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Recent additions - podcasts, program reviews, and continuing education

Discover recently added resources, including podcasts of interviews with HD faculty from HD Today e-NEWS Listen Notes playlists


John Eckenrode retires leaving a lasting impact on human development

John Eckenrode

John Eckenrode's achievements have left an indelible mark on the department of human development. He was founding Director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, He founded and co-directed the National Data Archive of Child Abuse and Neglect.


Early puberty challenges and how parents can help

2018 study conducted by Jane Mendle and her team found that girls who entered puberty significantly earlier than their peers were at higher risk for mental health concerns.


The Human Development Graduate Program - an interview with Daniel Casasanto's students

Three of Daniel Casasanto's graduate students--Emma Murrugarra, Amritpal Singh, and Ché Lucero--reflect on what led them to work with Dr. Casasanto and enroll in the Department of Human Development Graduate Program.


MULTIMEDIA

Listen Notes - HD faculty podcasts

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Discover recently added resources, including podcasts of interviews with HD faculty from HD Today e-NEWS Listen Notes playlists. Also, read the evidence-based review of the Nurse-Family Partnership Program, and watch Karl Pillemer's training webinar on elder-to-elder mistreatment research and interventions in our Resources section of the drop-down menu.

John Eckenrode

John Eckenrode's achievements have left an indelible mark on the department of human development. He was founding Director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, He founded and co-directed the National Data Archive of Child Abuse and Neglect. He received the 2017 Nicholas Hobbs Award from Division 37 (Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice) of the American Psychological Association (APA) for his exemplary research on child advocacy and policy and is a fellow of APA's Division 7 (Developmental Psychology).

John Eckenrode has played a critical role in the development of the Nurse-Family Partnership Program (NFPP) which has been in existence for more than 40 years.

Pairing specially-trained public health nurses with first-time, low-income mothers has led to significant outcomes in the health of mothers and children. According to an estimate in a 2015 review of the program, by 2031 the Nurse-Family Partnership Program will have prevented 500 infant deaths, 10,000 pre-term births, 4,700 abortions, 42,000 child maltreatment incidents, 36,000 intimate partner violence incidents, 36,000 youth arrests, and 41,000 person-years of youth substance abuse. In 2018, Eckenrode received the Outstanding Article of the Year award from the Child Maltreatment Journal for the paper he wrote with the NFPP research team about the most recent follow-up of the study.

To learn more about Eckenrode's research and a discussion of what is translational research, listen to his interview with Karl Pillemer.

Reprinted from NPR, "How To Help A Kid Survive Early Puberty," May 16, 2019, by Juli Fraga.

From surging hormones and acne to body hair and body odor, puberty can be a rocky transition for any kid. But girls and boys who start physically developing sooner than their peers face particular social and emotional challenges, researchers find.

Jane Mendle

"Puberty is a pivotal time in kids' lives, and early maturing boys and girls may be more likely to struggle psychologically," says Jane Mendle, a psychologist and associate professor at Cornell University.

2018 study conducted by Mendle and her team found that girls who entered puberty significantly earlier than their peers were at higher risk for mental health concerns. They're more likely to become depressed during adolescence, the study finds, and this distress can persist into adulthood.

"For some girls, puberty can throw them off course, and the emotional stress can linger," Mendle says, "even after the challenges of puberty wane."

While the age-range for puberty varies, says Jennifer Dietrich, a pediatric gynecologist at Texas Children's Hospital, the average age of menses is 12.3 years old. However, about 15% of females start puberty much sooner — by the age of 7.

Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests boys are also developing earlier, by age 10, which is six months to one year sooner than previous generations.

Pediatricians haven't identified a lone cause for this shift, but Louise Greenspan, a pediatric endocrinologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, says childhood obesity, environmental chemical-contributors, and the effects of chronic stress — a hormonal response to neglect or abuse in the family, for example — may all play a role.

At a crucial time when kids long to fit in, puberty can make them stand out. And when breast buds and body hair sprout during elementary school, children often feel exposed. Unable to hide their sexual development from others, they may feel ashamed or embarrassed.

Cosette Taillac, a psychotherapist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., recalls a particular client, a 9-year-old girl, who was started to feel self-conscious playing soccer because her body was developing.

