'm really excited to be working with the great faculty members in social psychology and other areas. There are really wonderful people that I will be working with, and the students are amazing! I'm also looking forward to expanding my lab, the Culture and Morality Lab (CAM-L), having PhD students and potentially postdocs, and growing the lab so we can better understand culture and morality.”

Restoring Employee Health and Safety by Applying Occupational Health Psychology

Alumni Profile: Rebecca Brossoit ’15 PhD

Rebecca Brossoit '15 PhD
Rebecca Brossoit '15 PhD

Through experiencing and observing the significant impact that workplace environments can have on employee’s health and well-being, Rebecca Brossoit ’15 PhD became interested in resolving problems in demanding work settings. Stress at work, safety concerns, long hours, and varying schedules can all take a toll on our mental and physical health, also leading to more stress at home. As an assistant professor at Louisiana State University (LSU) in the Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology Program, Brossoit strives to improve the lives of employees at work and set them on a path to better health. Within the specialty of Occupational Health Psychology (OHP), she applies research to real-world settings, promoting positive change in the workplace.  

At UMass Amherst, Brossoit gained research experience in what is now the Somneuro Lab directed by Rebecca Spencer. For 3 ½ years she worked on a multitude of projects studying neural processing during sleep and how such processing affects daytime cognition. She completed an honors thesis through the Commonwealth Honors College entitled “The Effects of Saliency on Short-Term Memory Recall and Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation”.

Rebecca Spencer and Brossoit
Rebecca Spencer and Brossoit

“[Spencer] had this way of creating a research environment where her projects were really rigorous and really meaningful, but the environment was fun and collaborative, and that helped me believe that I could also work in a research type of job,” says Brossoit. “I had the opportunity to present research, apply for Grants, learn how to use polysomnography…I developed a fascination with sleep from working in Bekki's lab, and I've stayed fascinated with sleep ever since.”

She was also a TA in Susan Whitbourne’s Psychology of Aging class as well as a member of the Psi Chi Honor Society for whom Whitbourne was the faculty advisor. Whitbourne helped her develop leadership skills and confidence, driving her to join the executive board of PBS Psi Chi and earn grants for various projects.

Next Brossoit attended an I/O psychology program at Colorado State University (CSU), and completed a graduate training concentration in OHP, where she felt this work had a strong connection to her interests and values. She was able to use the sleep research skills she learned from Spencer and hit the ground running with her new advisor Tori L. Crain, who studied sleep in the context of I/O and of OHP. During graduate school, she worked on applied research projects and collaborated with companies whose employees included brewery workers, manufacturing workers, construction workers, and military personnel. She was very fulfilled by working in industries where safety was critical. She has since used her training to contribute to interventions aiming to improve employee health, which she plans to continue throughout her career.

For her master’s thesis she explored work experiences of nurses and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and how different aspects of their life at work influenced their sleep as well as job outcomes like job satisfaction. A significant finding was nurses and CNAs who had more flexibility and control over their schedules were also more likely to have better sleep outcomes, and in turn higher job satisfaction and lower intentions to quit. This showed evidence for flexible schedules having an influence on nurses’ sleep quality, and retention of health care workers.

Throughout her education, including a postdoc at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), she had the chance to perform applied research projects which looked at the impacts of sleep duration and sleep quality on safety related outcomes at work.

 Leslie Hammer, Tori Crain, and Brossoit
L-R: Leslie Hammer, Tori Crain, and Brossoit

During her postdoc, Brossoit was the lead analyst for the Oregon Military Employee Sleep and Health Study, a randomized controlled trial intervention led by Principal Investigator, Professor Leslie Hammer of OHSU (Brossoit’s postdoc advisor). The study involved training leaders in the National Guard how to be more supportive of service member’s healthy sleep patterns (Sleep Leadership) and their family lives (Family-Supportive Supervisor Behaviors). Leaders initiated various practices with their service members that encouraged healthy sleep habits such as emphasizing the importance of getting adequate sleep; recommending a quiet, dark, and cool sleep environment; encouraging naps when needed or catching up on sleep before a long mission; and asking employees how they were sleeping.

The service members in the intervention also had the opportunity to track their sleep with wristwatch devices called actigraphs, and then learn about their sleep patterns and set goals aimed at improving their sleep. Preliminary results indicate that the intervention did improve service members’ sleep and perceived support from supervisors, as well as other indicators of health, safety, and well-being.

Hannah Perkins Stark, Brossoit, and Destiny Castro
SNEWS Lab Members (L-R): Hannah Perkins Stark, Brossoit, and Destiny Castro

Currently at LSU, she directs the Sleep and Nature for Employee Well-Being and Success (SNEWS) Lab, a research team investigating employee sleep, how workplaces can support healthy sleep habits, and how adequate work-life balance can improve employee well-being. They also incorporate research in the area of environmental psychology, studying how nature exposure and the natural environment can restore human health and relieve stress.

When asked what supervisors can do to reduce stress put on employees, Brossoit says, “give employees more autonomy or more control at work—that could be control over their work schedule, having a say in the actual tasks they are doing, or autonomy in how they choose to complete their work. At a foundational level, people want autonomy, and it helps to have it in work settings.” Additionally, things like having social support from supervisors and co-workers, adequate pay and benefits, a safe work environment, and eliminating mistreatment or harassment in the workplace can make a big difference.

But what can employees do if they're having trouble with work-life balance or getting stressed at work? Brossoit recommends doing activities outside of work that facilitate the experience of recovery. This involves letting go of work matters and doing something you find relaxing or fun. Adjusting your environment to a comfortable place or going out in nature can also help you to restore a sense of calm.

Brossoit believes the excellent mentorship she received during her UMass, grad school, and post-doc education enabled her to reach career goals—highlighting its immense value to her. Today, Brossoit gives back by mentoring aspiring psychological scientists in her lab and teaching courses from Intro to Psychology to a PhD seminar on Occupational Health Psychology. She stays motivated by carrying out meaningful work that helps others in and out of the workplace.

Christopher Martell Honored With the Title of Professor of Practice

Christopher Martell

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Christopher Martell, Clinical Director of the Psychological Services Center (PSC), who was recently honored by the Provost with the title of Professor of Practice!

Dr. Martell has an exceptional record of practice-based outreach and service to the Department, University, local community, and profession of clinical psychology. Since arriving at UMass Amherst in 2016, Dr. Martell has brought honor and prestige to the University as a result of his unselfish and tireless dedication to the welfare of others. We are truly thankful to have you with us in PBS! Congratulations!

PBS Faculty Members Receive Prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Awards

Two PBS faculty members, Kirby Deater-Deckard and Luke Remage-Healey, have been selected to receive prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Awards for the 2023-24 academic year.

Established by Congress in 1946, the Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship program of international educational and cultural exchange. The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program annually offers over 400 awards in more than 135 countries for U.S. faculty, administrators, and researchers to teach, conduct research, and carry out professional projects around the world.

Kirby Deater-DeckardKirby Deater-Deckard, will be a Fulbright Scholar in Finland at the University of Turku and a research director fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. He will be collaborating with psychological and brain scientists at the Universities of Turku and Helsinki to investigate cross-cultural and individual differences in children’s and adolescents’ psychological and behavioral development through the FinnBrain Study, the Center for Learning Dynamics and Intervention Research, and the Parents and Adolescents Across Cultures Study. “I’m so excited to be able to collaborate with this group of outstanding psychological and brain scientists in Finland and eight other countries around the world, as we test competing models of child and adolescent development in distinct cultural and geopolitical contexts,” says Deater-Deckard.

Luke Remage-HealeyAs a Fulbright Scholar in Germany, Luke Remage-Healey will conduct research at the Ludwig Maximilian University Division of Neurobiology in Munich. He will collaborate with neuroscientists there on a project investigating the contribution of fast, direct ion flow between neurons in the auditory system of songbirds. “This fellowship is an opportunity to learn about whether these poorly understood ‘gap junctions’ between neurons contribute to the way animals process and store memories for sounds, like song and speech,” says Remage-Healey. “I’m looking forward to this focused time to work on this question with an international group in Munich.”

Seda Korroch '22

Alumni Spotlight

BA in Psychology
Minor in Sociology
Commonwealth Honors College

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Legislative Aide to the Office of State Representative Kenneth Gordon

Summary of Position:
I am part of Rep. Gordon’s team and handle legislation and constituent services. I follow bills that the Rep sponsors through the whole legislative process: researching an idea, drafting language, providing testimony for committee hearings, and answering questions other legislators might have. My other primary legislative task is working with the Rep on his budget priorities and amendments. When a constituent contacts our office I am the primary person they engage with. Constituents come to us asking the Rep to support or oppose bills, ask questions about the legislative process, or if they are having difficulties with a state agency (MassHealth, housing cases, RMV, etc.). Recently, I have also been managing our summer internship program. Each day varies and I am exposed to a wide variety of issues that are before the Legislature and constituents in the district.

What do you love most about this career path?
I unexpectedly came into this career after graduating and not knowing how to begin a career that blended my passion for research and informing policy. Being a Legislative Aide has exposed me to many other career paths and has helped me gain a better sense of what path would be best for my interests and goals. Many of the aspects I liked about research like reading and searching for literature and gaining knowledge to come to a conclusion are also found in legislative work. It is also a career where I know I will be making a difference, whether that be helping a constituent one day or helping to support major legislation. Doing district/constituent work is also very rewarding and interesting. I learned so much from resources for people in crisis, to calling bingo, to planning a bridge dedication!

Future Goals:
Eventually, I want to transition to working as counsel for a committee or for either chamber of the Legislature. I have learned I want to stay in legislation but find a way to become more knowledgeable about specific issues. Writing bills and researching laws is something I have become more passionate about since starting this job and I realized it is a way to combine the strengths I found in research with my overall goal of playing a part in policymaking.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
My experience at UMass and PBS helped me in many ways! I don't directly use knowledge from my classes every day like a researcher or clinician would. However, I have a deeper understanding of people and felt more prepared to help constituents with more sensitive issues. Being a research assistant with the CAD Lab and completing a systematic literature review for my thesis helped me understand where my strengths in research lie and gave me the confidence to be able to speak on issues I am knowledgeable on. Our classes were designed to emphasize the importance of discussion and how to be active in uncomfortable conversations around many types of issues.

Advice for Current Students:
It is alright to not know what your plan is. When I started my senior year, I was applying to PhD programs and assuming I would be in graduate school now. I didn't get into any programs and wasn't able to find a job before graduation. However, I kept my strengths and interests in mind and began to look for jobs outside of research and found a career I am more suited for. Secondly, don't be afraid to connect to professors, faculty, or other professionals in your potential career path. Between graduation and being hired for my current position, I was asking anyone related to my career goals how they began their careers and what kind of work needs to be done to enhance their field. I became comfortable reaching out to professionals through engaging with professors and office hours. I started this career because I asked my Rep what they look for in experts and realized I wanted to be more familiar with the Legislature. You truly never know where you'll find the career you want to pursue!

Advice for Alumni:
The transition from school to working full-time was much different than I thought it would be. While at UMass I had a good organization system and routine, a lot of it did not seamlessly fit into what daily life now requires. The first year out of school, give yourself grace and trust the process. Your new colleagues and coworkers are great resources not just for adjusting to your specific job but for getting different perspectives on how they got to their position and handled the first year out of school.

Sean O'Connor '16 '21MBA

Alumni Spotlight

Sean O'ConnorDegree(s):
Bachelor of Arts, Psychology
Bachelor of Business Administration, Finance
Master of Business Administration, Management

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Program Manager, University of Michigan

Summary of Position:
I'm currently the Program Manager for the University of Michigan's Bold Challenges Initiative. In this role, I lead the strategic planning and execution of research development activities that build the universities capacity to produce transformative research projects and drive interdisciplinary collaborations between faculty and partnering organizations. This work involves managing internal research funding awards, hosting events and workshops, and showcasing the impact that research teams can have on individuals, communities, and society.

What do you love most about this career path?
I'm passionate about driving positive change and addressing critical global issues through innovative research and collaboration. I love the opportunity to work closely with researchers and external stakeholders on exciting research projects. Working in research development, I have the opportunity to constantly be exposed to a diverse field of intellectual thought, topics, and research approaches that I otherwise would not have been able to engage with or learn about.

Future Goals:
I'm committed to further advancing research development opportunities and driving transformative initiatives within the Bold Challenges program at the University of Michigan. I aspire to expand the program's reach, tackling more complex global challenges and fostering even stronger collaborations. We hope that through our programs and with the dedicated support that we provide, our work will be able to make a lasting impact on society, continuing to create research opportunities and collaborative research teams that would not have otherwise formed without us.

How did the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
The research experiences in Psychological and Brain Sciences provided me with a strong foundation in critical thinking, problem-solving, and keenness towards intentionally advancing research knowledge. Specifically, working with Dr. Rebecca Spencer, in at the time the Cognition and Action Lab, fostered a robust understanding of not only how to conduct and disseminate research but also how to think about the research process and enterprise more broadly. Working with Dr. Spencer, she emphasized the importance of engaging the community with your research and collectively growing knowledge by communicating in different modalities. I was incredibly fortunate to complete my undergraduate honors thesis under Dr. Spencer's guidance, which ultimately led to my first co-authored peer-reviewed publication. Within the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences there are a wealth of opportunities for students and the supportive faculty do an amazing job inspiring a passion for research, collaboration, and making a positive impact.

Advice for Current Students:
Engage and create. The most important thing is to engage and expose yourself to as many opportunities as possible. That can be working within a research lab, joining a club, working as a teaching assistant or so on. Additionally, a lot of your classes might have you give presentations or produce writings. You can use those as opportunities to work on things that you want to create, get feedback on, and continuously improve on to use in the future. The things that you work on in college don't have to be just for class, and you can keep developing those ideas for future opportunities and begin adding to a personal toolbox of skills and portfolio of products (maybe a presentation you can give, a workshop you can lead, an article you can publish, etc).

LinkedIn Profile

Sanah Rizvi '16 MA

Alumni Spotlight

Sanah RizviDegree(s):
BSc Psychology, UMass Amherst
MA Industrial-Organizational Psychology, New York University

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Change Management Lead, Sobeys Inc (Canada)

Summary of Position:
As a Change Management Lead, my role is absolutely vital in orchestrating and overseeing successful organizational changes, leveraging valuable insights from the field of psychology. My responsibilities encompass three key areas:

  • Developing a comprehensive change management strategy that aligns seamlessly with the organization's goals. This involves carefully analyzing the organization's objectives and creating a well-rounded plan that integrates various change management methodologies and best practices.
  • Engaging key stakeholders through persuasive techniques. I understand the importance of gaining buy-in and support from stakeholders at all levels. By employing effective communication, active listening, and relationship-building skills, I am able to engage stakeholders and foster their involvement throughout the change process.
  • Crafting meticulous change plans and implementing communication strategies rooted in psychological principles. I pay meticulous attention to detail while designing change plans, considering the potential cognitive and behavioral impacts on individuals and teams. By applying psychological principles of persuasion, motivation, and influence, I ensure that communication strategies resonate with the target audience and facilitate successful change adoption.

To excel in this role, I bring a wealth of expertise in change management methodologies, coupled with an in-depth understanding of the psychological mechanisms that drive human behavior during periods of change. I deftly employ my leadership and influence skills to guide individuals and teams through the complex terrain of psychological transitions, using effective communication and collaboration to build trust and rapport. Moreover, my keen analytical thinking allows me to dissect intricate psychological dynamics, pinpoint potential barriers, and develop tailored strategies to overcome resistance.

As a Change Management Lead, I immerse myself in the scholarly realm of psychology, continually seeking to understand the nuances and subtleties that shape human responses to change. With an unwavering commitment to academic rigor, I foster an environment conducive to learning, growth, and successful implementation of organizational transformations.

What do you love most about this career path?
What I love most about being a Change Management Lead is the opportunity to make a significant impact on individuals and organizations. Being at the forefront of driving change allows me to witness firsthand the transformational journey that people go through. Seeing individuals embrace new ideas, adapt their behaviors, and grow both personally and professionally is incredibly fulfilling. I find immense joy in guiding and supporting teams as they navigate the challenges and uncertainties of change. It's gratifying to witness their resilience, determination, and ultimately their success in embracing and implementing change initiatives. The sense of accomplishment that comes from witnessing a once-resistant group evolve into change champions is truly rewarding.

Furthermore, as a Change Management Lead, I have the privilege of working closely with diverse stakeholders, including executives, managers, and employees from various departments. Collaborating with such a wide range of individuals allows me to gain insights into different perspectives, build strong relationships, and foster a culture of collaboration and teamwork. Lastly, being a Change Management Lead keeps me continuously learning and growing. The dynamic nature of change requires me to stay updated on the latest industry trends, change management methodologies, and psychological insights. This thirst for knowledge and growth fuels my passion for the role and ensures that I am constantly evolving as a professional.

Overall, the ability to make a positive impact, support individuals and teams through transformative journeys, collaborate with diverse stakeholders, and engage in continuous learning are the aspects I cherish the most about being a Change Management Lead.

Future Goals:
I am excited about what the future holds! For my future in this field, I am driven by ambitious future goals focused on the advancement of my expertise, expansion into strategic consulting, leadership in organizational culture transformation, and commitment to mentorship and coaching. To start, I am dedicated to continuously enhancing my expertise in change management. This entails pursuing advanced certifications, actively participating in industry conferences, and engaging in ongoing professional development. By staying at the forefront of emerging trends and best practices, I seek to deepen my knowledge and establish myself as a respected authority in the field.

Additionally, I aspire to broaden my impact by transitioning into strategic consulting. This would provide an opportunity to collaborate with diverse organizations, leveraging my expertise to offer strategic guidance and support for complex change initiatives. The prospect of working with clients across various industries, addressing unique challenges, and driving transformative outcomes is both exciting and motivating. Moreover, I am passionate about assuming a leadership role in organizational culture transformation. By aligning culture with strategic objectives, I aim to create an environment that fosters a change-ready mindset and facilitates successful change implementation. Through shaping and evolving organizational cultures, I seek to drive lasting change and contribute to organizational excellence.

Lastly, I am committed to serving as a mentor and coach to aspiring change management professionals. Sharing knowledge, providing guidance, and supporting their growth and development is a fulfilling endeavor that allows me to contribute to the broader field and make a positive impact on individuals and organizations.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
UMass and the Psychology department played a crucial role in guiding me toward my calling and career! Throughout my time there, I had the opportunity to explore a diverse range of courses, from vocal classes to studying the history of music, alongside multiple psychology courses. This interdisciplinary approach broadened my perspective and enriched my understanding of psychology, its connection to the world, and how we can use psychology to make people's lives better.

The department's emphasis on internships and research was invaluable in providing me with real-life experiences and expanding my network of friends and colleagues. These opportunities allowed me to apply my theoretical knowledge in practical settings, further solidifying my passion for psychology and using it to help people.

In particular, the classes in social psychology, cognitive psychology, and statistics, complemented by my involvement in a lab focused on morality psychology prepared me exceptionally well for a career in applied psychology. The combination of theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience equipped me with the skills needed to tackle real-world challenges and make a meaningful impact in the field.

UMass and its Psychology department provided a nurturing and supportive environment, nurturing my passion and setting me on a path to success in the realm of applied psychology.

Advice for Current Students:
Embrace a growth mindset, seeking continuous learning. Gain practical experience through internships and research. Develop strong research skills and critical thinking. Build a professional network by connecting with professors and peers, attending conferences, and joining organizations. Seek diverse experiences to broaden your perspective and finally chase what you love! This field opens up the world to you, so find your niche and follow your heart.

Advice for Alumni:
As an alumna, I offer this advice: Continue your learning journey beyond graduation. Stay updated on the latest research and advancements in the field. Seek opportunities for professional development and attend conferences or workshops. Network with fellow alumni and professionals to stay connected and informed. Consider pursuing advanced degrees or certifications if it aligns with your career goals. Give back to the field by mentoring aspiring psychologists or engaging in volunteer work. Embrace lifelong learning and maintain a passion for psychology to continually grow and thrive in your professional endeavors.

Learn more about Sanah's work through her LinkedIn Profile.

Averi Gaines Receives Eighth Annual Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Award

Averi GainesAveri Gaines, a fourth-year student in the Clinical Psychology Program working with Dr. Michael Constantino, was awarded the eighth annual Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Award.  Her project, titled Relative Valuing of Psychotherapist Characteristics and Performance Data Among People of Color, will help the field combat uniformity myths and responsively situate the prospective use of therapist effectiveness data within appropriate cultural contexts. Study findings will also provide organizations with precise guidelines for when and how to make therapist assignments in a manner that is responsive to the preferences of patients with marginalized racial/ethnic identities.

The Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Fund was endowed in 2015 in honor of Dr. Keith Rayner, who died of multiple myeloma in January of 2015. Keith was a Distinguished University Professor and a member of the PBS faculty for 30 years (1978-2008). He pioneered the use of eye-tracking methodology for understanding the cognitive processes involved in reading and visual perception, and served as an inspiration to his many colleagues and students.

The Rayner Fund supports something Keith valued highly: graduate student research.  Awards from the endowment support research expenses including equipment purchases, data collection, professional travel, or summer stipends.  We are proud of the Rayner Fund, and of the student research it supports.  The more the endowment grows, the more can be awarded each year.

Spring 2023 Newsletter

minuteman statue at campus pond

Learn about the latest alumni, student, and faculty news in our Spring 2023 Newsletter!

Read full issue

Highlights include:

  • Spotlight Scholar: Michael Constantino
  • Senior Awards
  • Undergraduate Research Symposium
  • Senior Profiles

Plus other research briefs, awards, and updates from PBS.

Senior Profile: Obinna Asia '23

Obinna AsiaWhat is one of your favorite memories from your time at UMass?
My favorite memories from my time at UMass were the events that happened in the Mullins Center! Specifically, Spring concerts, blackout, hockey, and basketball games!

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field shape who you are today?
My experiences here at UMass shaped my leadership and emotional recognition skills, which overall shaped who I am today! I was fortunate enough to meet really amazing witty individuals and mentors who honed my intrapersonal skills and applied them to different activities I did throughout my undergraduate.

Was there a particular person or class that motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
There were multiple people who motivated me during my time at UMass, including Richard Halgin, who teaches abnormal psychology! I had a great time being his TA and one of the best classes I have ever taken. Maria Galano, who I enjoyed being a part of her research lab and am very fond of her work on traumatic stress on the well-being of adults and children of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Gorana Gonzalez, who is my mentor here at UMass who encouraged me to keep pushing through with the resources I have. Olivia Radcliffe, who is my RD, very witty, funny, caring, involving, and welcoming. Olivia has shown me how to be a leader in the community and encourages me to do my best. Christian Smith, who is a psychiatric social worker here at UMass, was available to listen to my issues and be a great guide.

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students or freshman year you?
Make sure you go out of your way to FIND your opportunities. UMass is a big public school, opportunities are not given to you. Make friends with people that will keep your peace intact! You do not have to be friends with everyone! AND JUST BE YOURSELF!

Tell us about any research you’ve been involved in:
I am involved in the Violence and Trauma across the Lifespan lab (Vital Lab) research! In this research lab, we want to understand domestic violence (IPV) and related forms of traumatic stress on the well-being of children and adults. We conduct a lot of data collection and clinical hands-on with participants. Currently, we are working on our stress, parenting, and child emotions (SPACE) project. This is where we look at young children's mental health and development with exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV); how caregivers who experience significant stress manage their child's emotions, especially with their fears and scares around violence.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
Opportunities are not given to you, you have to show interest and find them.

What is next for you?
Physician Assistant School

Senior Profile: Ymani Carmichael '23

Ymani CarmichaelWhat is one of your favorite memories from your time at UMass?
One of my favorite memories from my time at UMass was SoulFest week 2023 and all of the events during the week that allowed the students of color on campus to come together and celebrate our different cultures, music, food and just share in our sense of community that might not always be felt day to day on campus.

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field shape who you are today?
This past spring semester I worked as a Mental Health Counselor at a psychiatric facility for children and adults specifically focussing on those with eating disorders. This experience shaped who I am today by giving me the experience working with children in the psychiatric setting which ultimately led me to my decision to pursue my higher education in the field and serve underprivileged communities of color.

Was there a particular person or class that motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
A class that motivated me during my time at UMass was Abnormal Psych. Going through real case studies of patients and learning about clinical diagnoses really helped me envision the future I wish to pursue. A few people that motivated me and supported me through my time at UMass were my family and close friends as well as my professor and advisor Christina Metevier. I don't know what I would do or where I'd be without their endless love and support. Overall, I wouldn't have been able to accomplish anything without God and my faith in Him through the good times and the bad. 

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students or freshman year you?
Looking back, I would tell freshman year me not to stress the little things so much. I would tell myself to get involved early on and put yourself out there to meet new friends and really find your people. I would tell myself not to be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. The most important thing I would tell myself is that everything is going to be okay and work out exactly how it is supposed to (Proverbs 3:5-6 & Romans 8:18).

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
I learned a lot about myself during my time at UMass. The biggest thing I learned was that even through endless challenges, trials and tribulations, I am able to thrive in any environment when I work hard enough. From learning to navigate a whole new world away from home and stepping into my independence, to going through COVID and adjusting to remote learning while working full time through the pandemic, to countless restless nights where I wasn't sure if I was going to make it through, I was able to persevere and make it to where I am today. I know now that I can make it through anything.

What is next for you?
I am currently applying to graduate programs in the field of clinical mental health counseling in hopes of starting in the fall. Long term, I plan on pursuing a PsyD in clinical psychology with a concentration in child and family psychology. I hope to provide psychiatric counseling to children and families especially in underprivileged and low income communities of color. 

Senior Profile: Maria Ramos '23

Maria RamosWhat is one of your favorite memories from your time at UMass?
There are so many memories that I have made over my past three years here that it is hard to choose just one. Most of my favorite memories here at UMass encompass all the time I have spent with my friends, whether it be playing a new intramural sport, going to concerts, hiking, trying out local restaurants and coffee shops, or going to sporting events, there has always been something to do in the area. If I had to choose one memory, however, it would be the first week of freshman year. Moving in was scary, but everyone was in the same boat and so willing to make new friends. Whether it be hanging outside and playing games or meeting people on my floor, there were new faces everywhere. That week was so formative because I was able to make so many friends that I have had throughout my entire journey at UMass. Without them, I would not be where I am today.

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field shape who you are today?
My experiences as a psychology major helped shape who I am today, because it gave me the opportunity to meet a diverse group of peers all with common interests in helping people and understanding mental health. There are so many options within the field of psychology, so not only did my classmates have common interests but I was also able to learn new perspectives and identify ways in which different fields of psychology intersect. I think that because of this I have learned to be a better listener and learned how to have an open-mind when it comes to learning about the experiences of others. Not only that, but it has made me a much more curious and eager student who is excited to tackle more problems in society.

Was there a particular person or class that motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
A class that particularly motivated me during my time at UMass, and confirmed my passions in psychology, would be Psych 380: Abnormal Psychology with Professor Richard Halgin. As a freshman in my first semester, I was very overwhelmed with all of my options for classes and paths here at UMass. The way that Professor Halgin taught abnormal psychology, with a clear passion for the work that he does, not only made me feel more secure in my career goals but also demonstrated to me that academia does not have to be boring. Especially in psychology, where the options are endless, there are so many different avenues that one can take to find the right fit. The course was so amazing that I never missed a singular class (even though it was at 8:30am).

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students or freshman year you?
Always be open-minded and flexible! I came into UMass with my heart set on becoming a clinical psychologist, but quickly realized that this path doesn’t seem quite right for me. Through delving into other classes outside of the psychology department, like education classes, I found my niche in school psychology. Plans change, so don’t be afraid to branch out and try something different. The options truly are endless, and you will never regret trying a new experience.

FAM Lab outreach event
FAM Lab outreach event

Tell us about research you’ve been involved in or your honors thesis:
At UMass I have been involved in research in a couple of different ways. As a research assistant in the Family Relationships, Affective Science, and Minority Health (FAM) Lab, I have broadened my knowledge about academic research. I currently work on the Latinx Biobehavioral Team on a study that looks at the effects of discrimination on health and well-being in Latinx parent-youth dyads. This study has allowed me ample opportunity to get involved in the community, as well as opportunities to gain knowledge about the research process. Aside from my research assistantship, my honors thesis has allowed me to refine my literature review and writing skills while looking at a topic I am very passionate about. Currently, I am revising my thesis that encompasses the different precipitating factors that lead to juvenile criminality and what ways the system sets youth up to fail. Research, although daunting at first, has helped me in more ways than one. I have grown to be more inquisitive, in addition to gaining stronger interpersonal skills. Everything research has taught me will positively reflect in my future career path.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest take away from UMass is that there are so many opportunities to meet new people and try new things. From the hundreds of clubs that exist, to events happening every week, UMass provides lots of ways to be spontaneous and meet new people. I have learned how to be outgoing while making new friends, and be adventurous when it comes to trying new activities or foods.

What is next for you?
This upcoming fall semester I will be attending Tufts University in Medford, MA as a graduate student in the School Psychology Ed.S. program. It is a three year program where I will get both a masters and education specialist degree, and I am excited to integrate counseling and research skills that I have acquired at UMass into the school psychology program.

Senior Profile: Saliha Bayrak '23

Saliha BayrakWhat is one of your favorite memories from your time at UMass?
My favorite memories at school have to do with experiencing the local music scene at UMass, going to band shows at houses, music venues, or even some on campus, with friends. It has been such a fun, unique experience. 

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field shape who you are today?
Throughout my experience at UMass, I've tried to have a hand in multiple different student organizations, while remaining especially dedicated to a few areas. This has transformed my college experience from what could've been an aimless four years to something that I actively shaped. I have worked in a research lab for 2 years, assisting in research in cognitive developmental psychology, and now leading my own study on the impacts of school diversity for my honors thesis. I have also been involved with the Massachusetts Daily Collegian as a writer and editor for 4 years. Being involved in these activities, and having leadership roles, has allowed me to feel like I am not completely helpless to all that is around me, and that I have some agency in this world, and it has helped me learn that my abilities in writing and communicating could be used to create impact.

Photo from the annual Collegian Alumni Event
Photo from the annual Collegian Alumni Event

Was there a particular person or class that motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
Classes like Community Journalism with Professor Nick McBride have significantly shaped my college experience. I have been working with McBride since my freshman year and have been a teaching assistant for the past year. This class was the first time I had experienced such a radically different learning environment, where the students led the classroom discussion and dictated the material. In this class, we learn about inequalities in the educational system and a different pedagogical approach to learning and teaching journalism with a mentorship element with high school students in Springfield. Community Journalism has not only fostered an environment where I can learn from both the wisdom of McBride and my peers, but it has allowed me to improve my skills in working with adolescents and informed my understanding and passion for diverse and equitable classrooms. I also want to thank my lab director Tara Mandalaywala and my graduate student advisor Yuchen Tian for pushing me to work so hard. 

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students or freshman year you?
My advice to incoming students: try everything, but don't force anything. When you get on campus, try to be involved with a bunch of different student organizations. Odds are, unless you're really lucky, you're not going to find your community and niche right away. If something doesn't feel right, you don't have to stick with it. If you try 10 different things, you will eventually find a community of people you feel at home with, and something that sparks and carries a passion for you throughout your college experience. 

Tell us about research you’ve been involved in or your honors thesis:
For my honors thesis, I am leading a study called School Segregation and Race Related Stereotypes about Social Status. I am looking at the impacts of school segregation and whether exposure to diversity on a racial and economic level in schools (the proportion of minorities in a child's school, the proportion of students who use free or reduced lunch etc.) impacts children's expression of racial stereotypes about social status. l am also looking at how exposure to diversity impacts what children pay attention to and remember. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway from UMass is what I've learned from my peers, and that you should always talk to the person you're sitting next to. For many people, college is the first time they'll be in a room with people from such diverse backgrounds and life experience, and you'll most likely learn more from conversations with your classmates than textbooks and lectures. 

What is next for you?
I'm not quite sure. Right after graduation, I'll be doing a 10 day training with the Politico Journalism Institute. After that, I want to spend some time with some friends and family in my home country of Turkey before I commit to a job. I'm looking to potentially spend the summer working at a camp with kids and adolescents. For the long term, working as a writer at a magazine is my dream. 

Senior Profile: Austin Lozada '23

Austin LozadaWhat is one of your favorite memories from your time at UMass?
I loved going to some of the sports events, particularly hockey, with some of my friends! We always had a great time, and there was never a dull moment in the crowd.

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field shape who you are today?
It took a lot of exploring for me to end up where I am today. From serving in the Air Force for my 7th year presently, to my experiences in community college and changing my major 5 times, it wasn't until I took an introductory psychology course that I finally realized I wanted to work in psychology. Understanding more about myself, and what it means to be human more broadly, I hope I can apply everything I've learned and have an impact on the lives of others. 

Was there a particular person or class that motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
Professor Bernhard Leidner inspired me to be the best version of myself and pursue what I am uniquely qualified/capable of doing. I loved the time we spent working together on my honors thesis before he passed. While there were certain times when his rigorous academic standards and commitment to his work were intimidating, I could sense that he deeply cared for me and his other students and was supportive of us regardless of whichever career path we ended up pursuing. It was a privilege getting to work with him directly on my thesis, and we will all miss him dearly. 

Austin poses in military fatigues with two friendsWhat advice would you give to incoming UMass students or freshman year you?
As a transfer student, it is a bit difficult for me to speak to students entering as freshmen. However, if there is one thing I can say regardless, it's in college and in life, it truly is about the journey rather than the destination. I don't think anybody truly knows what they want to do with their life in finality, and maybe we don't need to know! The point is to enjoy the explorative journey while learning and becoming more of the person you want to be every day. 

Tell us about the research you’ve been involved in or your honors thesis:
Working with Dr. Leidner and Linda Isbell while actively serving in the Air Force, I conducted research on what motivates individuals to join the military from a psychological point of view, and how this relates to each person's satisfaction with life having served. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
I guess my biggest takeaway is that it is important to put yourself out there and explore opportunities beyond what might be considered your comfort zone. If I hadn't forced myself to connect with professors, engage in research, and engage in long conversations and study sessions, I would not have been able to achieve what I did academically. 

What is next for you?
I will be attending graduate school for Mental Health Counseling at Westfield State College in the fall of 2023 and will consider continuing to pursue mental health within my military career.

Senior Profile: Sherley Mejia '23

Sherley MejiaWhat is one of your favorite memories from your time at UMass?
One of my favorite memories while at UMass was attending a “Build-a-bear” activity during freshman year. I ended up losing the teddy bear and my water bottle but it was so much fun!

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field shape who you are today?
My involvement in the Psychology Dept. has provided me with various opportunities for growth. As a Research Assistant, I acquired analytical and research skills. Additionally, As a Teaching Assistant and Peer Mentor, I was able to develop my communication, collaboration, and leadership skills. Lastly, being part of the BioPioneers Residential Academic Program (RAP) allowed like-minded people, which gave me a sense of belonging and community.

Was there a particular person or class that motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
I have MANY people to thank for their support, I truly would not be here without them. Shoutout to my wonderful advisors Dr. Lori Best (Psych Dept.), Dr. Christina Metivier (Psych Dept.), and Dr. Linda Ziegenbein (CNS Diversity). I appreciate the encouragement and words of wisdom every time I met with you all, especially in those moments when I doubted myself the most. To my amazing PI and Faculty mentor Dr. Adam Grabell, thank you for the opportunity, I have learned so much from you. Lastly, a huge thank you to my family and all of my friends—it really takes a village. We did it!

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students?
Advice #1. Be open to trying new things! Being uncomfortable and getting out of your comfort zone can open up opportunities you never thought possible. UMass is what you make of it.
Advice #2. Give yourself some GRACE. UMass is a big school and sometimes it is easy to compare yourself to others, but please do not. Remember that despite your insecurities, you belong here, you are capable of achieving great things. Strive to be the best version of yourself, and everything else will fall into place.

Tell us about the research you’ve been involved in or your honors thesis:
I was fortunate enough to work with the Self-Regulations, Emotions, and Early Development Laboratory here at UMass. As a Research Assistant, I coded facial expressions and gathered neural and physiological data in preschool children. As a William Lee SIP Fellow and Honors Research Grant Awardee, I was able to formulate and conduct a research project. My honors thesis aims to examine the effect of verbal and nonverbal behaviors on emotion regulation in early development.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
Do not be afraid to be by yourself. Although UMass is a large school, I know that it is alright to study or eat in the dining halls alone. Being independent is part of the experience, try not to miss out on it.

What is next for you?
As I prepare my medical school application, I will be working as a Clinical Research Coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Nephrology.

DDHS Students Attend Autism Exercise Specialist Certification Course

group of course members stand together flexing muscles

Students in Kinesiology and Developmental Disabilities and Human Services participated in the Autism Exercise Specialist Certification course (American College of Sports Medicine). Students completed 6 hours of online modules in addition to a full day, hands-on workshop in Totman. 

playing catch with bean bagsparticipants using step moves


instructor talks as members do push upsclass works together at tables

2023 Senior Awards

senior award winners pose together outside at UMass

Student Award
Ashleigh Frank Outstanding Overall Senior Award
Maxwell Weinberg Outstanding Thesis Award
Austin Lozada Berni Leidner Exceptional Achievement Award
Melissa Anderson Outstanding Senior Service Award
Sherley Mejia Outstanding Senior Service Award
James Duffy Teaching Assistant Appreciation Award
Naomi Lynn Small Research Assistant Appreciation Award
Olachi Unaka Research Assistant Appreciation Award
Abigail Greene Outstanding Internship Contribution
Emily Kaye Academic Excellence Award

Hear what some of our senior award winners had to say about their UMass experience:


 Michael Constantino and Ashleigh Frank
L-R: Michael Constantino and Ashleigh Frank

Ashleigh Frank

Outstanding Overall Senior Award

What is one of your favorite memories from PBS?
That’s a hard one! I’d have to say one of my favorites is finding my mentor, Michael Constantino. I took his Psych 383 course about counseling and psychotherapy (HIGHLY recommend this class) and loved they way he taught. So, I went to his office hours to chat and learn more about the lab he runs, the Psychotherapy Lab, here at UMass. This led me to becoming a research assistant and eventually him becoming my mentor for my honors thesis. I’ve loved working with him and my co-mentor from that lab, Averi Gaines. They are lovely people whom I am grateful to have met! 

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today? 
My experiences with the PBS faculty definitely helped me shape who I am today. They fostered such a welcoming and encouraging environment to be able to reach out and ask questions/for help when needed. I have since been able to come out of my shell a bit more, interact with the faculty and the students within PBS. I’ve grown from being a shy individual to someone who now is able to get more involved in things I love rather than watch from the sidelines. 

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students? 
I would absolutely advise to get involved in your major. I tried out being a TA, research assistant, peer advisor, mentor in SPACE, and volunteer, and through all of these channels was able to have great experiences and meet new people. So, talk to your professors, advisors, even reach out to researchers whose labs you’re interested in. They are all here to help you succeed and it’s a great way to find what you’re passionate about in PBS, there are so many things in this field you can do! I had no idea how to maneuver through college, and being able to do this helped me get to where I am now. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
I currently have a job lined up to be a Therapeutic Mentor through the Justice Resource Institute, where I’m going to help kids and their families. I plan on going back to school after a year or two to get my Master’s in Clinical Social Work and become a LICSW and be a therapist. Eventually I’d love to get my Ph.D in Clinical Psychology to become an advisor and professor, but! that is down the road. I am excited to take my next steps in this field as a mentor. 

 Richard Halgin and James Duffy
L-R: Richard Halgin and James Duffy

James Duffy

Teaching Assistant Appreciation Award

What is one of your favorite memories from PBS?
This is a bit of a throwback, but, during freshman year, as part of an assignment for Professor Bickford’s Social Psychology class, I spent an entire day wearing a suit as a way of violating a social norm. I made a point of not explaining why I was wearing a suit to anyone who asked—to really immerse myself in the experience—and the range of reactions I got when I simply said, ‘I just felt like wearing a suit today’ was pretty broad. Easily one of the most fun assignments of my undergrad experience. 

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
There are two classes, in particular, that really shaped who I am coming out of undergrad: Abnormal Psych with Professor Halgin and Developmental Psych with Professor McDermott. Abnormal Psych really opened me up to the world of clinical work and the awesome challenge of working with patients who present in a host of different manners, the difficulty that comes with clinical work, and the unbelievable reward of a successful therapeutic relationship. Developmental kick-started my passion for working with kids—specifically, teens. It’s a fun age group to work with for a multitude of reasons, but also one which, I believe, is in critical need of strong, positive role-models, who can help them navigate an especially challenging period of life.  

What advice would you give to upcoming UMass students?
Explore your interests—this is the time to do it. Take classes that you think are a little weird, but, for one reason or another, you’re still drawn to. Talk to as many people as you can, even if you don’t like them at first—especially those people. Chat with your professors (not just about school, but about your interests and theirs; they’re people, too, and have interests outside of the university, believe it or not, and can give you some pretty cool insights). Explore Amherst and the surrounding towns (the bus system isn’t that hard, you’re just overthinking it). Lastly, go to the library and read—not for class, for you. There are (literally) millions of FREE books in there that you can take out with the swipe of your U-Card. There’s bound to be something you find interesting.   

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
I will be pursuing work as a Residential Counselor or Mental Health Specialist, working with kids and teens. I’d like to get some experience in the field before looking at graduate school, but, after a few years, I intend on applying to grad programs to pursue an MSW. 

 Lori Astheimer and Sherley Mejia
L-R: Lori Astheimer and Sherley Mejia

Sherley Mejia

Outstanding Senior Service Award

What is one of your favorite memories from PBS? 
My first day as a peer advisor is one of my fondest memories. It was a great feeling to assist students and connect them with the resources available to them. Through this role, I was able to guide students and help them make the most of their academic experience. I am also grateful for the opportunity to build meaningful connections with faculty advisors, who were always available to provide invaluable insights and address any questions/concerns.

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today? 
The PBS department has had a profound impact on my personal and academic growth. The faculty, professors, and students are a close-knit community, who have offered me unwavering kindness and motivation. My academic and research experiences have strengthened my interest in the intersection of biology and psychology. Joining the SEED lab allowed me to conduct independent research, with the support of my peers and mentors. Overall, being part of this supportive network has been instrumental in my academic and personal growth.

What advice would you give to upcoming UMass students? 
Give yourself some GRACE. UMass is a big school and it can be easy to compare yourself to others, but please do not. Remember that despite your insecurities, you belong here, and you are capable of achieving great things. Strive to be the best version of yourself, and everything else will fall into place.

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
As I prepare my medical school application, I will be working as a Clinical Research Coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Nephrology.

 Olachi Unaka and Linda Isbell
L-R: Olachi Unaka and Linda Isbell

Olachi Unaka

Research Assistant Appreciation Award

What is one of your favorite memories from PBS?
One of my favorite memories from PBS was partaking in student panels to help and give guidance to underclassmen looking to join research within the department. I think I liked it the most because I was able to give a perspective from my personal experience and provide tips and advice to those most eager to join. And afterward, when one or even two students would come up to me and say thank me or even ask to connect to possibly talk in the future on a personal level if they needed help, really made me feel as though I was doing something right and important to benefit my peers. 

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
I had a lot of support from PBS, especially from staff and my mentors. They helped me create a path to figure out what my passions are and what type of career or research I would like to pursue today. The people within the department closest to me also consistently reiterated that I could achieve my goals if I put my mind to it. 

What advice would you give to upcoming UMass students?
Try to make connections with staff in the department, they are always so happy to help and are great resources when trying to navigate your major and or future career/even academic goals. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
After graduation, I will continue my love for research at the University of Chan Medical School, as part of their Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) where I will pursue Clinical and Population Health Research. 

