Spring 2019 Newsletter | Research Highlights

child uses ipad in classroomNational Report Calls for More Focused Studies of Digital Apps and Games to Enhance Pre-teen Learning and Development
UMass Amherst developmental psychologists contribute to major lit review
A team of developmental and cognitive psychologists and learning experts this month published a report on digital game play and app use among 6 to 12-year-olds–specifically, what is known and not known about impacts on cognitive development and learning. They recommend target research areas to maximize child educational outcomes, best practices in schools, and policies for developing effective educational games and apps for this group of under-studied youth. Read full article

leaves changing colorInstitute for Diversity Sciences Awards 2019 Seed Grants to PBS Teams
Winning teams include Improving Diagnosis and Treatment of Substance Use Disorders in Emergency Contexts with Katherine Dixon-Gordon and Linda Isbell, both psychological and brain sciences, Karen Kalmakis, nursing, and William Soares and Elizabeth Schoenfeld, both emergency medicine at UMass Medical School, Baystate; Reforming Math Education to Improve STEM Success for Diverse Students with Jeffrey Starns and Andrew Cohen, both psychological and brain sciences, and Darrell Earnest, teacher education and curriculum studies. Read full article

teen imagines her friends facesRisky Decisions—Helpful or Harmful
Developmental psychologist Kirby Deater-Deckard, is a co-investigator on a recently renewed five-year, $3.7 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse to support a research team studying the environmental and neurobiological risk factors that influence brain development and healthy versus unhealthy decision-making in adolescence and early adulthood. Read full article

rebecca spencer in front of MRISleep Secrets—Neuroscientist probes sleep’s role in learning and memory
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. Read full article

rudd adoption research programFuture of Adoption Publication Series
To help families and others interested in current research and thinking about adoption, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst led by professor and adoption expert Harold Grotevant are this spring releasing a series of 19 user-friendly papers on such topics as how adoptees are shaping post-adoption services, inter-country adoption, LGBTQ parent adoption, and planning and supporting birth-family contacts. Read publications

child yells into microphoneSignals Behind Child Tantrums
Adam Grabell was recently awarded a seed grant from the Institute for Applied Life Sciences’ (IALS) Center for Personalized Health Monitoring to support a study of preschool children’s tantrums. Collaborating with Jeremy Gummeson of the College of Information and Computer Sciences, the researchers plan to use a combination of wearable health monitoring devices to track preschool children’s tantrums in their homes over one month. Read full article

red LED lights in a rowCan higher correlated colour temperature ambient lighting improve performance on a variety of cognitive tasks?
Lauren Hartstein '17 is featured on the SAGE Engineering microsite celebrating Women In Engineering. Read full article

Are white women showing up for racial justice? Intergroup contact, closeness to people targeted by prejudice, and collective action by Linda R. Tropp and Özden Melis Uluğ
A fervent resurgence in the struggle for racial justice has taken place in the United States in recent years. Still, doubts have been expressed among many women of color who see White women protesting for feminist causes but still wonder about White women's commitment to racial justice issues. Such doubts have been reinforced further by the oft-cited statistic that more than half of the White women in the U.S. who voted helped to elect Trump in the 2016 election (Butler-Sweet, 2017), and by controversies associated with the planning and organization of the 2017-2018 Women's Marches (Dupuy, 2018). Research done by Tropp and Uluğ shows that White women's inclinations to protest for racial justice are especially likely to grow the more they experience close relationships with people who have been targeted by racial and ethnic prejudice. Thus, forging deep, personal connections with members of other racial, ethnic, and religious groups are especially critical for White women to become psychologically invested enough to take action against racial injustice. Read full article

Connecting the dots without top-down knowledge
PhD candidate Patrick Sadil authored a study to appear in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General investigating the fundamental question of how we identify visual objects. By presenting visual images subliminally, Patrick demonstrated that humans can learn how an object’s parts conjoin to form a whole, even when we are not aware of what the object is, or that we are seeing one at all! This suggests that our visual brain is more sophisticated than many psychologists have given it credit for.
Can you connect the dots to see the Dalmatian? Read full article

Student Spotlight: Hallie Brown
Hallie Brown examines impacts of parenting and inhibitory control on two-year-olds at-risk for ADHD. A Center for Research on Families 2018-19 Pre-Dissertation Award Recipient. Read full article

Passive and active bystanders and preventing harm
Professor Emeritus Ervin Staub will present his talk “Passive and active bystanders and preventing harm” at two national conferences concentrated on a program he created after the Rodney King incident for the State of California, to train police in active bystandership to prevent unnecessary harm done by police to civilians, and thereby also protect police officers from prosecution. The Ethical Policing Is Courageous (EPIC) program was adopted and further developed, in collaboration with the New Orleans police department, where its success has received national attention (See The New York Times article). Each conference is for over 100 invited leaders of police departments from around the country that expressed interest in adopting the program, one in 2018, the other in June 2019, both held in New Orleans. 

