Students in the News

Students in the News

Reprinted from College of Human Ecology's Alumni Profiles

by Stephen D'Angelo

Lindsay Dower ‘17 spent her four years at Cornell working to improve the lives of both those within the College of Human Ecology and in the broader Ithaca community, truly embodying the mission of the college.

As a Human Development major and Policy Analysis and Management minor, working towards a career in health policy, she pursued coursework that allowed her to better understand the human condition in the context of healthcare. Lindsay took full advantage of the opportunities within the college to create an undergraduate experience that intertwined courses in behavioral neuroscience with those in healthcare.

Dr. Valerie Reyna and Lindsay Dower '17

She joined Professor Valerie Reyna’s lab for Rational Decision Making during her freshman year after learning about Reyna’s work in an introductory Human Development course. Further, Lindsay served as a Cornell Cooperative Extension Intern during the summer of 2014, bringing evidence-based curricula developed in the lab to middle school-aged campers at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills. Through a series of hands-on activities, she delivered an obesity prevention intervention to the campers, while completing a randomized controlled trial to test the effectiveness of the curricula.

The following year, she gratefully received a Human Ecology Alumni Association Grant to continue studying how people make decisions about their eating and exercise habits. Lindsay’s research then expanded to include a project on investigating the decision making behind medication adherence in Type I and Type II diabetics. Her passion for the projects in the lab earned Lindsay the role of Undergraduate Team Leader of the Health and Medical Decision Making Team when she was a junior. Lindsay led a group of over ten undergraduates in the lab, serving as a resource to help them engage with the material in meaningful ways.

Outside of the classroom, Lindsay was very involved with Alpha Phi Omega, a national community service fraternity with a chapter on campus. As a member of APO, Lindsay served as chair for the Loaves and Fishes project, during which she and other members volunteered to serve free, hot meals to those who needed them most in downtown Ithaca. Additionally, she played the flute in the Big Red Pep Band during her time at Cornell.

by David Garavito and Allison M. Hermann

Junior and senior high school students from Ithaca Youth Bureau’s College Discovery Program visited the Department of Human Development to learn about college, research, and concussions from members of Dr. Valerie Reyna's Laboratory for Rational Decision Making (LRDM).

gelatin brain used for concussion simulation

The middle schoolers attended a concussion and the brain workshop on July 17th at the LRDM lab in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall led by David Garavito (JD/PhD) and Joseph DeTello '18. The group participated in a research project on concussions and decision-making and then took part in an interactive program about concussions. Students shook eggs to demonstrate how you don’t need to crack a shell (their skulls) to damage a yoke (their brains). Then they compressed and stretched gelatin brains to see how diffuse damage to neural fibers (axons) in the brain can occur after the impact of a concussion.

Allison Franz '18 and middle schoolers from Ithaca Youth Bureau

Allison Franz '18 got the group moving with a game of “blob tag". In this game, a group of students form a “blob” and try to tag other students without letting go of each others’ hands. The tagged students then became part of the blob. As the blob grew and people pulled in different directions, the blob would break apart and lose the tagged players. This is similar to what occurs when there is a blow to the skull and the skull comes to a fast stop - the brain moves in different directions and the neural fibers break resulting in diffuse damage to the neuronal axons.

The high school students attended the second brain and concussion workshop in the LRDM lab on August 16th. They participated in the concussion and decision-making project followed by a hands-on demonstration of concussion risks even when wearing helmets. The students loved creating their own "helmets” to protect eggs which were dropped from a great height. They learned that not only did they need to protect the egg from hitting the ground, they also needed to slow the momentum of the egg. This is a very important lesson to learn, as there is often a false sense of security when wearing a helmet in sports like football. Although the skull may be protected by a helmet, an abrupt momentum shift causes the brain to keep moving, resulting in the brain hitting the skull and a concussion.

James Jones-Rounds, HEP lab, and high school students from the Ithaca Youth Bureau

The group also visited the HD EEG and Psychophysiology (HEP) Laboratory. James Jones-Rounds, HEP manager, the lab equipment used for gathering data about electrical activity of the brain, electrical characteristics of the skin, and measurement of eye activity. Many of the students volunteered to be in the demonstration - one student even tried on the mobile EEG headset and managed to move a box on a computer screen using her mind!

We gratefully acknowledge Engaged Cornell for funding the Engaged Risky Decision Making project which supports our research and outreach with adolescents on the risks of sports-related concussions.