Carolyn Cave and Melissa Anderson
L-R: Carolyn Cave and Melissa Anderson

Melissa Anderson

Outstanding Senior Service Award

What is one of your favorite memories from PBS? 
I have fond memories of standing on-stage at Destination Day this past spring. It was a wonderful opportunity to share what I love about the major with incoming freshmen and answer their questions about all things Psychology. In my on-campus job with New Student Orientation and Transitions (NSOT), parents will often ask, "So where are the students who aren't superstars?" The beautiful thing about the Psychology major is that anyone can make a name for themselves with the breadth of opportunities that come from studying the discipline. The past four years have been filled with meaningful connections and lifelong friendships that truly make me feel like a superstar.

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
My experiences within the Psychology department built off of each other seamlessly to make me the college graduate I am today. From Psych 100 to being an Experienced Peer Reviewer in Junior Year Writing, every opportunity I've taken has given me the chance to grow far beyond my college graduation. Given most courses, TAships, RAships, adn internships have opportunities to continue beyond a single semester, it was a great way for me to ensure that certain skills like copy editing/revising and data collection remained sharp throughout my college career.

What advice would you give to upcoming UMass students?
Do things you know you'll love, but also do things you think you'll hate. After all, you don't know something isn't for you until you try it.

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
After UMass, I intend to work in Student Affairs at an accredited four-year university. I've gained incredible experiences here within New Student Orientation and Transitions, and would love to translate these experiences back in my home state of Maryland. It brings me joy to see a student or family member excited about all the possibilities for their future, and it's been an honor to discover this passion at such a young age.

Austin Lozada and Linda Isbell
L-R: Austin Lozada and Linda Isbell

Austin Lozada

Berni Leidner Exceptional Achievement Award

What is one of your favorite memories from PBS?
I loved working with Berni Leidner and being able to connect with faculty on a personal level more generally! Being able to engage in long, complex, and sometimes bizarre discussions was an amazing experience! 

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
I wouldn't have half of the opportunities I do now if I hadn't connected with faculty and engaged in research at PBS. All of my professors have been extremely kind in advising me, sharing their thoughts, and guiding me through the complexities of engaging in research and undergraduate learning more generally.

What advice would you give to upcoming UMass students?
Don't be afraid to put yourself out there (especially as it pertains to connecting with professors)! It's hard to know what you want to do when you first start out, and that's totally normal! However, exploring and working with research and other faculty was an essential part of my figuring out what is and is not for me, and I wouldn't have had that experience if I hadn't forced myself to connect with others.

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
I will be attending graduate school for mental health counseling in the fall of 2023, and beginning a full-time job as a therapeutic mentor immediately after graduation. 

Rebecca Spencer and Emily Kaye
L-R: Rebecca Spencer and Emily Kaye

Emily Kaye

Academic Excellence Award

What is one of your favorite memories from PBS?
One of my favorite memories from PBS was from Professor McDermott’s Developmental Psychology course. For context, I took this course the first semester back from over a year at home due to the pandemic. At the beginning of each class, Professor McDermott gave us a few minutes to talk to—or, at the very least, say hello to—someone sitting nearby. On one of the very first days, this was how I met my close friend Juliet Barry. We randomly turned to one another, and as we starting talking, we discovered that we were both studying Psychology and Linguistics! Our majors are what initially brought us together, but over time we became great friends due to so much more. Since the pandemic really limited our social opportunities, I appreciated that psychology professors understood this struggle and implemented ways to help us connect with others.

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
During my time in PBS, not only did the academics shape who I am today, but also the connections I made along the way. The people from PBS that I've had the chance to work closely with have had a profound positive influence on my experience at UMass and my future career goals. My biggest supporters from the PBS department have been my Thesis mentors (Gina Mason, Jen Holmes, Rebecca Spencer, and Lori Astheimer) and the professor for whom I was a Teaching Assistant (Christina Metevier). Both conducting my thesis in the Somneuro lab and being a TA for Christina Metevier’s Professional Development course have bolstered my confidence and overall prepared me well for life after UMass.

What advice would you give to upcoming UMass students?
My advice would honestly be to “fake it till you make it.” By this I mean, if you lack confidence and are worried about making friends, try to act as confident as you can! If you're someone who doesn’t typically initiate conversations, try to be that person! As you pretend to be more outgoing, you'll start to feel more and more confident, and you'll notice that putting yourself out there really pays off!

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
After graduating, I will be working as a Program Coordinator for the Professional Education unit at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. I am so happy to have found a position that combines my passion for and experience in event planning with my desire to be involved in education and helping others.

Maxwell Weinberg

Outstanding Thesis Award
Joe Bergan and Maxwell Weinberg
L-R: Joe Bergan and Maxwell Weinberg

Naomi Lynn Small

Research Assistant Appreciation Award
Naomi Lynn Small and Gorana Gonzalez
L-R: Naomi Lynn Small and Gorana Gonzalez

Abigail Greene

Outstanding Internship Contribution
Carolyn Davies and Abigail Greene
L-R: Carolyn Davies and Abigail Greene

2023 Undergraduate Research Symposium

Every spring we're proud to showcase undergraduate research in a poster-fest attended by students and faculty alike. Check out some tweets and posters from our talented students, summing up their extraordinary projects!

Van Le presenting poster

Are there mental health stigmas in the Emergency Department (ED)? We found that individuals with mental illness and/or substance use disorder experienced a wide range of positive and negative experiences when accessing physical healthcare in the ED, and their stories provide a basis for future healthcare research, practice, and policies. Van Le

What Do Patients Say? Examining the Physical Healthcare Experiences of Patients with Mental Illness in the Emergency Department

Read abstract

Click to enlarge poster

Abbie Bulens posing with research poster

The transition to parenthood can be a tough transition for some couples, while others experience little to no change in their mental health as they adjust to their new coparental roles. We found that while relationship quality mattered for paternal depression and anxiety, coparenting quality mattered more for maternal depression and paternal anxiety and depression. Additionally, both coparenting support and conflict mattered above and beyond the romantic relationship for maternal depression. For fathers, coparenting conflict mattered specifically for anxiety beyond the romantic relationship. Abbie Bulens

Relationship Quality and Coparenting Quality: Understanding How Different Dimensions of Relationships are Related to New Parents’ Mental Health

Read abstract

Click to enlarge poster

Melissa AndersonDoes celebrity exposure on Instagram moderate upward comparisons and self-evaluations in the same way Vogue does? Not so much. We found that people who browsed Instagram saw and compared themselves to less celebrities than Vogue, yet still experienced the worst self-evaluations. Melissa Anderson

Social Comparisons Between Instagram and Magazine Browsing

Read abstract

Click to enlarge poster

Sarah Verga presenting poster

We can use electrical impedance myography to track muscle atrophy throughout ALS progression...even in dogs! Sarah Verga

Electrical Impedance Myography in Canines with Degenerative Myelopathy: A Fatal Neurodegenerative Disease

Read abstract

Click to enlarge poster

Spotlight Scholar: Michael Constantino

Constantino standing in office

As a professor of clinical psychology in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at UMass Amherst, Michael Constantino is passionate about “bridging the longstanding chasm between science and practice" to improve the effectiveness of psychotherapy.

“I’m really interested in applying science to something that is sometimes viewed as more of an art—the work that psychotherapists do to try to help their patients,” he said. For Constantino, that means identifying evidence-based ways to personalize therapy for the benefit of patients, including finding a good fit between therapist and patient.

Constantino remembers as a child being drawn to the idea of helping people with mental health concerns when he learned about the job of a friend’s father, a psychiatrist. He studied psychology as an undergraduate at the University of Buffalo, and went on to graduate studies at The Pennsylvania State University focused on psychotherapy research and practice. Throughout his graduate training, as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University Medical Center, and for a few years after joining the UMass Amherst faculty in 2004, he practiced therapy in a clinical setting. Today, he focuses primarily on research, teaching, and clinical supervision.

In his Psychotherapy Research Lab at UMass Amherst, Constantino conducts research in close collaboration with community-based clinicians, patient stakeholders, mental healthcare consortiums, and industry partners. He also works with a vibrant group of graduate and undergraduate students in his lab, many who go on to practice, teach, or conduct research on psychotherapy.

Over the past decade, Constantino’s research has focused on improving the “match” between patients and therapists. Typically, patients are matched with therapists through pragmatic means, such as provider availability, geography, and insurance considerations. “We’re interested in making that more of an evidence-based process,” he explained.

Through a randomized clinical trial published in the premier journal, JAMA Psychiatry, and follow-up analyses published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Constantino and colleagues demonstrated that patients had better outcomes when they were matched with providers shown to have historical strengths in treating other patients with the same primary concern(s). The match relied on a tool to assess a therapist’s effectiveness at treating patients across 12 symptomatic or functional domains, including depression, mania, substance misuse, and others. Using data from a critical mass of patients, a “report card” was established showing the therapist’s strengths and weaknesses.

“While previous research has focused on the effectiveness of different treatment methods used in therapy, we showed the importance of who the therapist is in contributing to patient outcomes,” Constantino said.

Constantino’s research has found that the majority of therapists are effective in between three and seven domains, while about 4 percent are ineffective or even harmful across all domains. This information can be helpful not only for patients in choosing a therapist, but for clinicians themselves, as they consider areas of strength in which to specialize or weaker areas to seek out more training, Constantino said.

“One thing we’ve learned for sure is that therapists do not get better just because they have more experience,” he said. Rather, deliberate practices, like participating in continuing education and consulting with peers, seem to be more predictive of therapists’ effectiveness. Other important factors include therapists’ interpersonal skills and humility in assessing their own abilities.

Constantino noted that in their study, the “match effect” was found to be stronger for patients who initially presented with more severe symptoms, and was twice as pronounced for patients who identified as racial or ethnic minorities. Interestingly, therapists and patients were not necessarily best matched if they shared a racial or ethnic identity; rather, it is possible that therapists who convey cultural humility and a willingness to talk about cultural issues are the ones most effective at treating patients with any underrepresented racial or ethnic identities (though this notion requires testing).

"I’m really interested in applying science to something that is sometimes viewed as more of an art—the work that psychotherapists do to try to help their patients."
—Michael Constantino

Building on this research, since 2022, Constantino has been principal investigator on a $4.6 million contract from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) for large-scale implementation of a program that uses therapists’ “report cards” to match them with new patients. Starting in partnership with nine clinics in the Philadelphia area, if all goes well, the second phase will see the program expanded to about 50 additional clinics around the country.

“We’re hoping to reach many, many patients, and help therapists learn more about themselves,” said Constantino.

Constantino has published 134 peer-reviewed journal articles, including in many of his field’s highest-impact outlets. He is co-editor of the book, Principles of Change, and co-author of the book, Deliberate Practice in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as well as co-editor of the in-press American Psychological Association (APA) Handbook of Psychotherapy. Additionally, he has published 64 book chapters and invited articles. In 2020, he received the Mid-Career Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Advancement of Psychotherapy from APA Division 29. He is also an APA Fellow and has received multiple early career research excellence awards.

Ultimately, Constantino hopes his research will improve the quality, and perhaps even the availability, of mental healthcare. He recently was awarded, as a co-principal investigator, a Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop and test an app that would allow patients to simultaneously get on waitlists for multiple providers, and make treatment decisions that balance a provider’s geographic location, wait time, and report card scores.

“Wherever the data take us, we hope to keep innovating and addressing big challenges like the mental health crisis in this country,” said Constantino.

Meet More Spotlight Scholars

PBS Students Attend Autism Connections Conference

students gather around conference table

Students in the Developmental Science Program and the Developmental Disabilities and Human Services specialization traveled to Springfield for the Autism Connections Conference on April 27. The day-long educational conference brings together agency and education professionals, families, parents, caregivers, individuals with autism, sponsors and exhibitors to build knowledge, inspire and make meaningful connections.

Autism Connections provides a wide variety of services through Autism Centers in Easthampton and Pittsfield, as well as family and individual supports through referrals by the Department of Developmental Services. The organization continues to focus on helping individuals and families build on their strengths, work together to create a positive vision for the future, and help children and adults learn, grow, and be welcomed, and fully-included members of our communities.

Nilanjana Dasgupta Assists National Academics with Study on Dismantling Exclusion in STEM

Nilanjana DasguptaNilanjana Dasgupta, provost professor of psychological and brain sciences and director of the Institute of Diversity Sciences at UMass Amherst, has spent the last year working with The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to identify and circulate the best principles and practices for organizations to use in advancing antiracism, diversity, equity and inclusion in the sciences, technology, engineering, math and medicine, both within and beyond higher education. The results of Dasgupta and her colleagues’ work was recently published as a consensus study, freely available from the National Academies.

The study highlights that it’s not enough for STEMM organizations (the second “M” in STEM is for “medicine”) to simply increase numeric representation of underrepresented groups; instead, the culture within these organizations needs to be overhauled.

“What makes our National Academies consensus study special is that it is grounded in the historical legacy of racism, alive today in segregated housing and unevenly funded public K-12 education, which plays a huge role in shaping who is equipped to enter STEM pathways in higher education,” says Dasgupta. “The report traces an arc from individual experiences of racism, through dynamics in STEMM work teams and in larger STEMM organizations, the actions of gatekeepers who perpetuate racism, and finally to how organizational leaders can be changemakers. The report uses existing social science research to identify key takeaways and recommendations and highlight gaps in current knowledge in order to set the research agenda for the future. This report is for university leaders, STEM employers, research funding agencies and anyone who wants to be a changemaker in their local sphere.”

“The concepts of antiracism, diversity, equity and inclusion are not goals for which a simple checklist will indicate success,” says Gilda Barabino, president of Olin College of Engineering, professor of biomedical and chemical engineering, AAAS president, and co-chair of the National Academies committee that wrote the report. “Rather, the goal is to create environments that focus on inclusive excellence, where all participants have access to educational and professional opportunities, feel included, and have the resources to actualize their full potential. STEMM organizations will require ongoing leadership, resources and commitment to ensure that these values become part of an intentionally maintained organizational culture.” 

To assist in cultivating welcoming cultures, the committee has developed a series of eight practices, with concrete steps, ranging from pragmatic recommendations to collecting better data on demographics to more systemic change steps for promoting an accessible and supportive culture.

Dasgupta has emerged as a leader in the effort to open STEM’s doors to all students, both at UMass and on the national stage.

“We all have a role to play in this effort,” she says. “For some of us it’s in paying attention to the culture within our research labs and classrooms, actively recruiting minoritized students as undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs and supporting them so they thrive. It involves increasing our awareness of barriers that some of our students face that we may not have faced and advocating to remove them. For others of us the work involves changing the culture within departments, universities, employment organizations and funding priorities. The work is multilayered. The path forward is circuitous and messy, but essential.”

Can Naps Counteract the Health Risks of Losing Sleep at Night?

woman sleeping on couch

Rebecca Spencer says daytime naps don’t necessarily negate the health risks that may come with insufficient sleep at night. She says this is because during a nap we don’t spend time in the deeper stages of sleep that are associated with learning, storing memories and regulating mood and with a range of physical health benefits.
Read full article in The New York Times

Spencer also recently participated in a discussion with other sleep experts at Harvard University about the health risks of long-term sleep deprivation and the crucial role sleep plays in memory. “When you sleep, you’re taking this movie of your day and you’re putting it on replay, and it’s this great mnemonic device. It’s a way to really solidify the memories that we formed during our day,” Spencer said.
Read full article in World Nation News [from The Harvard Gazette]

Harsh mothers more likely to have poor executive functioning and interpret others’ behavior as hostile

mother scolds child

Kirby Deater-Deckard led research finding that mothers with harsher parenting practices tend to have poorer executive functioning and are more prone to hostile attribution bias. “The findings suggest that targeting reduction in authoritarian childrearing attitudes and orienting parents to situational explanations for child misbehavior, may mitigate some of the potentially problematic effects of having weaker cognitive self-regulation on harsh reactive parenting behavior,” Deater-Deckard says.

Read full article

Winter 2023 Newsletter

geese fly past Old Chapel with snow on roof

Learn about the latest alumni, student, and faculty news in our Winter 2023 Newsletter!

Read full issue

Highlights include: 

  • The Challenges of Emergency Care for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Patients
  • Community Psychology in Practice and Policy, Alumni Profile: Rachel Siegal ‘16
  • Research Shows Female STEM Students Are Positively Impacted by Female Near-Peer Mentors
  • Tasneem Mohammad Receives Undergraduate Travel Award for Outstanding Research
  • How a Parent’s Experience at Work Impacts Their Kids

Plus other research briefs, awards, and updates from PBS.

Community Psychology in Practice and Policy

group of people joining hands

Alumni Profile: Rachel Siegal ‘16

Rachel Siegal portrait
Rachel Siegal ‘16

Health and community psychology involve applied research—projects that focus on solving real-world problems. Health psychology concentrates on the promotion of wellbeing, prevention and treatment of illness, and improvement of health care systems through research, education, and advocacy. Community psychology is centered on collaboration with community members, groups, and organizations; providing tools to inform a group’s capacity to address issues of social justice; and exploring and addressing complex challenges across multiple levels (e.g., individual, family, neighborhood, and policy).

Rachel Siegal ‘16 is currently specializing in Community Psychology within the Health Psychology PhD Program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This program has allowed her to partner with local organizations and communities on projects that have a significant impact. Through her experience as a researcher and evaluator, Siegal has witnessed first-hand how an individual’s wellbeing is shaped by their environment. A person’s family, neighborhood, and education—as well as the larger systems and policies in place within our communities—all influence health and well-being. “Not only do we want to promote well-being for all, but we want to address the disparities that currently exist for different groups,” she notes.

Siegal became interested in the medical field and neuroscience as a potential career direction after suffering a concussion during high school. During her college years, she worked as a certified nursing assistant in a local rehabilitation center, also spending a summer as a fellow in a clinical neuropsychology lab at Boston Children’s Hospital. She enjoyed working with people but also observed how systems and organizations can fail the very people they are trying to serve. She realized that she wanted to advocate for systems change on a macro level, but wasn’t sure how to do that.

As an undergraduate majoring in psychology with a neuroscience focus, she had the opportunity to work in David Moorman’s lab studying neural changes underlying addiction. She learned about the research process, and with the help of then graduate student John Hernandez she completed a thesis on the neural activity in the brain when cues signaling sucrose and alcohol rewards were presented. She first learned about community psychology through a course offered by David Scherer (now Professor Emeritus) on psychology and public policy. This course helped her realize that she could use her psychology and research training to influence public policy and programs.

After graduating from UMass Amherst, she received opportunities to become involved in more community-based projects such as an evaluation of a comprehensive safe schools program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Medicine at the National Center for School Mental Health. This project used a multi-level approach working with state systems, schools, and individuals to study a series of emotional and behavioral health crisis interventions and its impact on school safety and discipline. This evaluation was more in-line with Siegal’s career aspirations and values as the study used numerous layers of analysis and partnered with educators, the school district, and the community.

Rachel Siegal in graduation robes with friend Caitlin Simmons
Siegal receiving her Master's degree from UNCC, with friend and mentor, Caitlin Simmons (left) receiving her PhD on the same day

Taking her previous experiences in mind, Siegal began her doctoral program at UNC Charlotte. She is currently finishing her 3-manuscript dissertation, focused on community violence prevention. Her dissertation projects have grown out of her work with the City of Charlotte, and in particular her participation in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Violence Data Collaborative, a group that provides research and evaluation support for local violence prevention programs.

For one of her dissertation projects, Siegal is collaborating with Carlene Mayfield at Atrium Health, a large healthcare system, studying patterns related to emergency department visits. For people who present with violent trauma (i.e., gunshot, stab wound, or blunt assault-related injury), they are exploring participants’ previous patterns of healthcare service utilization, for instance, if they have access to and regularly use primary care. Describing a major aim of the study, Siegal adds, “if there are pathways where we can intervene further upstream and say, ‘okay we see that this group of people tend to not have these patterns of violent trauma and of showing up at the emergency department…what are the interventions that worked for them that we could adapt and implement elsewhere?”

Siegal employs quantitative and qualitative methods in her research, also using technologies like GIS to perform geospatial analysis within neighborhoods. As part of her second dissertation project, she used ‘walking-interviews’ that involved speaking with Charlotte residents about their perceptions of safety and violence as they walked through their neighborhood. These visits to neighborhood streets and landmarks have proved useful in documenting participants’ current safety concerns and experiences of violence. Using these data, Siegal prepares graphs and geospatial maps which include photos of the neighborhood, from the walking interview. These visual representations make the results of her studies more accessible to community partners who will use these data to advocate for change.

Additionally, working with the Community Violence Data Collaborative, and the Charlotte Regional Data Trust, (i.e., an integrated data system that houses data across sectors), Siegal has co-led the development of an integrated data project. This project will explore patterns of education, welfare, and criminal justice contact for youth later involved in the criminal justice system, and their relation to recidivism. Results from this project can be used to help identify potential trends and inform future interventions.

Recruiting participants for her dissertation project at a community event
Recruiting participants for her dissertation project at a community event.
Left to right: Clysha Whitlow, an HP doctoral student helping with recruitment, Charlotte's Mayor Vi Lyles, and Rachel Siegal.

Through this integrated data effort, Siegal and community partners grappled with the importance of including domestic violence prevention in these conversations, and the challenges around accessing relevant data, given important legal protections. To start to address these challenges, Siegal and Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling lead the evaluation for the Domestic Violence Research Collaborative, a group convened by Elyse Hamilton-Childres at Mecklenburg County Community Support Services to develop trauma- and survivor-informed recommendations for conducting research, programming, and policy. One objective of this collaborative is to work with providers and domestic violence survivors on ways to collect data from survivors in a person-centered, trauma-informed manner, and build a set of resources for providers.

Siegal has already seen lasting results from this work. “One of the health care providers said that they've changed the way they collect data at their healthcare center. In these interviews we've done…you can hear how individuals have been impacted in a positive way, but you can also see this as an example of how the organization is changing, and that's going to have an impact on people beyond just those in this research collaborative,” she says.

According to Siegal, the most rewarding part of her job is seeing how her work is improving people’s lives and their environments. She uses her training in research and evaluation to uplift communities marginalized by systems and policies, reduce social and health inequities, and bring about positive change. Siegal is grateful for the excellent mentors, friends, and family that have helped her along the way. Now as someone who mentors others herself, she is excited to give back and support other students’ journeys.

Tasneem Mohammad Receives Undergraduate Travel Award for Outstanding Research

Tasneem Mohammad
Tasneem Mohammad

The Graduate Diversity Committee is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2022-23 DivComm Undergraduate Travel Award is Tasneem Mohammad. She has been awarded $400 that will help her travel to present her study "An Analysis of the Effect of Racialization on the Political Polarization of Universal Healthcare Policy Attitudes in the United States" at this year's American Psychological Association's 2023 Convention.

Tasneem Mohammad is a senior Microbiology major with a Psychology minor. She worked with Dr. Bernhard Leidner in the War and Peace Lab and Dr. Kevin Young from the Department of Economics department to submit her work for presentation at the APA 2023 Convention. She is currently completing her honors thesis under the supervision of Dr. Young and PhD student Heather Kumove.

"My research focuses on attitudes towards health policies and the factors that play into these opinions. I want to determine what role factors such as the race of those benefiting from a specific policy or the participants’ own political beliefs and identities play in formulating opinions about those health policies and about those who are affected by them, hopefully leading to a better understanding of how policy and measures should be formulated in the future," says Mohammad. 

PBS Launches Linking Employment to Academic Development (LEAD) Program at Mount Ida Campus

Mount Ida campus

The Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS) has launched a new program Linking Employment to Academic Development (LEAD) to provide real-world psychology training for UMass students. Students in the program will spend a semester at the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst working at inspiring locations in the Newton and Metro-west Boston area as interns and complete courses relevant to the psychology major. The Mount Ida Campus serves as a center for student experiential learning, industry engagement, and academic and research collaboration.

The spring 2023 semester will include orientation for students, cohort advising sessions including multiple check-ins and mid-semester program and placement assessments, monthly socials, networking events with alumni, and workplace site visits.

students sit on bench in sunny Mount Ida campusStudents are working in the fields of mental health, medicine, and science; including internships in inpatient services at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Needham, in research positions at the Integrative Center for Child Development and McLean Hospital, in inpatient and residential services at Walden Eating Disorders Clinic, and at William James College in the court clinic and clinical referral program INTERFACE.

Students enroll in 6 credits of internship, working 18 hours per week at their sites, and earn 7 credits of academic courses. Christina Metevier, a senior lecturer II in PBS, is teaching two major requirements in-person: Junior Writing in Psychology and a seminar titled Work Life Balance. She is also sponsoring students at internship sites and offering additional professional development opportunities and activities.

The internships offered through LEAD will give students the opportunity to explore a wide range of psychology positions, apply their academic skills to various careers, and to develop professional goals. Stay tuned for more updates from this exciting program!

Learn more about the LEAD program and the Mount Ida Campus

PBS Labs Take Part in New Research Assistant Mentoring Program (RAMP)


The PBS Research Assistant Mentoring Program (RAMP) aims to introduce Psychology majors, especially those from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in our field (e.g., first generation college students and students of color), to laboratory research early in their college careers.

This semester, sixteen labs from five research programs within the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences are opening their doors to RAMP students. Twenty-seven students in total were given research assistant positions. Each student will receive one credit, attend weekly lab meetings, and shadow a junior, senior, or graduate student mentor already established in a lab. In addition, the RAMP cohort will meet several times throughout the semester to reflect on their lab experiences and discuss professional development in research. Both first year and transfer students are eligible for the program and students from underrepresented groups are encouraged to apply. Stay tuned for more updates from this beneficial new program!

Our participating labs:

Bergan Lab
Clinical Affective Science Lab (CASL)
Cognition Across Development (CAD) Lab
Developmental Milestones Lab
Dynamic Memory Modeling Lab
Family Relationships, Affective Science, and Minority Health (FAM) Lab
Healey Lab
Individual Differences in Development Lab
Karatsoreos Lab
Language, Intersensory Perception, and Speech (LIPS) Lab
Learning Lab
Neurocognition and Perception Lab
Reasoning, Decision Making, And Computational Modeling Lab (RDCL)
Somneuro Lab
Violence and Trauma Across the Lifespan (ViTAL) Lab
Work and Family Transitions Project

How a Parent’s Experience at Work Impacts Their Kids

by Maureen Perry-Jenkins

father carries young son on shoulders at the beach

It’s no secret that our jobs can have a major impact on our lives outside of work. Financially, mentally, and physically, our workplace experiences can offer a welcome boost — or take a significant toll. But what many employers don’t realize is that the effects of work aren’t limited to workers’ individual personal lives. To the contrary, how employees spend their time at work can have substantial spillover effects on their friends, partners, and perhaps most critically, their children.

To explore the impact of parents’ work on their children’s development, my team and I conducted a longitudinal study that followed more than 370 low-wage, working-class families over more than ten years, from pregnancy through their first several years as parents. (We intentionally focused on low-wage families, as they generally receive far less attention in the work-family literature while facing some of the greatest challenges.) We complemented in-home interviews and first-hand observations of parent-child interactions with rigorous assessments and reports from parents and teachers, and through this comprehensive analysis, we found that the children’s developmental outcomes were directly and significantly affected by their parents’ work lives.

Specifically, the data showed that parents who experienced more autonomy on the job and who had more-supportive supervisors and coworkers were in turn warmer and more engaged when interacting with their infants. And this has major, long-term implications for those infants’ development, as a vast body of research has shown that warm and responsive parenting in a child’s first year of life boosts their level of attachment with their parents as well as their emotional regulation, social skills, and academic achievement. Indeed, when we checked back in with these families years later, we consistently saw that the children of employees who had had more-positive work experiences in their first years as parents had better reading and math skills, better social skills, and fewer behavioral problems in the first grade. Importantly, all of these results held for both mothers and fathers: Any parent’s experience in the workplace had a direct and measurable impact on their kids’ development through infancy and early childhood.

For example, one father in the study — Tyson — worked for a shipping company that mandated he use a monitor that let his boss track his every move as he delivered packages. Tyson felt a complete lack of trust from his company and reported feeling highly stressed, despite being a top performer. He described how he came home from work tired and frustrated and, as a result, he explained that “I just don’t have the energy for a needy baby.” Conversely, Sonya was a home health aide whose boss empowered her to manage her time independently and asked for her input on how best to support clients. Sonya felt respected by her supervisor, and this positivity spilled over into how she parented her first-grade daughter, Kaya: When Sonya returned home from work, she was hands-on, engaged, warm, and joyful in her interactions with Kaya.

So what does this mean for employers? From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it’s clear that if work impacts employees’ children, employers have a responsibility to ensure that the impact is as positive as possible. And from a business standpoint, it’s also in companies’ best financial interests to pay attention to the effects of work on their employees’ families. After all, when workers face challenges with their partners or kids, this stress inevitably spills over into the workplace, leading to lower productivity, more sick days and personal time off, and an unhappier, less motivated workforce.

The good news is, providing working parents with the autonomy and supportive relationships that our research shows can have such a powerful, positive impact on children’s wellbeing is easier than one might expect. While many people might assume that low-wage jobs are inherently stressful, “bad” jobs, the parents we talked to described many common sense business practices that their employers had used to help both workers and their families thrive (despite the financial stress that often accompanies these low-paid jobs).

For instance, a hair stylist who participated in our study described a time when she received a phone call at work with news that her baby was sick and needed to be picked up right away. She still had three clients on her schedule for the day, but her boss simply said, “Go, of course. Go. Family comes first. We’ll figure this out.” This simple act of humanity and flexibility didn’t cost much, but it made a big difference, enabling a parent to care for her child in a moment of crisis.

In addition, beyond making accommodations or offering increased flexibility, employers can also take steps to ensure work itself is a positive experience. Another worker we talked to, Linda, was a shipment packer at a candle manufacturing plant. Her boss discovered that without prompting, she had begun inserting notes and sample candle scents in the packages she prepared for her clients. Her boss hadn’t asked her to do this, and she hadn’t gotten approval to include these extras in the packages — but her customers appreciated it so much that they began asking for Linda by name when placing their orders. In response, rather than ignoring the issue, or worse yet, punishing Linda for failing to follow standard shipping procedures, her boss asked her to train her coworkers in her unique approach to customer service, and gave her an award for innovation along with a promotion. Linda felt respected and supported, and she described how rather than being a drain, “work had become fun.” This in turn enabled Linda to come home feeling upbeat and positive (rather than exhausted and depleted), with enough energy to fully engage in parenting her infant son.

When it comes to promoting workers’ physical and mental health, organizations tend to focus on high-level policy changes such as flexible scheduling options, more paid leave, etc. And to be sure, these systemic initiatives are certainly important. But our research suggests that ensuring workers feel respected and supported in their day-to-day is often just as critical. That means teaching and empowering supervisors to support parents, finding creative ways to give workers more autonomy, and helping managers and workers alike develop their communication skills. For example, there were supervisors in my studies who were so disconnected from their employees’ lives that they weren’t even aware that some of their male workers had become parents. Healthy organizations give employees the time and space to share their experiences and ideas, whether that’s through anonymous surveys, lunchtime focus groups, or even just informal check-ins. After all, it is often employees themselves who have the best solutions to the work-family challenges they are facing — they simply need to be asked.

Ultimately, to build a truly healthy and sustainable workplace, employers must expand their definition of ROI to include returns not just for themselves or their employees, but for employees’ children, families, neighborhoods, and entire communities. How companies treat their workers today will determine how the next generation grows up tomorrow, and it’s up to all of us to invest in our shared future. That means building workplaces that value the wellbeing of working parents — and that of their kids, too.

Original article posted in the Harvard Business Review

The Challenges of Emergency Care for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Patients

doctor with patients in waiting room in background

UMass Amherst social psychologist concludes 'broad public and institutional changes' are needed

Across the country, one in eight visits to the emergency department (ED) involves psychiatric or substance use concerns – and the frequency of such visits continues to rise.

Linda Isbell
Linda Isbell

It’s no news flash among social and public health scientists that “the health care system is terribly broken – and for patients who suffer from mental illness or substance use disorders, it’s particularly broken,” says Linda Isbell, the Feldman-Vorwerk Family Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

A first step toward addressing these issues is understanding and describing them. In research published Thursday, Jan. 19 in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, Isbell and her colleagues have for the first time developed a comprehensive, data-driven model of the challenges and care dynamics associated with providing ER care to patients with mental health and substance use disorders.

“It’s probably the largest qualitative study on this issue that has been done with physicians and nurses,” Isbell says.

The current research, which resulted from interviews with 86 ER physicians and nurses working in eight hospitals in the Northeast U.S., is part of a larger study published in 2020 in BMJ Quality and Safety that looked at the emotions experienced by health care providers in the ER.

Isbell and her team, including Edwin Boudreaux, professor of emergency medicine, psychiatry and population, and quantitative health sciences at UMass Chan Medical School, describe interpersonal, logistical and systems barriers that make it very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to properly diagnose and treat ER patients with substance use disorders and psychiatric conditions. Based on lengthy in-depth interviews, the researchers developed a grounded model of the cycle of care that can adversely affect both the patient and health care provider. 

The model shows that emotional, diagnostic and logistical challenges that ER physicians and nurses face when caring for patients with mental health or substance use disorders can “interact with pre-existing attitudes and biases, which results in negative care experiences with these patients,” the paper states.

Isbell and team find that this cycle can affect decisions about medical care for a challenging patient population that shows up for care that the ER was not designed to provide.

The researchers conclude that “broad public and institutional changes” must occur to improve emergency care for this patient population. “…As our physicians and nurses described, interventions and policy changes that address the unique challenges are urgently needed.”

“We don’t want to blame providers,” Isbell says. “There is so much stress in the emergency department and these data were collected prior to COVID, and COVID stresses have just magnified everything.”

The paper states, “Often unprompted, physicians and nurses reported fatigue, helplessness, frustration, and inefficacy when caring for these patients.”

The patients are difficult to diagnose, and they may have altered mental states due to alcohol, other substances or psychosis. Few opportunities exist for inpatient placement, Isbell notes, when it’s needed. The paper describes that these and many other factors can have substantial consequences for patients. For example, some providers may do less thorough examinations of these patients, attributing physical health complaints to mental illness or substance use.

“You can do medical screens in a halfhearted way, or you could do them thoroughly, and if you believe that the person has a mental health issue, you may actually not do it quite as carefully,” Isbell says.  “For example, the chance of dizziness or some other physical health complaint not being taken seriously into consideration is higher for the person with bipolar disorder or another mental health condition than for a person who doesn’t have a psychiatric diagnosis.” 

She notes that this may not always be a conscious decision by providers, especially considering the resource-depleted and cognitively demanding conditions that characterize most emergency departments; however, she notes that stigma and biases are common in medicine, as they are everywhere else.

Isbell says that under the current conditions, it’s not possible to provide the most appropriate and necessary care in the ER to this patient population.

The paper summarizes, “Large-scale changes in public policy, legislation, investments, and rigorous evaluations are essential to expand the mental health care systems and provide alternative sources of care (e.g., call centers, crisis care facilities), fund evidence-based services, increase community resources, and improve transitions of care from EDs to community services.”

Research Shows Female STEM Students Are Positively Impacted by Female Near-Peer Mentors

two female students work at water station machine

UMass Amherst researchers track the effects of near-peer mentors on first-year female engineering majors in first-of-its-kind longitudinal study

Reaching and retaining more students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM majors is an ongoing goal of U.S. educational institutions, aiming to provide equal opportunity and access to rewarding jobs. Demand for STEM jobs is high, and the number of college graduates with necessary skills can be limited. Females and racial ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the STEM workforce, which has also led to income inequality between sexes, and between racial minorities and white people.

Few long-term studies have been performed in real-world college environments that offer potential intervention pathways for students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM.

A recent article published in Nature Communications by Deborah J. Wu '22PhD, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University; Kelsey Thiem PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology, Social Psychology, and Counseling at Ball State University; and Nilanjana Dasgupta PhD, provost professor of psychology and director of the Institute of Diversity Sciences at UMass Amherst, report findings from their longitudinal experiment that tracked undergraduate female participants’ academic experiences in engineering when assigned with either a female mentor, male mentor, or no mentor for their first year of college.

An earlier 2017 article using preliminary data from the experiment showed female student participants paired with a female mentor for their first year of college had increased preservation of feelings of belonging in their major, confidence, motivation, and aspirations to pursue postgraduate engineering degrees that lasted through their second year of college.

The latest results of the study show that these effects for confidence, motivation, aspirations, as well as emotional well-being continued to be preserved throughout the college years, including one-year post-graduation. The intervention also led to more success in attaining engineering internships and increased retention in STEM majors up to graduation.

Female participants assigned a male peer mentor or no mentor showed notable declines in confidence in their engineering skills and motivation to work hard in their courses. Confidence in one’s engineering ability was discovered to be the best mechanism to promote success in engineering internships, completion of STEM degrees, and pursuit of graduate training in engineering.

Between 2011–2014, four incoming first-year cohorts at UMass Amherst were tracked across the span of 8 years. The study included 150 female students majoring in engineering and 58 junior or senior student mentors (32 females, 26 males). Topics at mentor/mentee meetings included advice on academic coursework; tutoring; developing plans for college and careers including how to find research assistantships and internships; and how to make social connections with other students and student clubs.

In past studies, social psychologists have used intervention strategies such as self-affirmation, growth mindset, and emotion regulation to help curb disparities in objective measures (e.g., student academic performance) related to sex, race, and class. However, students’ subjective experiences in academic spaces (e.g., feelings of belonging, confidence, anxiety, motivation) have not been largely studied.

Conclusions from this study have solidified the researchers’ prediction that mentoring relationships between individuals that share the same marginalized identity will directly benefit mentees by strengthening their motivation, and confidence in their professional abilities.

Another important factor was that mentors were authentic role models to their mentees. These student pairs were “near-peers”, with mentors being just slightly older or more advanced in their level of education. Near-peer relationships have been proven to boost a mentee’s sense of belonging.

The timing of when the mentoring occurred is also significant, a brand-new stage in the student’s life was beginning. Starting off on a positive trajectory during a period of significant transition can help individuals cope with new challenges.  

With mentees meeting with their mentors an average of just four times in total, this intervention had an exceptionally significant impact without a large time commitment or cost to implement.

Wu suggests, “To implement these interventions more widely, universities and departments should aim to create mentorship programs, where juniors and seniors in STEM are paired with first-years, to help ease their transition into the university and the major. It would be important for mentors to receive compensation for their time, which could potentially also be done through course credit. I think the main challenge for institutions would be finding resources to implement these interventions on a larger level (e.g., finding enough female mentors, compensation for mentors and those who run the programs).”

Wu, Thiem, and Dasgupta have laid significant groundwork in the long-term study of peer mentoring, revealing techniques that lead female STEM students on a successful path to graduation.

When asked about potential new directions of study, Wu states, “In terms of new directions, I’d like to explore which types of identity-based mentorship for individuals with multiple marginalized identities is most helpful for long-term retention. We specifically only focused on females in engineering in the current study, but for individuals with multiple marginalized identities in STEM (e.g., Black women), prior studies have found that Black women were more interested in STEM after being exposed to a Black mentor of any gender (Johnson et al., 2019). I’d be interested in studying this further, examining when matching gender or race (or other social identities) yields the most benefits for minority individuals, in longitudinal field experiments.”

Maureen Perry-Jenkins Receives 2022 Alexis J. Walker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Feminist Family Studies From the National Council On Family Relations

Maureen Perry-Jenkins and Abbie Goldberg, professor of psychology at Clark University and PBS alumna
(L-R) Maureen Perry-Jenkins and Abbie Goldberg, professor of psychology at Clark University and PBS alumna

Maureen Perry-Jenkins has received the 2022 Alexis J. Walker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Feminist Family Studies from the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR). Perry-Jenkins is a professor and current chair of the department of psychological and brain sciences.

This award recognizes her decades of contributions to feminist family scholarship, leadership, and service to NCFR. The award review committee noted her ongoing scholarship on working class families as essential to the field. Perry-Jenkins was conferred the award at the 2022 NCFR conference where she gave an address entitled "Work Matters: Lessons from Alexis Walker".

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 and policy that addresses how families manage the demands of work and family life. Her work focuses on the ways in which socio-cultural factors such as race, gender, and social class shape work-family processes and are related to the quality of family relationships and the well-being of parents and their children.

Perry-Jenkins has authored a new book, Work Matters: How Parents’ Jobs Shape Children’s Well-Being, (Princeton University Press, 2022) which proposes ways to reimagine low-wage work to sustain families and their children’s’ development. Using over 20 years of longitudinal data, Perry-Jenkins demonstrates how low-wage jobs, for better and for worse, affect parents' well-being and children's long-term development.

Research Findings Show Older Adults Live Longer in Counties With More Age Bias

a number of older adults pose in group photo

Findings surprise social psychologists

Older adults living in counties with greater age bias had better health outcomes than those living in areas with less age bias, according to University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers, who were surprised at the findings.

“Quite the opposite of what we expected emerged,” says Allecia Reid, associate professor of social psychology and senior author of the paper published in the journal Social Science & Medicine. “Rather than dying earlier in counties with more negative attitudes toward older adults, we found in fact that older adults were living longer in counties with more negative attitudes towards older adults.”

Reid and colleagues had based their hypothesis on earlier research showing that minority groups, such as African Americans and sexual minorities, have worse health outcomes in counties with more negative attitudes toward their group.

“We were thinking, similar to those findings, that in counties with more negative attitudes towards older adults, we would see them being likely to die earlier than in counties with more positive attitudes toward residents 65 and older,” Reid says. “Contrary to what we thought, something positive is happening in these ageist communities that is helping them live longer, healthier lives.”

The only other study known to have looked at community-level age bias and older adults’ health found that explicit age bias was associated with positive health behaviors among older adults, while implicit bias was linked to negative health behaviors among older adults.

The UMass Amherst researchers analyzed data on more than one million Americans who had reported their explicit bias and taken an implicit bias test to measure their attitudes toward older adults between 2003 and 2018, as part of Harvard University’s Project Implicit. The researchers looked at responses to the explicit bias question: How much do you prefer older versus younger adults? Choices ranged from 1 (“strongly prefer older adults”) to 7 (“strongly prefer younger adults"). In addition, individuals’ implicit age bias scores were available from the implicit association test. The U.S. county in which each participant lived was also available.

Based on that data, the team developed aggregate estimates at the county level about how much residents like older adults. Then they linked that with the county’s death rates for individuals age 65 and older from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database. Counties with higher explicit age bias had lower mortality, or 87.67 fewer deaths per 100,000 residents. In contrast, implicit bias was not associated with mortality outcomes.

“The explicit age bias-mortality association was only evident in communities with younger populations but did not depend on community ethnic composition,” the paper states.

The researchers looked at ways that the more ageist communities might be doing things that helped maintain the health of older adults. They found that greater explicit age bias also was associated with lower death rates among young and middle-aged adults in those counties, suggesting that any health benefits of living in ageist communities may begin to accrue in earlier life.

In addition, “communities with higher explicit age bias also had higher rates of exercise…, better general health…, and more days of good mental health,” the paper states. These findings point to potential pathways through which ageist communities may promote health. However, the researchers also note that factors they were unable to examine, such as better medical care and more green spaces, may also explain associations of community age bias with better health.

Reid says the surprising findings point to more areas of examination which may lead to improved longevity for all communities.

“Can we figure out what is happening in these more ageist communities that seems to be potentially promoting both better mental health and better longevity,” she says. “And if we can pinpoint those things, then that’s a flag for all communities to think about.”