When the little girl no longer wanted to participate in sports — something she had always loved — her parents sought Taillac's help.

"She didn't want to dress in front of her teammates," says Taillac.

Studies show girls who physically mature early, may be more likely than boys to ruminate about these uneasy feelings. According to researchers, this can prolong the emotional distress, which may increase their risk of depression and anxiety.

Still, though girls are more likely to internalize the stress they feel, boys aren't unscathed, says Mendle.

In research by Mendle and her colleagues, early maturing boys were more likely than others to feel socially isolated and to face conflict with friends and classmates. "This may increase their risk of depression," she says,"but we're uncertain if these effects last into adulthood."

Because information about early development tends to focus on girls, parents are often perplexed when their sons start puberty early, says Fran Walfish, a child and adolescent psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Their first clue, she says, may come when a tween boy refuses to shower or wear deodorant.

Helping kids navigate these new social and emotional hurdles can be tricky, especially since puberty spans several years. But don't be afraid to reach out — or to start the conversation early.

Greenspan suggests talking to children about sexual development by the age of 6 or 7. "Starting the conversation when kids are young, and keeping lines of communication open can make the transition less scary," she says.

At times, parents may also need to advocate for their children. "My client's parents worked with the soccer coach to create more privacy for her when dressing for team events," says Taillac. The simple adjustment helped the girl feel safe and more confident.

Of course, not all kids are eager for a parent's help; some shy away from even talking about their newfound struggles. That's sometimes a sign they're confused or overwhelmed, child psychologists say.

"It's important for parents to realize that puberty triggers identity questions like 'Who am I?' and 'Where do I fit in?' for boys and girls," Walfish says.

Taillac says reading books together can help. "Books provide a common language to discuss what's going on, which can open up conversations between parents and children," she says.

For elementary school girls, "The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls," by Valorie Schaefer can be a helpful book. Reading "The Tween Book: A Growing Up Guide for the Changing You," by Wendy Moss and Donald Moses can be informative for boys and girls, even as they reach the teen years.

Seeing your child mature early can also worry a parent. If you find yourself unsure of how to intervene, psychologists say, remember that distraught kids often want the same thing we all seek when we're upset — a generous dose of empathy.

Luckily, compassion doesn't require parents to have all the answers. Puberty calls for the same good parenting skills as any other age: being emotionally available to kids through their developmental milestones, witnessing their growing pains, and providing comfort when life throws them curveballs.

That advice is simple; the effects powerful. Scientific evidence shows this kind of parental support helps foster emotional resilience, and that bolsters kids' health and relationships for years to come.

Listen to an interview with Jane Mendle to learn more about her research on early puberty in girls.

Daniel Casasanto

Daniel Casasanto is Director of the Experience and Cognition Lab in the Department of Human Development. The focus of his research is how does our experience, specifically, our cultural, linguistic, and bodily experiences, affect how we think, feel, and make decisions. In a 2016 interview with Atlantic magazine, Casasanto discusses how hand preference can have a profound influence on our motivations and decisions. Three of his graduate students--Emma Murrugarra, Amritpal Singh, and Ché Lucero--reflect on what led them to work with Dr. Casasanto and enroll in the Department of Human Development Graduate Program.


EMMA MURRUGARRA

Emma Murrugarra

Can you tell me a little about your background and why you chose the graduate study program in Human Development program at Cornell?

I graduated from the University of Kansas with Bachelor's degrees in Human Biology, Psychology, and Philosophy. I came directly to Cornell to work with Dr. Daniel Casasanto's Experience and Cognition Lab. I was drawn by both the lab and department philosophy of studying cognition in the broader context of human development (e.g., physical, cultural, biological, etc.).

What research projects have you been involved with during your time here at Cornell?

Since coming to Cornell, I have been involved in projects looking at mental metaphors, specifically how we think about the relationship between time and space. Additionally, I have been investigating potential hormonal influences on the differences in abstract reasoning we find between eastern and western cultures.


AMRITPAL SINGH

Amritpal Singh

Can you tell me a little about your background and why you chose the graduate study program in Human Development program at Cornell?