The Cornell Chronicle, April 20, 2017.

By Susan Kelley

Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Vertumnus, 1590.

They say you are what you eat.

But that may not be true for vegetarians.

A Cornell undergraduate and his academic adviser have come up with a new way to think about vegetarians. And it’s not just about what’s on their plates.

The new theory proposes that vegetarianism is an identity, not just a series of decisions about what to eat. Choosing a plant-based diet – and a wide variety of ways that people think, feel and behave in relation to that choice – provides vegetarians with a sense of self, the researchers said, just as race, religion, gender or sexual orientation can provide an identity for others. The paper was published Jan. 18 in Appetite.

“It might seem that vegetarianism is just a diet,” said Daniel Rosenfeld ’18, co-author of the paper. “But for a lot of people, it can have a large impact on how they feel about themselves and how they reflect on who they are. Following a plant-based diet is really a core part of their identity.”

Eating a vegetarian diet and identifying as vegetarian are two different things, the authors said. For example, a 2012 survey found that 5 percent of adults in the United States considered themselves vegetarian. But only 3 percent actually ate a plant-based diet. And some who avoid animal products may not consider themselves vegetarian at all, according to the paper.

Rosenfeld, a human development major, came up with the idea of a vegetarian identity when he was taking a class on racial and ethnic identity with his co-author, Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology.

Learning about theoretical perspectives on race as identity, Rosenfeld began to see similarities between how people speak about vegetarianism and race. “Race and vegetarianism seem so different,” he said. “But when we look through a psychological lens at how any behavior or self-attribute can define who we are, it becomes very clear that people who identify with a racial group or with this plant-based diet group can both be thought of through identity frameworks.”

Drawing on several psychological theories, the Rosenfeld and Burrows’ Unified Model of Vegetarian Identity describes 10 measurable “dimensions,” or aspects, of a vegetarian identity.

The first three aspects – historical embeddedness, timing and duration – involve the social contexts that shape how someone sees themselves as an eater. For example, the time and place in which we live can affect expectations about how and what we eat; moving to a city with lots of vegetarians may influence someone to adopt a more vegetarian diet and maybe even change how they self-identify.

Other dimensions include how people incorporate their food choices into their sense of self. Salience and centrality, for example, involve the extent to which being vegetarian is a defining feature of one’s identity.

Motivation also plays a role. A notable finding is that vegetarians have different dietary motivations than people who eat just a small amount of meat but aren’t fully vegetarian. While only 21 percent of those in the low meat-eating group were motivated by animal welfare concerns, this figure was a whopping 71 percent among vegetarians, Rosenfeld said.

“These results suggest that having ethical motivations about animal welfare is more strongly associated with going full-on vegetarian, rather than just decreasing one’s meat intake,” he said.

Some dimensions refer to how positively or negatively a person feels about vegetarians and omnivores. For example, a vegetarian may feel disgust, anger or resentment when she sees someone wearing a fur coat or leather jacket; those feelings are part of what Rosenfeld and Burrow call “low omnivorous regard.”

Of course, food choice is also a factor. The dimension of “strictness” measures how closely one adheres to a plant-based diet, while the dimension dietary pattern refers to the foods one avoids, such as eggs, dairy or fish.

Dietary strictness has caused some methodological inconsistencies across studies, Rosenfeld points out.

“If a participant identifies as vegetarian but eats meat occasionally, should a researcher label them as a vegetarian?” he said. “It’s these intricacies that make studying vegetarianism so exciting. Going forward, I hope our identity model can provide a new perspective for making sense of what seems nonsensical.”

Elizabeth Cavic

Elizabeth Cavic is a rising senior in the Department of Human Development and was a 2017 College of Human Ecology CCE Summer Intern working on the project "Enhancing Children’s Play and Parent’s Knowledge in Suffolk County" under the direction of Dr. Marianella Casasola and the CCE partners, Suffolk County Family and Health and Wellness Program, and Suffolk County Farm and Education Center. She created the following e-journal of her internship experience.

 

Week 1!