Berni Leidner (1983-2022)

Berni LeidnerBernhard (Berni) Leidner passed away on November 19th 2022. He was one of us: A social psychologist who spent half of his 39 years of life conducting research on intergroup relations. Berni graduated from the Free University of Berlin in 2006 and in the same year he joined Emanuele Castano’s lab at the New School for Social Research, where in 2010 received his Ph.D. He spent his entire academic career at UMass Amherst where, earlier this year, he was promoted to Full Professor. Among his various awards and recognitions, in 2013 he was named a rising star by the Association for Psychological Science, and in the following years he did indeed rise, carrying out important research on social identification processes, morality, and the role of collective trauma and narratives in the perpetuation of violent intergroup conflict.

Berni was also a devoted mentor who cared deeply about his students. Aside from his scientific contributions, which remain with us, Berni leaves us a legacy of inspiration. Confined to a wheelchair for all his truly too-short life, and being able to move only his head and forearms, Berni had no patience for pity or pretense. He preferred for the rest of us to acknowledge that he had been bloody unlucky; he continuously joked about his situation; and appreciated when you did, too.  He overcame obstacles that we can hardly imagine and, most importantly, he did so with wit and humor. He was a true friend with a big heart, his laugh was contagious, and this is how we want to remember him.

—Written by Berni's close friends and collaborators, Drs. Emanuele Castano and Gilad Hirschberger

berni and members of his lab pose at the cinema

A celebration of Berni's amazing life will be held on UMass Amherst campus in the near future. Stay tuned for details as soon as they are available.

The Clock Is Ticking: UMass Amherst Researchers to Investigate the Role of Circadian Rhythms in Tissue Engineering

alarm clock sits on bedside table

The human internal “clock” responsible for regulating sleep cycles and many other biological functions will be explored as a tool for optimizing tissue regeneration under a $1.91 million grant biomedical engineer and assistant professor Cathal Kearney has received from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences. 

“If you look at almost every medical challenge we have, there’s a circadian rhythm component,” Kearney says. “The fact that it’s such an important piece of the body and we don’t account for it in tissue engineering studies is a huge gap that needs to be filled.”

Kearney is collaborating on the research with assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering Meghan Huber, who is designing the project’s robotic system for controlling circadian rhythms in engineered tissues outside the lab; S. Thai Thayumanavan, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, who is co-developing some of the drug delivery methods; and Ilia Karatsoreos, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, a circadian rhythm expert who will also help with studying the technologies in relevant in-vivo models. 

Read full article from UMass Amherst News

Doctors may be more concerned about accidentally harming a patient than being sued for malpractice

doctor and nurse look at chart

Linda Isbell was featured in a MedPage Today article citing her recent co-authored paper "Perspectives of emergency clinicians about medical errors resulting in patient harm or malpractice litigation". She discusses results from a survey of Massachusetts clinicians as well as possible interventions to address practitioners who fear harming a patient.

From "Survey Shows ED Doctors Worry More About Patient Harm Than Getting Sued"

Fear of patient harm may be a greater motivator than fear of being sued among emergency department (ED) clinicians making medical decisions, an online survey suggested.

Using a Likert scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree), mean score was 4.40 for fear of harm versus 3.40 for fear of lawsuit (P<0.001) among all ED attending physicians and advanced practice clinicians (APCs) working in Massachusetts acute care hospitals, reported Linda M. Isbell, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and colleagues.

Mean fear-of-harm score was similar whether the survey was completed before or after the COVID-19 pandemic started (4.42 vs 4.39; P=0.70), as was mean fear-of-lawsuit score (3.41 vs 3.38; P=0.70), they wrote in a research letter published in JAMA Network Open.

Fear-of-harm scores were higher than fear-of-lawsuit scores, regardless of clinician type, experience, or sex, and positively correlated (Pearson r = 0.53; P<0.001), the authors said.

These findings challenge interpretations of previous research suggesting that physicians practice "defensive medicine," opting for more tests or providing more referrals to shield themselves from malpractice suits, Isbell and team noted.

"When we look at defensive medicine, a lot of times people are really just focusing on a limited number of variables, and right at the top of the list, everyone thinks that doctors are ordering lots of tests because they're afraid of malpractice," Isbell told MedPage Today. "And we're saying, actually, you can imagine a doctor who is just really afraid of harming people -- a lot of doctors are -- and they don't care that much about malpractice."

Read full MedPage Today article

Can a woman’s health during pregnancy reveal a risk for cardiovascular disease and depression later in life?

child uses stethoscope on woman's pregnant belly

A University of Massachusetts Amherst epidemiologist has been awarded a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue research that aims to understand how physical and mental health during pregnancy can help predict cardiovascular and mental health disorders in middle age.

“The demands of pregnancy may act as a ‘stress test’ that reveal a predisposition to future cardiovascular disease,” says Lisa Chasan-Taber, professor of epidemiology and chair of the department of biostatistics and epidemiology in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences. “We think pregnancy complications may also reveal a predisposition to future depressive disorders.”

Chasan-Taber will lead the project, collaborating with UMass Amherst neuroscientists Rebecca Spencer and Jerrold Meyer, professor and professor emeritus, respectively, of psychological and brain sciences.

“We will assess prospectively whether pregnancy complications offer a meaningful opportunity for early efforts at cardiovascular disease prevention,” Chasan-Taber says.

The research team will examine the association of pregnancy complications and prenatal mental health with cardiometabolic and mental health in middle-aged Hispanics of Puerto Rican heritage living in the continental U.S. Among Hispanics, Puerto Ricans have the highest prevalence of diabetes, obesity and cardiometabolic risk factors, as well as a population growth rate three times higher than the overall U.S. population.

“We hypothesize that pregnancy complications will be associated with poorer cardiometabolic health and mental health status in middle adulthood among Puerto Rican women,” Chasan-Taber says.

The researchers will leverage data collected during their previous prospective study, Proyecto Buena Salud (PBS), conducted by Chasan-Taber from 2006 to 2011. In this study, Chasan-Taber recruited 1,627 pregnant women of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent who were receiving prenatal care in Western Massachusetts.

The PBS study provided novel evidence that pregnancy complications and prenatal depression were highly prevalent in Puerto Ricans and were significantly associated with adverse maternal and baby outcomes. The PBS participants have now reached middle adulthood, providing the opportunity to analyze whether health during pregnancy can predict other health outcomes in middle age.

The researchers estimate that 1,096 of the original PBS participants will be part of the new study. Bilingual and bicultural staff will collect biomarkers of insulin resistance, inflammation, lipids, adiposity, blood pressure and chronic physiological stress (hair cortisol concentrations). The participants also will be interviewed to measure depression, psychosocial stress and anxiety.

The team will use actigraphy, which monitors sleep and activity cycles using a sensor worn on the wrist, to test their hypothesis that poor sleep and low physical activity may mediate the association between pregnancy complications and subsequent cardiometabolic health.

Chasan-Taber summarized by saying, “Ultimately, we hope that findings from our study will help inform culturally sensitive prenatal interventions for early life prevention of future chronic disorders in this understudied and particularly vulnerable population.”

Young Child's Brain, Not Age, Determines Nap Transitions, Research Suggests

children napping in a preschool

UMass Amherst sleep scientist develops new theory about when and why kids stop napping

Why do some 4- and 5-year-olds still nap like clockwork every afternoon, while other preschoolers start giving up habitual napping at age 3?

It’s a question many parents no doubt ponder and one that a University of Massachusetts Amherst sleep scientist has been considering for years. Now, in a paper published Monday, Oct. 24, in a special sleep issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lead author Rebecca Spencer describes a new theory about why and when young children transition out of naps. It’s not about age as much as the brain.

Rebecca Spencer
Rebecca Spencer

“This overarching theory is based on data that we’ve published over the past couple of years; it’s about putting the pieces together,” says Spencer, professor of psychological and brain sciences, who collaborated with co-author Tracy Riggins, a University of Maryland child psychologist specializing in memory development. “Collectively, we provide support for a relation between nap transitions and underlying memory and brain development. We’re saying this is a critical time of development in the brain and sleep has something to do with it.”

The novel theory, which supports the practice of providing the opportunity for all preschoolers and pre-kindergarteners to nap, connects bioregulatory mechanisms underlying nap transitions, focusing on the hippocampus – the memory area of the brain. Spencer notes that it may seem counterintuitive for young kids to abandon habitual naps. “When little kids are napping, they consolidate emotional and declarative memories, so then you ask yourself, when this is such an important time of learning, why would they transition out of napping if napping is helping learning? Why not just keep napping?”

Previous research by Spencer and Riggins showed “there’s a difference in the development of the hippocampus for kids who nap and those who have transitioned out of naps,” Spencer says.

nap transitions graphicThe hippocampus is the short-term location for memories before they move to long-term storage in the cortex. “The naps are serving the job of processing memories,” Spencer explains. When young children’s immature hippocampus reaches its limit of memories that can be stored without “interference,” or forgetting, kids experience heightened “sleep pressure.” Researchers look at EEG slow-wave activity, a neurobiological marker in the brain waves recorded during sleep, to measure the buildup of homeostatic sleep pressure.

Napping allows memories to move to the cortex, freeing space for more information to be stored in the hippocampus. Spencer likens the developing hippocampus to a bucket of varying size.

“When the hippocampus is inefficient, it’s like having a small bucket,” she says. “Your bucket is going to fill up faster and overflow, and some memories will spill out and be forgotten. That’s what we think happens with the kids that are still napping. Their hippocampus is less mature, and they need to empty that bucket more frequently.”

When the hippocampus is more developed, kids can transition away from taking naps because their hippocampus has matured to a point that their “bucket” will not overflow. They can hold memories until the end of the day, when overnight sleep can process information from the hippocampus to the cortex, the researchers posit.

Spencer says the growing evidence highlights the importance of providing all young children with the opportunity to nap. “Some of them still need it; others may not need it but if they take it, we know that it’s going to benefit their learning, and we know that learning is what underlies early education.”

What’s needed next to advance the theory is longitudinal research that follows children over time to assess sleep physiology, structural and functional development, and memory changes across nap transitions.

Additional scientific evidence “would help parents and providers appreciate that nap transitions cannot be determined by age, and the opportunity to nap should be protected for those that need it.”

In the long term, Spencer says, researchers may be able to develop a cognitive measure of memory, perhaps giving kids a simple task to determine if they’ve crossed the threshold of needing regular naps.

For now, however, the evidence supports the important role napping plays in young children’s growth. Forced transitions out of napping “could lead to suboptimal learning and memory,” Spencer says.

In addition, the new framework the researchers developed “can be used to evaluate multiple untested predictions from the field of sleep science and, ultimately, yield science-based guidelines and policies regarding napping in childcare and early education settings.”

2022 Faculty and Staff Social

On Oct. 6th, PBS held a social event for faculty and staff celebrating some of our great accomplishments over the past two years. Department members were honored for years of service milestones, newly awarded tenure, promotions, and awards of excellence received from UMass Amherst and beyond. This was an wonderful opportunity to get together, catch up, and congratulate each other on all we have achieved during a challenging few years. Here's to another awesome year in PBS!

Free guide to cultivating contact between different groups authored by UMass Amherst psychologists

illustration of people drawing lines between each other

Social psychologist Linda Tropp and doctoral student Trisha Dehrone in Tropp’s Intergroup Relations and Social Justice Lab collaborated with the nonprofits American Immigration Council and Welcoming America to author a new publication – “Cultivating Contact: A Guide to Building Bridges and Meaningful Connections Between Groups.”

The free guide distills the lessons from decades of academic research and insights from community partners concerning how people from different groups experience contact with each other and how their social attitudes and behaviors can be transformed through these experiences. The 24-page booklet describes how to foster greater trust and belonging between people from different backgrounds through community-based programs and initiatives.  

“We developed this guide so that it could be shared widely and freely – at no cost to any organizations that might benefit from the insights offered,” says Tropp, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and faculty associate in the School of Public Policy

“The research we do was never meant to stay in a lab, and we’ve been fortunate to work with several community organizations throughout the country who are putting the science to work,” adds Dehrone, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow (NSF GRFP) and recipient of the NSF GRFP’s supplemental internship funding.

While building out this guide, she interned with the American Immigration Council in Washington, D.C., for six months. “This internship allowed me to consult with organizations on how to forge connections between groups, learn about the challenges they were facing in their communities and brainstorm potential solutions,” says Dehrone, who received her M.S. in social psychology from UMass Amherst earlier this year and is now pursuing her Ph.D. in the Psychology of Peace and Violence Program.

Their work on the guide was supported by a grant Tropp received from the Walmart Foundation.

The guide features:

  • Tips and best practices for implementing and facilitating contact-based programs. 
  • Strategies and activities that encourage people from different groups to work together as equals. 

Materials that can help communities and organizations assess the effectiveness of these contact programs. In announcing the guide, the American Immigration Council says, “We hope this guide helps set the stage for building meaningful and sustained contact in communities across the United States.”

Professional Development: The Non-Faculty Track | Presented by Social Psychology Alumna Jane Stout, PhD

Career Development

Check out this great presentation by Social Psychology Alumna Jane Stout, PhD! She discusses her journey along a non-faculty career track within psychology. Jane shares many great career development tips, insights into how she landed each of her jobs, and ways to manage work/life balance and find work that is fulfilling to you.

This presentation is geared towards social psychology grad students, but is useful to anyone considering a psychology career in industry. 

Joe Dwyer Wins NSB Golden Neuron Award

Joe pictured with NSB professors Meg Sratton and Heather Richardson

The Golden Neuron Award celebrates an exciting new finding from any PhD or MA student in the NSB program. The finding must have been published or presented at a conference within the last year. Joe Dwyer, advised by Associate Professor Joseph Bergan, used viral circuit mapping and whole brain imaging and found over 50 brain regions that synapse onto aromatase neurons in the medial amygdala. The breadth of these connections is exciting and suggests these pathways are tying social behavior states like mating to states relating to stress, parenting, social recognition, and aggression. The paper associated with these findings was published in eNeuro in 2022, titled “Brain-Wide Synaptic Inputs to Aromatase-Expressing Neurons in the Medial Amygdala Suggest Complex Circuitry for Modulating Social Behavior.”

Greg Pearson wins two awards to attend Society for Neuroscience conference

Greg PearsonThe NSB program is happy to announce that Greg Pearson (3rd year PhD student in the Karatsoreos Lab) has won a Trainee Professional Development Award (TDPA) to attend the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference in San Diego. The competitive TPDA recognizes undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who demonstrate scientific merit and excellence in research. 

We are also excited that Greg’s SfN abstract, exploring how the circadian clock alters the impact of viral inflammatory stimuli that access the brain via the intranasal route, was chosen for a NanoString Technologies Travel Grant. Congratulations Greg!

Fall 2022 Newsletter

autumn trees overlook campus pond

Learn about the latest alumni, student, and faculty news in our Fall 2022 Newsletter!

Read full issue

Highlights include: 

  • Message from Department Chair Maureen Perry-Jenkins
  • Is it a normal childhood tantrum or an early sign of mental illness?
  • Alumni Profile: Heather Kirkorian ‘07PhD
  • The extraordinary work of PBS summer student researchers
  • PBS Lab hosts scholars from Girls Inc. Eureka! Program

Plus other research briefs, awards, and updates from PBS.

Spotlight Scholar: Kirby Deater-Deckard

Deater-Deckard posing outside Tobin HallFor his whole life, Kirby Deater-Deckard has been an avid people watcher. Thus, he said, it was no surprise to his friends and family that he chose to study psychology.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the variety of people you see no matter where you are in the world,” said Deater-Deckard, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS) at UMass Amherst.

His interest in the field was first piqued when he took a psychology elective at his Baltimore-area high school, and was cemented by an undergraduate introduction to psychology course at Pennsylvania State University taught by Julian Thayer. Deater-Deckard had originally planned to study biology, but Thayer’s course—along with a course on individual and family studies taught by Susan McHale—opened his eyes to the idea of investigating complex human behavior and social relationships using scientifically rigorous methods. He went on to earn a BA in psychology and human development from Penn State and an MA and PhD in psychology from the University of Virginia, and completed postdoctoral training at Vanderbilt University and King’s College London. He was on the faculty at the University of Oregon and Virginia Tech, among other positions, before joining the UMass Amherst faculty in 2016.

Early in his academic career, Deater-Deckard became focused on studying individual variations in self-regulation. He defines self-regulation as one’s capacity to respond to new information in the environment in goal-directed ways and to control those responses in manners that minimize wear and tear on the body while maximizing opportunities for learning and growth. A child’s self-regulation can be seen in how easily they can be soothed—or can self-soothe—when upset, or how likely they are to become upset in the first place under stress. Self-regulation is a key aspect of individual development, with strong connections to behavioral, emotional, and cognitive functioning, as well as health outcomes from childhood through old age.

In his Individual Differences in Development Lab (IDDLab) at UMass—with locations on the Amherst campus and in the UMass Center at Springfield—Deater-Deckard conducts large-scale studies of individual differences in self-regulation, both in the U.S. and abroad. His research examines genetic, neurological, and physiological factors related to self-regulation, and how they interact with environments in families, neighborhoods, and schools. Participants range from early childhood through adulthood.

For example, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), he is collaborating with PBS colleague Adam Grabell on a study using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) brain imaging and measures of cardiac physiological activity to examine development and self-regulation in preschoolers.

In another study, funded by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Deater-Deckard and Virginia Tech collaborators seek to understand how individual differences and developmental changes in adolescents’ self-regulation promote shifts in decision-making for behaviors such as substance abuse, risky driving, and risky sexual behavior.

For the past 15 years, Deater-Deckard has also collaborated on a nine-country, five-continent longitudinal study based at Duke University, known as Parents and Adolescents Across Cultures (PAC). Beginning when the children in the study were 8 years old, it uses survey data and direct behavioral assessments to examine measures of self-regulation, executive functioning, distractibility, and impulsivity.

“Even in these very different cultures and contexts, what has struck me is that the individual differences patterns are very consistent,” said Deater-Deckard. “There are powerful site-specific cultural differences, but the factors we’ve measured don’t appear to predict much of the individual variation between youth that we’re seeing within each location.”

The study recently received another five years of funding from the NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The researchers plan to continue following the cohort as they enter early adulthood and become parents themselves.

Deater-Deckard will apply lessons learned about doing cross-cultural research in a new project, the FinnBrain Birth Cohort Study in Finland. A center of excellence grant from the Academy of Finland will fund a broad series of studies on topics including developmental disabilities and mental and behavioral disorders. In collaboration with his Finnish colleagues, Deater-Deckard will aim to develop spin-off projects in the U.S., integrating brain imaging, physiological measures, and genomics, as well as behavior.

In addition to his research, Deater-Deckard is co-author of two widely used college textbooks on child and adolescent development published by McGraw Hill: Child Development: An Introduction, now in its 16th edition, and Children, in its 15th edition. He is also credited with developing and disseminating the Parent-Child Interaction System (PARCHISY), a free assessment tool used in clinical settings and by many research teams throughout the Americas, Europe, and Australia.

Deater-Deckard's research also informs public discussions and policies vis-a-vis parenting stress and resilience. He has consulted with groups ranging from the Sesame Workshop, to UNICEF, to the Child Health Investment Partnership (CHIP) of Roanoke Valley (Virginia) on messaging campaigns and health care programs related to creating healthy, happy environments for children’s development. And for the broader public, Deater-Deckard wants to normalize the stress associated with parenting, and the need for social and community support of parents and caregivers.

“Many cultures and media often portray parenting as purely joyful, and emphasize independence in caregiving,” he said. “Yet research shows that parenting is stressful, and caregiving done in isolation isn’t healthy for anyone. Parents need family, friends, neighbors and community members to offer support.”

Just as schools have shifted towards individualized instruction to meet the needs of each student and healthcare towards personalized medicine, Deater-Deckard's research on individual variation in development suggests a more individualized approach is needed for parenting and caregiving.

“Each child is so different,” he said. “The role of parents and caregivers is to provide a foundation of love, security, and knowledge, but also to reinforce the uniquely individual strengths of each child.”

Meet more Spotlight Scholars

The extraordinary work of PBS summer student researchers

Each summer, PBS faculty mentor students who are part of specialized programs designed to broaden participation in undergraduate research and give students the tools they need to lead successful careers. 

The William Lee Science Impact Program (Lee SIP) is a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program designed to create opportunities for undergraduate students to engage directly in the cutting-edge research occurring on campus, including those from traditionally underrepresented groups in science disciplines, such as first-generation college students. Lee SIP scholars are mentored directly by research faculty, work within a research team, and participate in professional development workshops.

The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Scholars Program is part of an alliance of New England institutions that receive funding through the National Science Foundation (NSF) to strengthen the preparation, representation, and success of under-represented minority students majoring in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. LSAMP students receive mentoring and tutoring throughout their college career, guidance in creating and maintaining a research portfolio, and opportunities to travel to participate in research related events.

Lee SIP Spotlight Scholars


Van Le stands next to research poster

Van Le

Physical Health Care Experiences in the Emergency Department for Patients with Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders - A Qualitative Study

Van Le, Linda M. Isbell, Summer R. Whillock

Our project aimed to better understand the physical care experiences of patients with mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders in the Emergency Department (ED). Prior to the summer, research team members interviewed eligible patients in a Level I Trauma hospital in New England, asking them about aspects of their care experience and follow-up questions based on their responses. During the summer, we analyzed interviews using Grounded Theory methods, dove into each patient's experience, and organized emerging themes into a model of patients’ positive experiences (e.g., holistic consideration of needs, attentiveness) and negative experiences (e.g., stigma, diagnostic errors), as well as recommendations from patients. This model provides the foundation for developing interventions to improve care in the ED for patients with mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders.

View research poster

Van presents her poster in 3 minute competition

Van Le is the second-place winner of the Lee SIP 3-minute research competition!


Marina Morcos stands next to research poster

Marina Morcos

Exploring Syntactic Effects on Children’s Large Number Generativity

Marina Morcos, Jenna Croteau, Joonkoo Park

The Cognitive and Developmental Neuroscience Lab, led by Dr. Park, believes that one of the most critical cognitive differences that distinguishes us from other animals is our developed number and language systems. Numbers are the building blocks for later and more complex mathematical thinking, while language allows us to transfer abstract knowledge like the meaning of numbers. As soon as a child is born, they are exposed to external environments that encourage critical thinking and problem- solving using math and language. However, little research has been done to focus on how these two work together to shape this numerical understanding. We hope to bridge this gap and determine how and when mathematical learning occurs.

Over the summer, I was working on an online study with the goal to determine how children use the different syntactic rules and patterns of Arabic numerals and number phrases to understand number concepts. Our hypothesis is that children first use number phrase rules to create imprecise compositional generative numbers and they later build precise, compositional generative numbers by using the dimensional representation of Arabic numerals. This usually occurs when the child has been exposed to formal schooling and is introduced to mathematical problems, such as addition. To test this hypothesis, 4–8- year-old children are asked to generate a new number larger than the probe number they are given. By looking at the ways children change and retain the syntactic structure of the probe number, we hope to better understand how children think about numbers across development.

View research poster



Nathaniel Holden pictured with photo of neurons

Nathaniel Holden

Passive Reward Learning, is it Possible?

Nathaniel Holden, Sarah Cartwright, David Moorman

Nathaniel’s project focused on how we learn about the value of rewards. In most cases, rewards require actions (find food, acquire it, consume it). This raises the question as to whether the brain can control learning about the value of something independent of the actions associated with acquiring it. To disentangle this, Nathaniel measured learning of an association between a cue (a tone) and a passively-delivered reward—where reward was delivered in the absence of any action. He then tested the strength of this learning by training subjects to respond to a tone associated with the reward. These results were compared to a control group who received the cue tone and reward independently. Nathaniel was able to demonstrate that, indeed, reward learning can rapidly occur in the absence of action.

In the next stages of his training, Nathaniel will investigate which brain regions are associated with this type of action-independent reward learning. In addition to furthering our understanding of how neural systems drive reward learning, these studies have the potential to inform us about brain sites underlying a wide range of psychiatric diseases such as depression (where reward and motivation representations are diminished) or compulsive use of drugs and other rewards, such as unhealthy foods. By the end of his research experience, Nathaniel will have developed a comprehensive skill set in behavioral neuroscience—from literature review and experimental design to data collection and analysis. In addition, he will have made a significant- contribution to an important line of research with relevance to both basic and clinical/translational neuroscience.



LSAMP Spotlight Scholars


Olachi Unaka presenting poster

Olachi Unaka

Emergency Nurses’ Emotional Responses to Patients

Olachi Unaka, Linda M. Isbell, Summer R. Whillock, & Nathan R. Huff

In this project we investigated nurses’ emotional responses to different types of patients in an emergency department(ED) setting. We aimed to identify differences in clinical-decision making and behavior during patient encounters that were either positive or negative, and aimed to identify the types of encounters and patients that elicit different emotions. Emergency nurses (n=160) were randomly assigned to recall and describe either a positive or negative (i.e., angry) recent patient encounter they had.  Findings revealed that nurses reported experiencing intense emotions during these encounters. Nurses tended to be more happy, self-assured, and engaged in positive encounters, and more angry, sad, anxious, fatigued and less engaged in negative encounters. Despite this, most nurses indicated that their emotions did not influence their clinical decision-making and care for their patients. Importantly however, the patients most frequently described in negative encounters are from vulnerable communities for whom health-care disparities are well-established (e.g., Black individuals, those with substance use, mental illness, frequent ED utilizers).  Interventions are needed to address these disparities.

View research poster



Liana Munoz pictured with research poster

Liana Munoz

Investigating the Correlation between Age, Stressor Index, and Heart Rate Variability in Women Ages 35+

Liana Munoz , Jennifer Christensen, Kirby Deater-Deckard

In this research women over the ages of 35 and up (with the oldest of 50 years old) are being studied through a manual data analysis utilizing Google Excel Sheets. The primary thesis for this research project is as follows: How low heart rate variability can be correlated with different stressors in women ages 35-50. In order to reach a consensus on this data it was necessary to have background knowledge on the process of inspiration and expiration, which is key to understanding respiratory sinus arrhythmia. This is also crucial to answer our research question regarding heart rate variability. 

The data set utilized for this project included women ages 35 and up with measurements of stressor index, age, and heart rate variability. These were all collected from a Mom study and the data set was provided by Professor Kirby Deater-Deckard. An analysis was run manually through google sheets where three graphs were curated. One graph measured the correlation between Z-stress and age, another measured the correlation between heart rate variability and Z-stress, and the last graph was a correlation between heart rate variability and age. 

From these graphs one preliminary result that was found was high variability showing optimal results. Further conclusions are in progress, however, current conclusions can be made. As a result, no concrete correlation was seen between Heart Rate Variability and Stressor Index. It can be said that observing a larger age range may bring more variety to graphs and correlations found. Through intricate analysis Graph 1 and Graph 3 was seen to have a positive correlation. Due to the guidance and mentorship of professor Kirby Deater-Deckard and Jennifer Christensen this research was able to be carried out. Huge thank you and acknowledgement to these two amazing people.

View research poster


Educators can help make STEM fields diverse – over 25 years, I’ve identified nudges that can encourage students to stay

students laughing in school hallway
Connecting studies to the real world, mentoring and building community make all the difference. FG Trade/E+ via Getty Images

Nilanjana Dasgupta, UMass Amherst

Jen, a student I taught early in my career, stood head-and-shoulders above her peers academically. I learned she had started off as an engineering major but switched over to psychology. I was surprised and curious.

Was she struggling with difficult classes? No. In fact, Jen’s aptitude for math was so strong, she had been recruited as an engineering prospect. In her first year, her engineering classes were filled with faces of other women. But as she advanced, there were fewer and fewer women in her classes – until one day, she realized she was the only woman in a large lecture class of men.

Jen began to question if she belonged. Then she started to wonder if she cared enough to persist in engineering. Her quest to understand what she was feeling brought her to my psychology class.

Jen’s experience in engineering shows that human behavior is driven by a few fundamental social needs. Key among them is the need to belong, the need to feel competent and the need for meaning or purpose. These three motivations influence whether people approach or avoid a range of social situations, including academic ones.

What Jen experienced in engineering is called social identity threat – negative emotions aroused in situations where individuals feel their valued identities are marginalized or ignored. It raises doubts about belonging and depletes interest, confidence and motivation. In the long run, social identity threat may lead individuals to withdraw from activities altogether.

I am a social psychologist and the founder of the Institute of Diversity Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. For the past two decades, my research has focused on evidence-based solutions: How do we create learning and work environments that fulfill young people’s feeling of belonging, nurture self-confidence and connect their academic and professional pursuits to purpose and meaning? I’m particularly interested in the experiences of girls and women, students of color and working-class college students.

Connecting to the real world

With my team, I have been designing and testing interventions in classrooms, labs and residence halls to see if they protect young people against social identity threat in science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – environments. My work shows that, just as a vaccine can protect and inoculate the body against a virus, features of learning environments can act as “social vaccines” that protect and inoculate the mind against noxious stereotypes.

In one study, we found that when teachers highlight the social relevance of math and connect it to social good, it makes a big difference to students. We followed almost 3,000 adolescents taking eighth grade algebra and tracked their progress for one academic year. Some teachers in our study illustrated abstract concepts using socially meaningful examples. For instance, exponential decay was explained using depreciation of car values or the dilution of medicines in the bloodstream. Others taught such concepts using abstract equations only.

We found students got excited and motivated when they could apply abstract math to socially meaningful problems. They got better grades, reported math was important to them personally and were more active participants in class. We also found that students working in small collaborative peer groups got better end-of-year grades than those working alone. These benefits were especially noticeable for kids of color.

The importance of role models

Another low-cost but powerful “social vaccine” is to introduce young people entering a STEM college program to a fellow student who is a couple of years older and shares their identity.

Two college age women sitting in front of a computer, one explaining something to the other.
Near-peer mentoring can yield dramatic results. Morsa Images/DigitalVision via Getty Images

We conducted a field experiment in which 150 first-year women interested in engineering were randomly assigned a female peer mentor, a male peer mentor or no mentor. Mentoring relationships were limited to mentees’ first year of college. Mentees’ academic experiences were measured each year through college graduation and one year after graduation.

We found that a one-year mentoring relationship with a female peer mentor preserved first-year women students’ emotional well-being, feeling of belonging in engineering, confidence, motivation to keep going and aspiration to pursue postgraduate engineering degrees. Women with male mentors or no mentors showed a decline on most of these metrics. Women who had female peer mentors were significantly more likely to graduate with STEM bachelor’s degrees compared with those who had male peer mentors or no mentors. A follow-up study that is under review shows that these benefits endured four years after the mentoring intervention ended.

A community of peers

First-generation college students are twice as likely to leave college without earning a bachelor’s degree than students whose parents have college degrees. My team and I combined a cocktail of ingredients to create a strong social vaccine to protect this group of young people. Participants were selected from three incoming classes of first-year students at the University of Massachusetts who were interested in biology. All were working-class, and the majority were students of color.

Eligible students were invited to apply to a living-learning community. From the applicant pool, we randomly selected 86 students to become “BioPioneers,” while the remaining 63 students comprised our no-intervention control group.

BioPioneer participants lived together in the same residential college. They took introductory biology and a seminar as a group. Participants in the no-intervention group took introductory biology in a large lecture class with the general student body. The same instructor taught both classes – the course content, teaching style, assignments and grading system were identical for BioPioneers and the no-intervention group.

We brokered authentic relationships between BioPioneers and faculty instructors and academic advisers. We also provided BioPioneers access to student mentors two years ahead of them in the same major.

Results showed that BioPioneers students developed a stronger sense of belonging in biology than students in the no-intervention group. They were more confident about their science ability, less anxious and more motivated to persist. They also received better grades in biology than the no-intervention group.

One year after the program ended, 85% of BioPioneers participants remained biological science majors compared with 66% of students in the no-intervention group. We also compared BioPioneers with a group of 94 honors students, mostly from middle-class and upper-middle-class families, who were in a different living-learning community. We found BioPioneers closed the achievement gap between first-generation students and honors students in terms of belonging, confidence and retention in biology majors. We are currently preparing to submit our findings to a peer-reviewed journal.

Seven diverse college students studying together
STEM graduates will be tackling some of the world’s biggest problems. Andersen Ross Photography Inc/Digital Vision via Getty Images

I’ve begun to see a pattern in 25 years of research. When educators connect science and engineering to social good, build relationships and create communities that intentionally draw in people who are usually invisible, we automatically attract and advance the talents of people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

In my view, not only is this the right thing to do morally, but research shows that diverse viewpoints invigorate problem-solving, reduce the impact of personal biases and promote higher-impact scientific discoveries.The Conversation

Nilanjana Dasgupta, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, UMass Amherst

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Video introduction to the Institute of Diversity Sciences

Nilanjana Dasgupta, Director of the Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS), and Graduate Student John Vargas featured in this video showing how IDS is making a difference!

Working across colleges at UMass Amherst, IDS promotes research in science, technology, and engineering that aims to advance equity in areas such as health, learning, work, and climate change mitigation. IDS helps to match up researchers for cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Maureen Perry-Jenkins interviewed about new book 'Work Matters: How Parents’ Jobs Shape Children’s Well-Being'

still life with child's play blocks and fast food restaurant uniform

Maureen Perry-Jenkins is interviewed about her new book, “Work Matters: How Parents’ Jobs Shape Children’s Well-Being,” which proposes ways to reimagine low-wage work to sustain families and their childrens’ development. Perry-Jenkins says her research for the book tried to understand how, within a group of families that held low-wage jobs, some families thrive and some don’t. She says, “The goal is not to look at all low wage jobs as a monolith, as horrible, as people being miserable.”

Full interview from Literary Hub


PBS lab hosts scholars from the Girls Inc. Eureka! Program

students taste various fruits

This summer, members of the Computational Memory and Perception Lab (Associate Professor Rosie Cowell, Graduate Students Natasha de la Rosa-Rivera and Anna McCarter, and Neuro Track Junior Aisling Finnegan) hosted scholars from the Girls Inc. Eureka! Program for a workshop on how our taste, vision, and memory can be deceived. Scholars rated a variety of foods on their sweetness before and after trying Miracle Fruit, a substance that makes sour foods taste sweet.

We made graphs of how their taste perception changed. Later in the day, scholars wore prism glasses which invert the visual world while trying to draw, walk, and pour water. A lot of fun mistakes ensued. Lastly, scholars saw how their memory could be fooled. We had Aisling pretend to steal a backpack and had the scholars pick who they thought had stolen it from a target-absent lineup. The scholars realized how easily they could be swayed to pick someone. It was a fun and rewarding day for everyone involved!

Students from Eureka program watch presentation on miracle fruit

graduate students arrange various fruit in bowls

Identified protective factors to support psychological well-being among gender diverse autistic youth

three friends sit in a parkUMass Amherst faculty and alumni recently published a study focused on the intersections of gender diversity and neurodiversity among youth. Scott Greenspan (PhD, School Psychology ’20), Samuel Carr (B.S. Psychology ’19), Ashley Woodman (faculty member in PBS), Amy Cannava, and Yena Li explored school and community-based protective factors that relate to psychological well-being and life satisfaction among 31 transgender and gender diverse autistic youths between the ages of 13 to 17.

Results suggest that community connectedness, school support, family availability, and self-identification of sexual orientation as queer were identified as protective factors. The authors provide recommendations to link these findings into school and community-based contexts.

Read full paper from the Journal of LGBT Youth

Is it a normal childhood tantrum or an early sign of mental illness?

upset child with hands covering their face

Psychologist awarded NIH grant to develop at-home tracking of young kids’ outbursts

A University of Massachusetts Amherst psychologist will use a newly awarded, two-year, $428,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further develop and test mobile health devices worn by parents and young children that track – and perhaps can help predict – preschoolers’ tantrums.

The technology may also one day be able to identify “clinically significant tantrums,” assessing kids at high risk for mental illness, says Adam Grabell, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, who studies early childhood development in his Self-regulation, Emotions and Early Development (SEED) Lab.

“All preschool kids have tantrums, so it’s hard to find that line – is this normative behavior or is this a sign of a kid who’s at risk for a future anxiety disorder or mood disorder or conduct disorder?” Grabell says. “We hope to use the power of mobile health and wearable technology to give parents really critical information – earlier – about their child’s risk level for psychological disorders that might change the parent’s decision-making and change the approach of their pediatrician or other providers.” 

child wearing 3D printed prototype wristband sensor

Grabell and wearable computing experts Jeremy Gummeson, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences, and Tauhidur Rahman, formerly of UMass Amherst who has joined the University of California San Diego, carried out a pilot study with a half-dozen families. The research was funded by a seed grant from the UMass Amherst Institute for Applied Life Sciences’ (IALS) Center for Personalized Health Monitoring. The team used a 3-D printer to create wristbands that housed an accelerometer and developed a smartwatch tracking app. They also used Spire Health sensing tags that stick to the inside of clothes to measure the respiration, heart rate and sleep of both young kids, ages 3-5, and their parents.

“The parents are a huge source of data for the problem we’re trying to address,” Grabell says. “Tantrums don’t happen in a vacuum. Parents have conflicts with their children. Their emotions are in sync together and they can ratchet each other up or calm each other down.”

The initial feasibility study confirmed that the devices could be worn for long periods and could produce important information. “The pilot data from this seed grant suggested this approach could work in the real world,” Grabell says.

Now, funded by the NIH grant, the team will expand their research, recruiting 60 preschool-caregiver pairs – with half of the children having clinically significant irritability – in an effort to create an automated home-based system that will be able to distinguish naturally occurring tantrums from psychopathology.

“We will deploy wearable and contactless devices that record continuous respiration, heart rate, actigraphy (gross motor activity), sleep and vocal features in the homes of preschoolers and caregivers for one month,” the study aims state. “Our core hypotheses are that tantrum timing and bio-behavioral characteristics in child and caregiver will identify risk for mental disorder and identify a precursor phase to tantrums.”

The home-based system ultimately could be used to help families already in therapy, providing information on when tantrums are likely to happen so that home-based interventions can be more timely and effective.

Grabell hopes the research will lead to major breakthroughs in the early diagnosis of mental illness. The sooner a young child’s mental condition can be identified, the better the potential outcome.

“For those kids who are in the high-risk category, you’re losing valuable time when you could have started an intervention to try to improve their emotion regulation skills,” he says.

Original Article from UMass Amherst News

Tammy Rahhal awarded Chancellor’s Leadership Fellowship

Tammy Rahhal
Tammy Rahhal

The Office of Faculty Development has announced Tammy Rahhal, senior lecturer II and associate chair of teaching and chief undergraduate advisor of psychological and brain sciences, as a recipient of a Chancellor’s Leadership Fellowship for the 2022-23 academic year. 

Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Tricia Serio says “I am thrilled to work with and learn alongside the Chancellor’s Leadership Fellows this year. Their projects integrate their expertise and knowledge of our campus with a new context to advance both their leadership development and our mission in new and creative ways.”

The Chancellor’s Leadership Fellowship (CLF) program seeks to cultivate future campus leaders by offering a half-time, one-year temporary appointment to an administrative area on campus and providing mentoring from the leader of the host unit. In addition, fellows are expected to launch a significant program during their fellowship year.

Tammy Rahhal, senior lecturer II and associate chair of teaching and chief undergraduate advisor of psychological and brain sciences, will focus on developing pedagogy and resources to enhance hybrid classrooms. Rahhal will be working with Claire Hamilton, associate provost and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and Heather Sharpes-Smith, executive director for Online Educational Technology.

Rahhal’s primary focus as a faculty member is teaching and advising for all undergraduate psychology majors. In her leadership roles, she has worked to help create a new undergraduate curriculum, grow available advising services, increase the department’s online course presence, and provide mentoring and professional development opportunities for psychological and brain sciences instructors.

“My hope is to both build on my own existing knowledge and practice using flexible/hybrid pedagogy in large, general education courses and also educate other instructors of these methods so that UMass can provide all students accessibility to excellent classroom experiences that will lead to greater student success,” says Rahhal.

Alumni Profile: Heather Kirkorian ‘07PhD

Heather Kirkorian smiling
Heather Kirkorian ‘07PhD

Improving childhood learning using interactive media

Heather Kirkorian, Laura M. Secord Chair in Early Childhood Development and Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin—Madison began her career as a developmental psychologist at UMass Amherst under the mentorship of Professor Emeritus Dan Anderson. They explored the effects of educational media on childhood learning and attention, seeking out ways to make programming more beneficial.

Kirkorian’s interest in education and psychology arose from personal experiences. “I had seen a lot of people close to me in my life struggle in school, and I thought there must be ways to make this experience easier for them or design learning in a way that is more inclusive,” she states.

For her dissertation, Kirkorian studied a group of participants made up of one-year-olds, four-year-olds, and adults as they watched an episode of Sesame Street. She used eyetracking, a technology that employs special video cameras and software to track eye movements. Kirkorian found that younger viewers had more scattered attention than adult viewers—there was more variation in what they looked at and it was harder to predict where they would look next. The results implied that infants and children observed and comprehended video differently than adults.

One of the most interesting collaborative projects she undertook at UMass partnered her with Anderson and John Richards from the University of South Carolina. The project examined how infants and toddlers pay attention to video, utilizing a measure of heart rate to assess their engagement level. The results indicated that children 18 and 24 months old (but not younger) engaged more with normal, comprehensible TV than a TV show that was scrambled. This study revealed that infants probably do not understand TV until at least 18 months old.  

Projects like these taught her to not be afraid to leverage new technology to gain a better understanding of how children learn. Her experience at UMass also gave her a lot of hands-on experience performing research with families and young children.

child points at icons on tablet screen

In Kirkorian’s Cognitive Development and Media Lab at UW–Madison, one avenue of her team’s research considers how children learn from in-person lessons versus video or interactive media like apps, games, and eBooks. The scientists test various types of touch screen interactivity to find out which types of experiences (e.g., videos versus games) are best for which children (e.g., those with more versus less media experience or working memory capacity).

In some studies, Kirkorian found that two-year-olds are more likely to learn from an interactive experience (like using a simple app) than an observational one (watching a video). There seems to be the potential for interactive media to teach young kids who might not be responding to video.

Kirkorian has also begun a new line of research focusing on family media ecology—the content and context of child and family media use. Her team is looking at how this ecology is associated with parental mental health and family well-being. Data is collected from participating parents through micro surveys completed several times a day, as well as more detailed time use diaries recorded at day’s end. The team also employs a passive sensing app to track how often and for how long smartphones are being used in the home.

The team is especially interested in the quality of media being used—for instance if educational TV or apps were used, and if the content was age-appropriate or made for adults. Another important factor is what is happening in the background as children are using media.

So, can interactive media be beneficial to childhood learning? “I think one of the big potentials for interactive media is that unlike television, it can be adaptive and personalized. There are efforts being made to track how well kids are doing, for example in an educational app, and adapt the level of difficulty or the type of lessons a child gets based on their history and prior knowledge,” says Kirkorian.

Heather working with a child on a tablet gameAdaptive technology can give teachers an effective way to create individualized plans for their students. This is a big change from one-size-fits-all lessons taught to an entire class.

One way educational tech can be particularly supportive is by bridging the gap from home to school. Making a game available to a child at home that compliments what they're doing in school can help them improve in certain subjects. Kirkorian notes that having a caregiver give tips and real-life examples to younger children during app use can greatly aid their comprehension, “making that connection from the kid’s life to what’s on the screen.”

But are apps for everyone? Kirkorian says initially children will need to develop a certain level of fine motor skill to complete touch gestures. Also, having a general familiarity with touch screens and continued practice with a particular app will give a child the experience they need to get the most out of it.