I graduated from St. John's College, Annapolis, having completed a Great Books program there. I came to the Human Development program to work in the Experience and Cognition Lab because I wanted to study how mind and brain change and develop as a result of the interactions between them and their environments.

What research projects have you been involved with during your time here at Cornell?

One line of research I'm engaged in investigates how the way in which we use our bodies influences the neural organization of emotion. Another line of research I'm a part of investigates how abstract thinking can vary across different cultural contexts.


CHÉ LUCERO

Ché Lucero

Can you tell me a little about your background and why you chose the graduate study program in Human Development program at Cornell?

I completed my first few years of doctoral work at The University of Chicago. My advisor there, Prof. Casasanto, accepted a position at Cornell in Human Development. I decided to transfer to Cornell to complete my work. UChicago is wonderful and I had the option of completing my doctorate there, but I was lured by the integrative, cross-disciplinary aspect of the Human Development department here at Cornell and decided to make the leap.

What research projects have you been involved with during your time here at Cornell?

My research at Cornell has focused on how the human brain can rapidly approximate numerical quantities. To get a sense of what I mean, imagine if I gave you just one second to glance at a table that had nine oranges and sixteen apples sitting on it. You wouldn't have the time you'd need to count them, but you'd know that there were more apples than oranges anyway! If I then asked you to guess exactly how many apples and how many oranges there were, your answer for each might be off by a small amount, but you'd be very unlikely to make a huge error (e.g. you wouldn't guess twenty-five oranges). You were able to get an approximate sense of the number of fruit very quickly, and without resorting to counting!

Well, that's neat! But, how does the brain do that? Decades of research in humans and primates (who also have number approximation abilities) have pointed to one particular part of the brain as being critical for approximating quantities; the intraparietal sulcus. The intraparietal sulcus is considered to be a relatively "high level" area of the brain because it receives and integrates input from many other areas, including from multiple "lower level" areas that are heavily involved in processing the senses (i.e. audition, vision, etc.) The best understanding has been that the intraparietal sulcus computes approximate number on the basis of sensory information that was fed up to it by the "lower level" sensory areas.

The projects I'm involved in have been testing a relatively new idea, that the visual system (occipital cortex) might treat numerosity as a visual feature, similarly to how it processes features like contrast, color, or edges. We have been using neuroimaging techniques like electroencephalography (EEG) to observe subject's brain activity while we show them scenes containing varying numbers of objects very briefly (thirty scenes per second!). Our initial experiments have provided strong evidence that the visual cortex is itself approximating number without input from the intraparietal sulcus. This discovery is a bit startling and naturally raises questions about the role of the intraparietal sulcus' in numerical cognition, since researchers previously believe it to be the only place in the brain that computes approximate number. We are currently preparing new experiments to figure out what role the intraparietal sulcus is playing. Is it also approximating numerosity independently of the visual cortex? Does it receive pre-computed approximate number representations from the visual cortex? We have hints that part of the intraparietal sulcus' role may be in bringing number approximations to conscious awareness.

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Excerpted from the Cornell Chronicle, April 17, 2019.

by Matt Hayes

Stephen Ceci

Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the College of Human Ecology, joined 213 other newly elected fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Membership honors individuals for achievements in academia, business, government and public affairs.

Ceci’s research focuses on understanding real-world problems and settings. His work spans studies of intellectual development; children and the law; and women in science. Studies in his lab have explored the role context plays in shaping memory of discrete events, with this research informing the legal understanding of children’s cognitive competency to testify in court, including translational briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Among other honors, he has received the lifetime achievement award from the American Psychological Association (APA), The Association for Psychological Science’s (APS) Catell Award for lifetime contributions, the American Academy of Forensic Psychology’s lifetime award, and the Society for Research in Child Development's Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Child Development Award; since 2014 he received the Division of Developmental Psychology’s lifetime award and the Division of Educational Psychology’s lifetime award. He serves on numerous editorial boards and has authored approximately 450 articles, books and reviews.

He earned his bachelor’s in psychology in 1973 from the University of Delaware, a master’s in development psychology in 1975 from the University of Pennsylvania, and his doctorate in development psychology in 1978 from the University of Exeter, England.