This week was my first (almost) full week with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (herein called "CCE"). I arrived on Memorial Day (Monday evening) around 10 PM and started work Tuesday. For the 6 weeks that I will be interning with CCE, I will be splitting my time between the Riverhead office and the Farm and Education Center (located in Yaphank). For the most part, I will be working in Riverhead Tuesdays and Wednesdays and in Yaphank on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

This first week was largely an orientation week for me. Several of my supervisors showed me around the farm and Riverhead office, I was given my duties and workspaces, and I just generally oriented myself to my new surroundings! I enjoyed my time at the office a lot, as I'm surrounded by people who are experts in all their respective fields (all somehow relating to Family Health and Wellness). My time at the farm, however, was also super incredible. Growing up in upstate New York, I was always surrounded by long stretches of countryside and there was always a farm no more than 15 minutes or so in any direction. However, this did give me the opportunity to get up close and personal with some things I haven't seen in a long time (namely lambs and roosters), which I really enjoyed!

Of course, my job there is not to hang out with the adorable sheep and lambs, but to develop a design that helps parents understand how critical play is to development. For example, the Outdoor Explore classroom contains an element that is intended for children to paint on (with water). Essentially, there are three pieces of slate (pictured left). Each piece of slate has a bucket attached, each bucket full of water and a couple paintbrushes. Water can be used to "paint" on these slates. While children may not look as though they are doing much during their painting sessions, the large sweeping motions that can be seen are critical to gross motor development in preschoolers.

Gross motor development (being able to control and manipulate the muscles in the shoulder and upper arm) is, then, absolutely imperative to the development of fine motor skills (manipulation of the hands and fingers). Of course, looking at a child fooling around with a bucket, and paintbrush, and a few pieces of slate may seem useless to parents who have little to no background in Human (specifically, Child) Development. That's where I come in. Of course, it's week 1, so I'm not quite sure yet how I come in, but I know that I definitely will! Until next week!

Week 2!

This week has flown by! Today marks the end of my first full week working for CCE of Suffolk County. This has been an extremely full week, complete with field trips, tours around preschools and other outdoor classrooms, a lot of statistics, graphs, charts, powerpoint presentations, and photos! Last week, largely an orientation week, was spent brainstorming ideas, as was much of this week.

The schedule for the duration of my internship is as follows: two weeks researching and brainstorming, two weeks implementing changes in the Outdoor Explore Classroom, and two weeks tweaking my adjustments. One of the final steps in my first two weeks was to visit other outdoor classrooms in the area. Our first stop was at Play Groups School in East Setauket. This school was an absolute blast to visit - the classrooms were incredible, the instructors were all so professional and so warm (the perfect mix for preschool teachers), and all the children were playing with developmentally appropriate materials. This little flower-filled shoe (left) was used during their recycling/Earth day project, in which children planted flowers in their old shoes. Because of this, there were dozens of little flower-filled shoes sitting around the outdoor classroom which nearly brought me to tears.

So much of the dialogue surrounding preschool education in the United States today is littered with talk of "didactic" learning or "academic- oriented preschools". However, the children of this preschool (and preschools across the country) were thriving with very simple (and age- appropriate) play materials! In fact, when walking in, I was a bit taken aback by the amount of material the children had at their disposal - water tables, dress up clothes, easels, fish tanks, huge playhouses inside the building, blocks, and countless other materials. It was, by all counts, incredible. The children were actively engaged in what they were doing and were learning new things with every move they made. Their outdoor classroom was equally impressive - between the water feature (right), the spot for bird-watching, the stage, the regular playground, and the block station, it was even difficult for me to stay professional.

Next, we visited the Long Island Children's Museum (LICM). One of their most interesting features was the Strawberry Maze (left). The black material was a "composting sock," filled with compost material on which the strawberry plants were growing. Children went into the maze, completed it, and ate strawberries along the way. The museum also contained a beautiful water feature (with dams, rivers, a water wheel, etc.). This inspired me to continue working on the farm's future water feature.

Next, we headed to the Middle Country Library. This library was so impressive for a whole multitude of reasons (some, but definitely not all of which, had to do with its outdoor explore classroom). This place was incredible:

  • The men's bathroom had a changing table, which shouldn't be such a big deal but, even in 2017, is not a super common occurrence and any public organization where that occurs is, in my opinion, way ahead of the game!
  • The outside of the building is - beyond being incredibly aesthetically pleasing - covered with what look like "fish scales". Very fitting for a library out in Long Island.
  • They had a "I read 1000 books before Kindergarten" feature - there were 100 clear backpacks on the shelves, each of which contained 10 picture -- or very short chapter -- books. A child could take out a backpack, bring it home, read the 10 books, return the backpack, and there would be 99 more waiting for the child. When the child completed all 100 of the backpacks (and consequently 1000 books), he/she/they got their face on a wall of the other children who had completed it. No lie, this bulletin board made me tear up it was so adorable.