A child’s cognitive ability and cognitive control can also determine what type of lesson would best suit them. For instance, a child with poor inhibitory control may not have the patience to learn an interactive game. In this case, a video lesson might be more constructive while the child is still developing those cognitive skills. Kirkorian’s team found in several studies that the working memory capacity of the child predicts how well they learn from screens.

Overall, it can be very helpful to create a personalized plan for a child’s education. Matching needs at home with needs in the classroom can greatly enhance their learning.

Check out these resources for finding appropriate content for kids:

Common Sense Media

PBS Kids

Rebecca Ready among inaugural group of CNS Leadership Fellows

Two faculty members and one graduate student have been awarded College of Natural Sciences Leadership Fellowships for 2022-2023

Rebecca Ready
Rebecca Ready

Established by Dean Tricia Serio, this program is designed to foster leadership and professional development in faculty and graduate students and to promote initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Each of the fellows was selected to work with one of the CNS Associate Deans on projects within their respective offices.

Rebecca Ready, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, will be working with Karen Helfer, Associate Dean for Graduate, Postdoctoral, and Faculty Development. Dr. Ready’s project will be to develop initiatives to improve success in recruiting and retaining BIPOC graduate students.

Steven Petsch, associate professor of Geosciences, will be working with Elizabeth Connor, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education. Dr. Petsch’s work as a CNS Leadership Fellow will focus on enhancing recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in STEM disciplines, especially within undergraduate majors related to sustainability and environmental justice.

Michael Lu-Diaz, a Ph.D. student in Chemistry, also was selected to be a CNS Leadership Fellow. Michael will work with Associate Dean Karen Helfer on programming associated with mentorship training and community-building among graduate students.

Implicit bias and concern about appearing racist predict teachers’ reluctance to discuss race and racism in the classroom

icon of teacher at blackboard

UMass Amherst research aims to help equip teachers to engage in crucial conversations

Across the U.S., K-12 public school teachers face significant psychological barriers to discussing issues of race and racism with their students, according to new research by a University of Massachusetts social psychologist.

Linda Tropp, professor of psychological and brain sciences, examined how teachers’ implicit racial biases and concerns about appearing racist may affect their intentions and confidence about engaging their students in race talk. The findings were recently published online by the journal Social Psychology of Education.

“This research was done to try to understand what can sometimes get in the way of teachers’ best intentions to want to talk about race with their students,” says Tropp, who has extensive experience working in schools and seeking to support teachers in engaging students in conversations about race and other important and sensitive topics. “How do we equip teachers to engage in these conversations? What we’re hoping is that findings from this research can be used to inform future professional development programs for teachers, so that they feel more prepared to ‘go there’ with their students.”

Analyzing data from two large surveys, each including responses from more than 1,000 K-12 teachers, Tropp found that teachers’ implicit racial biases and their explicit fears of being perceived as racist both independently contributed to lower intentions to talk about race with their students. These psychological barriers are still evident, even after Tropp took into account numerous other variables such as teachers’ years of experience, their demographic characteristics, characteristics of the schools in which they teach and their own prior exposure to diversity training.

Recent teacher training and professional development programs have typically focused on educating teachers about implicit racial biases – that is, unconscious racial biases they may have and about which they may have limited awareness – without sufficiently addressing teachers’ conscious concerns about how they may be seen, or how their comments may be interpreted, Tropp explains.

“This is not just something unique to teachers, but something that we all experience in our society, where people are very quick to judge what we say,” Tropp says. “It’s understandable that we would have concerns about how what we say might be perceived or received by others.”

Tropp emphasizes that future training efforts need to consider how both implicit racial biases and conscious concerns about being seen as racist may curb teachers’ willingness to engage students in meaningful and productive conversations around race. Tropp’s paper states, “As we examine potential barriers to teachers’ engagement in race talk with students, we must also learn how to support teachers effectively when they are called upon to facilitate these discussions.”

In light of current political and social debates about race-related topics in school curricula, Tropp says it is increasingly urgent for teachers to discuss race in the classroom to help students process what they see and hear outside of the classroom. She notes, “By providing stu­dents with opportunities to engage in meaningful discussions about race, teachers can prepare them for respectful exchanges of perspectives with others and full participa­tion as engaged citizens in an increasingly multifaceted and diverse society.”

How Do Teachers Understand Adoption (and what can parents do about it)

Rudd Family Foundation Chair Hal Grotevant and 2021 Rudd Family Visiting Professor Abbie Goldberg are featured in the podcast "How Do Teachers Understand Adoption (and what can parents do about it)."

This podcast is based on research they conducted together when Goldberg was Rudd Family Visiting Professor in 2021. The project involved a nationwide sample of K-12 teachers, and asked what they knew about adoption, how they use that knowledge, and what they wished they knew. 

Can negative emotions affect learning and decision-making, leading to suicidal behaviors in at-risk individuals?

painting of face of woman with muted colors

People diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can exhibit problem behaviors that result from impulsivity. PhD Student Elinor Waite and Associate Professor Katherine Dixon-Gordon of the Clinical Affective Science Lab (CASL) have theorized that during these impulsive moments, an individual may not have learned from the negative consequences of their past actions. The researchers wanted to find out if emotions affect learning in a way that makes processing potential consequences more difficult.

Their study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, focused on people at-risk of engaging in suicidal behaviors, testing whether their emotional state could ultimately impede decision-making. Increased suicide risk is commonly associated with dysfunctional emotional responses to life events and problems with decision-making, conditions also common in individuals with BPD. Previous research has also shown that suicidal individuals have a reduced capacity to learn from reward and punishment.

The research team first recruited individuals 18–55 years of age that possessed high BPD features in their personality. Participants completed initial interviews as well as questionnaires to collect demographics and a history of their psychopathology.

In the lab, participants first underwent a neutral mood induction, by performing a simple counting task with onscreen visuals. Next, they began a training phase to prep for the upcoming learning task. This involved viewing two Japanese characters onscreen, choosing one of them, and receiving probabilistic feedback (‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ text, or a more socially based happy or angry face image). Six character pairings were used in total, with certain individual characters deemed correct more often. The team wanted to see how a participant’s learning updated after receiving these responses.

The learning task was similar to the training, but they could be presented with any combination of the six stimuli and received no feedback. The team now wanted to uncover what the individuals learned from the training phase and if they were able to generalize the implied probabilities with new pairings.

Participants also repeated the learning task after undergoing a negative mood induction. At an earlier visit, the individual was interviewed about a recent interpersonal stressor. Details of the stressor like emotions, body sensations, and thoughts were documented, and a script was created—retelling the events that took place. When the participant returned to complete the next learning task, a recording of the script was played, prompting them to recall the experience.  

With the help of Professor Andrew Cohen, the team used computational modeling to identify how the subjects were making decisions during the task, and if they had learned from the training phase. Waite describes this evaluation, “Are their choices based on feedback? Or are they just exploring, because a big part of learning is exploring our environment and seeing what gives us punishment, what gives us reinforcement. How much are they just exploring and trying things versus making their decisions based on what they perceived as feedback?”

The researchers concluded that there were differences in learning rates. Dixon-Gordon relates, “After experiencing this negative stress, people with higher suicide risk were more likely to disregard this pattern of past learning in favor of just flip-flopping around, depending on what worked just recently.

“We can think about this clinically that in those moments of suicidal crisis, when people are in their feelings and feeling hopeless, we really don't want them to disregard past learning. We don't want them to disregard times when they overcome challenges in the past. We want them to be able to hold on to that.”

A larger line of research for CASL and their collaborators, funded by NIH, is looking at individuals who have recently been in the emergency room for suicidal crisis, and investigating whether temporary disruptions in their ability to learn interact with their emotional state to predict near-term suicidal risk behaviors. These acute shifts in a person’s learning ability could represent a period of heightened risk for suicide—a time when the individual should be more closely monitored and receive additional help.

This research will shed light on the emotional and cognitive processes involved with suicidal thoughts and actions, leading to earlier detection of these behaviors and more informed interventions for people at risk.


New survey conducted by UMass Amherst Human Security Lab reveals Afghans’ views on peace, security, governance and human rights

scene of villages of Kabul

The survey, answered by more than 20,000 Afghans from all areas of the country, was particularly designed to capture women’s voices and measure gender gaps in attitudes

Preliminary results from a new public opinion survey in Afghanistan released this week by the University of Massachusetts Amherst Human Security Lab detail Afghan views on peace, security, governance and human rights across gender, linguistic, political, educational, socio-economic, geographical and religious divides.

The online survey, answered by more than 20,000 Afghans from all areas of the country, was particularly designed to capture and amplify women’s voices as well as to measure different Afghan men’s attitudes toward gender equality and measure gender gaps in attitudes. Over 8,000 women from all languages, regions and socioeconomic backgrounds participated in the survey and answered questions in their own words about their hopes for the future.

The preliminary results show wide support for women’s human rights in Afghanistan among both men and women. About two-thirds (67%) of men and women (65%) “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement “I believe achieving human rights for women is among the top priorities for my country.” Only 20% of Afghans disagreed with this, with 15% undecided; interestingly, women were more likely than men to strongly disagree with this statement.

In fact, when asked about the top three women’s human rights priorities, Afghan men prioritize certain rights in even greater numbers than women, including education (65% of men, 55% of women), the right to choose a husband (38% of men, 27% of women), the right to participate in government (39% of men, 31% of women) and the right to access healthcare (36% of men, 25% of women). Conversely, a greater number of women see the right to seek asylum as a priority for women (20%) than the number of men who see this as a priority (12%).

In addition to a number of questions about gender equality and women’s rights, the survey also polled Afghans on safety and security, governance, priorities for the future – including human rights, peace and food security – and what sort of international support they would prefer under Taliban rule, including their attitudes on the frozen Afghan national reserves.

The survey found approximately equal numbers of women and men report feeling “much less safe” since U.S. forces left the country, but that women are more likely to report than men that they feel “much more safe” since the Taliban took over. Women and men report supporting or opposing the Taliban in equal numbers, but men are more likely to be undecided in their support for the government.

Afghans have a wide range of views on the future of their country, with just over one-third (34%) of Afghans strongly opposed to Taliban rule and less than one-quarter (23%) strongly supportive of the regime. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Afghans report their ability to get food has worsened, with 45% reporting that it has “worsened a lot.” A majority (52%) of Afghans say the international community should not recognize the Taliban unless an inclusive government is established, with only 23% saying the Taliban should be recognized and another 20% “not sure.” When it comes to physical safety, 23% of Afghans report “repression from the Taliban” as their key concern, while 36% say they are most worried about renewed civil war between the Taliban and opposition groups.

The country is nearly evenly split on whether the reserves should be released (47%) or kept frozen (53%). When asked how they should be released, only 22% believe they should be released to the Taliban. About one-third of respondents say they should either be released to the central bank (32%) or they should be distributed by the United Nations or World Bank directly to the Afghan people (34%). Approximately one-in-10 (11%) provided a range of other ideas, including one respondent who chose none of the options presented wrote in their own words that the reserves should be spent on “funding for infrastructure projects such as the construction of a hydroelectric dam, the construction of the Salang tunnel, the digging of irrigation canals, establishment of a solar panel factory, projects that reduce poverty, create jobs, and reduce Afghanistan's dependence on foreign aid.”

The survey, which was conducted from March to June of this year, follows a major report on women’s human rights in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan published earlier this year by the Human Security Lab that recommended more representative data-gathering on the views of a wider range of women in that country, as well as on attitudes toward gender equality among men and Taliban supporters.

“Much Western media, human rights or humanitarian fact-finding occurs through conversations with civil society leaders, allowing Western-oriented local elites to speak for all women, and generally prioritizing educated women in urban areas or in the diaspora as key informants,” that report found. “This approach leaves information gaps about the needs of rural women, ethnic groups clustered outside of Kabul, or of women aligned with the Taliban.”

Charli Carpenter
Professor Charli Carpenter

Human Security Lab director Charli Carpenter, professor of political science at UMass Amherst, says the goal of the new project is to correct for those gaps and create a more evidence-based understanding of how to support Afghans and especially Afghan women. “We need to know a lot more, for example, about what Taliban-aligned women are thinking, or about what ‘gender equality’ means to older men, or about how Afghans in rural versus urban areas think about the tradeoffs between peace, security and human rights,” Carpenter says.

In the new survey, Afghans were also invited to answer questions in their own words, rather than simply clicking a box. When asked what achieving human rights for women would look like, more than 2,500 men and nearly 1,500 women wrote an answer in their own words. While the comments have not yet been analyzed, when they are they will represent the most comprehensive and diverse data gathered since the Taliban takeover on cross-ideological Afghan views toward gender equality and the future of the country.

Human Security Lab’s summer program for undergraduates trains students to rapidly and rigorously analyze large quantities of open-ended text answers using DiscoverText, a novel data analytics tool originally created at UMass Amherst.

The project, a collaboration between Carpenter and Bernhard Leidner, professor of psychological and brain sciences at UMass Amherst, was funded by a RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant provided the funds to hire a global survey consulting firm, RIWI, which has patented a novel methodology for accessing random samples of internet users’ opinions securely online in dangerous or difficult-to-access environments. This methodology, Carpenter explains, is particularly helpful to conflict researchers, resolving problems of security, safety and access to diverse participants in order to assure more generalizable findings.

Carpenter cautions, however, that “the survey is still not representative of all Afghans,” because internet users themselves are not a representative group, noting that research has found only about one-quarter of Afghans have regular internet access and those who do are over-represented in cities, among youth and among men. “But we do at least have a random sample of those we could reach online, which captures a far more diverse set of voices than snowball sampling or many non-random web-based surveys out there,” she says.

Carpenter says that the team at the Human Security Lab will be analyzing the data more rigorously over the summer and fall, using both statistical and qualitative data analysis methods to determine which women feel safe and unsafe, and how women and men define security and equality in their own words, and plan to release the results later this year.

The complete toplines for the survey are available for review through the Human Security Lab website.

Community-engagement preventive intervention promotes mental health of Bhutanese families in Western Massachusetts

Bhutanese families pose with Kalpana Poudel-Tandukar
Bhutanese families pose with Kalpana Poudel-Tandukar

UMass Amherst researchers are implementing NIH-supported, family-centered program to aid immigrants in the U.S.

After years of working with Bhutanese community members in Western Massachusetts, a team led by a University of Massachusetts Amherst researcher has developed a peer-led, family-centered preventive intervention to reduce stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms and promote mental health among immigrants in the U.S.

In a paper published in the journal BMJ OpenKalpana Poudel-Tandukar (College of Nursing) and colleagues Christopher Martell, Holly Laws, and Jerrold Meyer (Psychological and Brain Sciences) lay out details of the pilot, randomized controlled trial with Bhutanese adults that will assess the effectiveness of a psychological intervention developed by the World Health Organization, known as problem management plus (PMP), which trained laypeople can deliver.

Kalpana Poudel-Tandukar
Kalpana Poudel-Tandukar

Poudel-Tandukar, associate professor, led efforts to adapt PMP as a preventive intervention and develop the program for immigrants (PMP-I) using psychoeducation, problem-solving, behavior activation and mind-body exercise to address immigrants’ multiple stressors. She works with a team of UMass Amherst colleagues in the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, School of Public Health and Health Sciences and College of Natural Sciences, and Vanderbilt University’s Department of Psychology, in collaboration with their community partner, the Bhutanese Christian Society of Western Massachusetts.

“Stress is linked with almost all diseases, and anxiety and depression,” says Poudel-Tandukar, who years ago worked with Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, where she then lived and was a clinician. “Members of this group are at high risk for mental health problems due to their exposure to multiple stressors, such as limited language and socio-cultural skills required for acculturation in a new culture. Our baseline study reported a high prevalence of depression (24.0%) and anxiety (34.2%) in this Bhutanese population. I understand their language and their culture. We are working together to address their mental health needs using problem-solving approaches, managing stress and sharing preventive strategies.”

About 90,000 Bhutanese families have been resettled in the U.S. from refugee camps in Nepal since 2008. Beginning in 2015, Poudel-Tandukar worked with Bhutanese community members resettled in Western Massachusetts in collaboration with Bhutanese community leaders.

Poudel-Tandukar started her intervention research with 44 Bhutanese immigrants, 10 of whom were then trained as community interventionists to help other refugees manage stress during a weekly social and emotional well-being program that lasted for five weeks and included 50 families.

Results from her intervention studies published in the Health and Social Care in the Community and Community Mental Health Journal were so promising, showing significantly reduced rates of anxiety and depression among participants, that Poudel-Tandukar received a three-year, $732,144 grant from the National Institutes of Health to implement the program on a larger scale in a pilot, randomized controlled trial.

“Their coping and family conflict resolution skills were improved, and their social networking was improved after intervention,” Poudel-Tandukar says.

Four Bhutanese community members who coampleted the initial intervention are now working as community interventionists/research assistants and are studying nursing. “They can see their strengths, and they are so much more confident now. They are role models in their communities to inspire and bring young adults into the nursing and health workforce. I am so very proud of them,” Poudel-Tandukar adds.

The research was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but by 2024, trial results are expected from the larger intervention program with 116 families. “In Nepal, they struggled for the opportunity,” Poudel-Tandukar says. “Now, I share with them that they are in the land of opportunity. They are in the fruit garden surrounded by lots of fruit. They have to decide what fruit to pick, when and how many.”

Poudel-Tandukar and colleagues are hopeful that the PMP-1 program they are testing will be expanded around the country to help other immigrant groups. “We plan to replicate the program and network with other refugee organizations, including Ukrainian and Afghani,” Poudel-Tandukar says.

For her “outstanding community-engaged, applied and translational research,” Poudel-Tandukar was honored recently with the UMass Amherst Provost Office’s 2022 Distinguished Community Engagement Award for Research.

 “I am so inspired and motivated to work more to address the mental health needs of immigrant and refugee communities nationally and globally,” she says. 

Welcoming new Department Chair Maureen Perry-Jenkins

Maureen Perry-JenkinsThe Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS) is pleased to announce that Professor Maureen Perry-Jenkins has been elected Department Chair, serving a three-year term.

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.

When asked what UMass and PBS mean to her, Perry-Jenkins says, “As an undergraduate in PBS at UMass in the 80s, it feels like a full circle moment to now be stepping in as Chair. I am honored and excited about the opportunity to lead PBS. I am inspired by the amazing faculty, students and staff who make our department great, and I hope to support them all in fulfilling their goals, both professionally and personally.”

Looking to the future of PBS, she states, “Psychological and Brain Sciences is one of the most interdisciplinary sciences on this campus. The research conducted by our faculty aims to address significant human challenges and explore key questions regarding how the human brain works, how we behave, and how our bodies and mind interact. PBS also has an outstanding team of educators teaching over 2,000 majors. My hope is to work with everyone in PBS to create a supportive, diverse, and inclusive environment that provides an opportunity for all of us to thrive.”

Within UMass Amherst, Perry-Jenkins has recently served as Director of the Center for Research on Families; Interim Associate Dean for Graduate, Postdoctoral, and Faculty Development in the College of Natural Sciences (CNS); and Clinical Psychology Division Head/Director of Clinical Training for PBS.

Professionally she has served as Co-President of the Council on Contemporary Families, as well as Fellow and Executive Board member of the National Council on Family Relations.

Perry-Jenkins publishes regularly in professional journals including being a member of the editorial boards for Journal of Marriage and Family; Journal of Family Theory and Review; and Community, Work and Family; among others. She has authored the book Work Matters: How Parents’ Jobs Shape Children’s Well-being, along with numerous chapters in books on family relations.

Among many academic honors, she has recently received the UMass Distinguished Community Engagement Award for Teaching, a CNS ADVANCE Mentoring Award, and the Ernest W. Burgess Award for Outstanding Contribution to Family Science from the National Council on Family Relations.

Kuan-Jung Huang receives 2022 Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Award

Kuan-JungKuan-Jung Huang, a fourth-year student in the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience program working with Dr. Adrian Staub, has received the seventh annual Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Award.

His project, titled "Morphosyntactic processing of compound words in Chinese reading", will examine the dynamic between two processes for visual recognition of complex words: direct form-meaning mapping and composition of sub-constituents, and test whether morphosyntactic structure and frequency of the word matter. The understanding will have implications for language learning (how writing systems shape our mental dictionary) and sentence processing (whether Chinese readers rapidly utilize morphosyntactic cues for online word segmentation).

Study aims to understand the psychology that threatens American democracy

red and blue figures in political demonstration


New report examines how threats to social identities fuel authoritarian sentiment and drive Americans apart

Amid an unprecedented democratic decline in the U.S., a new report by Beyond Conflict, co-authored by University of Massachusetts Amherst social psychologist Linda Tropp, analyzes America’s current social divides through the lens of social science to understand how threats – both real and perceived – shape our sense of identity, our feelings of belonging and our perceptions of status and power relations in society.

All of these effects have downstream impacts on our behavior, the report notes, and ultimately the health of our democracy.

“The United States is changing at the same time that democracy is under threat and driven by the politics of fear,” says Tim Phillips, CEO and founder of Beyond Conflict. “Beyond Conflict has spent the past few years seeking to understand how our psychology is impacted by deepening polarization and how we can be reunited as Americans. We have the capacity as a nation to come together, find common cause and renew our commitment to democracy for generations to come. By having a better understanding of how our minds work, we will be better equipped to recognize that fear and uncertainty are natural human emotions that – just like feelings of hope and security – can be harnessed and deployed to help us envision a shared and more inclusive nation.”

Oriented toward practical interventions, the report, titled "Renewing American Democracy: Navigating A Changing Nation," translates an extensive amount of academic scholarship to clarify how our social identities – and perceived threats to those identities – drive social division and identity-based conflict. Authors explain how the human instinct to align with groups of people who look and think like them, and the reflex to defend those groups against perceived threats, is exploited and leveraged by political actors, decision makers, media conglomerates and other influencers.

 “We must pay serious attention to people’s identities as group members and how they perceive threats in relation to those identities,” says Tropp, co-chair of the advisory group convened for the study. “And we must find meaningful ways to reduce those feelings of threat. Otherwise, how can we expect people to be open to others’ perspectives and learn about others’ experiences if they feel threatened by those very others?”

This is the second report from the Americas Divided Mind initiative, which seeks to better understand and address the drivers of social division in the U.S. For the new report, Beyond Conflict convened thought leaders from politics, academia, public policy and the media. A thorough review of the scientific literature was integrated with recommendations developed by think tanks, advocates and civil society coalitions to inform the findings. The report four identity-related dynamics that are exacerbating social divides and potential pathways for intervention:

  • Factionalism and partisan sorting. Americans’ political affiliations have become tightly aligned with other salient group identities. Remedies include highlighting identities that cut across partisan differences; creating space to redefine American identity; and normalizing disagreement as central to democracy.
  • Residential segregation and declining social trust. Segregation means that people from different groups are less likely to have first-hand experience with each other, which limits our capacity to counter the influences of divisive messaging. Remedies include increasing openness to engagement across group lines; organizing opportunities for cross-party engagement between citizens and elected officials; and facilitating positive contact among political, racial, ethnic and religious groups.
  • Information echo chambers. The more we live in distinct and divisive information ecosystems that exaggerate a sense of being disliked and dehumanized by the other side, the more inclined we are to support using anti-democratic means to harm people whose views differ from our own. Remedies include correcting Americans’ perceptions about what other people believe; complicating prevailing narrative by challenging sweeping assumptions; engaging media personalities to model new norms for civil discourse; and investing in local reporting and media outlets.
  • Divergent racial attitudes and beliefs about racial equity. Factionalism, bolstered by information echo chambers and residential segregation, drives widely divergent views on racial inequality in America. Remedies include disrupting common narratives and misconceptions about racial progress; discussing real differences in our views and lived experiences; building cross-group, multiracial coalitions; and creating more space for inclusive and multifaceted representations of U.S. history.

“The human brain is not partisan,” says Beyond Conflict program director Michelle Barsa, lead author of the report. “Partisanship is fed by how our brains experience hope and fear. When threats to our partisan identities are manipulated for power, it deepens our psychological instincts to protect our groups and how we see the world. If we want to renew American democracy and strengthen the capacity of Americans to address the fundamental challenges confronting the nation, we must understand the psychology behind the fear and anxiety that drives us apart.”

Bill Knecht '65, LCSW, BACS

Alumni Spotlight

Bill KnechtDegree(s): 
BA Psychology UMass 1965
MSW Tulane University School of Social Work 1973

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Private Practice Therapist, Social Work Supervisor; Self-employed

Summary of Position:
Private practice therapist (Couples and Sexual issues). Award-winning social work supervisor...clinical and management. Workshop presenter of advanced clinical practice. Volunteer mentor for current UMass students and recent alumni who seek career in social work or clinical practice. Taught class in Management and Leadership for MSW students at Tulane. Just published first book: Accidental Therapist by Bill Knecht, LCSW, BACS.

What do you love most about this career path?
Being able to help people who are upset with their lives and giving them the tools to help themselves.

Future Goals:
Share what I have learned about being a therapist with experienced and novice therapists alike.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
I didn't discover my career until after UMass but it was there that my broad liberal arts curriculum gave me the personal foundation of my lifelong education.

Tips for Current Students:
Take advantage of UMASS's vast curriculum to expose yourself to as much variety as possible.

Early detection of psychological disorders using lab-based game

children with slightly different facial expressions

Adam Grabell (Psychological and Brain Sciences) and Tauhidur Rahman (Information and Computer Sciences) have received a Technology Development Fund award from the University of Massachusetts. Across the five-campus UMass system, ten faculty research projects will each receive up to $25,000 from the Technology Development Fund, which helps to commercialize scientific breakthroughs. The fund is overseen by the Office of Technology Commercialization and Ventures (OTCV) at the UMass President’s Office in Boston.

The Technology Development Fund awards provide supplemental funding to help close the gap between UMass research discoveries and proven technology that address the most pressing issues facing the region, the nation, and the world, often laying the groundwork for major breakthroughs.

“These faculty projects showcase how UMass continues to realize long-term growth and achievement in its commercialization enterprise,” said Carl Rust, Executive Director of Industry Engagement and Business Development, who oversees the OTCV initiative.

Grabell and Rahman have created EarlyScreen, a lab-based game and algorithm that detects the presence of psychological disorders in preschool children with a high degree of accuracy compared to commonly used diagnosis tools. Psychological disorders emerging in the first few years of life often persist across later developmental stages and into adulthood, resulting in significant impairment and societal costs. The emerging signs of psychological disorders are difficult to differentiate from normative misbehavior in early childhood, creating a “when to worry” problem for caregivers and providers. EarlyScreen’s algorithm automatically extracts features such as facial expressions, gaze, and head movement from video footage.

Since 2004, UMass has invested nearly $3 million in faculty R&D projects through the Technology Development Fund. Projects are chosen for their commercial viability, in hopes that development of the technology will lead to a startup company or licensing agreement. Funding for the annual awards comes from commercial licensing income on previous faculty discoveries.

UMass continues to have a strong record of generating income from the commercialization of its academic research – $257 million over the last five years – and typically places among the top 25 universities in a national survey of income generated by technology transfer.

Spring 2022 Newsletter

students walk by the library in spring

Catch up with the latest PBS news including spotlights on our talented students, faculty, and alumni!

Read full issue

Features include:

  • Program to Match Mental Health Patients to Psychotherapists’ Strengths Funded for Large-Scale Implementation
  • 2022 Senior Awards
  • Tweet Blitz: Undergraduate Research
  • Spotlight on Alumni

Research Highlights:

  • Institute of Diversity Sciences awarded a Reboot Representation Grant to Support Leadership Academy Program
  • Does anger effect racial biases during a weapon identification task?
  • Multiregional study documents the experiences of siblings of people with intellectual disabilities

Award Highlights:

  • Elodie Carel and Jacqueline Victoria Grundfast honored as 21st Century Leaders
  • Gorana Gonzalez receives Wendy Helmer Memorial Graduate Student Award and Holly Laws wins Faculty/Staff Ally to Graduate Students Award
  • Tara Mandalaywala receives CNS Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award

Institute of Diversity Sciences awarded a Reboot Representation Grant to Support Leadership Academy Program

The Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS) at UMass Amherst, directed by Nilanjana Buju Dasgupta (psychology) was awarded a two-year $499,359 grant from Reboot Representation to support the IDS Leadership Academy for students from groups traditionally marginalized in tech & engineering. 

Dwana FranklinExecutive Director of Reboot, Dwana Franklin-Davis (pictured) expressed that “At Reboot, we’ve learned that targeted and tailored support for Black, Latina, and Native American women can open the door to tech careers and to leadership, impact, and power. We’re excited to partner with UMass Amherst and the Institute of Diversity Sciences to support students transitioning into tech careers through leadership training, mentorship, and professional development.”  

The IDS Leadership Academy is a year-long virtual and interactive program that creates a supportive cohort where students develop strong relationships with peers and mentors from similar backgrounds who are forging pathways in tech and engineering. The program consists of three components: (1) a six-week synchronous online summer program; (2) a speaker series; and (3) an industry mentorship program during the academic year.   

The summer 6-week online course is a fast-paced 15 -20 hours/week program – an accelerator for students planning their journeys to thrive in the tech and engineering sectors. Students learn about, and gain experience in, navigating the culture of professional workplaces through a curriculum designed Dr. Rati Thanawala, who spearheaded this course for her non-profit, Leadership Academy for Women of Color in Tech Inc. Students also participate in an intensive negotiation clinic run by Harvard Kennedy School’s Co-Director of the Center for Public Leadership and the Women and Public Policy Program, Dr. Hannah Riley Bowles. By developing these skills within a cohort of their peers from similar backgrounds, students gain a sense of belonging in tech and engineering. Helping with this sense of belonging is a weekly speaker series provides the opportunity for students to interact with and learn from a variety of experienced professionals, themselves from diverse backgrounds. In an academic-year mentorship program, students deepen their relationships to a few mentors, who act as continued guides, coaches and connectors to internships, jobs, and other related opportunities as they transition from college to careers. 

In the past 2 years, student participants in the LA came from 27 colleges and universities across the nation. The program is free for students and they receive need-based stipends in the summer so that they can participate without needing a summer job. Because the Leadership Academy is virtual, IDS pays special attention to digital inclusion and student needs for high-speed internet and other equipment. In 2022, the course will begin on July 11 and run through Aug. 19.  

The program has shown promising results, according to Professor of psychology and Director of IDS, Nilanjana Buju Dasgupta, who leads the program evaluation team. Leadership Academy participants report a significantly stronger sense of belonging in CS and engineering majors. They feel significantly more confident and motivated, and less anxious about pursuing careers in tech and engineering fields. They approach professional situations with a growth mindset and look for opportunities to practice public speaking, communication, and negotiation skills more than do the controls. These are all indications that these students will start their early careers in a strong position, equipped to move into leadership positions quickly.  

Hear testimonials from students from our 2021 Leadership Academy in this 3 minute video below. Also, don't forget to apply for the professional development opportunity--with full scholarships available--by May 1st here!

The Reboot Representation Tech Coalition is a group of 22 leading tech companies committed to doubling the number of Black, Latina, and Native American women receiving computing degrees by 2025. The Coalition works to achieve that goal through targeted, philanthropic investments in the often overlooked programs and institutions that make education and careers in computing more equitable. Their funding of the IDS Leadership Academy will support scholarships for 60 Black, Latinx, and Native American women studying computer science (30 per year, for two years). 

The Institute of Diversity Sciences’ (IDS) mission is to use STEM to advance social justice. IDS does this by cultivating a multidisciplinary STEM learning community that breaks down disciplinary silos, brokers research collaborations, and creates mentored research opportunities for students. As part of its mission, IDS also attracts and supports diverse students in STEM pathways, who are attracted to IDS in large numbers because of its equity-focused research. IDS programs promotes the success of these students through professional development programs, including the Leadership Academy. The impact of these programs move beyond UMass through an NSF-funded state-wide research-practitioner network of universities, community colleges, high schools, and businesses to increase underrepresented students’ access to, and success in, technology and engineering educational and career pathways. For more information, see

If you are a computer science or engineering student at a U.S. institution and would like to apply for the Leadership Academy Program, see the website: 

Psychology graduates honored as 21st Century Leaders

The University of Massachusetts Amherst honored the exemplary achievements, initiative, and leadership of some of its most talented and accomplished graduating seniors during Undergraduate Commencement on Friday, May 13. Our psychology 21st Century Leaders include:

ElodieElodie Carel of Wayland is a Commonwealth Honors College student who earned a degree in psychology and a Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration in disability studies. A disabled student who uses a wheelchair, Carel at first had difficulty navigating campus. She persevered and made her mark as a scholar as well as a student leader as she began her quest to increase access and destigmatize disability. Carel was selected to be a teaching assistant for five psychology courses. One of her two honors theses related to disability and stigma won an outstanding thesis award from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Carel held leadership positions in campus disability activism and culture groups, including Access UMass. In her work with the UMass Alliance Against Ableism, she sought to increase equity for disabled people on campus, which included helping organize a speaker series in which panelists shared their experiences with disability activism at UMass Amherst. She plans to continue her research focused on disability and ableism and earn a doctorate in psychology. 

JacquelineJacqueline Victoria Grundfast of Warwick, N.Y., a Commonwealth Honors College student, is receiving dual degrees: a Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration in biomedical ethics and policy and a degree in psychology, in addition to a minor in business. Grundfast attained the dean’s list every semester. As vice chair of Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), a nonpartisan student activist organization, she coordinated a highly successful youth voter effort for UMass Amherst during the 2020 election cycle registering 650 students, 75 percent of whom voted, a 20 percent increase over 2016. Consequently, Grundfast was selected to be a presenter on strategic campaigns for increasing youth voter registration and turnout at a national conference held at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. While an intern for Massachusetts State Rep. Mindy Domb, Grundfast researched and analyzed bills and legislative issues and wrote testimony on Domb’s behalf on several issues. To further prepare for a career advancing social justice and progress, she will attend Brooklyn Law School in the fall with a concentration in corporate law. 

PBS honors faculty and students with Wendy Helmer Memorial Graduate Student Award and Faculty/Staff Ally to Graduate Students Award

Gorana GonzalezGorana Gonzalez has received the Wendy Helmer Memorial Graduate Student Award. 
“The Wendy Helmer Memorial Graduate Student Award is a peer-nominated award that is presented to graduate students who positively influence the UMass PBS community. This award recognizes individuals who have actively contributed to an environment that embraces inclusion, community, collaboration, mentorship, and social justice. Just as Wendy did, this award recognizes passionate individuals who challenge the status quo and actively contribute to an environment that embraces inclusion, community, mentorship, and social justice.”

Joel Ginn and Adrian Rivera-RodriquezJoel Ginn and Adrian Rivera-Rodriquez were given honorable mentions by their fellow graduate students for their continual availability to help others in the department and their dedication to justice and equity.

Holly LawsHolly Laws has received the Faculty/Staff Ally to Graduate Students Award.
“The Faculty/Staff Ally to Graduate Students Award is a student-nominated award that is presented annually to a faculty member or staff person in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences who has demonstrated themselves to be a dedicated ally to graduate students. This individual works to foster an environment of collaboration and support and improves the overall quality of life for graduate students in the department. This award recognizes a passionate individual who challenges the status quo and actively contributes to an environment that embraces inclusion, community, mentorship, and social justice.”

This year PBS also had the opportunity to congratulate last year’s winners since there was no in-person ceremony in 2021; Brooke Burrows, Jasmine Dixon, and Mélise Edwards all won the Wendy Helmer Memorial Graduate Student Award, and Tara Mandalaywala, won the Faculty/Staff Ally to Graduate Students Award. Congratulations to all of our winners!

(L-R) Brooke Burrows, Jasmine Dixon, and Mélise Edwards


Tara Mandalaywala
Tara Mandalaywala

CNS Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards given to PBS faculty and students

We are pleased to announce the 2022 CNS Outstanding Achievement Award winners! These awards recognize excellence and honors members within CNS who have made important contributions to their discipline, department, college and university.

CNS Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards


Faculty awardee:
Tara Mandalaywala


Student awardees:
SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native American in Science) including Miriam Hernandez-Romero, Natasha De La Rosa, Leah Travis-White, Nadia Fernandez, Estefany Argueta Herrera, and Yaharia Bermudez.

The purpose of the SACNAS Chapter at UMass Amherst is to facilitate and support activities that foster the advancement of academic and professional success of self-identified Indigenous, Chicano, and Hispanic students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Tweet Blitz: Undergraduate Research

Every spring we're proud to showcase undergraduate research in a poster-fest attended by students and faculty alike. Check out some tweets and posters from our talented students, summing up their extraordinary projects!

JessikaHow do first-time parents balance work and family life while coparenting? We found that while family support improves coparenting quality overall, this relationship may look different across family types (married, cohabiting, and single-parent families) and genders (mothers and fathers). Jessika Antinori

Coparenting and Family Social Support Across Different Family Forms

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Click to enlarge poster

LuanaDo you know how your behaviors impact your child’s development? This book identifies strategies and insights for parents on raising healthy children emotionally, socially, cognitively, and academically. Luana Sena Balbino

Advice for Parents: How Parental Attitudes and Behaviors Impact Children’s Development

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Click to enlarge poster

YanaWhat factors influence informal social reactions to IPV disclosure? Negative reactions can be detrimental to well-being.
Yana Deeley

Community Perceptions of Domestic Violence

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ClaudiaHow does a parent's response to their child's negative emotions affect the child's behavior? We found that non-supportive parental responses are associated with high internalizing, anxiety and withdrawal, and externalizing, aggression and rule-breaking, behaviors in boys and girls alike. It's important to recognize that this association increases significantly from age 6 to age 9. Claudia Gaebler

The Effects of Parental Response to Emotion on Internalizing and Externalizing Behavior in Middle Childhood

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Click to enlarge poster

JenniferDoes aging impair memory recall across the board? We found that age-related deficits in memory recall depend on what you are trying to remember. Jennifer Gove

Age-related Impairments in Memory Recall Depend on What You are Remembering

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BenjaminNorepinephrine, a neurotransmitter released in your brain, makes you feel higher levels of stress and fight or flight response. How is this screwed up by alcohol? Benjamin Packer

Alcohol and Stress Project: Effects on the Locus Coeruleus and the Role of Norepinephrine
Click to enlarge poster

SophiaDoes Sleep + Nap = Nap + Sleep? We found that the order of sleep may not matter for procedural memory consolidation in preschoolers, but that the amount of sleep does matter! Sophia Struzziero

The effects of sleep order on procedural learning in preschoolaged children

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Linda Tropp awarded Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professorship at the University of Sussex

Linda TroppLinda Tropp has been awarded a Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professorship at the University of Sussex (UK) in 2023. This visiting professorship is "for UK institutions to invite an eminent researcher from overseas to enhance the skills and knowledge of the academic staff and/or students." 

The overall objective of the visit is to develop the public engagement capacities of researchers at University of Sussex, as well as that of academic beneficiaries from collaborative networks at other universities in the UK. Within this overall objective, a key aim is to develop the capacity of early career researchers. The objectives will be achieved through developing in our researchers new understandings, skills and expertise in the communication and translation of scientific research to diverse (non-academic) audiences, including policymakers, journalists, practitioners, community-based organizations, and members of the broader public. Professor Linda Tropp, who is a world-leading social psychologist specialising in understanding and improving intergroup relations, has developed a new model for public engagement and translation of research. Professor Tropp will provide a programme of activities based on her unique experience of and expertise in public engagement, outreach and advocacy. Her programme of public engagement grew from her research work on improving relations between social groups but covers broad issues and common skills that can be applied to a wide range of topics in psychology and social science more broadly.

2022 Senior Awards

senior award winners pose together at UMass

Student Award
Arlo Heimer-Bumstead Outstanding Overall Senior Award
Yana Deeley Outstanding Overall Senior Award
Sari Saint-Hilaire Outstanding Senior Service Award
Jennifer Gove Outstanding Honors Thesis Award
Philip Dorfman Outstanding Honors Thesis Award
Beatrice Ojuri RA Appreciation Award
Charles Pisaturo III RA Appreciation Award
Andrew Simonton TA Appreciation Award
Alexis Minnis TA Appreciation Award
Hannah Carroll Academic Excellence Award
Paulina Dubb Outstanding Internship Award

Hear what some of our senior award winners had to say about their UMass experience:


Arlo Heimer-Bumstead and Christina Metevier

Arlo Heimer-Bumstead

Outstanding Overall Senior Award

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
My experiences in PBS have formed a huge part of who I am. This department as a whole has been like a second family. From the faculty advisors, through the professors and all the way to the students I have met and interacted with throughout my time here I haven't met a single person who hasn't been incredibly kind and encouraging and pushed me to be a better student and person as whole.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway from UMass is the importance of making connections. No one succeeds on their own and everyone has their own strengths. Forming connections with other people and learning from them can help you broaden your own knowledge and can allow you to grow as a person. I have learned so much just by watching the other people in the department and being in this environment. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
I am going to be working in the Somneuro lab here at UMass as lab manager/research staff. After that I plan to go into either an MD or PhD program, though I have not fully decided yet which direction I want to go.

Yana Deeley

Yana Deeley

Outstanding Overall Senior Award

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
I had formative academic and research experiences that shaped me into the person I am today. After taking courses within the department I knew that psychology is where my interests lie, and later I joined the ViTAL lab where my passions became more refined. My peers and mentors have been instrumental to my success, and I am thankful to have been a part of such a supportive community. Not only was I encouraged to grow, but I was also taught how important it is to properly partake in self-care. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
It is all what you make it to be. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
I will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a trauma focus. 

Jennifer Gove and Tammy Rahhal

Jennifer Gove

Outstanding Honors Thesis Award

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
I feel that during my time here I have truly gained a well-rounded foundation in Psychology and Neuroscience. I have not only had the ability to explore many of the different realms within these fields, but I have had the opportunity to home in on where my true interests lie, and where I would like my future career path to take me. I am thankful not only for the courses I have been able to take, but for my experience in the cMAP lab, and for all of the insight that has offered me into becoming a graduate student in the future.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
I am unbelievably grateful for the opportunities I have had to gain experience into the world of research under the mentorship of Dr. Rosie Cowell. I was lucky enough to be involved in all aspects of my honors thesis project: recruiting and running subjects, administration of neuropsychological testing, following IRB protocols and document management, and learning to write scripts to both construct the experiment as well as adapt for data output and data analysis specifications. My involvement in the cMAP lab has not only helped to prepare me for the future, but has affirmed my genuine interest and enjoyment in the process of research of this type.

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
I will be pursuing a PhD position in a Cognitive Neuroscience lab, with future plans to stay in academia. 

Beatrice Ojuri and Jennifer McDermott

Beatrice Ojuri

RA Appreciation Award

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
From the courses I’ve taken to my position as a research assistant, PBS has guided me to my passions. Without being heavily involved in research and taking developmental, neuroscience, and even statistics courses, I would not be on the path I’m on currently. This path is one that I did not start off on, but my experiences in PBS have led me here and I feel truly excited to be on it.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
UMass taught me that you do not need to box yourself in. There are so many opportunities to explore your interests. Even if they do not seem like they go hand in hand, you go after it and make it work. There are so many resources to support you through this and help you succeed.

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
I plan on pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology, but for the next two years I will be building upon my research experiences. I am still in the decision making process, but will be conducting research with the aim of bettering early screening tools as well as treatments for individuals with ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Additionally, I plan to be an active member of a team improving outreach initiatives to reach underrepresented populations in research.

