Winter 2021 Newsletter | Research Highlights

woman voting at boothWhen scientific journals take sides during an election, the public’s trust in science takes a hit
When the scientific establishment gets involved in partisan politics, it decreases people’s trust in science, especially among conservatives, according to recent UMass Amherst research by Bernhard Leidner, Stylianos Syropoulos, and Kevin Young. Read full article

areas of the brain are highlightedAnnabelle Flores-Bonilla authors review paper 'Sex Differences in the Neurobiology of Alcohol Use Disorder'
Graduate student Annabelle Flores-Bonilla and faculty member Heather Richardson of the Behavioral Neuroscience Program have authored a new review paper, "Sex Differences in the Neurobiology of Alcohol Use Disorder" in the journal Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. Read full paper

Household chaos, parental responses to emotion, and child emotion regulation in middle childhood
Yelim Hong, Sarah McCormick, and Kirby Deater‐Deckard
Parents’ responses to children’s negative emotional states play a key role in the socialization of emotion regulation (ER) skills in childhood. Yelim Hong and her research team examined the development of children’s ER by testing hypotheses about the interplay of parent response to emotions and household chaos in the prediction of individual differences in children’s ER. In middle childhood (6 and 9 years of age), mothers’ reports of better child ER at both time points were positively associated with mothers’ more supportive responses and negatively associated with mothers’ less non-supportive responses. Higher levels of household chaos (i.e., noise, lack of routines) was associated with poorer child emotion regulation. Furthermore, at 6-years of age, the link between parenting and child emotion regulation was overwhelmed at higher levels of chaos. Read full abstract

Pietromonaco studies changes in intimate relationships during COVID-19
With many new struggles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, some intimate relationships may be at greater risk of adversity than others depending upon certain preexisting factors. As the stability of these relationships are tied to emotional and physical health, it is important to identify which external stressors (e.g., economic hardship) and vulnerabilities (e.g., attachment insecurity) impact couples’ well-being and also what role a relationship’s context (e.g., social class, minority status, age) will play. In a new article in American Psychologist that draws on theory and research from relationship science, Paula Pietromonaco outlines ways in which external stresses from the pandemic may be harmful to couples’ relationships, what preexisting relationship factors may make things worse, and what can be done to lessen these effects. Read full article

Expanding on this project, Pietromonaco has studied (with colleagues at the University of Auckland, NZ) how preexisting attachment insecurity and the stress of couples being required to quarantine predicted relationship changes. Findings indicated that when individuals experiencing more pandemic-related stress had a partner with greater attachment anxiety or attachment avoidance, they showed greater declines in relationship and family functioning. This research helps us to understand more about who is most at risk of developing relationship problems, and what partner characteristics may contribute to these outcomes. Read full preprint

Dopamine D1 receptor activation drives plasticity in the songbird auditory pallium
Features of vocal learning in songbirds, such as song motor-learning and the motivation to sing, are directed by dopamine signaling in the songbird brain. However, it is unclear whether dopamine plays a role in the learning of new sounds. Researchers Matheus Macêdo Lima, Hannah M. Boyd, and Luke Remage-Healey examined how dopamine interacts with local neuroestradiol signaling in auditory neurons of the zebra finch. The results of this study support their hypothesis that dopamine acting via D1 receptor proteins modulates auditory learning and memory in songbirds. Link to paper

Sleep behaviors in persons with Alzheimer’s Disease: Associations with caregiver sleep and affect
Molly Mather, Jasmine Dixon, and Rebecca Ready
Poor sleep in persons with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a common stressor for family caregivers. Retrospective reports support associations between sleep disturbance in persons with AD and worse caregiver mood; however, prospective associations between sleep in persons with AD and caregiver outcomes have not been studied. The current study determined associations between affect and daily sleep of persons with AD and their caregivers using daily diary data. Multilevel mediation models indicated that sleep in persons with AD is linked to caregiver affect; further, these associations are mediated by sleep characteristics in caregivers and affect in persons with AD.  Daily fluctuations in sleep behaviors in persons with AD – rather than average values – were most strongly associated with caregiver outcomes. Interventions to improve sleep in persons with AD may decrease their negative affect and improve caregiver mood.

Parent Perceptions of Remote Learning During COVID-19
Trina Harmon and David Arnold
Due to COVID, many schools are operating online, and children and families are likely facing large obstacles to learning. Children from lower-socioeconomic status (SES) homes have less access to both educational content and technological recourses. In addition, stressors associated with poverty may disproportionally limit parent availability in lower-SES families. These inequities could make remote learning especially challenging for lower-SES children. The purpose of our current study is to examine parent perceptions of obstacles and advantages to elementary schools moving online and evaluating whether inequalities exist in remote learning as a function of SES.

Mothers’ sleep deficits and cognitive performance: Moderation by stress and age
Prof. Kirby Deater-Deckard and recent lab alum Dr. Mamatha Chary just published with colleagues at Indiana University a paper in PLOS One. The study showed that women’s age and exposure to chronic stressors matter greatly when it comes to the magnitude of the impact of sleep problems on their cognitive functioning. Read full paper

Addressing Power Differences May Spur Advantaged Racial Groups to Act in Support of Racial Equality
New research published by Linda Tropp and Özden Melis Uluğ looked at keys to motivating advantaged racial groups to join historically disadvantaged racial minority groups and act in support of racial equality. Tropp and colleagues found that having open communication about group differences is a crucial pathway. Read full article

Assessment of prenatal stress‐related cortisol exposure: focus on cortisol accumulation in hair and nails
Jerry Meyer and Melinda Novak have published a review paper in Developmental Psychobiology on methodological approaches to the assessment of prenatal cortisol exposure and the effects of maternal stress on such exposure. They discuss advantages to measuring cortisol concentrations in hair and/or nails over other approaches.
"This review first describes fetal adrenocortical development, placental cortisol metabolism, and the various sources of fetal cortisol exposure across pregnancy. We then summarize the results obtained from "classical" methods of assessing prenatal cortisol exposure prior to the advent of hair and nail cortisol measurement. Lastly, we discuss the initial development and validation of the hair cortisol methodology, its subsequent application to studies of chronic stress, and recent findings regarding maternal and neonatal hair or nail cortisol concentrations in relation to prenatal stress and other variables of interest." Link to paper