- back to the classroom - it was absolutely incredible. It had places for building, places for reading, performing, digging, etc. (and SO SO many caterpillars)... The photo above (of the brick and my then-soaking-wet-from-walking-through-the-damp-grass-all- day espadrilles) was part of a fundraiser that the library did to fund the outdoor classroom. Each brick contained a title of a children's book (the book referenced in this brick can be found here) and a sponsor could "buy" a brick for $100 prior to the building of the classroom. I found it to be so heartwarming looking through the books that people held close to their hearts.

With all this work, I have (obviously) been very busy! However, there is always time to head down to the beach to put my feet in the water (it's still too chilly down here for a good swim - today is the best day thus far and it's only 75). As usual, I'm enjoying myself at work and in my spare time. I'm trying to read a book a week this summer and this week, the book that I have chosen is called "The Color of Water" by James McBride. So far so good. And for those of you who care or are curious, last week was "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. Equally wonderful and a super interesting non-fiction read. I'll make sure to keep you all updated on my progress (both personally and professionally) for the remainder of my internship. Until next week!

Week 3!

This week was so busy, I almost forgot to publish my post for this week (sorry about that, folks). This week started out on Monday with me finishing up preparations for my project - including making a supply list and merging that with my budget, researching how to implement a QR code for an audio tour the farm will be adding to the Nature Explore Classroom, and finalizing my list of projects that I'm going to work on!

After several long weeks of preparation, I finally started doing a project! This began on Sunday when my friend Marissa and I went to Southold Town beach and collected 360+ nicely-sized rocks!

Surprisingly, that only took us 20-30 minutes (and I got to watch a super beautiful sunset on the water right afterwards, so I definitely was not complaining about having to be at the beach). On Monday, I brought my rocks to the farm and washed them off and then pre-sketched all the letters onto the rocks so they could be painted the following day that I was at the farm.

On Thursday morning, I scoured the farm for acrylic paints that we may have already had and began painting some of the rocks with that (below). Unfortunately, we only had 3 good colors (and of course, I'm a color addict, so I really wanted more than that for this project). Fortunately, one of my field supervisors (Katie) was super understanding about the fact that I needed more paint and we took a trip to Michaels to get supplies for the rocks (paints, paintbrushes, sealer, etc.) and a few of my other upcoming projects.

After returning to the farm, I finally got to start painting the bulk of them!

Now, I never really knew how to conceptualize 360 rocks before today, but now I know that that means literally an eight-hour day of just painting rocks.

I've added this photo (right) so that you all can begin to conceptualize how many rocks 360 really is! A ton! Regardless, I got it done and was really pleased with the final results. Next week, I will be sealing them so that they can be outside safely and will not chip or blister, etc. From here, I think that my next project will be the ribbon chandeliers. I don't foresee those taking too long, but I'm hoping that sometime soon I can get started on the mud kitchen!

International Mud Day is coming faster than I had expected (it's this coming Saturday at 10 AM at the farm!) and I am not as prepared as I'd like to be, but still truckin' along! I think the implementation of that project will be a real game-changer for the Nature Explore Classroom (or at least I hope it will - I know I would've loved a mud kitchen as a kid). But anyway, I hope you all are having as great a summer as I am! Until next week.

Week 4!

I cannot believe that it's already my fourth week! As I write this (on Sunday actually - past my deadline), I am in shock that I only have 9 days left of my internship! This coming week, I will work Monday - Friday, and then the following week will be a four-day week, with July 4th on Tuesday.

Anyway, this week was absolutely crazy! I (of course) got my weekly dose of run-ins with the farm cats (my favorite of which is pictured to the left), I got time at the Riverhead office, and yesterday (Saturday) was our celebration for international mud day! International mud day is actually June 29th, but for the sake of having a good turn out, we celebrated it the weekend before. For those who don't know know, mud day is literally just a day in which kids and adults come to the farm and play in mud (the entire time).