Charles Pisaturo III and Evelyn Mercado

Charles Pisaturo III

RA Appreciation Award

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
My experience in PBS has shaped who I am today because the courses offered within this curriculum ground and humble us as students.  From a personal standpoint, the coursework within the Psychology department, while quite diversified, helps give us as students new perspectives.  Further, between learning in settings varying from 300+ lectures to smaller, 25-student classrooms, I also find myself responsible to acknowledge the privilege of accessibility.  As a white queer person, coming from a middle-class family, I am allowed access to a variety of privileges others are not.  Yet, this identity has also taught me much about being a queer person in areas unwelcoming of my own identity.  Between these two factors, I believe my most shapeable experiences in PBS are the ones prompting me to be more accessible and open to discomfort (discomfort in the form of being wrong, apologizing, or attempting to be more cognitive of my own surroundings).  PBS has helped me value the people and their idiosyncrasies, as well as recognize and create plans of action for those unable to access the same privileges as myself.  

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway from UMass is the ability to find flaws and cracks in most everything.  This may not sound positive, but finding flaws can be beneficial, if we're willing to instill change to address these flaws.  Covering up problems or directly ignoring them is something that comes with institutionalization.  To me, this method of addressing issues is wrong.  Being a student at UMass the past 4 years has helped me recognize spaces that lack safety and inclusion.  In this manner, this school has helped me relish and appreciate spaces in and out of the university that do the direct opposite of this.  For me, finding areas that welcome and dismantle hierarchical systems, where folks can actively encourage change and one another has been the greatest takeaway from this school.  

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
After UMass, I will be working in Milan, Italy, serving as a mentor in a technical high school.  Here, I will be assisting an instructor with their lessons, as well as building my own to help students learn English, while simultaneously engaging in their own studies.  The program will run from October 2022-May 2023, and my goal is to also engross myself in community work inside the city in tandem with teaching in order to give back to the very place welcoming me.  Long term plans involve obtaining a Master's in Social Work, and hopefully adding a specialization in sex psychology to help folks in need of receiving sex therapy.  

Alexis Minnis and Christina Metevier

Alexis Minnis

TA Appreciation Award

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
It shaped me into the learner I am today. It shaped the path I took in college and why I am going into the field I am going into. It shaped how I view certain things in the field. But most of all it gave me the mentors that I would be lost without. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest take away from UMass is to say yes to everything. The things I randomly tried ended up being my favorites. I have had so many awesome experiences just because a friend invited me to something and I said yes. There are so many walks of life and different things out there so get out of your bubble and try it all. UMass is full of so many opportunities and different things so get out there and use it to the fullest!

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
After UMass I will be teaching Middle school math through  Teach For America in New Orleans! I am super excited about my next chapter and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Hannah Carroll and Tammy Rahhal

Hannah Carroll

Academic Excellence Award

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
I chose to become a psychology major because my sister has autism and I wanted to learn more about the basis of her behavior, but I learned much more than I ever anticipated. Reflecting back, the classes that I took have played a large role in the person that I am today. Taking Maureen Perry-Jenkins class on the ecological model of childhood development helped me recognize that no detail is too small to play a role in shaping who we are. On the other hand, Luke Remage-Healey's class on behavioral neuroendocrinology taught me the scientific basis for behavior that contributed to my understanding of the internal factors that can impact our lives. This is all to say, being a psych major not only changed my perspective and understanding of everybody around me, but it has also changed my own understanding of myself and who I am as a person. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway is to be a self-advocate. From speaking up to professors who you think have misgraded your work, to stepping in at the first chance you see a table opening up at a dining hall, UMass has taught me to not be afraid to speak up for myself with confidence. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
I will be going to the UMass Chan Medical School in August! UMass Med was my top choice for medical school, and I am so incredibly grateful for all that UMass Amherst has done to help me accomplish something I never thought I could. 

Philip Dorfman and Adam Grabell

Philip Dorfman

Outstanding Honors Thesis Award

Paulina Dubb and Ashley Woodman

Paulina Dubb

Outstanding Internship Award

Sari Saint-Hilaire and Kirby Deater-Deckard

Sari Saint-Hilaire

Outstanding Senior Service Award

Andrew Simonton and Richard Halgin

Andrew Simonton

TA Appreciation Award

advising office poses
PBS Advising Office and Senior Award Winners

Senior Spotlight: Hannah Carroll

Hannah CarrollWhat is one of your favorite memories from UMass?
It's hard to choose one, but many of them come from my time as a coxswain on the men's rowing team. From a spontaneous trip to Maine to play Catan at a Denny's in Portland, to competing to see who could hold a plank the longest each Friday in the fall (which I once won with 7 minutes), I know that the friends I made there will stay with me long after graduation.

How has UMass allowed for your intellectual/academic/creative abilities to flourish?
The variety of experiences that UMass offers both inside and outside of the classroom is what has allowed me to enhance all of my abilities as an undergraduate. It's hard to name one specific aspect, because there are so many opportunities that I was able to take advantage of over the past three years.  

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field shape who you are today?
I chose to become a psychology major because my sister has autism and I wanted to learn more about the basis of her behavior, but I learned much more than I ever anticipated. Reflecting back, the classes that I took have played a large role in the person that I am today. Taking Maureen Perry-Jenkins class on the ecological model of childhood development helped me recognize that no detail is too small to play a role in shaping who we are. On the other hand, Luke Remage-Healey's class on behavioral neuroendocrinology taught me the scientific basis for behavior that contributed to my understanding of the internal factors that can impact our lives. This is all to say, being a psych major not only changed my perspective and understanding of everybody around me, but it has also changed my own understanding of myself and who I am as a person.

Who is someone who motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
I think the psych department has the best faculty and students at UMass, but to choose someone specific, it is without a doubt Tammy Rahhal. If it had not been for meeting Tammy, I would not have accomplished nearly as much as I did by the time of graduation. In the spring of 2021, I was dealing with a lot of difficult factors in my personal life that I was struggling to handle on my own. At that same time, I was planning to graduate a year early, to take the MCAT in a matter of weeks, and to apply to medical school that June. I doubted I would be able to still accomplish any of those things, but Tammy's support, motivation, and encouragement not only got me through that awful time, but also allowed me to successfully accomplish all that I had originally set out to do. I could write paragraphs about just how grateful I am to have Tammy in my life, but I hope that this gives everyone an idea of just how amazing of a human being she is.

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students?
My advice would be to do more than you think you can. I took AP English and AP history classes in high school, and avoided science classes because I was told I had a humanities focused brain and not a STEM one. When I got to UMass, no one knew what I was capable of and I wanted to see if I had what it took to do a pre-medical track. I got an A in every science class I took, became a chemistry tutor, and I scored above the 90th percentile on my MCAT. If someone told me in high school that I would be where I am today, I would've thought they had my future confused with someone else. College is a chance for a clean slate and a chance to become a new person if that's what you choose to do; you should not come in with a fixed mindset.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway is to be a self-advocate. From speaking up to professors who you think have misgraded your work to stepping in at the first chance you see a table opening up at a dining hall, UMass has taught me to not be afraid to speak up for myself with confidence.

What is next for you?
I will be going to the UMass Chan Medical School in August! UMass Med was my top choice for medical school, and I am so incredibly grateful for all that UMass Amherst has done to help me accomplish something I never thought I could. 

Senior Spotlight: Michelle Gitau

MichelleWhat is one of your favorite memories from UMass? 
One of my favorite memories has to be my friends surprising me with a cake at midnight on my birthday freshman year. 

How has UMass allowed for your intellectual/academic/creative abilities to flourish?
I think there are so many clubs to be involved in that I have gotten involved with allowing me to express myself from fashion to faith and even academic based clubs. I found being in the BioPioneers RAP my freshman year to be extremely helpful as well as it gave me people who supported and challenged me as friends and professors that put me on the right path. 

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field shape who you are today?
I have met so many people through all the clubs and activities I am involved in and I cannot ever thank each and every one of them enough! Shoutout to Soul TV, SNMA-MAPS, Black Women in Medicine, UMass B.A.S.I.C, UMass Gospel Choir, Insanely Prestigious StepTeam, Student Bridges, Grayson/Field Staff, and BioPioneers class of 2023. Everyone I have met through these groups has challenged me to be better and to work harder than I have ever worked before. I’ve learned how to communicate with others more efficiently, stand up for myself, get things done with short deadlines, be more adaptable and just become more myself in all ways possible. I think these groups allowed me to come out of my shell and be comfortable with my own personality in every way. 

Who is someone who motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
Shoutout to my amazing advisors Dr. Linda Ziegenbein (from the CNS diversity department /BioPioneers), Cathy Eden (from the pre-med department), and Dr. Lori Best (from the psychology department) for being such amazing human beings and guides throughout my college experience. I think a huge reason I am able to graduate a year early is because of their guidance and support. Also a huge shoutout to all my friends, party central, BioPioneers, and my family for all their endless support as well. And a special shout out to my friend Randy for always pushing me to be better and reminding me that I can do anything I put my mind to and encouraging me to graduate early. 

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students? 
I would say use your first year to try everything. Your first month try to make sure you don’t get carried away with your new found freedom and independence and make sure to prioritize your school work so that way you create good habits before you start exploring. Have fun and put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to join a club and quit if you don’t like it. Don’t be afraid to talk to the person next to you in class, don’t be afraid to reach out to the professor or TAs for help. Make sure to choose friends who challenge and support you because who you hang out with sometimes can make or break your college experience. Stay away from drama if you can help it! Go to SI sessions if a class offers them!! And more importantly breathe, you do belong here and you are enough, don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass? 
I think my biggest takeaway would be that even in such a huge school with such a huge campus you always find your “people”. Another thing would be don’t ever hesitate to pursue an opportunity, no matter how unqualified you may feel. 

What is next for you? 
Next, I will be working for Kaleidoscope ABA Therapy services in Worcester as I prepare my application for medical school. 


PBS Students receive Center for Research on Families Research Awards

The Center for Research on Families understands the importance of supporting family researchers at all stages of their careers and is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Their competitive program recognizes outstanding students, from a broad range of departments and disciplines, who are conducting research on issues related to families.

Since it's inception in 2010, the Student Research Awards program has awarded over $447,400 to 169 students in support of their research efforts and assisted them to present their findings at professional meetings and conferences throughout the world. CRF student awards are made possible by a grant from the Women for UMass as well as many generous donors.

This year's student awardees are among one of the largest cohorts CRF has recognized and are addressing family challenges such as ethnic and racial disparities in ADHD assessment and diagnosis, health implications of lead and copper contamination in local communities' drinking water, and resources to create community and clinical solutions to improve neonatal and maternal health outcomes.

Click on a student's name to learn more about their research.


Yelim Hong

PhD Candidate
Psychological & Brain Sciences

Research Topic:
How Family Context Influences Children’s Socio-Emotional Development


Sanna Lokhandwala

PhD Candidate
Psychological & Brain Sciences

Research Topic:
The Role of Early Childhood Sleep on Memory and Brain Development


Christina Rowley

PhD Candidate
Psychological & Brain Sciences

Research Topic:
Unique Challenges Facing Multiethnoracial Families



Mélise Edwards

PhD Candidate
Psychological & Brain Sciences

Research Topic:
The Role of Estrogen in Age-Related Cognitive Decline


Gorana Gonzalez

PhD Candidate
Psychological & Brain Sciences

Research Topic:
Development of Racial Social Cognition


Sungha Kang

PhD Candidate
Psychological & Brain Sciences

Research Topic:
Ethnic and Racial Disparities in ADHD Assessment and Diagnosis



Jennifer Gove

Psychological & Brain Sciences

Research Topic:
Understand the Neural Mechanisms Underlying Memory and Perception in the Human Brain


Stylianos Syropoulos

PhD Candidate
Psychological & Brain Sciences


Senior Spotlight: Michelle Shang

Michelle ShangWhat is one of your favorite memories from UMass?
I joined a CNS RAP my freshman year and we had so much fun together on the 3rd floor of Crabtree Hall. We’d always go to the dining halls together and take up an entire long table in old Worcester. We’d also stay up very late at night and “party” in the basement with Just Dance and procrastinate on chemistry homework. I absolutely loved the experience and will forever cherish those memories. 

How has UMass allowed for your intellectual/academic/creative abilities to flourish?
UMass offers the most diverse clubs and events on campus. While I worked on my studies in the natural sciences, I still had time to join various extracurriculars and take classes in other majors/areas that I also had interests in. I think allowing the freedom to try different things really helped to expand my perspectives on life and my skills beyond science.

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field, shape who you are today?
My experiences in the Marching Band (as a flautist and member of Uniform Staff) and as a TA in multiple courses helped to improve my leadership, time management, and communications skills. I am much better at handling stressful situations in a timely manner, and I can effectively talk about them with my peers. These experiences have better prepared me to work as a future health care provider.

Who is someone who motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
I would like to make a shoutout to my favorite advisor and professor, Lori Astheimer (or Dr. A). I scheduled my first appointment with her in 2019 to ask more about psychology and the Neuroscience track. 30 minutes later, I walked out a double major and have been working with her as a TA for the past two years. Best decisions I’ve made at UMass. 

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students?
My advice: never compare yourself to others, including your close friends. Everyone wants to do something different and have set different goals in life. Don’t pressure yourself to take extra classes just because your friend is, and don’t join clubs just to boost your resume. From my interview experiences, people care more about self-improvements, and they want to see the passion you have for your chosen career.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
A wise alumnus once told me as a freshman: “Every struggle becomes a struggle story.” Nothing is easy, but we must stay optimistic in every expected and unexpected situation. I carried this quote with me throughout my undergraduate studies and have found it incredibly motivational during my stressful exam and application weeks.

What is next for you?
I will be attending New England College of Optometry this upcoming fall and hopefully get my Doctor of Optometry degree in 4 years. It won’t be easy and there will be tears, but I’m prepared for the adventures along the way. Future Dr. Shang coming to a clinic near you!

Senior Spotlight: Arlo Heimer-Bumstead

In honor of #UMassGives beginning today and our senior scholarship fund, we are posting our first senior spotlight of the year showcasing one of the many talented students in PBS.

What is one of your favorite memories from UMass?
I don't have a singular favorite memory. I would say it is hanging out with my friend in the peer advising office and watching episodes of Friends or studying for our Organic Chemistry exams in our downtime. 

How has UMass allowed for your intellectual/academic/creative abilities to flourish?
Being at such a large school I think allowed me to find lots of different hobbies and interests. I found different pockets of UMass with people who had similar goals, hobbies or interests as me and that allowed me to flourish in lots of different aspects.

How did your experiences in a club, activity, or academic field shape who you are today?
I think the biggest thing that has shaped who I am is being a peer advisor in the Psych department. The faculty and other students in the office pushed me to be a better student, researcher, and person in general. That is one of the biggest reasons I am who I am today.

Who is someone who motivated you during your time at UMass? (Shout Out!)
I can't say enough about the faculty in the Psych department. It is too hard to pick just one person because they have all been so incredibly supporting and encouraging of me and have believed in me throughout my four years here. 

What advice would you give to incoming UMass students?
I would tell incoming students to get involved in things around campus. Whether it is within your major, an extracurricular, a club sport or anything like that. You can make a big university feel small really easily by getting involved in clubs and other things and that has been immensely helpful for me throughout my time here.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway from UMass is going to be the connections I made and the importance of making connections in the future. Making lots of connections here has been the most helpful thing for me in terms of, not only my time here and experiences I have had, but my future and the plans that I have for myself.

What is next for you?
I plan to stay and work as lab staff at the Somneuro Lab here at UMass before going on to some sort of graduate education whether that be a masters/PhD or medical school which is a decision I am still making.

Multiregional study documents the experiences of siblings of people with intellectual disabilities

kids walk together in a corn field

Having a sibling with an intellectual disability influences young people in a range of ways. The relationships between siblings can have many positive aspects and more challenging parts such as encountering stigma or discrimination against those with an intellectual disability. In past research, the perceptions of Western parents of an intellectually disabled child were studied most often. This leaves much more to be revealed about the perspectives of siblings and those living in different regions of the globe. 

New research completed by UMass Amherst faculty member Ashley Woodman, and members of Special Olympics International, and George Washington University explored the benefits, challenges, and support needs of siblings of people with intellectual disabilities across Latin America, Africa, and Asia-Pacific (the Global South).

Twenty-two child and young adult siblings of Special Olympics athletes participated in focus groups during Special Olympics Regional Sibling and Family Workshops. The purpose of these workshops was to connect siblings of people with intellectual disabilities, provide them with supportive resources, and facilitate leadership development. Analysis of group discussions revealed both positive and more challenging themes.

Positive themes included valuing siblings with intellectual disabilities, having close relationships, and experiencing personal growth because of their sibling experience. Also, many focus groups expressed pride in their sibling and highlighted their positive qualities.

Challenging themes involved impacts to a sibling’s sense of self (i.e., dealing with their own stigma towards disability), a heightened sense of responsibility, and noting differences from their peers. Challenges within the family setting involved stigma towards disability, communication problems, and encountering behavioral issues. Focus groups also spoke of problems in the broader community such as societal stigma toward intellectual disability and a lack of knowledge of this condition.

Woodman remarks, “A key finding of this study is the pervasive impact of stigma at the community, family, and individual level. What is not at all surprising is the deep bond these siblings reported. The majority of challenges the siblings reported related to a lack of community resources and supports as well as misunderstandings about disability rather than interpersonal challenges with their sibling. These findings speak to the importance of programs, like Special Olympics, that seek to reduce stigma and celebrate people with intellectual disability and their families.”

Study results show a need for supports that address the entire family. For example, keeping open communication and involving all family members in group discussions would ensure all voices are heard. Other supports like providing a safe space to explore emotions, sharing information about intellectual disabilities, and setting aside time for fun family activities would also be beneficial. 

Specific assistance for siblings of people with intellectual disabilities could incorporate support groups and opportunities to connect with others like them. Engaging in community-level programs that aim to reduce stigma and discrimination against intellectual disability would also aid siblings and potentially allow them to grow as advocates for inclusion. Overall, more quality services for individuals with intellectual disabilities and the families that support them are necessary in the Global South.

Brennan Falcy awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Brennan FalcyBrennan Falcy, PhD student in the neuroscience and behavior program, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF). These highly competitive fellowships provide students pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in STEM disciplines at accredited U.S. institutions with three years of financial support, including an annual stipend and a cost of education allowance to the institution. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRF has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers.



Program to match mental health patients to psychotherapists’ strengths funded for large-scale implementation

a female therapist and patient talk together

UMass Amherst researcher receives $4.6 million award after showing evidence-based matching improves patients’ treatment outcomes

A University of Massachusetts Amherst psychologist has received a $4.6 million funding award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to implement a program that matches mental health patients with psychotherapists based on the therapist’s previously established effectiveness strengths.

Michael Constantino

Michael Constantino, professor of psychological and brain sciences, led the first-of-its-kind randomized clinical trial – also funded by PCORI – that found patients intentionally matched with therapists who had a strong track record of treating the patients’ primary concerns had about double the improvement than patients who were case-assigned as usual, where matching occurred only by chance.

For the present award, Constantino and his team of academic, industry and clinical partners will implement in phase one the evidence-based match program with a large mental health care network in the Philadelphia area, Springfield Psychological. After that, in phase two, the protocol for patient-therapist matching – optimized based on dissemination science results from phase 1 – will be implemented across the Refresh Mental Health network at about 50 mental health care sites in more than 30 states.

This psychotherapy program is part of a portfolio of PCORI-funded projects that aim to improve the awareness, uptake and use of results from patient-centered comparative effectiveness research.

Chosen through a highly competitive review process, awardees’ proposals were assessed for the importance of the findings being shared and implemented and the potential for the project to lead to changes in practice and improvements in health care and health outcomes. PCORI’s Board has approved Constantino’s award pending completion of a business and programmatic review by PCORI staff and the issuance of a formal award contract.

“Even the most impactful findings from clinical research studies can take years to make it into widespread clinical practice,” PCORI states in announcing the award. “Cutting that lag time and smoothing the path to uptake is the focus of this PCORI-funded project.”

“The beauty of PCORI’s mechanism is that they want to fund good science and then they also want to fund the clinical translation of that science,” Constantino says.

In Constantino’s original research, the “match effect” was found to be even more beneficial and pronounced for patients who identified as racial or ethnic minorities.

“This will be one focus of our implementation project – addressing some of the disparities in mental health quality that we see in the field, meaning that underrepresented racial and ethnic minority patients often receive less-effective treatments,” Constantino says. “This is one means to try to address that.”

The matching relies on a multidimensional outcomes tool called the Treatment Outcome Package (TOP), which assesses 12 symptomatic or functional domains: depression, quality of life, mania, panic or somatic anxiety, psychosis, substance misuse, social conflict, sexual functioning, sleep, suicidality, violence, and work functioning.

Once a therapist has at least 15 patients complete a TOP before and after treatment, a “report card” is established showing that therapist’s strengths and weaknesses in treating the 12 domains. This information can then be used for prospective matching of new cases to the therapist’s measurement-determined areas of effectiveness.

“There are a lot of sites in Refresh Mental Health that aren’t using the TOP yet, so in phase two we will be able to truly demonstrate what it is like to go from A to Z if you are a mental health network that wants to start using our match system,” Constantino says.

PCORI is an independent, nonprofit organization authorized by Congress in 2010 to fund research that will provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians, and other healthcare decision makers with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed healthcare choices.

Does anger effect racial biases during a weapon identification task?

small pictures of weapons and harmless objectsRace-based policing and shooter bias (e.g., stereotypes influencing a decision to shoot) in the United States continues to cause unjustified loss of lives and harm to communities. Two psychological effects, the threat superiority effect (a natural inclination to quickly identify threatening vs. non-threatening objects) and the weapon bias effect (a tendency to misidentify harmless objects as weapons when paired with Black faces), have been found to play a part in race-based shooter bias.

A group of UMass Amherst psychology researchers including PhD Candidate Adrian Rivera-Rodriguez, Senior Research Fellow Ahren Fitzroy, and Professors Nilanjana Dasgupta and Lisa Sanders examined how anger effects attention, inhibition, and error processing during a weapon identification task. Two groups of participants in the study, one displaying neutral emotion and another made to feel angry, were quickly shown an image of a Black or White, male or female face followed immediately by an image of either a weapon or harmless object. Participants were then prompted to identify the object.

There were two competing hypotheses about how anger could impact people's performance on this task. The stereotype activation hypothesis (based off previous research studies) imparts that angry participants would be more likely to rely on stereotypes associating Black faces with threat and danger, and so the connections made between Black faces and weapons would be stronger.

 PhD Candidate Adrian Rivera-Rodriguez
PhD Candidate Adrian Rivera-Rodriguez

However, the goal attainment motivation hypothesis suggests that anger can motivate the individual to want to perform the best they can in whatever situation they're in. Rivera-Rodriguez conveys, “think about sports, maybe a player gets angry on the court and all of a sudden they're performing way better than they were because they're motivated to overcome whatever made them angry or prove someone wrong.”

Participants were measured for the occurrence of event-related potentials (ERPs), or electrical voltages generated by different brain regions in response to specific events or stimuli. Using electroencephalography (EEG) to assess the voltages, several measures of both attention and decision-making were recorded as participants engaged in the task.

The ERP measurements used included automatic attention (more cognitive resources being given to a stimulus), sustained attention (being vigilant to that stimulus), and inhibition (deciding to pay closer attention to something or not). Measures of automatic error detection (an almost instant alert to an error), and conscious awareness error detection (realizing that you made an error) were also collected.

Participants in the neutral emotion condition (those who were made to feel calm) were found to be putting more cognitive resources towards being vigilant to Black faces. Also, showing White faces elicited greater inhibition, so neutral participants were engaging in more cognitive control—they were looking more attentively at the object being shown after a White face.

Participants selected for the anger condition initially performed a writing assignment where they imagined a time from the past that made them especially angry. After these angry emotions were induced, they continued on to the main task.

In contrast to the neutral emotion group, angry participants did not show increased vigilance to black faces. They were treating black and white faces the same and showing low levels of vigilance overall. This is a better scenario for test accuracy because less cognitive resources are being diverted away from weapon identification. Also, angry participants did not seem to be engaging in inhibition processes based on racial cues.

In the final results of the study, the researchers didn't find the weapon bias effect (i.e., participants had made implicit racially biased mistakes) as they anticipated. “One possibility of why we didn't get this effect is that the associations we've seen in previous weapon identification tests is really dependent on this association people are making between Black male faces and weapons like handguns. It could be that this link is not as strong for female faces and some of these other weapon types are not as closely linked to Black faces,” Rivera-Rodriguez notes.

The research team did discover a threat superiority effect—people were faster and more accurate at recognizing actual weapons versus harmless objects. Overall, the stereotype activation hypothesis was expected to be supported, but instead the goal attainment motivation hypothesis was proven. Angered subjects were driven to perform well.

It’s important to note that this research differs from real-world police interactions in that all study participants were college students in a non-life-threatening situation. Anger was induced in a lab, based on the participant’s personal memories. It was not targeted at a specific face or individual. In future studies, if anger could be directed specifically at a face or person, stereotypes could emerge as biased attention patterns.

“We're seeing that goal attainment motivation is good for you, it leads to less activation of these biased attention orientation patterns towards racial cues,” says Rivera-Rodriguez.

“There are other ways we can go about priming goal attainment motivation; for example, we can use positive valence emotions. I think these findings raise interesting questions for future research to consider when exploring how emotions might motivate the activation or inhibition of racial bias.”

Disbelief In Human Evolution Linked to Greater Prejudice And Racism

showing evolution of ape to man

UMass Amherst research findings consistent across countries, cultures, genders and religions

A disbelief in human evolution was associated with higher levels of prejudice, racist attitudes and support of discriminatory behavior against Blacks, immigrants and the LGBTQ community in the U.S., according to University of Massachusetts Amherst research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Similarly, across the globe – in 19 Eastern European countries, 25 Muslim countries and in Israel – low belief in evolution was linked to higher biases within a person’s group, prejudicial attitudes toward people in different groups and less support for conflict resolution.

Stylianos Syropoulos
Ph.D. candidate Stylianos Syropoulos

The findings supported the hypothesis of lead author Stylianos Syropoulos, a Ph.D. candidate in the War and Peace Lab of senior author Bernhard Leidner, associate professor of social psychology. They collaborated with co-first author Uri Lifshin at Reichman University in Israel and co-authors Jeff Greenberg and Dylan Horner at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The researchers theorized that belief in evolution would tend to increase people’s identification with all humanity, due to the common ancestry, and would lead to less prejudicial attitudes.

“People who perceive themselves as more similar to animals are also people who tend to have more pro-social or positive attitudes toward outgroup members or people from stigmatized and marginalized backgrounds,” Syropoulos explains. “In this investigation, we were interested in examining whether belief in evolution would also act in a similar way, because it would reinforce this belief that we are more similar to animals.”

Bernie Leidner
Associate professor Bernhard Leidner

In eight studies involving different areas of the world, the researchers analyzed data from the American General Social Survey (GSS), the Pew Research Center and three online crowdsourced samples. In testing their hypothesis about the associations of different levels of belief in evolution, they accounted for education, political ideology, religiosity, cultural identity and scientific knowledge.

“We found the same results each time, which is basically that believing in evolution relates to less prejudice, regardless of the group you’re in, and controlling for all of these alternative explanations,” Syropoulos says.

For example, religious beliefs, like political ideology, were measured separately from a belief or disbelief in evolution, the researchers note. “Regardless of whether one considers religion an important part of their life, belief in evolution relates to less prejudice independently from belief, or lack thereof, in God or any particular religion,” Syropoulos says.

Leidner adds, “This whole effect and pattern seems to be present in all major political systems. It’s very much a human phenomenon, no matter where you are in the world.”

The researchers note that Darwin’s 19th century theory of evolution has been cited to perpetrate racism, prejudice and homophobia, in part through the phrase, “survival of the fittest,” used to describe the process of natural selection.

“There have been theoretical accounts that predict the opposite of what we found, so it was exciting for us to show that this actually is not the case, that the opposite is true and that belief in evolution seems to have pretty positive effects,” Leidner says.

The U.S.-based study involved data from 1993, 1994, 2000, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 – the years the GSS surveyed Americans about their beliefs in evolution, as well as measures of attitudes toward immigrants, Blacks, affirmative action, LGBTQ people and other social matters.

The data analysis showed unfailingly “that the disbelief in human evolution is the driving factor and most consistent predictor of prejudice in comparison to other relevant constructs,” the paper states.

In the Israel-based study, people with a higher belief in evolution were more likely to support peace among Palestinians, Arabs and Jews. In the study involving countries in the Islamic world, belief in evolution was associated with less prejudice toward Christians and Jews. And in the study based in Eastern Europe, where Orthodox Christians are the majority, a belief in evolution was linked with less prejudice toward gypsies, Jews and Muslims.

Syropoulos posits that a belief in evolution may expand people’s “moral circle,” leading to a sense that “we have more in common than things that are different.”

The findings also suggest that “teaching evolution seems to have side effects that might make for a better or more harmonious society,” Leidner adds.

The next step, the researchers say, is to investigate how evolution is taught in the classroom and work toward developing models to study and strengthen the positive effects.

Dasgupta on National Academies Committee to Advance Anti-Racism in STEM

The interdisciplinary group of experts will offer best practices to foster DEI in organizations

Psychological and Brain Sciences Professor Nilanjana Dasgupta has been appointed to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Advancing Antiracism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM Organizations.

This prominent interdisciplinary team of experts is tasked with reviewing the literature on bias and racism in STEM workplaces; finding ways to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) throughout society; and exploring future research in the field.

Buju Dasgupta posing in Durfee greenhouse
Nilanjana Dasgupta

As a committee member, Dasgupta says her role will be to serve as a connector to communities “who are underrepresented in STEM, whose voices are not adequately represented in existing research. They may be people who entered STEM pathways but left because their needs weren't supported, or those who persisted in STEM but whose numbers are small and not adequately highlighted in existing peer-reviewed research on barriers and solutions to STEM participation.”She adds, “Our goal as an interdisciplinary committee is to synthesize existing research and lived experiences of racial and ethnic minorities in STEM in order to highlight promising anti-racist practices, programs, and policies that break down barriers, create culture change, and promote the success of underrepresented people in STEM higher education.”

National Academies reports are known to set the national agenda and inform funding priorities at federal agencies and foundations. “These reports also inform practices and policies at universities, professional societies, and employers to create antiracist cultures in STEM organizations,” says Dasgupta.

A leader in research on implicit bias, Dasgupta focuses on identifying ways in which changes in local situations modify people’s implicit attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. She is director of the Institute of Diversity Sciences, whose aim is to boost STEM research that tackles social problems related to equity and social justice to attract diverse students and faculty across the university and five colleges by creating a dynamic diverse intellectual ecosystem.

Referring to the Committee’s task, she says, “We want our consensus report to produce change on a national scale where educational institutions, funding agencies, and STEM employers work in tandem so that this nation can live up to its promise of equal opportunity for all and expand scientific innovation by bringing in fresh voices and ideas.”

Graduate Diversity Committee Selects 2021-22 Undergraduate Travel Award Winners

We are pleased to announce that the Graduate Diversity Committee has selected the winners of the 2021-22 DivComm Undergraduate Travel Award. We would like to congratulate Elodie Carel and Yana Deeley on receiving the award! They will receive $200 each towards presenting their research at psychology conferences.

Elodie Carel is a senior and double major in Psychology and Disability Studies. Working with Dr. Ashley Woodman, she presented her work at the Diversifying Clinical Psychology Networking Event for Undergraduates. The study presented, The Effect of a Disability Etiquette Training on Explicit and Implicit Disability Bias, sought to determine whether an ableism and disability identity focused training can change explicit and implicit attitudes in faculty, staff, and graduate students. She is currently working on an honor's thesis under the supervision of Dr. Allecia Reid. 

Yana Deeley is a senior Psychology Major working with Dr. Maria Galano. She will be presenting at APS 2022 in Chicago. She plans to present her honors thesis, Community Perceptions of Domestic Violence, the goal of which is to get a better understanding of the perspective, knowledge, or experience of responding to domestic violence disclosure among the general community.

An Unexpected Spotlight

Sandy holding photo of himself as a young boyby ALEXANDER (SANDY) POLLATSEK

On 22 March 1948, Life magazine ran an article titled “Genius school,” about Hunter College Elementary School, then the only special elementary school in New York City for “gifted” children. Accompanying the article was a photograph of a 7-year-old boy with a chemistry book in hand, standing in front of a blackboard covered in chemistry equations. That little boy was me.

I had not thought about my brief moment of childhood fame in decades, when recently I received an e-mail from an elementary school friend, Judith Shulman Weis. From Judith, I learned that my 7-year-old self had earned a second moment of glory: Science magazine had run a version of the Life magazine photograph on the cover of the 23 April 2010 issue on Science, Language, and Literacy.

Upon seeing this snapshot of the past, I couldn't help thinking about my years at Hunter and how the school may have affected the path my life has taken. The photograph seems to imply that I learned those chemical equations at school. This was not the case. The staff at Hunter did not teach me advanced chemistry, but they did provide something even more important: an environment that encouraged independent learning and rewarded interest in science. With support from my teachers, I taught myself the chemistry displayed in the photograph by reading the high-school review book shown in my hand. My father had given me the book; he was a high school graduate but had always been interested in chemistry and was one of the smartest people I have ever known.

Throughout my childhood, I dreamed of being another Beethoven, but when reality set in, I turned back to my interest in chemistry. I majored in chemistry at the University of Michigan and then earned a master's degree in chemistry from Harvard. However, because of the way chemistry was taught at the time, I became frustrated with the subject. Even after my first year of graduate school, I did not understand what a chemist did. I changed course again and returned to the University of Michigan to get a master's in mathematics and a Ph.D. in psychology.

In the years since, my primary research has been measuring eye movements to gain insight into the reading process. I have also been involved in funded research on the understanding and misunderstanding of statistics, and more recently I have studied driving and driving safety, also using eye movements as a primary variable of attention.

I am still active in all three areas at age 70. I like to think that the inquisitive little boy that graced the cover of Science last year is still a part of me.

Article reposted from: Science

Remembering Alexander Pollatsek

Alexander PollatsekAlexander Pollatsek passed away peacefully at the Fisher Home on February 11, 2022.

Born on January 26, 1941 in New York City, Sandy attended the Bronx High School of Science and then the University of Michigan, graduating in 1961. After earning a master's degree in chemistry at Harvard University, he returned to Michigan in 1963 to enter the doctoral program in mathematical psychology and---happily, as it turned out---meet Harriet. They were married in 1964. In Ann Arbor he worked against the war in Vietnam, including as one of the organizers of the first teach-in in 1965.

In 1969 he joined the Department of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where his career flourished among congenial and stimulating colleagues and students. He also enjoyed three sabbatical visits to the University of Oregon and three to England (the University of Cambridge, the University of Sussex and the University of Southampton).

Sandy was proud of his mathematical research and was always deeply interested in the teaching and learning of statistics. But while modeling remained an aspect of his work, his research shifted to experimental psychology, where his main project was using eye movements to study skilled reading. Another important interest was using eye movements to study driving. He always enjoyed the stimulation and synergy of working with collaborators---too many to name here. Sandy remained active in research even after strokes in 2016 and 2018, co-authoring two papers on reading as recently as 2020.

Music was another passion. As an undergraduate, Sandy studied composition at the University of Michigan and with Nadia Boulanger in Fontainebleau, France. He played piano, although never up to his own standards. He also played recorders with a group that met regularly for their own enjoyment and even had a few paid gigs. He and Harriet frequently attended area classical concerts. Sandy was a fully engaged, loving and proud parent of Shura and David. He was the family's principal and best cook. Other interests included hiking, visiting museums to see the work of great artists (especially van Gogh), watching basketball (especially LeBron James), and traveling.

Besides his wife Harriet (Katcher) Pollatsek and daughter Shura Pollatsek (Mitchell Wilson), Sandy leaves his cousin and honorary sister Martha Pollatsek (Charles Garrett), and Harriet's sisters Lynne Buck Jacobs (Walter) and Deborah Kramer (Ronald). He was pre-deceased by his son David Pollatsek (Mary Heffelbower), his brother-in-law Raymond Buck, and his parents Frank and Toini (Wiren) Pollatsek.

Family and friends will miss his broad smile, intelligence, passion for justice, wide-ranging curiosity, enthusiasm, generosity, and whole-hearted love. We thank the staff of the Hospice of the Fisher Home for their caring and support, at our own home and at theirs.

Published by Daily Hampshire Gazette on Feb. 16, 2022.

Dr. Agnes Lacreuse named 2022 Public Engagement Faculty Fellow

Agnes LacreuseDr. Lacreuse is a professor in the Psychological and Brain Sciences graduate program and head of the Hormones and Cognition Lab. She studies age-related cognitive decline in nonhuman primates to improve understanding of human aging and Alzheimer’s disease. As a Public Engagement Project (PEP) Fellow, she plans to develop strategies to inform the public and policymakers about the critical importance of animal research for medical advances. Dr. Lacreuse also plans to advocate for more research transparency to help the public understand the facts about humane and ethical animal research.

The UMass Amherst Public Engagement Project is a collaboration between the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) and the Center for Research on Families (CRF). The PEP Faculty Fellowship has been made possible by funding from the UMass College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Humanities and Fine Arts, College of Natural Sciences, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, Office of the Provost, University Relations, as well as the collaborating centers and institutes. There were eight faculty members named as Fellows in the 8th cohort this year. Fellows will receive a stipend and training in communicating about research outside of an academic setting. This project encourages communication and collaboration between researchers, journalists, lawmakers in Congress and the State House and practitioners not involved in academia.

The Contact Conundrum

hands waving in the airIndividuals’ experiences as group members can dramatically impact their interpretations and expectations of experiences with members of other groups. To explore the science behind this, Association for Psychological Science President Jennifer L. Eberhardt interviewed Linda R. Tropp, a professor of social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who studies how group differences in status affect cross-group relations.

Tropp has also worked with national organizations on initiatives to promote racial integration and equity, as well as with nongovernmental organizations to evaluate interventions designed to bridge group differences. The two began by discussing Tropp’s formative childhood in Gary, Indiana, an industrial city in the American Midwest that was a major site of Black migration in the mid-20th century, followed by significant  “White flight” starting in the 1960s. “My family just happened to be one of those who stayed,” she told Eberhardt, a fact that helped foster her interest in social justice issues, particularly related to race and ethnic justice. 

Read "The Contact Conundrum


Maheen Chaudhry '12

Alumni Spotlight

Maheen Chaudhry '12Degree(s): 
Dual Bachelor degrees in Biology and Psychology
Completed Postgraduate Year 1 (PGY1) residency

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Clinical Pharmacist and Preceptor at Cooley Dickinson Hospital

Summary of Position:
I work as a de-centralized pharmacist along with the healthcare team on the medical/surgical and cardiac telemetry units. My primary responsibility is to ensure safe and effective medication use for all patients on my floors (total 65 patient beds, 58 beds on average occupied). I also provide services that include therapeutic drug monitoring of high-risk medications, antimicrobial and anticoagulation stewardship, drug information including new emerging treatments and drug interactions, evaluation and verification of medication orders, as well as educating patients and allied health professionals. I also precept pharmacy students and PGY1 residents.

Future Goals:
Teaching has always been my passion. Since high school, I have been teaching, precepting, or serving as an advisor to students. I enjoy my current clinical position very much and get to make a difference in the lives of so many people. I work with a wonderful team of physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, social workers, dietitians, physical therapists, and case management workers. I get to precept and teach as well. I love my job, and I hope to eventually find a hybrid position where I get to be in academia and continue my clinical practice.

What do you love most about this career path?
I get to make a difference! I get to help people heal. I don't think I can find a career more rewarding. As a medication expert, I bring valuable input to the team. My goal is always to maximize the efficacy and safety of medications. I have always loved the clinical side of this profession but there is so much more you can do. You can work in the community or an institution. You can be a consulting pharmacist or work in the pharmaceutical industry. You can be a compounding/specialty pharmacist. You can also specialize.

How did UMass and/or PBS help prepare you?
UMass offered me so many experiences that helped shape my professional career. I worked as a teaching assistant and tutor further realizing my love of education and teaching. I worked in the CNS Dean's office and as a peer mentor. I was also fortunate to work as a research assistant and developed many research and interpersonal skills that I continue to use. I was able to publish papers that made me stand out in my profession. Being a part of the Commonwealth Honors College, I got to be in smaller classes that challenged me and strengthened my skills. All of these opportunities helped strengthen my communication, teamwork, and leadership skills.

What lab did you work in?
I worked in Dr. Rebecca Ready’s clinical lab as a research assistant. I worked on her studies on Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. I received a grant from Commonwealth Honors College which helped me conduct and publish a study on differential effects of stress on performance on WAIS-IV, an adult intelligence scale. Everything I learned from Dr. Ready and this whole experience has helped build my foundation as a life long researcher. Research in an integral part of my career as well. 

Tips for Current Undergrads:
Explore, explore, and explore! UMass has so many opportunities. I honestly think there is something for everyone! Try new things. Join clubs, find internships, work opportunities, join a mentorship program. Take classes outside of your comfort zone. The more you expose yourself to new and different things, the more likely you will be able to find something that you will fall in love with. Your career is something you should be proud of. Find something you enjoy, like Mark Twain said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Maheen Chaudhry's LinkedIn Profile

Claire Chapman ‘21

Alumni Spotlight

Claire Chapman posing in graduation gownUndergraduate Degree: Major in Psychology, Minor in Sociology, Certificate in Social Work and Social Welfare

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Clinical Research Assistant at McLean Hospital

Summary of Position:
In the Psychosis Neurobiology Lab, I oversee scheduling/running participants who have schizophrenia, bipolar, and mania disorders to create individualized neurobiological profiles in hopes of predicting later functional outcome. In this longitudinal study that has been running for 6 years, I administer a cognitive battery assessment called the MATRICS, perform the structured clinical interview according to the DSM-V for mental disorders with symptom severity scales, orchestrate an EEG study with 4 auditory paradigms, and preprocess and analyze EEG data after it has been collected. We hope to recruit 60 participants in 2022 for a follow up study to see functional outcome in the hopes of achieving better treatment methods for people with schizophrenia, schizoaffective, bipolar I and II, and mania disorders.

Future Goals:  
Clinical Psychology PhD program or Masters in Counseling Psychology

What do you love most about this career path?
What I love about this career path is getting to know the people you study on an intimate level and learning about their disease from their perspective to gain a powerful insight on how to research and treat these diseases to improve treatment methods.

How did UMass and/or PBS help prepare you?
I was a member of the developmental psychology lab called the Learning Lab under the supervision of Jennifer McDermott, and I loved working with children on campus and learning more about gender roles and stereotypes! UMass Psychology is a great way to start getting involved in research, drafting research papers, and learning the writing and procedural skill to start research projects of your own one day!

Tips for Current Undergrads:
Take advantage of the amazing opportunities to get involved in research or an internship over the summer! Notably, the many research labs in Tobin with a wide range of lab focuses, the S.P.A.C.E. program run by Christina Metevier, or the SONA studies that you can participate in (for extra credit too)!

Winter 2022 Newsletter

students running on a sunny winter day

Catch up with the latest PBS news including spotlights on our talented students, faculty, and alumni!

Read full issue

Features include:

  • Working through life challenges using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
  • Research examines the role of psychotherapists in treatment effectiveness
  • Studying the psychology of political divides, featuring 2021 Rising Researcher Mackenzie Smith
  • Grad Student Office Update
  • Spotlight on Alumni
    • Kevin McGrath '13, Product Designer at 2U
    • Christine Brydges '11, UX Researcher at Noom

Also check out additional Research Highlights, Awards and Updates, and PBS faculty and students In the Media!

Graduate Student Office Update

This spring semester, graduate students received a much needed upgrade to their office furniture and student lounge. Old furniture from Tobin Hall's inception in the 1970s was replaced with brand-new functional and ergonomic pieces. We want to to thank our staff members for their hard work in making this happen!