David W. Oxtoby, president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, said of the new class: “With the election of these members, the academy upholds the ideals of research and scholarship, creativity and imagination, intellectual exchange and civil discourse, and the relentless pursuit of knowledge in all its forms.”

Newly elected fellows also include former first lady Michelle Obama; former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels; and leaders of companies and philanthropic organizations.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony in October in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Cornell Chronicle, March 19, 2019

by Stephen D'Angelo

Researchers long ago mapped sight, hearing and other human sensory systems in the brain. But for taste, which could be considered our most pleasurable sense, precisely where the “gustatory” cortex is and how it works has been a mystery.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a new method of statistical analysis, researchers have discovered the taste center in the human brain by uncovering which parts of the brain distinguish different types of tastes.

Adam Anderson

“We have known that tastes activate the human brain for some time, but not where primary taste types such as sweet, sour, salty and bitter are distinguished,” said Adam Anderson, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology and senior author of the study, “Distinct Representations of Basic Taste Qualities in the Human Gustatory Cortex,” published March 5 in Nature Communications.

“By using some new techniques that analyze fine-grained activity patterns, we found a specific portion of the insular cortex – an older cortex in the brain hidden behind the neocortex – represents distinct tastes,” Anderson said.

The insular cortex, which separates the frontal and temporal lobes, has long been thought to be the primary sensory area for taste. It also plays a role in other important functions, including visceral and emotional experience.

“The insular cortex represents experiences from inside our bodies,” Anderson said. “So taste is a bit like perceiving our own bodies, which is very different from other external senses such as sight, touch, hearing or smell.”

Previous work has shown a nearby insular region processes information originating from inside the body – from the heart and lungs, for example. In this way, distinct tastes and their associated pleasures may reflect the needs of our body. Taste not only reflects what is on our tongue but also our body’s need for specific nutrients, Anderson said.

The researchers found evidence that could be considered the “sweet” spot in the insula – a specific area where a large ensemble of neurons respond to sweetness stimulation on the tongue.

“While we identified a potential ‘sweet’ spot, its precise location differed across people and this same spot responded to other tastes, but with distinct patterns of activity,” Anderson said. “To know what people are tasting, we have to take into account not only where in the insula is stimulated, but also how.”

Compared with previous animal studies that show distinct activation clusters of basic tastes in the brain, the new study’s results reveal a more complex taste map in the human brain, Anderson said, where the same insular region represents multiple tastes.

“One of the difficulties in prior work on the connection between the brain and taste specifically is that tastes come with strong associated hedonic responses, like sweet tastes good and bitter bad,” he said. “So we have not known if these taste regions are really dedicated to taste, but rather hedonics or palatability of taste. Our research also identified patterns distinguishing liking from disliking in the insula that were distinct from those representing taste quality.”

By comparing different compounds that result in similar taste quality, like the sweetness of glucose versus sucralose, the study also demonstrated that the insula represents taste quality, i.e., “sweet” and not just specific chemicals.

“That we have found a specific region in the insular that distinguishes primary tastes from each other as well as from subjective liking and disliking has provided strong evidence of where and how taste is represented in the human brain,” he said. “While we have long known the cortical areas for our external senses, we now have strong evidence for human gustatory cortex.”

Contributing to the study were Junichi Chikazoe, former postdoctoral researcher in Anderson’s Affect and Cognition Lab; and researchers from Columbia University and the University of Colorado. Funding was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Takeda Science Foundation.

Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications in the College of Human Ecology.

Valerie Reyna

Dr. Valerie Reyna is Lois and Melvin Tukman Professor and Department Extension Leader for the Human Development department of the Cornell University College of Human Ecology. She directs the Human Neuroscience Institute and co-directs the Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research.

What is your role with Extension?

I've been a Director of Extension since 2005, and one of the jobs that I have is to get the word out about what people are doing in the Human Development Department. Our Department is filled with people that go into the community and do a variety of things, a lot of which takes place in New York State. We integrate fundamental, basic science with societal problems. It's a lot of work to do both, but we think that's where a place like Cornell--and the College of Human Ecology--fill a huge need.

How has working with CCE has informed your research?