UMass Eyetracking Lab to present at Psycholinguistics in Iceland–Parsing and Prediction
In June, Adrain Staub will be giving an invited keynote address at the conference: Psycholinguistics in Iceland–Parsing and Prediction. His talk is entitled, "Toward a mechanistic account of predictability effects on lexical processing in reading". In addition, three graduate students from the UMass Eyetracking Lab will present their work: Jon Burnsky (PBS), Erika Mayer (UMass Linguistics), and Bojana Ristic (Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language; visitor to UMass in Fall 2018).  

lab members smiling at conferenceAssessing the emotional experiences of emergency department physicians and nurses
Linda Isbell and members of the Affect and Social Cognition Lab; Kendall Beals, Julia Tager, and Emma Cyr; presented three research talks at the New England Regional Meeting of the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM). They presented the results of recent qualitative and experimental research assessing the emotional experiences of emergency department physicians and nurses, the causes of these emotions, and the possible consequences of these emotions for patient safety. The group of researchers will also be traveling to the national SAEM meeting in Las Vegas in May.

Alice Coyne and Will Hopper have received summer non-working fellowships from the Department, giving them a chance to work solely on their dissertation research. Their projects are as follows:

Understanding Why Some Therapists Are More Effective Than Others: The Role of Facilitative Interpersonal Skill
My dissertation focuses on determinants of the well-established, stable differences between therapists in their overall efficacy when treating patients in routine mental health care settings. Specifically, I will test whether therapists’ interpersonal skill when facing complex clinical interactions accounts for between-therapist differences in their patients’ outcomes. Additionally, I will test several during-treatment processes (e.g., relationship quality, patients’ treatment-related beliefs) as candidate mechanisms of this association. The goal of this research program is to identify trainable therapist competencies that enhance evidence-based practice, especially in community mental health care settings. —Alice Coyne

Testing the convergent retrieval learning theory of testing effects
My thesis project is testing a newly proposed theory, called the Primary and Convergent Retrieval model that explains why practice tests promote better long term retention than restudying. In this model, recalling a memory makes the different aspects of the memory become more tightly integrated, allowing quicker retrieval and longer retention of the information. My thesis project evaluates this theory by testing several new predictions made by the model, such as the effects of retrieval failures on subsequent memory tests, the boundary conditions on generalization from test-based learning, and methods of study that promote retention by mimicking the cognitive operations performed during normal retrieval. —Will Hopper

Finding a Voice in a Crowd
Marcela Fernandez-Peters has been awarded a UMass Amherst Faculty Research Grant/Healey Endowment Grant. Fernandez-Peters will study how individual neurons in the auditory cortex of zebra finches discriminate song embedded in chorus noise in the presence of estrogen, drugs that inhibit the production of estrogen in the brain or a control substance. In addition, she will examine the effects of estrogen on song discrimination in noise at a behavioral level using an operant conditioning paradigm. This study will shed light on auditory perception under natural noisy conditions and how neurosteroids may modulate auditory scene analysis. In addition, this work could ultimately contribute to understand some of the underlying causes of progressive hearing decline observed at a central level in some menopausal women or aging adults.

New Publications from Rebecca Ready
Ready, R.E., Boileau, N.R., Barton, S.K., Lai, J.-S., McCormack, M.K., Cella, D., Fritz, N.E., Paulsen, J.S., & Carlozzi, N.E.  (accepted). Positive affect and well-being in HD moderates the association between functional impairment and HRQOL outcomes.  Journal of Huntington’s Disease.  

Nuzum, H., Ready, R.E., & Clark, L.A.C. (2019).  Comparability of self- and other-rated personality structure.  Psychological Assessment.  Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/pas0000696