Here's what a few of our students thought about the new additions:

"The best office I've ever had in my (grad) life—and a great motivation for the new semester!" —Minji Lee

"I love the office upgrades! The chairs are very comfortable and ergonomic, the desks look sleek and bright, and the wall space is maximized with a tack board and shelving. Thank you to everyone who helped coordinate these upgrades!" —Anna McCarter

"The furniture and office lounge all seem really cool!" —Zachary Bivins

Shannon Gair and Sarah McCormick awarded Dissertation Completion Fellowships

Shannon Gair and Sarah McCormick have been awarded Dissertation Completion Fellowships funded by the Graduate School with additional support from the Provost’s Office.

The Dissertation Completion Fellowship was designed by Dean of the Graduate School Jacqueline Urla to help students complete their dissertation after Covid-related disruptions. “Our graduate students have faced so many challenges due to Covid, from loss of access to labs and archives, having to redesign their research, care for small children, and even battling Covid themselves. Despite these challenges they have persevered. This fellowship gives recipients a semester to focus on their research and writing, bring their dissertation to completion, and earn their degree,” said Urla.

Shannon GairShannon Gair
Dissertation title: Reciprocal Effects of Parent Emotion Socialization and Child Emotion Expression During Dyadic Interactions

Long term, emotion socialization (how parents teach children about emotion) affects child development and child functioning affects parent emotion socialization. However, little research has assessed short-term emotion socialization processes within dyadic interactions. Understanding how short-term processes maintain long-term maladaptive emotion socialization patterns within families, and identifying at-risk families, has important theoretical and intervention implications. My dissertation aims to assess: 1) bidirectional relations of parent emotion socialization and child emotional expression within dyadic interactions; 2) parent and child psychopathology as moderators of these transactional relations; 3) how early differences in dyadic patterns predict child psychopathology trajectories.

Sarah McCormickSarah McCormick
Dissertation title: Familial and environmental contributions to child theory of mind development

Theory of mind is a social cognitive domain, reflecting the understanding that internal mental states motivate outward behavior, that develops rapidly over the preschool time period. While critical for healthy social development, less is known about the how aspects of the family environment interact to influence this development or the neural mechanisms that support it. Several decades of research have demonstrated behaviorally that aspects of parent behavior and language are associated with theory of mind skill use in early childhood. Many of the earliest social interactions occur with parents within the family context and little research to date has examined how household environmental factors may moderate the associations between parent behavior and language and child theory of mind development. Aspects of household functioning, such as household chaos, may serve to disrupt the positive interactions between parents and children that benefit early social cognitive development. Further, very little is known about the neural mechanisms that support early theory of mind development and how structural differences in the brain may be associated with parent language use. My dissertation investigates the interactions between aspects of the family and home environment on the behavioral development of theory of mind and the neural structures that support this skill in early childhood.

Is the sharing of resources between children influenced by racial stereotypes?

children sort puzzle pieces

Tara Mandalaywala, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, featured in PsyPost article. 

From "Children more willing to share with White than Black peers, and this may be driven by racial stereotypes about wealth"

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that children were more likely to share their resources with White children than Black children. The effect did not appear to be motivated by in-group bias nor by feelings of warmth toward White children, but by a stereotype that White people are wealthier than Black people.

Psychology research has shown that children begin to demonstrate racial bias at an early age. For example, children as young as three years old show racially-biased giving behavior, choosing to allocate more resources to White children compared to Black children. Study authors Tara M. Mandalaywala and her team say that understanding why children show this biased resource allocation is crucial since a child’s early beliefs and economic behaviors likely inform their beliefs and economic behaviors in later life. The researchers devised two experiments to test various motivations that might underlie this bias.

“I think studying how race affects young children’s resource allocations is so interesting because it provides children with a situation in which they have the opportunity to think about both moral and social motivations,” explained Mandalaywala, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and director of the Cognition Across Development Lab.

“In early childhood, children are well aware that they should act in a fair manner, but they’re simultaneously developing preferences for particular social groups, as well as beliefs about social groups (such as stereotypes) which can shape their expectations about how others will behave. Trying to understand how children navigate these various concerns, norms, and motivations is fascinating from a conceptual perspective, but it is also important from a more practical, applied perspective.”

“Adults show all sorts of biases in their behaviors, but we know little about how these biases develop and unfold across the lifespan,” Mandalaywala said. “Studies like this one are a first step in understanding where biases come from, with the eventual goal of understanding bias development well enough that we can intervene in childhood to slow or reduce biases before they fully form.”

Both studies were conducted among children between the ages of 4 and 7. The first sample included 91 kids, of whom 37% were White, 17% were Asian, 11% were Black or African American, 4% were Hispanic, 12% other, and 19% undisclosed. The second sample consisted of 96 children, of whom 53% were White, 11% were Black or African American, 10% were multiracial, 8% were Asian, and 6% undisclosed.

Both samples participated in a Dictator Game, a task that measures economic behavior by asking a participant how much of a limited resource they are willing to give to another person. In this particular version, children were told they had access to four exciting animal videos. For each video, the child was shown an image of another child’s face and asked whether they would like to keep the video or give it away to the other child. The other child was either European American or African American and was wearing a neutral facial expression. Each participant also rated how much they liked the other child.

Across both samples, children were more likely to give videos away to White children compared to Black children. This was true regardless of participants’ race, suggesting that the effect was not driven by an in-group bias among White participants. The effect was also unrelated to participants’ racial attitudes — while children tended to feel more warmly toward the White children, this did not explain their biased giving behavior.

In the second study only, children additionally completed a measure of racial stereotypes about wealth. The children were shown images of a Black child, a White child, an expensive-looking house, and a less expensive-looking house. They were asked to indicate which house they thought belonged to which child. The majority of the children (64%) believed the White child was more likely to live in the more expensive house. Notably, children who showed this racial stereotype about wealth showed a stronger resource allocation bias toward White faces.

In other words, children who felt that the White child lived in the expensive house were especially likely to give to the White child over the Black child. One explanation for this could be strategic — wealthier kids have more resources and may be more able to return the giving in the future. However, when the participants were asked whether they believed that the other child would share their own video with them, participants’ expectations of reciprocity were unrelated to their allocation decisions. This suggests that racial stereotypes about wealth may have driven participants to give more resources to White children, not because they felt they would receive something in return, but out of a “general abstract desire to maintain the status quo.”

“My main takeaway from this study is that 4- to 6-year old children’s decisions to share more with a hypothetical White child than with a hypothetical Black child (i.e., their racial bias) was not predicted by the factors we expected! For instance, it wasn’t that our participants liked White children better, and thus shared more with them for this reason. It also wasn’t that participants expected White children to share more with them in the future, and so shared more with White children in the present,” Mandalaywala told PsyPost.

“The only factor that predicted racial bias in children’s resource allocations was awareness of a racial stereotype about social status. Children who expressed the stereotype that White people were higher status than Black people (i.e., White people lived in more expensive looking houses) also gave more resources to a White child than to a Black child. In contrast, children who didn’t express this stereotype shared equally with White and Black children. In some ways, what we see here is that children who are aware of racial stereotypes about status are actually perpetuating these stereotypes through their own behavior.”

The authors acknowledge that their sample was limited in that it did not include sufficient numbers of racial/ethnic minority group members to explore differences among specific groups. They also note that “future work should explore how children’s costly, race-based resource allocation varies across different resource types, where there might be real consequences in refusing to share.”

“The main unanswered question in my mind is why children’s racial stereotypes have this effect on resource allocation behavior. We might have predicted that racial stereotypes relate to children’s expectations of reciprocity (e.g., how much a White or Black child will share with them in the future), and in this way shaped children’s allocation behavior. However, racial stereotypes and expectations of reciprocity were unrelated in our sample of children. Moreover, expectations of reciprocity were also unrelated to how many resources children decided to share with White and Black children,” Mandalaywala said.

“In the paper, we speculate why children’s expectations of reciprocity do not align with their beliefs about how resource-rich or resource-poor a given White or Black child was likely to be. However, I think we need much more research on the precise consequences of stereotypes in order to understand why stereotypes might affect some beliefs and behaviors (like resource allocation) without affecting others (like expectations of reciprocity).”

The study, “Why do children show racial biases in their resource allocation decisions?”, was authored by Tara M. Mandalaywala, Josie Benitez, Kaajal Sagar, and Marjorie Rhodes.

PsyPost Article

Normalization of the Alt-Right: How perceived prevalence and acceptability of the Alt-Right is linked to public attitudes

American being waved by a person

In a recent project published in Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, Social Psychology alumna Hema Preya Selvanathan ‘19PhD and Associate Professor Bernard Leidner PhD explored how the public is responding to the rise of far-right movements within the United States.

The researchers examined the role of normative beliefs (i.e., your perception of how people who are important to you may expect you to behave) about the Alt-Right in determining public reactions toward these movements. They looked into how “perceived prevalence and acceptability of the Alt-Right are linked to public attitudes toward the Alt-Right.” Results showed perceived prevalence of the Alt-Right did not increase negative attitudes or feelings of being threatened by this group. However, perceived acceptability of the Alt-Right showed more positive attitudes toward the group, such as tolerating their activities even if they targeted minorities. Overall, the study showed an effect of normalization of the Alt-Right.

Selvanathan states, "Our measure of norms is getting at what participants think other U.S. Americans feel about the Alt-Right, and here is where we see a strong link between perceived norms and pro Alt-Right attitudes. I think far-right social movements like the Alt-Right can be viewed as promoting cultural shifts in society because they could change the normative standards in a society (i.e., in this context, what Americans consider to be acceptable or typical)."

A large cross-national study involving international collaborators will follow up on this research. The team will look at the effects of far-right movements in different countries and begin by examining their media exposure.

Spotlight Scholar: Rebecca Spencer

Rebecca Spencer posing with sleeping subject in lab

Does “sleeping on it” help us make better decisions? Are sleep disorders just a natural part of aging? How important are naps, anyhow? Rebecca Spencer, Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and director of the UMass Amherst Sleep Monitoring Lab is finding answers to these questions.

“There are so many sleep myths out there, and so few have scientific support,” says Spencer. That’s starting to change, as researchers rush to solve the mysteries of sleep and to decipher its complex relationship to mood, learning, memory, and aging.

“People are talking about sleep a lot more now,” says Spencer. “Doctors have realized that they need to ask patients about sleep, but they don’t have the answers. So they send them for a sleep study. Well, everyone has some level of sleep disorder—we just don’t know enough about how to delineate them.”

That’s where Spencer’s work comes in. Right now she’s focused on two populations that may seem disconnected but have a surprising amount in common, sleep-wise: preschoolers and the elderly. “Sleep changes developmentally, and sleep changes with aging; memory changes developmentally, and memory changes with aging. There’s a strong connection there. Before our studies, nobody had looked at whether sleep and memory are related in older adults and kids,” says Spencer.

The answers may provide not only medical but legislative guidance. Preschools are under pressure to reduce naps to make more time for active learning. In Massachusetts, laws mandate just a 45-minute “rest period”—a decision that was “based on nothing in particular,” says Spencer. Her research, funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, indicates that preschoolers who nap remember 100% of what they learned before they napped; without a nap, they lose 12% of that recollection. Spencer hopes her data, the first of its kind, will help set national accreditation policies and American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.

Kids aren’t the only ones affected. The occurrence of sleep disorders is notoriously high in aging populations, who are often concurrently plagued by memory loss. “Is it possible that as the brain degrades the need to process more frequently is reduced?” asks Spencer. “Are we sleeping less because we’re learning less?” To find out, Spencer is making use of a five-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how memories are encoded in the brain before sleep and how those memories are changed by sleep and wakefulness.

This is the type of work conducted in the University’s Sleep Monitoring Lab in the Institute for Applied Life Sciences. Using an MRI, Spencer and her research team study younger and older adults while learning a task, and then again while their subjects recall the information after either napping or staying awake. “We can study how memory changes when we literally see how the brain activity changes with sleep after learning and see how that changes with aging,” she explains. “It could be that older adults use different parts of the brain to learn which changes how the memory can be transformed by sleep.”

Understanding the effect that sleep has on the brain is critical to our ability to treat pervasive neurological conditions ranging from ADHD to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, says Spencer. “There’s a connection between neurodegenerative diseases and sleep deficit. For instance, we know that occurrence of REM sleep disorder is high in patients with Parkinson’s. But we don’t know how much is cause and how much is effect.”

In other words, the answer is far more complicated than just getting more sleep. “So far, sleep-related treatments in Alzheimer’s take a hammer approach—just get them to sleep more regardless of how,” says Spencer. That’s proved largely unsuccessful, which is why her research takes a targeted approach. “It’s not about total sleep, it’s about specific aspects of sleep that need to be improved.”

To discover those aspects, Spencer’s studies look first at healthy older adults. “If we find that a certain aspect of sleep function is preserved in healthy aging, we can then target that aspect to improve that function,” says Spencer. “For example, slow wave sleep—a form of deep sleep that occurs early in the night—is related to positive mood in healthy older adults. This would be a reason to target slow wave sleep in individuals with Alzheimer’s who are exhibiting mood deficits, which is common in Alzheimer’s disease,” she says.

In the upcoming years of her grant, Spencer plans to apply her ideas to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease in the hope of creating data-driven interventions that produce more effective results. “Are structured naps a way to process memories?” she asks. “Personal monitoring devices may play a role in creating nap interventions that help individuals deepen sleep.”

“We can come up with generalities every time we get a finding, but we will always be interested in parameters that define sleep function. Sleep has a lot of potential, with a wide expanse of unanswered questions,” says Spencer. “This is a project with no end, frankly,” she says.

Ellen Keelan

Kevin McGrath '13

Alumni Spotlight

Kevin McGrathDegrees: BSc/BA in Psychology / English (double major), minor in Philosophy

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Product Designer at 2U

Summary of Position:
I work alongside a team of 12 other designers to support 2U's mission of delivering high quality online learning to a global audience. In my role, I primarily design web and mobile applications for both business customers and for instructors who create the content on our platform, including everything from conducting initial discovery research to delivering pixel-perfect designs that our engineering team builds. I also work closely with other teams to develop our strategic vision for the products and services we offer.

Future Goals:
I hope to transition into industries that I have more personal connection to (healthcare, finance, real estate, infrastructure) and grow as a leader to build and manage a team of designers.

What do you love most about this career path?
I sincerely enjoy getting to connect with our users to understand their perspective, the challenges they face, and devise creative ways that we could make their lives easier. Getting to work with a small team who are very focused on this problem is incredibly rewarding as we have a deep sense of collaboration, camaraderie, and belonging. I like that I can balance both artistic/creative work with more logical/analytical work as both are important to who I am and make me feel that I am bringing my full self to my professional life.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
A key part of what I do is research and I believe that the foundations of scientific research that I learned and exercised while at UMass have paid significant dividends in providing me the frameworks and tools to be successful in problem solving and analysis.

Tips for Current Undergrads:
There are tons of career opportunities out there that may not be directly related to your major, but you will be able to leverage the skills you develop at UMass. Be open-minded as you begin to explore your career path. Don't be afraid to change careers, I did so many times when I first graduated. Most of all, ruthlessly pursue passion in your work.

Christine Brydges '11, MS

Alumni Spotlight

Christine BrydgesDegrees:
Bachelor's of Science in Psychology (UMass Amherst)
Master's in Human Factors in Information Design (Bentley University)

Current Position Title and Affiliation: UX Researcher at Noom

Summary of Position:
I am currently a UX/User Researcher at Noom. At Noom, I work on developing products that help people change their health behaviors to live a healthier life. In this job, I get to use my background in behavior change and psychology daily! A big part of my daily work is dedicated to talking to Noom users and learning how to improve the product in ways that will make it easier for them to use and in ways that will help support them in making changes to live a healthier lifestyle.

What do you love most about this career path?
I get to spend all day talking to people and helping them reach their health goals through Noom. UX Research is a field of work that is both analytical and people-centered, which helps satisfy both my creative and scientific needs.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
In so many ways! I use concepts that I learned in courses at UMass daily—such as how humans process information and how to encourage people to change their behaviors.

Tips for Current Undergrads:
Make an effort to learn about all the different types of career paths that alumni hold that studied within your major. Reach out to UMass Alumni on LinkedIn (like me!) and find out more so you can decide if that might be a good career for you! I had no idea there were job opportunities beyond being a Psychologist when I was an undergraduate majoring in Psychology.

Studying the psychology of political divides

Mackenzie Smith
Mackenzie Smith, 2021 Rising Researcher

Mackenzie Smith '22 combines psychology and political science in her research, which she presented at her field’s most prestigious conference.

Mackenzie Smith, of Westfield, New Jersey, has long been fascinated by how people make decisions and so she chose to major in both psychology and political science at UMass Amherst. “The two fields go hand-in-hand,” she says. “Politics is all about people and how they interact and why—it’s very psychological. I think everyone in politics would benefit from psychology courses.”

At UMass, Smith found a research group that combined her interests: The War and Peace Lab, housed in the Psychology of Peace and Violence Program in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Lab Director and Associate Professor Bernhard Leidner advised her on her thesis, for which she received a Commonwealth Honors College grant. “My mentor always had something positive to say and assured me that I was doing the best work I could,” says Smith.

In her thesis, Smith examined whether a significant correlation exists between an elected representative’s effectiveness (in this case a member of the House of Representatives) and the political diversity of their state’s electorate. She tested two hypotheses. The first suggested that more political diversity would increase an elected politician’s legislative effectiveness. The alternative hypothesis posited that more political diversity would decrease a politician’s effectiveness.

After combing through election data going back to 1984 and making a complex analysis, Smith confirmed the first hypothesis. She found that representatives of more politically diverse electorates bring forward more ideas and are more effective legislators.

"Today our political differences seem to do nothing but divide us. I believe this research shows that we need to look at our differences as positives." —Mackenzie Smith '22

Smith presented her work at the 2021 Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, the field’s most prestigious conference. “Writing this thesis was a major feat,” says Leidner. “Mackenzie will have a bright future as a scholar-practitioner conducting research with important contributions to, and tangible impact on, society at-large.”

As Smith powered through her data-heavy project, Leidner showed her how to get things done in academia. “He impressed upon me that although people are busy, they truly want to help you,” she says.

Smith aspires to become a lawyer. In the future, she’ll draw upon her empowering research experience, her internships with Congressman Jim McGovern and with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, and her stint as a COVID ambassador for the town of Amherst. She hopes to continue to learn why and how people make choices that affect the government and, consequently, their own lives.

Dasgupta tapped to help diversify the tech industry

Nilanjana Dasgupta
Nilanjana Dasgupta

Elon Musk. Mark Zuckerberg. Peter Thiel. Steve Jobs. Jack Dorsey. Bill Gates. Jeff Bezos. The tech industry has long suffered from a well-known lack of diversity, but Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of psychological and brain sciences and director of the Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS) at UMass Amherst, is part of a group that’s working to change that.

Dasgupta is in a new working group drawn from academia, the tech sector, think tanks and policy, called Catalyze Tech, that has spent the last year crafting a research-driven approach to increasing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts tailored for the technology community. The group recently released their Action to Catalyze Tech (ACT) Report, which has already been endorsed by a who’s who of both social justice and socially committed organizations, such as the NAACP and Annenberg Foundation, and tech companies, like Apple, Netflix and Google.

The ACT report is a blueprint for anyone who wants to promote DEI at their organizations, whether they are a CEO or manager, educator or advocate. It provides a set of actionable recommendations, resources and toolkits. These materials are suitable for companies of all sizes and at all stages of development. The primary goal is to create “open source” DEI best practices and gather them in a one-stop shop, so that any organization can help drive change both in their internal organization, but also throughout the wider world of technology.

ACT Report logoAt the heart of the report are four recommendations:

  • Model and incentivize inclusive leadership.
  • Operationalize DEI throughout the business.
  • Share DEI data, metrics and goals.
  • Transform pathways into tech for under-represented talent.

Each recommendation has a host of practical actions and strategies. Taken together, the recommendations and strategies aim to invite into the tech industry women, people from low-income backgrounds, first-generation college students and those who identify as BIPOC, and support their career advancement into leadership.

“My involvement in ACT combines my research and my commitment to ensuring that my work reaches beyond the Ivory Tower to affect social change on the ground,” says Dasgupta, who was asked to join the group by Oona King, the chair of Catalyze Tech and vice president of DEI at Snap, Inc., after King had read her work.

Dasgupta says that her involvement in Catalyze Tech is a natural extension of her work at UMass’s IDS. “All of the groups that are underrepresented in STEM, both at UMass and nation-wide, gravitate to UMass Amherst’s IDS” says Dasgupta. “What our institute does is to create a community of like-minded students, faculty and other professionals who care about the link between STEM and social justice. We also expand students’ networks by exposing them to industry mentors from diverse professions and identity groups, which helps position these students for professional success. As one example, just look at our Leadership Academy for underrepresented students in tech and engineering majors. This program, which is open to students beyond UMass, attracts students from across the Commonwealth, and increasingly, from out of state, as well. It teaches students about workplace culture and career advancement skills that complement their technical skills. It positions them to take the next leap into early careers.”

Aanchal Setia awarded Edna M. Dahlquist Scholarship

Aanchal SetiaThe Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences' Graduate Studies Committee has selected Aanchal Setia (a first year graduate student in the Social Psychology program) to receive the 2021 Edna M. Dahlquist Scholarship.

The Dahlquist Scholarship, offered annually, provides financial support for a graduate student in PBS. The scholarship rewards the unique challenges and hardships that a student overcame to enroll in their graduate program, providing $2,000 to complement other sources of funding (e.g., assistantships, fellowships). These funds may be used to support research and/or help with general living costs.

"I am interested in examining implicit group-based attitudes and beliefs that members of majority groups have towards minority groups, with a special focus on women in STEM. Specifically, I focus on identifying factors such as stereotype threats that affect the way women perceive their success and failures in male dominated fields. I also hope to develop interventions that would mitigate such biases and increase the representation of women in STEM." —Aanchal Setia

Working through life challenges using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

group hiking along river bed

When people encounter mental health struggles in life, such as anxiety, depression, managing stress, or coping with an illness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is widely used to help with these conditions. Techniques used in CBT include training an individual to reframe negative thoughts or stories they may be telling themselves when they’re in the midst of challenging circumstances.  

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an alternate treatment that may prove beneficial to individuals that are not seeing results with CBT. It can also be helpful for changes in life that prove to be trying such as handling grief or loss, transitioning to a new role like parent or caregiver, or managing pain. ACT shares some common themes with CBT but relies on a unique idea that there are some things that we can't change, and for those situations, it’s possible to change our attitude towards these struggles. ACT sessions utilize the practice of mindful attention to observe thoughts and feelings in the present moment, label these experiences, and treat them with an attitude of non-judgment.

Bruna Martins-Klein
Bruna Martins-Klein

Bruna Martins-Klein, clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences, is both the ACT Team Leader within the UMass Amherst Psychological Services Center and practitioner of ACT for older-adult groups in the community. She became interested in ACT during graduate school where she worked with older adults who were experiencing difficulties with conditions like chronic pain or illness. These ailments were tough to treat with CBT by means of altering one’s perspective because people’s experiences were very physically as well as mentally challenging.

Martins-Klein describes how practicing ACT is built of two main components, “first teaching skills that help us identify what emotions we're feeling, what body sensations we feel, and to be able to identify the thoughts that come up for us naturally. There's this mindfulness component of being with what is present in the moment, without trying to change it, without trying to judge it.

“The second component teaches skills that move from mindfulness to a place of being able to hold these thoughts, these emotions, these feelings, but still act in a way that's aligned with the kind of lifestyle that we want to have. For example, thinking about what we value and continuing to make strides to be active in our lives even if we're holding difficult pain or difficult anxieties while we go about our day.”

Taking a neutral stance when faced with troublesome feelings or emotions can allow us to be more compassionate with ourselves. Without adding any negative layers of judgement, we can experience what comes up and not feel pressured to act a certain way or try to make the feelings go away.

Martins-Klein relates, “it's not just about noticing pain and I think a lot of people ask me ‘how will I get better if all I'm doing is noticing things that don't feel good’ and the idea is that we can both notice the things that don't feel good but also make active motions towards the sort of actions that help us feel connected to who we are.”

For example, a runner may greatly value being outside in nature, but if they injure their leg, they may have to stop running outdoors for some time. A new attitude they can adopt is to be flexible about what they can do to connect with nature. They could watch a sunrise over the mountains, enjoy an ocean breeze at the beach, or create a scrapbook about past nature adventures and begin to plan a new trip. This ability to pivot our actions while keeping in touch with what is meaningful to us is vital to overcoming challenges we encounter.

ACT therapists also employ mindfulness exercises that guide participants using metaphors or mental imagery to address challenging subjects like experiencing strong emotions. For instance, if an individual is fighting with their emotions and trying to make them go away, this could be visualized as being stuck in a pile of quicksand. The more someone fights their emotions, the deeper and more trapped they seem to get.

“There's this mind-body connection in a lot of the work that involves thinking abstractly and forming connections between vivid metaphors and what's going on in your life. This can sometimes be a window to access connections that you might not be able to otherwise,” says Martins-Klein.

ACT can be helpful for many different diagnoses because it focuses less on specific symptoms and more on the functional impact of our behaviors—what they are giving or taking away from our lives. The therapy teaches us to change the way we cope. Perhaps instead of trying to avoid pain or emotions, we can increase awareness and the willingness to experience emotions that arise.

Martins-Klein’s team of clinical psychology graduate student trainees are currently offering individual telehealth therapy through the Psychological Services Center. Her team has also organized an ACT group for community seniors through the Amherst Senior Center, which has been very successful as a pilot program. They have helped many older adults who were struggling with both age-related and pandemic-related stressors. The therapy team finds their work very rewarding and are excited to organize more outreach programs in the future.

For more information on these offerings visit the Psychological Services Center or the Neural Vitality Lab.

David Moorman and Karine Fenelon receive ADVANCE Seed Grant

IALS building with squared geometry

This UMass Amherst funding program supports innovative and equitable collaborative research projects among faculty

The UMass ADVANCE program is pleased to announce that three research teams are recipients of ADVANCE Collaborative Research Seed Grant awards for 2021-22. These competitive grants aim to foster the development of innovative and equitable collaborative research projects among faculty. 

Recognizing longstanding gender gaps in the academy, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funds universities to build institutional transformation programs in order to advance gender equity for faculty in science and engineering. Through the power of collaboration, UMass ADVANCE cultivates faculty equity and inclusion—especially for women and minorities in science and engineering.

The team led by Karine Fenelon, assistant professor, department of biology, and David Moorman, associate professor, psychological and brain sciences, will be working on the project “Investigating amygdala circuit dysfunctions in a mouse model relevant to schizophrenia.”

"The filtering of sensorimotor information is a fundamental brain mechanism that, if reduced, is associated with and often predictive of psychosis, attention impairment and cognitive over-load. In humans and translational models, sensorimotor filtering can be measured using the prepulse inhibition (PPI) of the auditory startle response task. Acoustic PPI occurs when a weak sound presented prior to a loud startling sound, inhibits startle. Reduced PPI is a hallmark of schizophrenia but is also seen in other neurological and psychiatric disorders.

"Currently, the reversal of PPI deficits in animal models is widely used in pre-clinical research for antipsychotic drug screening. Yet, the neurotransmitter systems and synaptic mechanisms underlying PPI deficits are still not resolved. Amygdalar dysfunctions alter PPI and are common to pathologies displaying sensorimotor filtering deficits, including schizophrenia. Therefore here, we aim to identify amygdala mechanisms that cause PPI deficits as promising drug targets, using a mouse model of schizophrenia. To do so, the team will perform in vitro (Fenelon group) and in vivo (Moorman group) electrophysiological recordings of neurons central to PPI."

More information on UMass ADVANCE workshops, collaborative research grants, mutual mentoring grants and faculty fellowships is available on the UMass ADVANCE website.

Research examines the role of psychotherapists in treatment effectiveness

Therapist sits with client (illustration)

UMass Amherst study may lead to more personalized clinical training

New research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows that different psychotherapists use common treatment processes to varying benefits for patients.

The findings, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, ultimately may lead to more personalized clinical practices and trainings for therapists to help maximize their therapeutic impact and improve patient outcomes.

Alice Coyne
Alice Coyne

“Research has tended to focus on the contributions of the patient or treatment type to therapy outcomes, which makes sense in a lot of ways, but unfortunately the therapist contribution has been somewhat neglected,” says lead author Alice Coyne, now a post-doctoral researcher at Case Western Reserve University and a Ph.D. graduate of UMass Amherst. “Our current trainings, which are often standardized across therapists, tend not to promote consistent improvements in patient outcomes. Instead, we believe that personalizing training to therapists’ unique strengths and weaknesses could enhance training outcomes down the line.”

Working with co-author Michael Constantino, professor of clinical psychology and director of the Psychotherapy Research Lab at UMass Amherst, Coyne initially conducted the research as part of her Ph.D. dissertation, which received the 2020 dissertation award from the Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration.

“Her work is the first of its kind, and it will blaze a trail in our field,” Constantino predicts.

As her dissertation’s first aim, Coyne was interested in testing the prediction that patients experience more symptomatic and functional improvement in psychotherapy when a higher-quality patient-therapist alliance exists, as well as when the patient has a more positive expectation for change.

For the second aim, Coyne was interested in seeing if these associations differed based on who the therapist is. “A given technique in the hands of one therapist may look very different than that same technique in the hands of another therapist,” Coyne says. “To put it simply, one therapist may use their relationship with their patients as a key means to facilitate improvement; whereas for another therapist, their relationships with patients may be less important for patient improvement than their use of other strategies, such as cultivating positive expectations for change.”

Finally, for the third aim, Coyne looked at whether certain therapist characteristics predict which therapists tend to use relationship and belief processes to more therapeutic benefit across their caseloads.

To test these questions, the researchers analyzed data from 212 adults who were treated by 42 psychotherapists as part of a randomized trial that compared case-assignment methods in community-based mental health care. Throughout treatment, which varied in length and type, patients repeatedly completed surveys that measured their alliance quality with the therapist and their expectations for improvement.

Coyne and Constantino correctly hypothesized that, in general, better alliance quality and more positive outcome expectation associated with better treatment outcomes. Also, as predicted, therapists exhibited different strengths and weaknesses in their use of relationship and belief processes.

Finally, there was preliminary support that the therapists who used the alliance most effectively to promote patient improvement are the ones “… who are humbler in assessing their own alliance-fostering abilities,” the paper states.

Humbly know thyself may be one helpful takeaway from the research. “If you learn the things that you do particularly well as a therapist, then you can tailor your practice and play to your strengths,” Coyne says.

Interactions of sedentary behavior, physical activity, and sleep in early childhood

children jumping in playground

Although physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep (i.e., 24-hr behaviors) have been associated with cognitive and brain outcomes in older children and adults, studies in early childhood are limited and typically examine these behaviors separately. Early childhood serves as an important time for brain and cognitive development and is a time when healthy habits (i.e., low sedentary time, high physical activity, and sufficient sleep) are formed.

Christine St. Laurent, post-doctoral researcher in the Somneuro Lab directed by Rebecca Spencer, has been awarded an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award fellowship to pursue research examining the relations between early childhood 24-hr behaviors, cognition, and brain structures associated with learning and memory.

The specific aims of the project will be to determine if 24-hr behaviors are associated with 1) cognitive performance and 2) hippocampal volume in early childhood. Data from two ongoing studies examining the benefits of napping on memory in early childhood will be used: a clinical trial with one measurement period and a longitudinal clinical trial with three measurement periods over one year.

In order to find possible associations with learning and memory, analyses from various subgroups of participants of the two studies will be conducted. Measurements will include time spent in each of the 24-hr behaviors from 16-days of actigraphy (i.e., accelerometry via a wrist monitor), cognitive performance from multiple assessments, and hippocampal subfield volumes from magnetic resonance imaging. This investigation could reveal that 24-hour behaviors have synergistic effects on cognitive outcomes (e.g., getting more sleep and increasing physical activity may improve learning more than just changing one behavior alone).

The findings from this research will have public health significance in that they will identify potential windows of opportunity to intervene on health behaviors, learning, and cognitive function at a critical developmental period of the lifespan. Project results can inform future intervention studies, family practices, early childhood education policies, and comprehensive guidelines for a 24-hr cycle. This fellowship will provide St. Laurent with cross-disciplinary mentorship and valuable training in developmental science, sleep, neurocognitive measurement, statistical analyses, and scientific writing.

St. Laurent remarks, “I am looking forward to having extended protected time to continue my postdoc training under Dr. Rebecca Spencer, which for me has been an incredible experience so far. The opportunity to learn from and work with her and others in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences is complimentary, yet distinct from my predoctoral education and professional experiences and I am thrilled for this opportunity. I am also excited to collaborate and learn from my co-sponsor, Dr. Tracy Riggins, and her team at the University of Maryland.”

Mélise Edwards honored at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference Neuroscience Next

Mélise EdwardsThe Alzheimer’s Association Excellence in Neuroscience Mentoring Award honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the mentoring of dementia scientists through either research mentorship, career mentorship or personal mentorship. Mélise Edwards was recognized at this year’s conference.

Edwards is a Ph.D. student from University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass). With an interest in age-related cognitive decline, she explores areas of the brain susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and the role hormones play in brain aging. In the first year of her Ph.D. program, Mélise created an organization called Mentorship for Underrepresented STEM Enthusiasts (MUSE) to offer mentorship to those underrepresented in STEM fields. Through MUSE and her lab, Mélise has mentored five students: one who successfully gained acceptance to Emory University for the Neuroscience Ph.D. program, two who are currently applying to graduate school and two who have decided to pursue social justice-oriented careers outside of academia.

Christina Rowley receives NRSA Fellowship for her proposal 'Understanding Stress and Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities in Multiethnoracial Families'

Christina Rowley
Christina Rowley

Christina Rowley has received a two-year Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for her proposal “Understanding Stress and Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities in Multiethnoracial Families.” Rowley’s award is classified as a Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research, which will enable her to receive mentored research training from outstanding faculty sponsors, enhance her understanding of health-related sciences, and develop into an independent research scientist.   

The percentage of families with parents from different racial or ethnic backgrounds has risen dramatically in the U.S., and is projected to triple by 2060. These multiethnoracial (MER) couples (i.e., dyads with partners from different races and/or ethnicities) face higher levels of distress and depression, and lower marital satisfaction than those in MoER couples, possibly contributing to their increased rates of separation and divorce.

The early years of MER couple marriage may heighten stress levels as couples attempt to merge the values, behaviors, and beliefs of two unique racial or ethnic groups into one family system. Racial/ethnic cultural differences, perceived discrimination, and lower access to social supports are all factors that can contribute to stress.

Social support such as emotional (i.e., feelings of trust, care, empathy, and esteem), informational (i.e., providing information or advice), and/or instrumental support (i.e., providing financial support or other tangible resources such as housing or food) specifically provided by family members has been shown to lessen the effects of the stress of new parenthood on marital and coparenting conflict, and bring about positive adjustment to this stress.

Rowley will undertake novel research that seeks to identify unique, and potentially modifiable, sources of stress during early parenthood for MER families compared to MoER families. Additional aims include determining if social support received by couples will influence stress levels or alter sources of parenting conflict. Her research will also pinpoint unique challenges MER families face and what mechanisms they use to cope with their difficulties.  

The results of this project will identify factors that influence new parents’ resilience and susceptibility to stress which will inform the development of preventive interventions that can reduce health disparities among MER couples and their children.

John Falkowski '75PhD

Alumni Spotlight

John Falkowski Retired Director of Human Resources

Degree(s): MS, PhD

Summary of Background:
After getting my doctorate in (developmental) Psychology at UMass, I started a pediatric rehab. program at the Western Massachusetts Hospital. I then became a licensed psychologist and served as the Chief Psychologist and Director of Therapy Services at the Monson State Hospital (Developmental Center). After getting my MBA at night, I started a company that customized computer systems to allow university researchers to analyze data on personal computers. I then spent the next 20+ years as a Director of Human Resources at a start-up company, a Fortune 100 financial services firm, and at a college and university.

Future Goals:
To continue enjoying my retirement: running, biking, hiking with my dogs, meditating and getting ready for my 50th wedding anniversary with my wife who I met during my first week in graduate school at UMass, where she was getting her graduate degree in Communications Disorders.

What did you love most about your career path?
Variety: I actually started out as a doctoral student in math at UMass before switching to psychology. After getting my doctorate, I decided to pursue a non-academic path. Respecializing in clinical psych. and becoming licensed psychologist and then switching to management.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
Dick Bogartz, the head of the Developmental Psych. area at the time, was a think-outside-the-box person. He made a unilateral decision to allow me to transfer from the Math Department to the Psychology Department. He was always looking for areas outside the mainstream to research. After my masters thesis advisor, who was interested in the development of prosocial behavior left, Dick asked me if I would like to ask some preschoolers “What does love mean to you.” That led to my dissertation, with him as advisor: “The Development of the Concept of Love.” That openness and flexibility led me to variety of different careers, inside and outside of psychology.

Tips for Current Undergrads:
Besides studying hard to excel in your psychology courses, using your electives, explore other areas outside psychology. Do not adopt a rigid career path, stay open and flexible.

Isabel Salvatore '21

Alumni Spotlight

Isabel SalvatoreUndergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a Minor in Sociology and a Certificate in Social Welfare & Social Work

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Graduate Student & Graduate Assistant in Student Engagement at the University of Denver

Summary of Position:
I am currently a graduate student at the University of Denver studying Higher Education with emphases in Public Policy and Student Affairs. As a part of my studies, I am also a Graduate Service Assistant in the Office of Student Engagement here at the university. In this role, I support student involvement outside of the classroom in a wide range of clubs, organizations, and governing bodies. I specifically focus on the needs and growth of the fraternities and sororities, developing our members and encouraging their continued growth. I work with leaders in the fraternity and sorority community to create a more inclusive experience for students. Our office also hosts signature university events such as homecoming and welcome week, which I help to design and put on! This position compliments the learning that I am doing in my graduate courses and provides the opportunity to put theory into practice. I am currently taking Introduction to Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration and am really enjoying my classes!

Future Goals:
Post-graduation I am currently planning on looking into careers in student conduct and potentially pursuing another master's degree or an EdD!

What do you love most about this career path?
I love forming relationships with otherswhether it be students, faculty, staff, or advisorsand facilitating experiential learning outside of the classroom. Helping students develop lifelong skills that they can carry with them across a wide variety of careers for the rest of their lives is extremely rewarding! It is incredibly rewarding to be a part of students' educational and personal growth, and even more special to get to facilitate that!

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
UMass offered me so many experiences that have helped prepare me for employment in any field as well as graduate study! I was able to develop my leadership and interpersonal skills through the PBS department as a peer mentor, creating my own internship, and studying abroad. Outside of PBS I was involved on campus in Greek life, orientation, and CNS career services- all of which developed my communication and teamwork skills.

Tips for Current Undergrads:
Get involved. UMass has so many opportunities that range across so many interest areas that there is something for everyone. Take advantage of your undergraduate experience within PBS as well as UMass and explore different thingsregardless of if they are related to your major or intended career. There are opportunities to step up into leadership roles in clubs, create an internship experience for yourself, or mentor others. Not only is college a great setting for exploring new things, but UMass specifically offers so many ways for students to develop tangible and lifelong skills that we sometimes miss in our classes! I would also suggest taking advantage of all the resources available to UMass studentsyour tuition pays for more than just your classes. You have access to career services, financial advising, counseling, etc!


Jaline Israel '20

Alumni Spotlight

Jaline Israel '20Undergraduate Degree: B.S. in Psychology, Minor in Vocal Jazz, Commonwealth Honors College

Current Position Title and Affiliation: PsyD Candidate at Regent University

Summary of Position:
Current graduate student studying at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It is a 5-year program entailing four years of course work and then one year of an internship. At the end of the 5 years, I will be awarded my doctorate in clinical psychology.

Future Goals:
In the future I would love to work in academia as a part-time professor doing research. I would also love to open my own clinical practice that specifically works towards helping underserved and underrepresented populations.

What do you love most about this career path?
I love everything about this career path! My favorite thing if I had to pick though, would be the unique way that this career helps people. Mental health can have a direct influence not only on other areas of our health but on so many dimensions of our lives altogether. Helping someone with their mental health therefore equates to helping them achieve a better quality of life and happiness. This is so special to me. One other thing I love is the process of therapy itself, due to its one-on-one nature (usually). I love this because it is a personalized and unique process each time you get to know a client, grow with them, and watch them heal and evolve overtime. It’s truly a dynamic partnership that the therapist creates with each of their patients involving active interaction, reflection, and evaluation. This excites me because I know I would always be kept on my toes and able to use my skills in new and different ways.

Jaline at hotel functionHow did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
I got to take a class in almost every branch of psychology thanks to PBS which helped me find what I was interested in. “Interdisciplinary Directions in Psychology” additionally helped me understand my goals and the steps needed to effectively accomplish them (i.e. A plan for applying to graduate school). The psychology classes overall prepared me for the writing aspect of graduate school as the longest paper for me this semester will be 6-8 pages while my UMass classes made me comfortable writing 10-15+ pages! Lastly, being able to join a research team and additional programs like SPACE helped transform me from an anxious undergrad who loved people to an emerging professional with experience I could take into the real world of psychology.

Tips for Current Undergrads:
Take advantage of the breadth of opportunity you have in front of you. If there is something you might be interested in the future, look around and see how you could gain some more knowledge or experience. This will save you money and time in the future! Take that extra class to see if you would really be interested in a field/specialization that you’re considering, talk to professors doing the things you want to do in the future so you can get real advice, join research teams for topics you’re interested in to get some experience under your belt… most of all though, still have fun and make sure you enjoy your four years!

Natasha de la Rosa-Rivera, 2019 CRF Graduate Student Grant Writing Program Member Receives NIH Funding

Improving the Diagnosis and Treatment of Memory Disorders in Aging and Alzheimer's 

Natasha de la Rosa-RiveraNatasha M. de la Rosa-Rivera, a 4th year Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program, and 2019 CRF Graduate Student Grant Writers Program member was recently named as a recipient of an NIH dissertation award (R36) to complete and further her research. Receiving this award will allow Natasha to test her overarching hypothesis that brain regions contribute to a cognitive task – be it perceptual or mnemonic – according to the representations they contain. 

Her first project will look at the similarities in neural mechanisms underlying two cognitive processes (visual perception and recognition memory) using the same type of visual stimuli. The second project will test whether older adults exhibit greater deficits in recognition memory for complex associative stimuli than for simple visual stimuli. It is known that the medial temporal lobe (MTL), a region responsible for the memory of complex stimuli, deteriorates with age. If it is assumed that all memory processes are driven exclusively by MTL systems, then the memory of older adults should be negatively affected by aging. Natasha’s hypothesis asks if MTL is responsible for only the memory of complex stimuli then memory for simple visual stimuli should be relatively unaffected since this mechanism is found outside of MTL. Thus, according to her theory, memory for simple visual stimuli should be preserved if the areas outside of the MTL are unaffected. The hope is that both projects may lay the groundwork for improved diagnosis and treatment of memory disorders in aging and Alzheimer's, potentially alleviating patient distress and familial burdens.

Natasha says “The Graduate Student Writers Program was essential to my success in writing the grant and submitting it. The program was indispensable to my success by significantly improving my writing, receiving valuable editing feedback from peers both inside and outside of my research field and from, the program director,  Dr. Rebecca Spencer. Dr. Spencer kept me organized and focused throughout the process. She is an amazing resource that I had the privilege to learn from and the luck to have her unwavering support in my academic career, during and after the writers' program.”