Working with young people, adults in the community, and Extension staff have taught us a great deal about how to promote healthy choices.  For example, the content of the curriculum for reducing the risk of sexually transmitted disease and premature pregnancy has benefited from meeting with people on the front lines. We took their input and updated that curriculum. We took a curriculum, a multi-component curriculum that had some effect according to the CDC, and then we added our theoretical component to update it, magnify that effect, and make it last. We also developed an implementation manual. And all of this work benefitted enormously from  having a lot of discussions with staff in CCE as well as the people from the community. I always tell my students to do a lot of listening because people will have crucial information about the nature of their life experience.

How has your research on decision making influenced public programming or outreach?

We have done laboratory demonstrations where we carefully test why people are making the choices they're making, including the brain and their behavior. From there we develop curricula and public health programs that our students deliver.

For example, one intervention we developed, which is on the best practices list of the CDC now, is for teenagers to reduce sexual risk-taking. The goal is to reduce premature pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. It is a 14-hour-plus intervention that we train our students to deliver to youth clubs, CCE educators, New York State 4-H camps, and many other places.

We partner with CCE educators and we’ve gone into a variety of CCE sites over the years. For example, we've worked with Jackie Davis-Manigaulte  from Cornell University Cooperative Extension - New York City.

What kind of value do those environments and those relationships provide your research?

I think it's very important to have the feedback go both ways. We really want to listen to people in the community. Their concerns inform my research and help me test my theories.  Laboratory tests and real-world tests are an unbeatable combination: Lab tests tell you what is factually true, what causes human behavior. Real-world tests answer the question, is this really about something that's relevant? Do people think this is a problem?

For example, I recently had a graduate student, David Garavito, approach me, interested in concussions. And I knew concussions were a problem in the NFL, but the extent to which they’re an issue with ordinary middle school, high school and college students was really eye-opening. We, along with James Kim (a 2017 CCE summer intern), who joined us as an undergrad, performed outreach with the Ithaca Youth Bureau and designed and delivered a curriculum for 4-H camps and middle-schools.

All of this hasn't been done before. We build on health guidelines from the CDC, NIH, and other reliable sources, but we provide a psychological bridge between those facts and the human mind. We find that most people, especially young people, are in need of that bridge. We want to give them the facts and help them understand what they mean. What do they mean for your decisions? And how can we help you have insight into those facts, so that you can be the agent of your own choices that are healthy choices?

Read more about David Garavito’s work on concussions here. Read James Kim’s student journal about his summer internship experience studying concussions here.

How do you make complicated research more understandable for the general public?

Most adults want the bottom-line qualitative essence of information. They want to know what's the bottom line or the “gist” of what experts are talking about. For every domain that we study, whether it's healthy eating, fitness, concussion, or sexual risk-taking and HIV prevention, we say, what's the gist of this risk?

We understand that it’s not realistic, nor even healthy, to avoid all risk. You want to take some risks, but they should be healthy risks. So we try to distill the latest scientific information into its gist so that it can be in a usable form.

That's the centerpiece of our fuzzy trace theory. Fuzzy traces are the gist traces. It says get to the gist, teach the gist, illustrate the gist. Tell people the facts, but make sure you communicate the important essence of those facts, not just a lot of random things that may or may not be relevant to the decision you have to make.

For updates from Cornell University, College of Human Ecology’s Human Development department, including Dr. Reyna’s work, visit hdtoday.human.cornell.edu and subscribe to the HD Today newsletter.

Marlen Gonzalez

"Science is a team sport and when you create a community that is diverse you have better science." --Marlen Gonzalez

Dr. Marlen Gonzalez founded the Integrative Neuroscience Salon to create an inclusive community of "neuroscientifically curious" scientists from disparate disciplines, including human development, psychology, communications, engineering, neurobiology, computer science and law to meet and discuss neuroscience research through presentations and papers. An important function of the salon is to help investigators translate research about animal models and apply their findings to human models for intervention and public policy.

Topics discussed have included neuroscience and the law, cognitive ecology (studying the thinking processes of humans within the social and natural environment), semantics (knowledge about language) in the motor system, and multi-echo and single-echo brain scanning techniques of the locus coeruleus brain structure. The Department of Human Development and the Human Neuroscience Institute has been at the forefront of translating research for the public good and Dr. Gonzalez's Integrative Neuroscience Salon builds on this mission.