Natasha, a 4th year Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program, is conducting research in the lab directed by Dr. Rosie Cowell, associate professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences. 

Fall 2021 Newsletter

lacrosse players practice by Tobin Hall

Catch up with the latest PBS news including spotlights on our talented students, faculty, and alumni!

Read full issue

Features include:

  • Using behavioral activation therapy as a treatment for depression
  • Alumni Profile: Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki ‘08PhD, Senior Research Scientist at TERC
  • Songbird neurons for advanced cognition mirror the physiology of mammalian counterparts
  • PBS mentors promising students during summer programs
  • Spotlight on Alumni:
    • Jane Studeny Oliveira '13, PsyD, Pediatric Neuropsychologist at Boston Neuropsychological Services
    • Patrick McGonigal '16, MA, Doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology and Masters of Legal Studies (MLS) Student at the University of Nebraska Lincoln

Also check out additional Research Highlights, Awards and Updates, and PBS faculty and students In the Media!

A Qualitative Investigation of the Impact of COVID-19 on Emergency Medicine Physicians’ Emotional Experiences and Coping

doctors hands using stethoscope

UMass Amherst graduates and current PhD students of the Affect and Social Cognition Lab directed by Linda Isbell have authored a new paper in press at the Journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians. This project is part of the grant "Emotional Influences on Diagnostic Error in Emergency Medicine: An Experimental Approach to Understand Diagnostic Failure and Facilitate Improvement for Patients with and without Mental Illness" funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Authors: Welsh, Margaux; Chimowitz, Hannah; Nanavati, Janvi; Huff, Nathan R., & Isbell, Linda M.

Study objective: Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency medicine providers in the United States have faced unprecedented challenges, risks, and uncertainty while caring for patients in an already vulnerable healthcare system. As such, the pandemic has exacerbated high levels of negative emotions and burnout among emergency medicine providers, but little systematic qualitative work has documented these phenomena. The purpose of this qualitative investigation was to study ED physicians’ emotional experiences in response to COVID-19 and the coping strategies that they employed to navigate the pandemic.

Methods: From September 2020 to February 2021, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 26 ED physicians recruited from two early COVID-19 epicenters: New York City and the Metro Boston region. Interviews, coding, and analyses were conducted using a grounded theory approach.

Results: ED physicians reported heightened anxiety, empathy, sadness, frustration, and anger during the pandemic. Physicians frequently attributed feelings of anxiety to medical uncertainty around the COVID-19 virus, personal risk of contracting the virus and transmitting it to family members, the ED environment, and resource availability. ED physicians also discussed the emotional effects of policies prohibiting patient family members from entering the ED, both on themselves and patients. 

Sources of physician anger and frustration included changing policies and rules, hospital leadership and administration, and pay cuts. Some physicians described an evolving, ongoing coping process in response to the pandemic, and most identified collective discussion and processing within the emergency medicine community as an effective coping strategy.

Conclusions: Our findings underscore the need to investigate the effects of physicians’ pandemic-related emotional stress and burnout on patient care. Evidence-based interventions to support ED providers in coping with pandemic-related trauma are needed.

Clark University and UMass Amherst “Teachers and Adopted Children” Survey:  Key Findings, Topline Results, and Recommendations

university logos

Abbie Goldberg (Clark University) and Harold Grotevant (University of Massachusetts Amherst), in collaboration with the Rudd Program at UMass Amherst, launched a survey of teachers’ experiences with adopted children April 6 2021 – May 15, 2021. Responses were gathered from 207 K-12 teachers,  paraprofessionals, and other school professionals, including 63 elementary school teachers (30.4%), 74 secondary school teachers (35.7%), 46 special education teachers (22.3%), and 39 (19%) programming/support staff (e.g., afterschool program teacher; librarian). A broad representation of grade levels and subject matter areas was achieved; over 40 responses were received from teachers at each grade level, K-12. Primary focus was teachers’ experiences with and perspectives on adopted children and families, but the survey also addressed COVID-19-related stressors and concerns.

Key Findings/ Executive Summary

  • About three-quarters of participants felt that their school at least somewhat emphasized or acknowledged family diversity. Yet only about half felt that teachers and staff were at least somewhat trained to recognize the role of trauma or attachment history in children’s behavioral issues, with slightly more (almost 60%) agreeing that teachers were at least somewhat adept at modifying assignments to be inclusive of diverse families. Teachers were split in how constrained they felt in terms of how they taught about issues such as family diversity, adoption, and race/racism, with about one-third feeling at least somewhat constrained, and over half feeling not very or not at all constrained.
  • A unique aspect of the sample concerns their personal connections to adoption: in particular, 23% were adoptive parents themselves. Notably, only 15% of the sample reported having received any teacher training or professional development about adoption. A total of 30% of teachers estimated that they had taught between 0-5 adopted children in their career, with 40% estimating that they had taught 6-15 adopted children in their career, and about 15% estimating that they had taught 16-30 adopted children in their career. One-fifth believed that they were not, to their knowledge, teaching any adopted children during the current school year.
  • Teachers most often learned a child was adopted from the child themselves, followed by the parents. Sometimes they learned the information in the context of a child’s emotional or behavioral difficulties or their specialized education plan. Less than 50% of respondents said that their school/teachers sent out a form asking for child background information (where a parent, if they wanted, could indicate information about their children’s adoptive status or history), and, notably, more than one-third were unsure if such a form was sent. Likewise, 45% of respondents had at some point wanted to know more about a child’s adoptive status or history but were unsure of how or who to ask.
  • Two-thirds of teachers viewed adopted children as being more likely than non-adopted children to have emotional difficulties, and more than half believed that adopted children were more likely to have peer/social problems and to struggle with identity issues. About one-third believed that adopted children were more likely to have developmental delays, to have an IEP, and to have poor academic performance. While such beliefs dovetail with some research findings (e.g., adopted children are overrepresented in special education, and may have lower academic performance overall), there is significant variability among adopted children in educational outcomes, such that children with more pre-adoption adversity tend to fare more poorly, and children whose parents report high levels of parent involvement and/or socioeconomic resources tend to fare well.
  • Teachers described a range of modifications or adjustments they made in their language and teaching to better meet the needs of adopted children and families. Most commonly (70%) they described purposeful and/or inclusive language choices, with 56% noting efforts to be more inclusive and sensitive in assignments, 46% noting attention to adoption inclusivity in books and materials, 45% noting an adoption-aware or trauma-informed approach to discipline, and 35% noting an adoption-aware approach to curriculum. They described a range of assignments and school-related topics that presented issues for adopted children, including those related to immigration, identity, family history, genes/environment, and loss/grief.
  • Most teachers were enthusiastic about parents’ involvement and advocacy in relation to their children, and welcomed their input, but a few pointed out that parents themselves lacked a trauma-informed perspective which sometimes interfered with their ability to best meet the needs of their children, highlighting the need for teacher and parent training in adoption.
  • Significantly, in the realm of teacher training, few participants learned about adoption issues (e.g., child characteristics/challenges; inclusion in curricula) in teacher training or professional development (between 12-20% in all areas except for trauma), with between one-third and two-thirds indicating that they learned about these issues “on the job,” with another 30-50% saying that they had never learned about these issues. Likewise, just 2.4% said that they felt “very prepared” by their education/training to work with adopted students and families, with 24% feeling somewhat prepared. When referring to how prepared they felt currently, one-third felt very prepared, and just over 40% felt somewhat prepared, echoing the finding that most teachers felt that they had gained much of what they knew about adoption “on the job.” Chi square analyses showed teachers who were the parents of adopted children were somewhat more likely (X2 (1, 189 = 2.50, p = .086) to feel somewhat or very prepared currently.
  • In turn, 70-85% of teachers agreed that learning about issues such as common challenges among adopted childrenadopted children’s educational needs and challenges, developing curricula with awareness of adopted children, and the role of trauma in adopted children’s behavior, would be “very helpful” to new teachers. Yet they also endorsed barriers to learning about adoption for teachers and teachers-in-training, most notably lack of prioritization (e.g., by the schools that they were employed within; by their training programs; by state accreditation agencies) and/or competing demands for professional development topics.


Link to full paper

Other Resources


Resource Documents, Adoption-Specific

Resource Documents, Foster Care-Specific




Other General Resources for Teachers (re: Diversity in General)

Using behavioral activation therapy as a treatment for depression

couples walk and run over a city bridge

A diagnosis of depression can make those who suffer from the disorder feel lethargic, reluctant to participate in activities that once brought them pleasure, or feel unable to take action to better their situation. Behavioral activation (BA) is a method of psychotherapy that helps people get re-engaged in their life by reducing depression, enabling individuals to live more in the present moment, and increasing their overall enjoyment of life.

Christopher Martell
Christopher Martell

Christopher Martell, Director of the UMass Amherst Psychological Services Center and Lecturer in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, is one of the original developers of the protocol for BA. Earlier in his career, Martell worked as a BA research therapist alongside Neil Jacobson, professor of psychology at the University of Washington. Jacobson had published an important study in 1996 on the effectiveness of various components of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) on treating depression, which found that the BA component can be successful all on its own. This work led to other influential studies. Jacobson, Martell and a small team of psychologists and graduate students in Seattle worked together to develop a resurgence of BA, which was formerly called “activity scheduling”.

A psychotherapist trained in BA will work with a client to individualize their treatment plan. Martell explains, ”we use a metaphor of working from the outside in…it's easy for us all to live our lives from the inside out; if we feel happy, we do something fun, if we feel sad, we weep.

“When people are depressed, they often feel is unmotivated. Things aren't giving them pleasure and the desire is to not be depressed. The conundrum is that when you're not motivated and you don't take pleasure in anything, the things that you need to do to be less depressed will just keep escaping you.

“The idea from BA of working from the outside in is that you identify what's important to you, the kinds of activities that are meaningful or were meaningful to you, or those activities that would help you pursue goals.”

The psychotherapist will then assist their client with identifying barriers to taking action. A common barrier to initiating a new activity is that it seems too overwhelming. One technique is to break down an activity into smaller more manageable steps. For instance, if you would like to run two miles but maybe you’re a little out of shape, start by walking a half mile to keep things achievable. Creating a schedule for your new pursuits will also help you commit to doing them. Tracking your progress is another crucial part of working towards a larger goal like running five miles.

The idea of “implementation intentions” also comes in to play during this process. In addition to setting a goal, you perform tasks that will enable you to begin your new activity with ease. For example, you want to start a regular running routine, but you don’t have good running shoes. An implementation intention would be to buy new running shoes, which will start you off on the right track.

A therapist can act like a coach helping to plan a client’s next action, the success of which will foster positive and reinforcing outcomes. Often creating multiple plans of action is in order to help an individual accommodate new situations or feelings as they arise. For instance, if you want to start spending more time with a friend, plan A could be to meet for coffee. If that plan doesn’t work out, plan B might be to talk with them on the phone instead. Achieving small successes with our actions is an important part of reaching larger goals.

Another challenging behavior that many depressed individuals struggle with is avoidance. Someone may be avoiding a pursuit because of the negative feelings they get from it, or evading tasks that make them feel overwhelmed. Additionally, people may get caught in repeating negative thought patterns which  can cause them to be unable to make decisions or move forward.

Regarding thinking patterns, Martell explains, “In behavioral activation we ask, ‘when do you start thinking that way?’ and ‘how much does ruminating and brooding over this thought pull you in and  keep you stuck in your own mind and disengaged?’”

When we brood, we may be dwelling on an unhappy subject, thinking deeply about how bad we feel, or concentrating on our failures rather than our successes. Brooding is a type of rumination, or thinking over and over about something, which can make us feel caught in cycles of thought.

However, not all rumination is necessarily a bad thing. When we are reflecting, or thinking back on something, it's often what we do when we need to solve a big problem. Martell advises working to transform negative or brooding rumination into a reflective type and make it problem oriented.

“If someone is depressed and brooding about past failures, unhappiness, etc. this is likely to contribute to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness (we can’t undo the past). A BA therapist would work with the client to recognize when rumination is brooding over something unchangeable or that they can’t imagine how to change. The therapist would then teach them some problem-solving skills of identifying a small solvable problem, hopefully related to what they brood about, and to identify and evaluate possible solutions that they can try,” Martell relates. 

Once a person comes up with a solution to a problem, they can feel better and start to get unstuck from ruminating thoughts.

BA is highly customizable to the needs of an individual. This therapy may also include tracking emotions and mood, developing social skills, and targeting specific behaviors that contribute to depression. Through participating in rewarding activities and sharing positive experiences with others, BA therapy can help guide a person to greater fulfillment in life.

More information on behavioral activation with a video demonstration can be found through this link.

First recipients of the Feldman-Vorwerk Internship Award announced

Moving Forward Together

I am pleased to share information on the first recipients of the Feldman-Vorwerk Internship Award. Your generosity helps our engaged, curious, and creative students thrive as they pursue their degrees and prepare to lead in academia, government, healthcare, and industry.

In a time of societal transformation brought on by a global pandemic, advances in technology, and other challenges, support from the Feldman-Vorwerk Internship Award helps to ensure the next generation of scientists and leaders will be well prepared to make contributions to their professions and communities.

The hard work of our students, faculty, and staff, along with the extraordinary generosity of donors like you has kept scientific discovery moving forward during a disruptive and uncertain time. Please know how much we appreciate your unique role in this endeavor.

Tricia Serio, PhD
Dean, College of Natural Sciences

Shelby CasimirShelby Casimir
Spring 2022
Psychology (BA)
Beverly, MA

Student Profile
I am a rising senior who is double majoring in psychology and sociology. Hailing from the North Shore of Massachusetts, I developed a passion for activism, children, and helping others. On campus I serve as the Event Coordinator for the Insanely Prestigious Step Team (IPST), and serve on the S.B.S. Dean’s Council as the sociology representative. Recently I was awarded the W.E.B Du Bois Outstanding Sociological Achievement Award for my involvement in the department. This summer I am excited to work as a research intern for the Eos Foundation's Women's Power Gap Initiative, a project dedicated to improving gender and racial parity in Massachusetts' education and corporate sectors.

Patricia ColePatricia Cole
Fall 2021
Psychology (BA)
Plymouth, MA

Student Profile
I am a rising senior studying both psychology and sociology. I have completed internships in a number of mental health and social work organizations that have prepared me to go deeper in my academic and professional exploration. I am a lab assistant in the Visual Cognitive Attention Lab led by Prof. Cave in the Dept. of Psychological and Brain Sciences. This summer I am an intern with an organization called Unmute, working hard to help those who do not have access to mental health services and educating those who can help. In my free time, I am the captain of the UMass Women's Ultimate Frisbee team and enjoy leading my team to success. I plan on using my internship and leadership experiences to pursue a masters degree and a career in mental health counseling.

Read full Recipient Report 2021

Jane Studeny Oliveira '13, PsyD

Alumni Spotlight

Jane Studeny OliveiraDegrees: B.S. in Psychology (Neuroscience Track), Minor in Biology; UMass Amherst
M.S. in Clinical Psychology, Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology; Antioch University New England

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Pediatric Neuropsychologist at Boston Neuropsychological Services

Summary of Position:
Broadly stated, neuropsychology is the study of brain-behavior relationships. As a pediatric neuropsychologist, I provide neuropsychological evaluations, which typically includes a combination of neurocognitive, psychological, and behavioral assessments to evaluate children's cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral functioning. My training has largely consisted of evaluating children within both medical and psychiatric settings—including both inpatient units and outpatient clinics.

Children are referred to neuropsychology by their pediatricians, psychiatrists, neurologists, oncologists, developmental specialists, therapists (psychology, speech/language, occupational therapy, physical therapy), and other specialty providers. While children often present to neuropsychology with a range of different referral questions, I have worked with children, adolescents, and young adults with various psychiatric illnesses spanning the spectrum of psychopathology, as well as medical (e.g., epilepsy, brain tumors, leukemias), neurodevelopmental (e.g., congenital issues, genetic disorders, birth defects, prenatal traumas), and acquired conditions (e.g., traumatic brain injuries).

I completed my formal training within both academic medical center and teaching hospital settings—including my predoctoral internship/residency at the Institute of Living/Hartford Hospital/Connecticut Children's Medical Center consortium and my postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric neuropsychology at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University. I have since transitioned to private practice, and now work for a local group practice in Needham, MA.

Future Goals:
Clinical neuropsychology is a subspecialty designation within Clinical Psychology. Most neuropsychologists attend doctoral programs in psychology, and then subsequently seek out pre-doctoral and post-doctoral training opportunities in neuropsychology. Once formally trained in clinical neuropsychology (which requires completion of an accredited neuropsychology post-doctoral fellowship, amongst several other training requirements), many of us—myself included—hope to then seek board certification in clinical neuropsychology. Board certification is an onerous, several-year process that certifies our clinical expertise in the field. In addition to my future goal of becoming a board certified clinician, I hope to also engage in clinical advocacy efforts to expand the accessibility of neuropsychology both locally and around the globe.

What do you love most about this career path?
The kids! There is nothing more refreshing than working with children every day, and nothing as rewarding as being an advocate to a child or adolescent navigating a difficult circumstance. Brain science is also pretty cool, and I love having the opportunity to educate patients and their families about the ways our brains guide our behaviors, emotions, and just about everything that we do.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
I have to thank the Commonwealth Honors College for encouraging me to seek out opportunities that I may not have independently sought out myself, from clinical externship opportunities to my senior capstone research project. Most memorably, I spent my four years of undergrad working in Dr. Eric Bittman's lab—and I have him to thank for providing me with a strong foundation in neuroanatomy to make my graduate school neuroanatomy courses and training even just slightly less overwhelming. A lot of what I did at UMass outside of my coursework was heavily loaded in neuroendocrinology and sleep medicine, which I certainly appreciate now as a clinical specialist in the field.

Tips for Current Undergrads:
Don't be afraid to try new things, explore different opportunities, change your mind, and follow your heart. If something seems interesting to you, go for it! There can be a lot of external pressure to find your way quickly, but don't let that put you at risk of pigeonholing yourself into a major or career path that doesn't leave you feeling totally fulfilled. Your undergraduate years are the perfect time to learn about yourself, what you're good at, and what brings you joy—take advantage of this opportunity as best as you can. And above all else, enjoy your time at Amherst—because once it's over, you'll realize that there's nothing else quite like it.

Jane Studeny Oliveira '13, PsyD on LinkedIn

Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki ‘08PhD

Alumni Spotlight
Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki
Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki

Making STEM education more accessible and effective for diverse learners

A Senior Research Scientist at TERC, Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki develops alternative approaches to mainstream education that benefit neurodiverse learners. He designs innovative curricula and assessments utilizing neurocognitive tools, game-based learning, and even virtual reality. He also shares his educational knowledge through professional development workshops for teachers, improving the accessibility of STEM education for students with disabilities.

Dahlstrom-Hakki began his career in psychological science at UMass Amherst as a PhD student in the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience program. He worked alongside Alexander Pollatsek and Keith Rayner who pioneered the use of eye-tracking methodology for understanding the cognitive processes involved in reading and visual perception. His dissertation research involved tracking human eye-movement patterns to try to find out if viewing recognizable shapes (i.e., an apple) or various colors onscreen could help guide an individual’s visual attention.

Dahlstrom-Hakki also joined collaborative projects including a study of driving safety and eye-tracking with Donald Fisher, the Director and Co-Founder of the Human Performance Lab. His favorite project at UMass was working on Cliff Konold’s development team for TinkerPlots, a data visualization and modeling software that taught students math, statistics, and other sciences.

“When I worked with Cliff Konold in the Statistics Education Research Group…we worked with some middle schools in Holyoke, and we would test statistics lesson plans and activities with students there and get feedback and improve what we did. I really enjoyed that work…it focused on struggling learners, some of whom had disabilities. After I got my PhD, I really wasn't interested in going in a very abstract research direction. I was more interested in the in the work I did in these research assistantships,” says Dahlstrom-Hakki.

He ultimately connected with a position at Landmark College as an Associate Professor and Senior Academic Researcher at their Institute for Research and Training (LCIRT). There he worked with the college’s student body made up of entirely neurodiverse learners. These students may be encountering obstacles like having difficulty with number sense, attention or executive function challenges, or language processing problems.

At LCIRT, Dahlstrom-Hakki performed grant funded research centered on finding more effective ways to support these students, focusing specifically on statistics and science education. Additionally, he organized workshops, trainings, and an annual summer institute for educators who wanted to better serve neurodiverse learners in their school or college. Eventually becoming the director of the institute, he also started a graduate certificate program for working teachers to learn the latest practices for helping this population.

One of Dahlstrom-Hakki’s aims is to find solutions to the problems neurodiverse learners have with main-stream education. “The overarching approach we adopted is a universal design mindset…the idea behind universal design is if you create educational content that serves the students at the margins then your educational product is likely to better serve all learners, not just those on the margins,” he conveys. Creating curriculums that accommodate a variety of learners will build a more sustainable system right from the start.

One issue any student may struggle with when learning a new subject is finding the motivation to keep at it. Dahlstrom-Hakki has found that using lesson content that is personally relevant to students can be vital to holding their interest. “If students don't see the end use or purpose for the information you're providing to them, like ‘how is this going to help me in the real world?’…for many students with executive function issues and I would argue for many learners who have no disability, it’s not a natural learning process,” he notes.

Save the Zoombinis! game
Save the Zoombinis! game by TERC

For example, if a math lesson used real data about a videogame that students already play, this could help to pique their curiosity. Establishing greater interest in a subject will help an individual allocate the brain power necessary to learn and stick with it, even when confronted with difficulties.

In his search to engage students in a fun and exploratory way, Dahlstrom-Hakki began using game-based learning to reach those having difficulty. He states, “Games have a lot of power to engage students and motivate them and really help them be in a safe space where you can try over and over, and fail time and time again, and see it as a natural part of the process.” Learning how to deal with failure and persevere is an essential part of mastering a new skill.

His experience with game-based learning brought about a connection with TERC, a research-based non-profit with a mission of engaging learners through research, educational initiatives and tools, and professional development, with a focus on STEM.

view of a planet from a space station
Mission to Europa Prime

Now a Senior Research Scientist at TERC, Dahlstrom-Hakki is involved with grant funded projects including the creation of a computational thinking curriculum for grades 3-8, and the development of a virtual reality (VR) STEM mystery game that is being co-designed in-part by Landmark College students. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the game will be broadly accessible to everyone, with particular attention paid to the needs of autistic learners. Mission to Europa Prime involves exploring an abandoned science station, solving puzzles focusing on STEM and computational thinking, and discovering new clues to solving a mystery.

“It's great to work with the students…we really see them as equal partners in shaping this, not necessarily just as a focus group or a sounding board but they’re getting the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the design process,” says Dahlstrom-Hakki. The Boston Science Museum and the Pacific Science Center will also be involved in testing the game with the public.

VR technology has added some great benefits to game-based learning. For instance, when a student with attention issues uses VR, they are able to block outside distractions much more effectively. “The huge advantage of VR is you have full control over somebody's environment. You have full control of their view and usually their hearing as well,” Dahlstrom-Hakki relates. For individuals who are sensitive to noise or bright colors and lights, the gaming environment can be altered on the fly to create a more comfortable space for learning.

“We're looking at what other supports can we add to help guide attention if a student is struggling with a puzzle, without making it too easy or too obvious that we're helping,” Dahlstrom-Hakki says.  

In his profession, Dahlstrom-Hakki enjoys the many opportunities he gets to explore new technologies and research directions. The everchanging process of creating and testing different approaches to neurodiverse learning is very exciting and fulfilling. He is truly making a difference by giving more students an accessible, effective, and fun STEM education.


PBS mentors promising students during summer programs

Each summer, PBS department members mentor students, helping them perform specialized research projects. The William Lee Science Impact Program (Lee SIP) is a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program designed to expand and broaden participation in undergraduate research. Lee SIP scholars are mentored directly by research faculty, work within a research team, and participate in professional development workshops.

The Summer Pre-College Research Intensives place high-achieving high school students in professional working labs alongside distinguished faculty, graduate and undergraduate students. Participants gain valuable UMass experience and complete a research project of their own. Check out these posters from some of our talented student researchers, summing up their awesome projects!


Sari Saint-Hilaire and Alexis Edozie posing with their posters
L-r: Alexis Edozie (Mathematics and Statistics) and Sari Saint-Hilaire (PBS)

Sari Saint-Hilaire

Evaluating Correlations Between Riskiness, Risk-Assessment, and Risk-Taking Measures Across Different Pubertal Ages

Individual Differences in Development Lab directed by Kirby Deater-Deckard

Click to enlarge poster

Sherley de la Rosa Mejia posing with poster

Sherley de la Rosa Mejia

Effects of Verbal & Non-Verbal Communication on Emotion Regulation in Early Childhood

Self-Regulation, Emotions, & Early Development (SEED) Lab directed by Adam Grabell

Click to enlarge poster

Rebecca Williams posing with poster

Rebecca Williams

Examining the Links between Acculturative Stress and School Belongingness

Family Relationships, Affective Science, & Minority Health (FAM) Lab directed by Evelyn Mercado

Poster under review

Research Intensives

Amulya Jonnalagadda posing outdoors

Amulya Jonnalagadda

Examining Structural Reasoning and Political Ideology as Predictors for Modern Racism and Sexism

Cognition Across Development Lab directed by Tara Mandalaywala

Click to enlarge poster

Katherine Wang

Katherine Wang

Assessing the Correlation Between Parent-Child Relationships and Brain Development and Cognitive Functioning in Early Adolescents

Individual Differences in Development Lab directed by Kirby Deater-Deckard

Click to enlarge poster

Daniel Anderson Comments on the Aesthetic of Nickelodeon

double dare gameshow contestants runningIn the 1970s, the term “couch potato” had become a popular buzzword when describing kids zoning out in front of the TV. According to Daniel Anderson, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the prevailing thought was that kids were turning their minds off and being sucked into “a really effective kaleidoscope.” Over the next decade, however, Anderson pushed back against that general theory, studying the way preschoolers up through preteens watched and interacted with television. “When you get to older kids watching Nickelodeon game shows, if there was another kid in the room, they’d be constantly discussing what was going on,” Anderson says. “In ways that are not unlike adults, they’d be talking about the content and speculating about characters and so on.”

Along the same lines, Nickelodeon’s aesthetic proved to be catnip for children so used to seeing the muted colors of adult programming. As Anderson observed, when kids decided what to watch, Nick’s enhanced realities and brighter colors naturally drew them in. “The very top of the chart as you make your decision on whether I’m going to stay with [a show] is, ‘How does it look?’” says Anderson, who later advised the network on Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer.

Long before shows like American Ninja Warrior and Wipeout, Nickelodeon made sure the answer to that question was: unlike anything else. And though “kids’ game shows have dried up” today, Darby acknowledges, the stratified streaming world, with its endless options for children’s content, has only cast Nickelodeon’s nostalgic, neon era into sharper relief. Its decades-long staying power, Anderson suggests, is a credit to the network’s commitment to bold colors and interactive elements, but even more so in the way Nickelodeon highlighted its youthful faces. Whether it was a nervous game show contestant or a dorky sitcom star, Nickelodeon knew the power of showing fun, relatable kids doing fun, relatable things. 

Read full article from The Ringer

Advisor-Student Pair Win Gilliam Fellowship

Mélise Edwards
Mélise Edwards

Neuroscience and behavior Ph.D. student Mélise Edwards and her advisor, Professor Agnès Lacreuse, are among the 50 winners of this year’s Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study for dissertation adviser–graduate student pairs. The award is part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) program to promote diversity and inclusion in science.

“I am really thankful for the few really incredible mentors, including peer mentors, who reminded me that my GPA was not indicative of my intelligence and that I would excel in graduate school,” says Edwards, a biracial Black woman from North Carolina. “I’m so glad I listened to them instead of the countless naysayers who tried to convince me not to pursue science or graduate school.”

Agnès Lacreuse
Agnès Lacreuse

Lacreuse says she’s “thrilled and honored” to have received the award with Mélise. “The Fellowship recognizes Mélise’s excellence in neuroscience, anti-racism activism, and mentorship leadership,” she says. “In the two years I’ve had the pleasure to mentor her, I have been thoroughly impressed by her insatiable drive to answer big scientific questions, her enthusiasm for neuroscience, and her creative mind.”

For up to three years, each adviser-student pair will receive an annual award totaling $50,000 to pursue scientific research. Examples of past recipients’ research topics include studying how malaria parasite broods destroy red blood cells and investigating the source of pollution behind harmful algal blooms in a river used by the Seneca Nation and other communities.

“I am struck by the scientific maturity of these students,” says David Asai, HHMI’s senior director for science education. “They’re all doing great science, and they can talk about it in a way that people understand.” He added that the advisers play a key role in fostering a more inclusive academic scientific environment. 

Mentorship is a Gilliam hallmark, and one of the ways the program is fostering a cultural shift on campuses. Since HHMI’s Gilliam Program started in 2004, it has worked hard to ensure that students from populations historically excluded and underrepresented in science are prepared to become leaders in the field. 

This isn’t Edwards’ first honor this year. She also won a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship and a Graduate Women in Science research grant. Edwards is excited that the awards allow her to focus on her research as well as “invest in the other initiatives I am passionate about,” she says.  

“By thinking out of the box, and using a combination of behavioral, imaging, electrophysiological and molecular approaches in a nonhuman primate model, the marmoset,”

Edwards says, her research investigates how hormones like estrogen affect cognition as people age and may predispose people with ovaries to Alzheimer’s disease. 

She uses different techniques to explore this. “I work with both animal models and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to ask how estrogens affect synaptic homeostasis in the brain,” Edwards says. “In animal models, we use pharmacological approaches to deliver estrogen directly to the brain; we then utilize cognitive tests the animals perform on a touchscreen computer and brain imaging to look at the signaling imbalances which may or may not be occurring in the brain with sustained estrogen levels.” 

Lacreuse believes Edwards’ project “holds great potential for better understanding sex differences in Alzheimer’s and the role hormones play in cognition and age-related cognitive decline” in general, she says. 

Calling Edwards a trailblazer is an understatement. In the first year of her Ph.D. program, she started MUSE (Mentorship for Underrepresented STEM Enthusiasts) to provide representation and mentorship to underrepresented scholars in STEM fields. She’s also collaborated with other black scholars at UMass to organize monthly events and retreats to build a community, working tirelessly to promote diversity and inclusion.

“I am looking forward to working with Mélise and the exceptional talents of the HHMI group to improve mentoring and create a more inclusive culture in neuroscience,” says Lacreuse.

Talk about paying it forward. Edwards emphasizes the need to strongly advocate for severely underrepresented students, recommending they apply for the Center for Research on Families’ Graduate Student Grant Writing Program with Professor Rebecca Spencer as well as that PIs nominate their underrepresented students for Spaulding-Smith Fellows funding before they start their first semester of the Ph.D. program. 

In-person human subjects research resumes

Effective August 11, 2021, all members of the UMass community ­­— students, faculty and staff —as well as contractors and visitors are required to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces on the UMass Amherst campus. The requirements applies to vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals. Face coverings must be worn in nearly all indoor public spaces, including classrooms, hallways, elevators, restrooms, break rooms, entries and exits to buildings, laboratories, meeting rooms, shared offices and work areas.

  • FAQs about the indoor mask requirement can be found on the university’s coronavirus website.

All students, faculty, and staff are required to receive vaccination except for those with a health or religious exemption. 

Take a look at our current studies to participate in virtual or in-person human subjects research. More studies will be posted as the fall semester gets underway. UMass undergraduates are eligible to participate in studies for SONA credit.

COVID-19 testing and vaccinations for the general public continue to be administered on campus.

Learn about the University's latest COVID-19 policies and news at


Linda Tropp featured in BBC podcast

BBC's People Fixing the World podcast features Linda Tropp interviewed by Richard Kenny on the closing segment of the episode "Turning preachers into LGBT allies" How a group of LGBT Kenyans reduced homophobic prejudice by training religious leaders.

Listen to podcast

The LGBT community in Mombasa, Kenya has suffered from violent mob attacks in recent years - often fueled by influential preachers spreading messages of hate. But one group decided to tackle this in a remarkable way: they have directly engaged with faith leaders. In carefully controlled meetings the pastors and imams get to know LGBT people and have their misconceptions challenged. This has led to a big reduction in violence. Now many of those religious leaders use their influence to help the LGBT community fight discrimination wherever they find it.

Produced and presented by Richard Kenny

Patrick McGonigal '16, MA

Alumni Spotlight

Patrick McGonigalUndergraduate degree: B.A. in Psychology; Minor in Sociology; Certificate in Criminal Justice
Graduate degree: M.A. in Psychology

Current Position Title and Affiliation: Ph.D. Student in Clinical Psychology and Masters of Legal Studies (MLS) Student at the University of Nebraska Lincoln

Summary of Position:
As a Ph.D. student in the Clinical Psychology Training Program (CPTP) at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, I am training to be a clinical forensic psychologist. I take classes related to the assessment and treatment of psychopathology, as well as data analysis and research design. I also work closely with a faculty member and other graduate students to facilitate research projects related to targeted violence and threat assessment. As a team, we present our research at national and international conferences and publish peer-reviewed articles. My program involves clinical training where I provide assessments and psychotherapy within the local community. So far, I have completed clinical training at a residential forensic psychiatric hospital and two maximum-security prisons.

At the same time, I am in a dual degree program with the Nebraska College of Law and am working towards my Master's degree in Legal Studies (MLS). The MLS degree provides more insight into the intersection between law and psychology. I am particularly interested in how psychology research can inform public and institutional policy to prevent violent behavior. In addition to psycholegal courses, I have taken traditional law classes such as torts, administrative law, international criminal law, and human rights.

Future Goals:
I am pursuing an integrative career that blends my interests in forensic clinical work, training, policy, and consultation. In the future, I would be interested in working as a psychologist at a forensic psychiatric facility and training site where I can conduct various evaluations for the court and be involved in the training of future psychologists in the field. In this role, I hope to consult with policymakers and legislators to inform public policy decisions at the intersection of law and psychology within the community.

Patrick presents research at a conference with power point

What do you love most about this career path?
What I love most about this career path is being able to do my part to build a safer community at both an individual and systemic level. The risk assessments conducted in forensic settings inform legal decisions made in the courtroom and treatment is geared towards preventing future violence. Evidence-based policy decisions can reduce violent behavior by addressing specific issues within the community. I also enjoy seeing clients’ growth and change over time as they learn more about themselves in treatment.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
UMass provided wonderful opportunities that prepared me for my current career path. I am incredibly grateful for the Commonwealth Honors College and the ability to complete a psychology honors thesis with Katherine Dixon-Gordon in the Clinical Affective Sciences Lab and assist Michael Constantino with his research in the Psychotherapy Research Lab. After graduation, these experiences allowed me to secure a full-time clinical research position before applying to doctoral programs. I am also grateful for the Residential Academic Program (RAP) because I was able to take many classes with other first-year students in my residential building, some of whom I am still friends with today!

Tips for Current Undergrads:
Take advantage of the opportunities in research and within the community. UMass has many faculty conducting really interesting research that can help you find what you are passionate about. Even if you decide not to pursue an academic career or graduate school, being involved in research is a great addition to your CV or resume. There are also several places in the community that are happy to sponsor part-time internships for college credit. While at UMass, I interned at an adoption agency, a VA hospital, and a county jail. These community experiences, as well as the research experiences, helped set me on my career path and made it much easier to find employment after graduation.

Patrick McGonigal '16, MA on LinkedIn

Ervin Staub, creator of the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) program

In the Media

Ervin Staub, professor emeritus of psychological and brain sciences, is interviewed about the program he developed to teach police officers how to intervene in stopping unnecessary harmful behavior by fellow officers. Staub says he initiated this training after the police beating of Rodney King in 1991 and the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) program he developed is now training more than 100 police departments. He says, “Having a law that requires intervention is not enough.” WBUR

Can police be taught to stop their own violence?
Boston’s department and others are adopting a peer-intervention training program. The ideas come from a UMass psychologist who survived the Holocaust, thanks to the help of others. The Boston Globe

An article about police departments across the country adopting the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) project notes that it was developed from the research of Ervin Staub, professor emeritus of psychology and founder of the Psychology of Peace and Justice program. The Wall Street Journal

Brooke Burrows awarded NSF funding for cutting edge internship at Elite Learners

Brooke BurrowsBrooke Burrows, a Ph.D. student in in the psychology of peace and violence program in the department of psychological and brain sciences, was recently awarded funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support a six-month internship. Part of NSF’s INTERN program, the award is designed to provide non-academic research experience and training to graduate students.

Burrows will hold an internship with Elite Learners, a school and community-based nonprofit that works to interrupt cycles of violence through prevention and restoration in conjunction with Columbia University’s Center for Justice in New York City. In this position, she will help develop an educational curriculum that moves from broader historical contexts of criminal justice in the United States to methods of both personal and community resilience/resistance and social policy change. She will also develop an evaluation system—rooted in a model of program partner and client input and feedback—for an alternative approach to how law enforcement and the legal system deals with gang violence. As Burrows explains “the evaluation model will take into account the needs and perspectives of program participants and involve them in the evaluation while also measuring outcomes of the project across multiple individual and community dimensions.”

In her future career, Burrows aims to conduct research focused on questions of justice mechanisms and outcomes; she also plans to work with community and government agencies to provide evidence-based interventions. In addition to first-hand experience in these areas, the internship will familiarize Burros with policy creation and advocacy with a variety of stakeholders. Burrows says she is excited about working to translate scientific practices to real-world issues impacting both education and justice systems.

“Having previously worked to provide support and resources to formerly incarcerated individuals in New York City, this position is an opportunity to return to a community that I care about,” Burrows says. “Working within a community context necessitates a participatory and needs-based approach to research that actively seeks to not only engage the scientific process, but to do so in a way that practices intentionality, identifies my own positionality as a researcher, and that seeks to elevate the voices of individuals most impacted and marginalized by the current criminal justice system.”

Current graduate students who hold an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, or whose PI has an active NSF grant, may be eligible to apply for INTERN funding. Contact Heidi Bauer-Clapp ( for more information.

Trisha Dehrone receives NSF support for six-month American Immigration Council internship

Trisha DehroneTrisha Dehrone, PhD student in the psychology of peace and violence program, was recently awarded funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support a six-month internship. Part of NSF’s INTERN program, the award is designed to provide non-academic research experience and training.   

Dehrone will hold an internship with the American Immigration Council, a non-profit, non-partisan organization based out of Washington, D.C. She will design, implement, and evaluate interventions to build positive relationships between racially and ethnically diverse neighbors. 

Looking ahead, Dehrone says she envisions a career as a faculty member who works alongside non-profit and government partners to develop and implement interventions that enhance equity and cooperation across racial-ethnic groups, for which she says this internship will provide valuable “on the ground” training in working with the public. “This opportunity also provides me with the opportunity to collaborate with practitioners and advocates who come from varied academic disciplines and learn about relevant work outside of my area, strengthening my ability to communicate science to broader audiences, while also broadening the scope of my knowledge,” Dehrone says.

“As a graduate student at UMass, I am provided with training on theory, designing experimental studies, and writing up peer-reviewed journal articles – and while I value these skills, they alone are not the reason I became a scientist. I became a scientist to put theory to work! I want to understand what strategies are effective at reducing prejudice and improving relations between groups, and what better place to do that than out in the field.”

Actively addressing inequalities promotes social change

people stand at opposing sides of a chasm

What does it take for people to commit to take action to promote social equality? And how might this differ for people from advantaged and disadvantaged groups?

An international team, including Linda Tropp at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and researchers in 23 countries, finds more mutual support for social change among advantaged and disadvantaged groups when inequality is actively addressed and the psychological needs of each group are met. The new research, led by the University of Zurich (UZH), was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“What this research is showing is that people on both sides really need to acknowledge that they have different motivations and concerns when they interact with each other,” says co-author Tropp, the lead researcher in the U.S. who has examined how members of different groups experience intergroup contact for more than 20 years.

Prior research has shown that advantaged groups prefer to discuss commonalities among groups rather than differences between groups, at the same time as they desire to feel accepted and not be labeled as biased. But if members of socially disadvantaged groups simply have pleasant, positive exchanges with people who are not themselves targets of discrimination, they may emerge from those contact experiences even less committed to fighting for social justice and improving their own group’s social position.

As first author Tabea Hässler of UZH says, “They get the deceptive impression that their own group no longer suffers so much discrimination... It is therefore important that social inequalities and discrimination between different social groups are actively addressed and named.” This helps to meet the needs of disadvantaged group members, such as racial minorities and LGBTIQ+ individuals, who are motivated to have a voice and feel empowered in their relations with advantaged groups.

Each group’s psychological needs are therefore an important part of the equation. “If contact situations are structured where members of disadvantaged groups or minority groups feel empowered, that they have a voice and are being listened to and heard, that’s the time when contact with members of advantaged groups may support their interest in collective action to challenge the status quo,” says Tropp, professor of social psychology at UMass Amherst.

Similarly, when members of majority groups “feel welcome as allies in that cause and not presumed to be racist, then that can bolster their willingness to use some of their time and energy to try to promote social equality,” she says.

To gather their data, 43 researchers around the world conducted a survey with more than 11,000 individuals from a range of identity groups, including heterosexual individuals and members of sexual or gender minorities, migrants and members of their respective host societies, as well as indigenous groups and religious minorities.

“Overall, our findings suggest that contact across group boundaries fosters social change when it meets the targeted needs of disadvantaged and advantaged groups,” says Johannes Ullrich, professor of social psychology at UZH.

Tropp says one next step is to help prepare members of advantaged groups to engage in difficult conversations about power relations and discrimination.

“To the extent that the advantaged engage in those conversations with disadvantaged groups, talking about the structural inequalities that do exist and need to be addressed, then it’s likely that both members of disadvantaged groups as well as advantaged groups will be more prepared to engage in efforts to challenge the inequalities that we have in our society,” she says.

UMass Amherst research pinpoints role of dopamine in songbird’s brain plasticity

two zebra finches perch on a branch

Neuroscientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have demonstrated in new research that dopamine plays a key role in how songbirds learn complex new sounds.

Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the finding that dopamine drives plasticity in the auditory pallium of zebra finches lays new groundwork for advancing the understanding of the functions of this neurotransmitter in an area of the brain that encodes complex stimuli.

“People associate dopamine with reward and pleasure,” says lead author Matheus Macedo-Lima, who performed the research in the lab of senior author Luke Remage-Healey as a Ph.D. student in UMass Amherst’s Neuroscience and Behavior graduate program. “It’s a very well-known concept that dopamine is involved in learning. But the knowledge about dopamine in areas related to sensory processing in the brain is limited. We wanted to understand whether dopamine was playing a role in how this brain region learns new sounds or changes with sounds.”

Studying vocal learning in songbirds provides insight into how spoken language is learned, adds behavioral neuroscientist Remage-Healey, professor of psychological and brain sciences. “It’s not just the songbird that comes up with this strategy of binding sounds and meaning using dopamine. There’s something parallel here that we ­– as humans – are interested in.”

The research team conducted a range of experiments in vitro and in vivo, poking neurons under the microscope and in the brains of live birds that were watching videos and hearing sounds. Ultimately, the scientists obtained anatomical, behavioral and physiological evidence to support their hypothesis about the role of dopamine.

Using antibodies, the researchers showed that dopamine receptors are present in many types of neurons in the songbird auditory brain ­– they can be inhibitory or excitatory and may also contain an enzyme that produces estrogens. “Dr. Remage-Healey’s research has shown that in the auditory brain of songbirds of both sexes, neurons produce estrogen in social situations, like when listening to birdsong or seeing another bird. We think that dopamine and estrogens might be working together in the sound learning process, but this work focused on dopamine because there was still so much we didn’t know about how dopamine affected the songbird brain,” explains Macedo-Lima, now a postdoctoral associate at the University of Maryland.

Macedo-Lima developed a test, similar to the well-known Pavlov’s dog experiment, in which the birds sat alone in a chamber and were presented with a random sound followed immediately by a silent video of other birds. “We wanted to focus on the association between a meaningless sound – a tone – and the behaviorally relevant thing, which is another bird on video,” he says.

The researchers looked at the birds’ auditory brain regions after this sound-video pairing, using a gene marker known to be expressed when a neuron goes through change or plasticity. “We found this very interesting increase in this gene expression in the left hemisphere, the ventral part of the auditory region, in dopamine receptor-expressing neurons, reflecting the learning process, and paralleling human brain lateralization for speech learning,” Macedo-Lima says.

To show the effect of dopamine on the basic signaling of neurons, the researchers used a whole cell patch clamp technique, controlling and measuring the currents the neurons received. They found in a dish that dopamine activation decreases inhibition and increases excitation.

“This one modulator is tuning the system in a way that ramps down the stop signals and ramps up the go signals,” Remage-Healey explains. “That’s a simple yet powerful control mechanism for how animals are potentially encoding sound. It’s a neurochemical lever that can change how stimuli are registered and passed on in this part of the brain.”

The team then painlessly probed the brain cells of live birds. “What happened when we delivered dopamine was exactly as we were predicting from the whole cell data,” Macedo-Lima says. “We saw that inhibitory neurons fired less when we delivered the dopamine agonist, while the excitatory neurons fired more.”

The same effect occurred when the birds were played birdsong from other songbirds – the excitatory neurons responded more and the inhibitory neurons responded less when dopamine activation occurred. “We were happy to replicate what we saw in a dish in a live animal listening to actual relevant sounds,” Macedo-Lima says.

Dopamine activation also made these neurons unable to adapt to new songs presented to the animal, which strongly corroborates the hypothesis of dopamine’s role in sensory learning. “We currently don’t know how dopamine affects sensory learning in most animals,” Macedo-Lima says, “but this research gives many clues about how this mechanism could work across vertebrates that need to learn complex sounds, such as humans.”

Mélise Edwards, Brooke Burrows, and Jasmine Dixon receive Wendy Helmer Graduate Student Award

We are pleased to announce that Mélise Edwards, Brooke Burrows, and Jasmine Dixon (pictured left to right) were chosen as recipients of the Wendy Helmer Graduate Student Award! The awardees' fellow graduate students recognized their important contributions in PBS and in the broader community. They have been strong advocates for racial justice, and have worked tirelessly to address inequities in our community.

This award is peer-nominated, given annually to PBS graduate students who work to improve the quality of life in the department and/or their program. This award recognizes passionate individuals who, like Wendy, have actively contributed to an environment that embraces inclusion, community, collaboration, mentorship, and social justice. It is given in honor of Wendy Helmer who was a beloved staff member in PBS who passed away suddenly in 2015.

Thank you, Mélise, Brooke, & Jasmine for your contributions!

Evidence-based patient-psychotherapist matching improves mental health care

therapist talks to patient

In first-of-its kind research led by a University of Massachusetts Amherst psychotherapy researcher, mental health care patients matched with therapists who had a strong track record of treating the patients’ primary concerns had better results than patients who were not so matched.

In addition, this “match effect” was even more beneficial and pronounced for patients with more severe problems and for those who identified as racial or ethnic minorities.

The findings are published in JAMA Psychiatry and the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

“One of the things we’ve been learning in our field is that who the therapist is matters,” says lead author Michael Constantino, professor of clinical psychology and director of the Psychotherapy Research Lab, who seeks to understand the variability of outcomes among patients receiving mental health treatment. “We’ve become very interested in this so-called therapist effect. Earlier on, there was a heavier emphasis on what the treatment was as opposed to who was delivering it.”

Constantino and colleagues have discovered, for example, that psychotherapists possess relative strengths and weaknesses in treating different types of mental health problems. Such performance “report cards” hold promise, then, for personalizing treatment toward what therapists do well.

The researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial involving 48 therapists and 218 outpatients at six community clinics in a health care system in Cleveland, Ohio. They used a matching system based on how well a therapist has historically treated patients with the same concerns. The matching relied on a multidimensional outcomes tool called the Treatment Outcome Package (TOP), which assesses 12 symptomatic or functional domains: depression, quality of life, mania, panic or somatic anxiety, psychosis, substance misuse, social conflict, sexual functioning, sleep, suicidality, violence and work functioning. The matched group was compared to a group of patients who were case-assigned as usual, such as by therapist availability or convenience of office location.

“By collecting TOP data from enough patients treated by a given therapist, this outcomes tool can establish the domains in which that therapist is stably effective (historically, on average, their patients’ symptoms reliably improved), neutral (historically, on average, their patients’ symptoms neither reliably improved nor deteriorated), or ineffective (historically, on average, their patients’ symptoms reliably deteriorated),” the paper states.

To qualify for matching, the therapists had to have completed a minimum of 15 cases with patients who had completed the TOP before and after treatment. For the trial, neither the patients nor the therapists knew if they had been matched or were case-assigned as usual. “We think there would be an even stronger positive impact if the patients knew they were empirically well-matched versus assigned by chance,” Constantino says. “Such knowledge might cultivate more positive expectations, which are generally associated with better therapy outcomes.”

Post-therapy reports by patients showed that those in the matched group experienced significantly greater reductions in general impairment compared with those who were randomly assigned a therapist. “We showed that with this matching system you can get a big bump in improvement rates,” Constantino says.

The finding that the improvement in the matched group was even greater among people who identified as racial or ethnic minorities may provide a way to address and improve mental health care access and quality in traditionally underserved populations, Constantino says.

The JAMA Psychiatry paper concludes, “Notably, the good fit in this study came not from changing what the therapists did in their treatment, but rather who they treated. Capitalizing on whatever it is that a therapist historically does well when treating patients with certain mental health problems, the current data indicate that our match system can improve the effectiveness of that care, even with neither therapist nor patient being aware of their match status.”

Alumna Gale Sinatra releases new book | Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do About It 

At a time when science denial has become deadly, this is a vital book on how to improve science literacy, understanding, and communication 

tree emerging from lakeSCIENCE DENIAL: Why It Happens and What to Do About It 

Oxford University Press 
July 6, 2021; 9780190944681 

By Gale M. Sinatra and Barbara K. Hofer  

How do we decide whether to accept the human causes of climate change, practice social distancing during a pandemic or decide whether to vaccinate ourselves or our children? The past year has brought home to each and every one of us how critical it is for scientists, policy makers and the media to be good communicators of often complex scientific subjects. It’s also shown why each and every one of us has a responsibility to make informed decisions that are based on facts and evidence, rather than emotions and instincts. Neither of these tasks are easy, but they can save lives. 

SCIENCE DENIAL: Why It Happens and What To Do About It by Gale Sinatra, Stephen H. Crocker Chair and Professor of Education and Psychology at University of Southern California and Barbara Hofer, Professor of Psychology Emerita at Middlebury College, aims to address this issue. As the authors explain, understanding key psychological explanations for science denial and doubt can provide a means for improving scientific literacy at a critically important time when denial has become deadly. 

In SCIENCE DENIAL, Sinatra and Hofer explain both the importance of science education as well as its limitations, show how science communicators may inadvertently contribute to the problem of denial, and explain how the Internet and social media foster misinformation and disinformation. The authors focus on key psychological issues such as social identity and reasoning biases that limit public understanding of science – and describe solutions for individuals, educators, science communicators and policy makers, with each chapter ending with a suggested list of solutions. If you have ever wondered why science denial exists, want to know how to understand your own biases and those of others, and would like to address the problem, this book will provide the insights you are seeking. 

The first section of the book tackles the current landscape of science doubt, denial, and misunderstanding and looks at how we got here. Although science denial has become an increasingly polarized issue in recent years, with Republicans more likely to scoff at, for example, the human causes of climate change and the importance of social distancing and masking to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the authors show that Democrats can also fall prey to science denialism. Examples of more typically “blue” beliefs are skepticism of the safety of genetically modified foods and nuclear energy. In other words, almost all of us need to do better, regardless of what political party we are affiliated with or the level of higher education that we have achieved. 

In the second section of SCIENCE DENIAL, Sinatra and Hofer use their background as psychologists to look at why individuals resist science, by showing how our minds really work, why it is so easy for us to misunderstand scientific claims and how deeply entwined our emotions and social identity are when we try to make rational, science-based decisions. 

Finally, Sinatra and Hofer explain how we can improve public understanding and acceptance of scientific knowledge. They outline actionable steps that can be taken by individuals, educators and policy makers to combat science denial, including such suggestions as: 

  • Cultivate a scientific attitude and an appreciation for the value of science
  • Monitor cognitive biases that confirm what you already think or believe
  • Engage in critical thinking and become more skilled at searching for and evaluating scientific claims and their sources 
  • Become more advanced in algorithmic literacy. Algorithms constrain what you see and hear online and learning how and where they operate can help you counteract any biases you may be developing by simply following Google or your social media feeds 
  • Ask why those who devalue scientific knowledge and expertise do so and look at what they have to gain from persuading you to do so, too. 
  • Know the role of your own emotions and recognize what your “hot button” issues are as well as being aware of those held by close family and friends so you can effectively engage them in conversation
  • Examine the motivations behind your reasoning and be willing to keep an open mind and consider different points of view 
  • Nurture scientific values and vote for those who value science and scientific evidence
  • Listen and engage while seeking to understand others’ concerns and fears. Be aware that many disagreements are not about facts but values and look for common ground while engaging in discussions 

SCIENCE DENIAL provides a new perspective on this important topic and one that shows the psychology behind the embrace of science denial as well as what to do about it. Democracies depend on educated citizens who can make informed decisions for the benefit of their health and wellbeing, as well as their communities, nations, and planet, so it is critical that all of us become better consumers and communicators of scientific information. 

Dr. Gale M. Sinatra is the Stephen H. Crocker Professor of Education and Psychology at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. She holds three degrees in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She directs the Motivated Change Research Lab and has been honored with the Sylvia Scribner Award for influential research from the American Educational Research Association. She resides in Altadena, California. 

Dr. Barbara K. Hofer is a Professor of Psychology Emerita at Middlebury College and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. She received her Ph.D. in psychology and education from the University of Michigan and an Ed.M. in human development from Harvard University. She is the recipient of national awards for both research and teaching, from the American Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association. She lives in Middlebury, Vermont.

SCIENCE DENIAL: Why It Happens and What to Do About It 
by Gale M. Sinatra and Barbara K. Hofer 
Oxford University Press 

July 6, 2021; 208 Pages: $35.00


Stylianos Syropoulos awarded sixth annual Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Award

Stelios posing in office with shelves of booksStylianos Syropoulos, a third-year student in the Psychology of Peace and Violence concentration in the Social Psychology program working with Dr. Bernhard Leidner, was awarded the sixth annual Keith Rayner Memorial Graduate Student Research Award. His project, titled “De-polarizing" American Society: Emphasizing Intergroup Similarities versus Differences as a Mechanism for Decreasing Political Polarization and Hostility, will study whether an emphasis on the dissemination of psychological findings with a focus on intergroup similarities, and not differences, as is the norm of the field, can promote harmony and cooperation between Republican and Democrats. The ultimate goal of the project is to highlight ways through which the dissemination of psychological research can depolarize the American electorate.

Songbird neurons for advanced cognition mirror the physiology of mammalian counterparts

zebra finch

UMass Amherst research advances understanding of brain circuits

University of Massachusetts Amherst neuroscientists examining genetically identified neurons in a songbird’s forebrain discovered a remarkable landscape of physiology, auditory coding and network roles that mirrored those in the brains of mammals.

The research, published May 13 in Current Biology, advances insight into the fundamental operation of complex brain circuits. It suggests that ancient cell types in the pallium – the outer regions of the brain that include cortex – most likely retained features over millions of years that are the building blocks for advanced cognition in birds and mammals.

“We as neuroscientists are catching on that birds can do sophisticated things and they have sophisticated circuits to do those things,” says behavioral neuroscientist Luke Remage-Healey, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences and senior author of the paper.

For the first time, the team of neuroscientists, including lead author Jeremy Spool, who worked as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral fellow in Remage-Healey’s lab, used viral optogenetics to define the molecular identities of excitatory and inhibitory cell types in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)and match them to their physiological properties.

“In the songbird community, we’ve had a hunch for a long time that when we record the electrical signatures of these two cell types, we say – ‘that’s a putative excitatory neuron, that’s a putative inhibitory neuron.’ Now we know that these features are grounded in molecular truth,” Remage-Healey says. “Without being able to pinpoint the cell types with these viruses, we wouldn’t be able to learn how the cell and network features bear resemblance to those in mammals, because the brain architectures are so different.”

The research team used viruses from a collection curated by co-author Yoko Yazaki-Sugiyama at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan to conduct viral optogenetic experiments in the brain. With optogenetics, the team used flashes of light to manipulate one cell type independent of the other. The team targeted excitatory vs. inhibitory neurons (using CaMKIIα and GAD1 promoters, respectively) in the zebra finch auditory pallium to test predictions based on the mammalian pallium.

“There’s so much work out there on the physiology of these different cell types in the mammalian cortex that we were able to line up a series of predictions about what features birds may or may not have,” Spool says.

The CaMKIIα and GAD1 populations in the songbird were distinct “in exactly the proportions you would expect from the mammalian brain,” Spool says. With the cell type populations isolated, the researchers then examined systematically whether each population would correspond to the physiology of their mammalian counterparts.

“As we kept moving forward, again and again these cell populations were acting as if they were essentially from the mammalian cortex in a lot of physiological ways,” Spool says.

Remage-Healey adds, “The correspondence between the cortex in mammals and what we’re pulling out with molecularly identified cell types in birds is pretty striking.”

In both birds and mammals, these neurons are thought to support advanced cognitive functions, such as memory, individual recognition and associative learning, Spool says.

Remage-Healey says the research, supported by NIH grants, helps delineate “the basic nuts and bolts of how the brain operates.” Knowing the nuts and bolts builds foundations necessary to develop breakthroughs that could lead to neurological interventions for brain disorders.

“This can help us figure out what brain diversity is out there by unpacking these circuits and the ways they can go awry,” Remage-Healey says.


Spring 2021 Newsletter

Catch up with the latest PBS news including spotlights on our talented students, faculty, and alumni!

Read full issue

Features include:

  • Virtual Graduation Celebration for the Class of 2021
  • Senior Awards
  • Tweet Blitz: Undergraduate Theses
  • Study shows predictors of cognitive decline in midlife women varied by race
  • Spotlight on Alumni

Also Research Highlights, Awards and Updates, and PBS faculty and students In the Media

Children’s Thoughts on Race and Social Status

Tara Mandalaywala
Dr. Tara Mandalaywala

On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, the psychology departments at Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women, together with the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College, hosted Dr. Tara Mandalaywala, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in Amherst, Massachusetts. In her lecture, “A Kid’s Eye View of Race and Social Status,” Dr. Mandalaywala shared her research on young children’s thoughts and observations on the important issues of race and social status, work that comes out of Dr. Mandalaywala’s Cognition Across Development Laboratory at UMass Amherst, which explores the development of social cognition across human and nonhuman primates. Her research examines how young individuals make sense of and cope with the complex social world around them.

Honors student Baruch Lerman ’23YC, who attended the talk, recalled, “I really enjoyed the presentation from Dr. Mandalaywala on this topic and found the possible differences between how children and adults perceive the world very interesting.”

Dr. Eliezer Schnall, clinical professor of psychology and director of the Schottenstein Honors Program joined the students in enjoying hearing about Dr. Mandalaywala’s fascinating research, noting, “Dr. Mandalaywala’s lecture was an important and timely contribution to the ongoing dialogue about issues of race in this country.”

First appearance in YU News

Study shows predictors of cognitive decline in midlife women varied by race

women talking in sunny office

Cognitive decline, or the weakening of our ability to think, learn, pay attention, remember, or reason, over time can be predicted by certain health risks present in later life. Hypertension, diabetes, depressive symptoms, and smoking are all known predictors. Current research has not shown how these risk factors affect cognition in midlife and if there are differing results between racial groups. A better understanding of how these risk factors influence cognition in midlife could lead to more effective and timely health interventions. 

Jasmine Dixon
Jasmine Dixon

Data from the large epidemiological Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) was used by PhD candidate Jasmine Dixon and her team to examine risk factors for decline in episodic memory, processing speed, and working memory in midlife women. These risk factors were also analyzed to see if a person’s race played a role in what areas of cognition changed. 

Women who identified as African American, Asian American, and European American women age 42-52 participated in the study. Once per year, participants completed questionnaires to assess depressive symptoms, family income, age, and physical health. Measures of hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and depressive symptoms were collected, and cognitive tests were administered.

The findings, to be published in Neuropsychology, showed at baseline that African Americans had poorer results of the three cognitive measures, and greater episodic memory decline compared to European Americans. Asian Americans had poorer episodic memory and working memory, but better processing speed than European Americans.

It is of note that the researchers determined not all of these risk factors linked to cognitive decline in late life were related to cognitive changes during midlife. There wasn’t significant evidence of cognitive decline in midlife. However, the researchers uncovered some close associations between risk factors in midlife and cognitive outcomes.

“Depressive symptoms were associated with poorer episodic memory and processing speed at baseline; further, diabetes was associated with poorer processing speed at baseline,” the paper states. Also, the greater a person’s depressive symptoms, the poorer their episodic memory was at baseline for African Americans but not European Americans. There were no significant results when hypertension or smoking were analyzed. 

Results connected with the “cumulative disadvantage theory” hypothesizing  that multiple stressors accumulate over the lifespan in racial and ethnic minority populations, resulting in increasing health disparities relative to the majority population. For African Americans chronic adversity due to racism and discrimination puts this population at disadvantages to European Americans. This systemic adversity across the lifespan may make African Americans more vulnerable to risk factors of poor cognition. 

Dixon relates, "It is important to understand racial disparities in order to better develop interventions that are relevant to specific populations. A more tailored approach rather than a universal approach to addressing cognitive health is more appropriate and necessary because of these known disparities. I hope this study highlights that when addressing cognitive health there needs to be a lifespan approach, not just addressing cognition during later life."  

John Bickford receives Outstanding Teaching Award

Each year, the College of Natural Sciences honors its faculty, staff, and student leaders who have made important contributions to their discipline, department, college, and university by presenting them with the Outstanding Achievement Awards. Recipients are nominated by colleagues within the college and chosen by committees chaired by designees appointed by Dean Tricia Serio, who may include past awardees. Of this year’s recipients, Dean Serio remarked, “These leaders continue to enrich our college community with their exceptional work. I am tremendously grateful for their efforts to demonstrate academic excellence, enhance the student experience, and create a more inclusive and accessible learning environment.” 

John BickfordJohn Bickford, Senior Lecturer

Outstanding Teaching Award

"I often tell people that being a lecturer at UMass Amherst feels like winning the career lottery. It is the perfect position for me, not only because I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, but also because I’m doing it in an incredibly supportive environment. The university, the College of Natural Sciences, and especially the Psychological and Brain Sciences department have always done an amazing job of making me feel completely welcomed and valued here, and this great honor is another wonderful example of that. Moreover, the amazingly bright, talented, enthusiastic, and just plain delightful students at UMass are a constant source of inspiration for me. So I feel incredibly fortunate to be here, and deeply honored by this award."

Tweet Blitz: 2021 Undergraduate Theses

Every spring we're proud to showcase undergraduate research in a poster-fest attended by students and faculty alike. This year, we took that event virtual using online meeting rooms, and it was a great success! Here are some tweets and posters from our talented students, summing up their awesome projects!

Mackenzie SmithIs polarization beneficial? We found that it actually leads to more effective representatives! —Mackenzie Smith

Read abstract

The Influence of the Electorate’s Political Diversity on the Legislative Effectiveness of House Representatives
Click to enlarge poster

Isabella LevesqueDo biases emerge when providers treat emotionally evocative patients? We found that irritable patient behavior is a salient contributing factor to negative physician attitudes towards patients, which has implications for patient safety. —Isabella Levesque

Read abstract

Emotionally Evocative Patients Influence Physician Emotion, Engagement, and Judgements: Experimental Evidence
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Maria DelPicoHave you ever visited the emergency department and wondered how different factors such as emotions or mental health could be impacting your care? Turns out patient’s emotional behaviors and mental health histories have an impact on emergency medicine nurses’ clinical reasoning decision-making. —Maria DelPico

Read abstract

The Influence of Patients’ Emotional Behaviors and Mental Health Histories on Emergency Medicine Nurses’ Clinical Reasoning and Decision-Making
Click to enlarge poster

Elodie CarelCan a disability etiquette training impact explicit and implicit attitudes towards disability? It can with explicit bias, but not implicit bias. —Elodie Carel

Read abstract

Effect of Disability Etiquette Training on UMass Community Attitudes
Elodie Carel poster
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2021 Senior Awards

Student Award
Emily Duryea Outstanding Overall Senior
Isabella Levesque Outstanding Overall Senior
Ciara Venter Outstanding Thesis
Kimberly Sikorski Outstanding Thesis
Miranda Boudreau Outstanding Thesis
Elodie Carel Outstanding Thesis
Isha Parasnis Outstanding Thesis
Maria DelPico Outstanding Thesis
Joe Minton Research Assistant Appreciation
Britt Mardis Teaching Assistant Appreciation
Akili Sundai Teaching Assistant Appreciation
David Cellucci Teaching Assistant Appreciation
Owen Colás Outstanding Internship Contribution
Catherine Fahey Outstanding Internship Contribution

Hear what some of our senior award winners had to say about their UMass experience:


Emily DuryeaEmily Duryea

Outstanding Overall Senior

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
I entered UMass Amherst as a shy freshman with low self-esteem. I was lucky to have such phenomenal mentorship and support from the PBS department. Starting my freshman year, I was a student in the SPACE peer mentoring program, which opened so many doors for opportunities within the PBS department. For example, I learned about the DDHS specialization and research opportunities which helped to inspire my research interests. I also had the most amazing mentor and PBS advisor, Dr. Metevier, who encouraged me to pursue my research interests while still an undergraduate student. I conducted my own literature review over the summer investigating international perspectives of special education, which led to my thesis study examining teachers’ and immigrant parents of children with disabilities’ perspectives of culturally responsive teaching practices within special education. The incredible faculty in the PBS department helped me to recognize my true potential, both on a professional and personal level. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway from UMass is to have confidence in yourself, your achievements, and your goals. Imposter syndrome is real, but if you believe in yourself, and surround yourself with people who support you, your true self can shine.

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
I will be pursuing a doctorate in school psychology at Fordham University, starting in Fall 2021.

Isabella LevesqueIsabella Levesque 

Outstanding Overall Senior

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
My experiences in the PBS department made me a better student, researcher, and leader. I was able to pursue research experiences both internally and outside of UMass to determine what I am passionate about thanks to the support of amazing peers, faculty, and mentors in PBS!

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My 4 years at UMass taught me the importance of working hard, advocating for yourself, and actively seeking out new opportunities. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
I will be working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment as a research assistant and coordinator for AD clinical trials.

Akili SundaiAkili Sundai

Teaching Assistant Appreciation

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
The courses offered helped me form a better idea of what I may want to pursue in the future and allowed me to delve into these interests further. The professors and students shaped my ideologies greatly because I was able to connect with and learn from a multitude of people with vast passions. Honestly taking courses I otherwise would not have enrolled in and learning what I do not like has served to be most useful, as it's helped me narrow my career focus.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway is to just go for the things you want and that you are your only competition. You may not feel as though you're qualified or that you deserve a certain position, but you absolutely are! There have been so many times when I doubted my own abilities but still applied just to put myself out there and surprised myself most times. Focus on bettering yourself and making an impact on your community & you'll sail over your own expectations.

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
I will be working as a Clinical Research Assistant for the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation. I will be treating patients with novel Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy, researching neuropsychological systems, and examining clinical disorders at the Harvard Medical School Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center! Good luck to everyone in their pursuits, I know you got this!

Catherine Fahey sitting by an ocean sunsetCatherine Fahey

Outstanding Internship Contribution

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
My experience in the psychological and brain sciences offered me so many opportunities for personal and professional growth. Through my class work, volunteer work, and internship my passion to help others intensified as I developed the tools to do so effectively. I found great support through my professors and advisors who enabled me to take care of myself first and foremost while still finding success in my academics and career.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest take away from UMass has been that with the right mindset you can flourish in any environment. I came in freshman year so overwhelmed by the large school and unsure of what I wanted to make of it. Over time I was able to find my own supportive community that propelled my growth as I explored different interests and developed confidence in my skills.

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
After UMass, I have accepted a position as a Mental Health Counselor for the Child Partial Hospitalization Program at Baystate Hospital as well as a volunteer position for Crisis Text Line.

Ciara VenterCiara Venter

Outstanding Thesis

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
The Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences allowed me to explore many different interests within the field of psychology in a unique way. Being able to complete my honors thesis at the end was also a challenging yet rewarding experience that helped me discover new passions of mine as well.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway is that it can be really great to step out of your comfort zone and try new things. Being able to explore different clubs and social groups on campus helped me feel a real sense of community and allowed me to form connections that I will take with me beyond UMass.  

What will you be pursuing after UMass?
I will continue working as a therapeutic mentor and gaining experience in the field. I am excited to start a career where I can help others and make a difference in my community. 

Maria DelPicoMaria DelPico

Outstanding Thesis

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
My experience in Dr. Linda Isbell's Affect and Social Cognition Lab has inspired me to continue doing research after graduation and to advocate for those with mental illness. Taking psychology classes at UMass has fueled my passion for learning more about mental health and pursuing a career in psychiatry. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
I have made long-lasting relationships with faculty who have been incredible mentors to me throughout my undergraduate career. I have also been able to grow and develop so many important skills that have helped prepare me for my future. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
After graduating from UMass, I will be working as a Clinical Research Assistant II at McLean Hospital in their Geriatric Psychiatry Research Program. 

Owen ColásOwen Colás  

Outstanding Internship Contribution

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
Advisors in PBS helped me navigate the internship process, which totally changed my life. My internship at The Stonewall Center provided me with invaluable experience and memories I will always cherish. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway from UMass was how important it is to be proactive in seeking out relationships with people. Introducing myself to teachers and advisors and taking time to attend office hours definitely improved my experience and showed me how essential good relationships are. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
After UMass I'll be taking a year off and then beginning my Masters in Social Work at Smith College!

Miranda BoudreauMiranda Boudreau

Outstanding Thesis

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
I have found that much of the person I have become and the ideals I find important have stemmed from my experiences within the PBS department. For me, the most transformative experiences were the ones offered through the Developmental Disabilities and Human Services (DDHS) program. In these classes, I learned about the challenges facing families and individuals with disabilities which I anticipate addressing as a physician assistant. My internship at Pathlight working with adults with disabilities has also had a tremendous impact on my aspirations in life. I am grateful to have grown because of these experiences and many more through the PBS department. Being a PBS major has become a central part of my identity, and for this, I am incredibly grateful.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
Before coming to school here, I was unaware of how overwhelming a large school could feel and how easy it was to get lost in the crowd. For me, I found it valuable to find ways to make it small. In those spaces, like joining BioTAP, or DDHS, or iCons, or Res Life, or NRHH, the once overwhelming feeling felt much more manageable. Also, in these spaces, I could achieve a lot, including forming close relationships, which felt especially significant. I am grateful for all the small, quirky, and meaningful spaces that UMass has to offer if you look for them.

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
Although I have many aspirations for my life after graduating, my immediate plans are to attend physician assistant graduate school to obtain a master’s degree in physician assistant studies. While I apply to schools this cycle, I will be working at the New England Center for Children in Southborough on their Intensive Treatment Team. I am looking forward to all that will come in the next few years. Good luck to my peers in reaching all the aspirations you are working towards and have yet to come!

David CellucciDavid Cellucci

Teaching Assistant Appreciation

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
Being a Teaching Assistant in the department really helped me learn to present different topics from neuroscience and psychology. I learned to articulate complex topics to try to help other students develop a better understanding of the subject that I found a passion for here at UMass.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway from UMass would be to really take the time to work with your peers. The people that I have encountered here have taught me so much and provided me with such great guidance and lessons that go beyond the classroom.

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
After UMass I will be continuing my current role as an Emergency Department Technician. I will also be applying to medical school to pursue a career in Emergency Medicine. 

Kimberly SikorskiKimberly Sikorski

Outstanding Thesis

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
Through PBS, I was able to engage in so many different wonderful opportunities, including being an RA, TA, honors student, and intern. Taken together, my experiences, although diverse, each contributed to the realization of my overall career goal of becoming a clinical child psychologist. 

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
Always ask questions! You will be surprised by how much those around you can help with whatever it is you are struggling with. 

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
Currently, I am working at a local school as their Peace Room Coordinator where I help kids in kindergarten through 12th grade learn and practice important socioemotional skills like conflict resolution, emotion regulation, and social awareness. In the future, I hope to obtain my doctorate in clinical child psychology with my research focusing on personalizing treatment for children and adolescents battling depression and anxiety. 

Elodie CarelElodie Carel

Outstanding Thesis

How did your experiences in PBS shape who you are today?
Taking classes in PBS has played a huge role in helping me determine what I want to study going forward. Before taking psych classes, I had no conceptualization of how stigma can affect people’s lives, and I didn’t know that disability could be viewed as anything other than negative. My experiences in the psych department have fundamentally changed how I view these issues.

What is your biggest takeaway from UMass?
My biggest takeaway from UMass is that it is important to just jump in and try things. You don’t know what will happen if you don’t try and oftentimes the results are positive.

What will you be pursuing after UMass? 
After UMass, I will be pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology. I don’t know where I’ll be going yet, but I want to learn more about how to help children cope with the physical and social challenges of having a disability through the lens of clinical psychology.

The Power of Contact, a new report by the International Organization for Migration

cover illustration, groups of people mingling outdoors

Linda Tropp, professor of social psychology at UMass Amherst, contributed her expertise to a new report by the International Organization for Migration, The Power of Contact: Designing, Facilitating and Evaluating Social Mixing Activities to Strengthen Migrant Integration and Social Cohesion Between Migrants and Local Communities | A Review of Lessons Learned. This report highlights the value of intergroup contact to promote integration and social cohesion.

Read full report


Undergraduate Advisor Julie Pahl announces retirement

Julie PahlJulie Pahl has been an irreplaceable member of PBS for nearly three decades. Although she has held four different positions in PBS over the years, she has served as an undergraduate advisor most recently for over ten years. The impact that Julie has had on our majors is indescribable.

As an advisor, Julie has worked with thousands of our undergraduate majors helping them in all aspects of their undergraduate careers. Every student that entered Julie's office was treated with compassion and excellence. Julie's style of advising made students comfortable the moment they stepped into her office and they left ready to take on the world. She was both respected and beloved by all of her advisees. Additionally, Julie was the consummate colleague. Her passion for her job was evident to all of those around her. She approached her job with humor, dedication, and talent; Julie was always willing to go above and beyond to support our majors and the department. We will miss her tremendously, but wish her all the best in this next phase of her life.  

Predictors of Contemporary under-5 Child Mortality in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Machine Learning Approach

red cross and hands outstretched

Although child under-five years mortality remains a major public health concern (i.e., nearly 7% of live births in low- and middle-income countries), researchers have struggled to identify a hierarchy of correlates (representing potential causal factors) that can be replicated and that inform prioritization of prevention and intervention efforts. To address this gap, PBS faculty member Kirby Deater-Deckard has been working in an international collaborative group led by Prof. Gianluca Esposito (University of Trento, Italy, and Nanyang Technical University, Singapore) and Dr. Marc Bornstein (NICHD) that also includes team members at Duke University and UNICEF in New York.

Using data from the ongoing UNICEF MICS data system of surveys, the team applied machine learning techniques to identify the largest and globally most pervasive correlates of mortality (e.g., maternal age, household size, cooking fuel source, water quality) in a sample of nearly 300,000 households in 27 low- and middle-income countries. This was followed by longitudinal analysis showing that improvements in these correlates over time were predictive of country-level decreases in under-five mortality. With UNICEF, the research team is planning to develop operational predictive models that can be used by UNICEF field sites to inform decisions about effective resource distribution for mortality prevention efforts.

Read full paper

Buju Dasgupta interviewed on the Mind & Life Institute Podcast

portrait of Buju Dasgupta

Buju Dasgupta is interviewed on the Mind & Life Institute Podcast with Wendy Hasenkamp! 
They cover fascinating topics, including:

  • the crucial role of social environments on implicit bias; 
  • the malleability of implicit bias by changing key characteristics of our local environments;
  • turning research into social impact;
  • changing bias against women and underrepresented groups;
  • increasing cross-disciplinary collaboration to advance research on equity through the Institute of Diversity Sciences.

Click here to listen
or subscribe to the show on your preferred player. 

Supportive Partners Protect Relationship Quality in People with Depression or External Stress

couple sitting watching the sunset

New findings emerge from UMass Amherst newlyweds study

Having a responsive, supportive partner minimizes the negative impacts of an individual’s depression or external stress on their romantic relationship, according to research by a University of Massachusetts Amherst social psychologist.

Paula Pietromonaco, professor emerita of psychological and brain sciences, drew on data from her Growth in Early Marriage project (GEM) to investigate what she had discovered was an under-studied question. Findings are published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

“I was really surprised that although there’s a ton of work out there on depression, there was very little in the literature looking at the kinds of behavior that partners could do that would buffer the detrimental effects of depression,” says Pietromonaco, whose co-authors are Nickola Overall, professor of psychology at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and Sally Powers, professor emerita of psychological and brain sciences at UMass Amherst.

In the 3 ½-year GEM study involving more than 200 newlywed couples and funded by the National Cancer Institute, Pietromonaco and colleagues examined how couples change over time and how their relationships affect health. During each annual visit to the lab, couples were videotaped while they discussed a major conflict in their relationship.

“The unique thing about our study is that we looked at responsiveness in terms of people’s actual behavior, as opposed to their perceptions,” Pietromonaco explains. “We used a very complex, intensive coding scheme that captures a whole range of behaviors that we can call responsive behavior.”

The study found that being a responsive partner – one who focuses effort and energy to listen to their partner without reacting, tries to understand what’s being expressed and be supportive in a helpful way, and knows what their particular partner needs – is in general associated with better relationship quality, “which is what you would think,” Pietromonaco says.

“But when people have a vulnerability like being depressed or having a lot of external stress,” she adds, “having a responsive partner seems to protect them against a sharp drop in relationship quality from one time point to the next.”

The researchers predicted that a person with signs of mild to moderate depression would experience a drop in marital quality from one year to the next during the study. “And that’s what we saw,” Pietromonaco says. “It was a big drop – five points.”

Such a significant drop in relationship quality was not seen with people who had low depression scores and also partners who were low in responsiveness. “But if you were depressed and your partner was responsive, in the next wave your marital quality did not look any different from people who were not depressed,” she says.

Similarly, a person’s external stress resulted in a drop in marital quality over time – unless their partner was found to be highly responsive, supportive and accepting. “If your partner is high in responsiveness, you don’t show any more of a decline than people who have low external stress. But if your partner is low in responsiveness, you drop an average of over seven points, and that is a large effect,” Pietromonaco says.

The new research advances Pietromonaco’s previous work probing the couple-level dynamics of romantic relationships. “Each person’s behavior and responsiveness and feelings affect the other person’s, and they do so reciprocally,” she explains.

The paper concludes that “these findings underscore the importance of adopting a dyadic perspective to understand how partners’ responsive behavior can overcome the harmful effects of personal and situational vulnerabilities on relationship outcomes.”

Adult‐like abilities found in auditory processing system of zebra finch nestlings

Twitter thread on the latest paper from Katie Schroeder @katieschro8. Illustrations by Katie Schroeder

Baby songbirds already have a surprisingly well-developed auditory processing system! 
@HealeyLab and I are excited to share the first paper from my dissertation.

Songbirds, like other altricial animals, are not fully developed at hatching. Hearing sensitivity is not fully mature until ~3 weeks of age, right around the time that the sensitive period for tutor song acquisition begins. 

baby birds in nest

Nevertheless, behavioral evidence suggests that embryos and nestlings can discriminate songs and learn call elements before hearing sensitivity matures. How is that accomplished in the brain of a still-developing bird?

(Click to enlarge)

I conducted extracellular recordings in the auditory forebrain region NCM (analogous to mammalian A2) of young zebrafinches to assess neural properties and responses to species-specific songs before the sensitive period of song motor learning opens.

Remarkably, all birds were highly responsive to songs. Nestlings even showed the same putative cell types and stimulus-specific adaptation that is characteristic of NCM in adults!

Fidelity of temporal coding also showed the same pattern in response to different species’ songs across all ages, suggesting that species recognition is either innate or learned very early.

This study provides the first evidence that electrophysiological properties of higher-order auditory neurons are already mature in nestling songbirds. 

baby bird pecking

Shout out to labbies @BioMatheus @jeremyspool @neuromafe @HannahB36834101 @Grey_Smatter @danp58711090 and twitterless #PodosLab for their guidance and input!
Thanks for reading!

Mélise Edwards awarded Ford Foundation Fellowship

Mélise EdwardsMélise Edwards, 2nd year student in the Lacreuse lab (co-advised by Courtney Babbitt), received a prestigious Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, which will support 3 years of her PhD research. This competitive fellowship, funded through the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, supports individuals “who can demonstrate superior academic achievement, are committed to a career in teaching and research at the college or university level, show promise of future achievement as scholars and teachers, and are well prepared to use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students”.

Her research will compare gene expression in specific brain regions in marmosets treated with an aromatase inhibitor (Letrozole) compared to marmosets treated with a placebo. Aromatase inhibitors are commonly administered to women with estrogen-responsive breast cancers because they suppress estrogen synthesis. Unfortunately, they are also associated with cognitive dysfunction, sleep disturbances and mood disorders and little is known about the underlying mechanisms.

Mélise will identify sets of genes differentially regulated by aromatase inhibition in specific brain areas, which will guide her further research efforts on identifying specific pathways altered by aromatase inhibition. This work has the potential to uncover new mechanisms by which estrogens synthesized in the brain affect brain function, which have far-reaching implications for women’s health across the lifespan.

Besides her research endeavors, Mélise is dedicated to being a positive role model and promoting STEM fields for people of diverse backgrounds. She has demonstrated outstanding leadership in mentoring, as reflected by her online mentorship website M.U.S.E. We are delighted that the Ford Fellowship recognized her excellence in research and mentoring and her potential as a future scholar. Congratulations, Mélise!

Yam Schaal ‘20

Alumni Spotlight

Yam SchaalUndergraduate Degree: B.S. Psychology (neuroscience track), Secondary major: Legal Studies (Conflict resolution concentration). Minor in Philosophy

Current Position Title and Affiliation: J.D. Candidate, Cornell Law School Class of 2023

Summary of Position:
As a 1L, I take classes relating to civil procedure, constitutional law, property, torts, criminal law, contracts, and legal writing. Additionally, through the 1L Immigration Clinic, I assist clients who are in the process of becoming naturalized as U.S. citizens, seeking asylum in the U.S., or applying for DACA.

Future Goals:
I am eager to continue the work I am doing in the 1L Immigration Clinic because it is so rewarding and to explore the multiple different paths available for law students. My short-term goal is to gain real-world experiences through a summer internship. Ultimately, my long-term goals are to combine my passion for science, the law, and advocacy. I am excited for what lies ahead!

What do you love most about this career path?
It’s very flexible and rewarding; if I work hard and organize my time effectively, it is possible to combine multiple interests of mine. One of the things I love the most about law is the intrinsic respect for language and the creativity that is encouraged in discussion and analysis; I love arguing for the sake of reaching deeper understanding. I also love the way background knowledge (such as my background in psychology and philosophy) not only enriches discussions and my own understanding, but also has the potential to impact a person’s life through advocacy or knowledge itself.

How did UMass and/or Psychological and Brain Sciences help prepare you?
PBS helped me prepare for writing research papers in law school. Although the topics I wrote about in college were very different from what I write about now, research and writing skills are transferable. Also, psychological knowledge is also helpful when I work directly with clients. For example, psychology specialists from Cornell Weill Medical School were invited to speak to us 1Ls about how trauma impacts the brain, how it can affect behavior, and how we as legal counselors can help navigate this. I found I was much more prepared for this way of thinking than my peers.

Tips for Current Undergrads:
Do not take writing feedback for granted! Take the time to process comments and improve your writing skills now; strong writing skills are indispensable. It’s okay to not be sure about what the next step is and it is certainly okay to have a different path than your peers! It can be scary to branch out, but it is incredibly rewarding.

​​​​​​​Nilanjana Buju Dasgupta receives Samuel F. Conti Faculty Fellowship Award

Buju DasguptaNilanjana Buju Dasgupta has received the 2021-2022 Samuel F. Conti Faculty Fellowship Award! Congratulations!

A University of Massachusetts Amherst Samuel F. Conti Faculty Fellowship provides faculty members with a unique opportunity to focus on their research or creative activities. These Fellowships are managed by the office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement and provide a one-year release from teaching and service duties in addition to a cash award. Fellows are chosen based on their record of outstanding accomplishments in research and creative activity and on their potential for continued excellence, particularly with regard to the project that will be undertaken during the Fellowship period.

"Billions of dollars are spent on diversity training and education in businesses, universities, and government. Businesses alone spend $8 billion annually on multicultural education, cultural competence, and unconscious bias training. These programs tacitly assume that institutional equity and inclusion requires changing individual hearts and minds. Despite prodigious spending, research reveals that these programs’ impact on institutional change is limited at best, and backfires at worst. Moreover, controlled experiments are rarely used to evaluate diversity programs, raising doubts about causal inference. In a nutshell, appealing to individual hearts and minds has not yielded institutional change.

"I plan to write a research informed book aimed at a general audience explaining why progress toward institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion has been limited despite a cottage industry of programs focused on individual education and awareness. By synthesizing scholarly research from psychology, sociology, organizational behavior, and management science, I will then unpack key features of local cultures that subtly magnify inequality in access and opportunity. Finally, I will offer research-driven solutions that rest less on changing individual hearts and minds, and more on leveraging the power of situations to move toward more just, equitable, and inclusive institutions. The Samuel F. Conti Fellowship will allow me the time to dedicate undivided attention to writing this book in the academic year 2021-22." —Buju 

Pandemic Stress Has Varying Impacts on Couples’ Relationships

couple holding hands on a walk

People with pre-existing struggles face greatest hardships, UMass Amherst research finds

In two new papers, a University of Massachusetts Amherst social psychologist and colleagues in New Zealand explore and predict the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on couples’ relationships and identify ways to support partners in crisis.

How the pandemic has affected couples’ relationships depends on the internal and external stresses they’re facing, as well as their individual vulnerabilities, says Paula Pietromonaco, professor emerita of psychological and brain sciences.

“There’s huge variability in couples’ experiences,” says Pietromonaco, who in a theoretical paper published in American Psychologist applied relationship science to predict which couples’ relationships would likely face the greatest hardships from COVID-19. “People already struggling before the pandemic are going to be hit harder.”

Pandemic stresses may undermine couples’ relationship quality by increasing harmful processes such as hostility and withdrawal. Pietromonaco points out that different strategies for different groups of couples are needed to alleviate the disruption the pandemic has caused.

For example, couples whose relationships are suffering because they’re facing severe economic hardships can best be helped by policy interventions. “Some couples don’t even know if they can stay in the p