At the farm, that means two huge kiddie pools filled with topsoil are plopped on the ground, and water is added in the morning. Progressively, throughout the day, children play in the pools, carry the mud around, sit in it, step on it, throw it at each other (and their parents), scoop it up with kitchen utensils and shovels, put it in baking pans, etc. The aftermath is what you see (right). When the pools are picked up, there is a 4-inch layer of mud left on the ground everywhere except where the pools were stationed. As you can imagine, the clean up for this event took a substantial amount of time, even with several people helping to get everything de-muddied. In fact, I think there is mud so deeply embedded in my feet right now that I'm at least 3 sheets browner from ankle down (even after several hose- offs and a shower).

So, now to backtrack. This week I spent a lot of time prepping for International Mud Day. The biggest project that I worked on was making the mud kitchen (left)! This took several sketches and re-sketches, several trips to different stores, and a lot of help from Richard, the man who does maintenance work for the farm. It took a total of 7 hours, and by the end I couldn't feel my forearm (I used nails, not screws, ugh). However, I got my supplies on Thursday afternoon and it was finished by Friday and usable for Mud Day (which was the goal of this internship).

In total, the farm had about 2,000 people present for some portion of the festivities, a large number of those people being under the age of 5! I was super pleased to see people enjoying the mud kitchen during the day, especially little people (one of these little people pictured left). The concept was stemmed from my boss Allison and I (with a little help from pinterest) and the execution was mostly me (although my dad's insistence that I learn how to use power tools in middle and high school did come in handy).

Fortunately, my mud kitchen was a disaster by the end of Mud Day! Anything less would have meant that I did my job poorly. Luckily, however, it is really easy to clean again (just take the bowls out and hose it off) and it's back to usable condition! Overall, I would definitely recommend this project to any adult who has children or who works with children - little ones are so infrequently allowed to get dirty anymore and it is a critical part of childhood!

I was also lucky enough to have several of my other classroom additions ready in time for International Mud Day! Both my painted rocks and my scales were debuted that day (and from what I saw, kids were really enjoying them). Pictures of those can also be found below! I think there are a few things that I'd like to add or change, but overall I'm extremely pleased with the progress that I've made thus far. With a little under two weeks left, I'm signing off!

Week 5!

This week was, as usual, pretty hectic! I finished up several projects, including the water tables and my ribbon chandelier!

As you can see, my ribbon chandelier came out pretty cool! I was going for technicolor and really appealing to the eye (especially the young child's eye) and I think that's exactly how it came out! While I was securing it onto the gazebo, there was there this girl Marissa (who looked to be about two years old) with her parents and she kept coming up to me repeatedly saying, "there's a birthday party today!" because the ribbon chandelier looks like birthday streamers. Of course, her parents were rushing her along because her one-year-old brother was fussing, but what an incredible observation, connection, and conclusion on her part!

Finally, after it was hung up she got to go inside the hoop! As an added bonus, this was intended to a pretend play prop, which I believe it was for her. The entire time I was hanging this up, her hands were full of the letter rocks I painted, and she was putting them in the cupcake tins from Mud Day, calling them eggs she was using for "brownies" for the birthday that was happening! Very cool and imaginative little girl, indeed.

We were also fortunate enough to receive a donation from someone the other day of a whole set of painted wooden "blocks." They were really just a a 2" x 2" piece of wood cut into smaller pieces, but that's all blocks ever are anyway, and plus, they were a donation, so they were better than nothing and the person was generous to have brought them all the way over here when they could have thrown them out! Anyway! I upcycled them with some of the leftover acrylic paint from the letter rocks and now we have a really cool set of blocks that I'll be putting outside later today!

And finally I was able to somewhat finish my water tables! I still need some of the PVC pipe connectors for the actual base, but my frogs came in, so the inside of them is done, which is very cool! I added some beach rocks as well, making it a little more realistic looking (and the kids can take the beach rocks out, so that's an additional thing to get some tactile experience with). Overall, I would say that my projects are going well and I am looking forward to wrapping everything up next week though I truly cannot believe that 6 weeks went by so quickly. It really does feel like yesterday that I was proctoring the Human Bonding Exam in Barton Hall! Anyway, thanks all for reading. Until next week!

 

Amelia Hritz, the first student in Human Development's Dual PhD and JD Program in Developmental Psychology and Law, was featured in a recent post reprinted from the Cornell Law School website, May 17, 2017.

Amelia Hritz

Two weeks before its 2017 convocation, Cornell Law School celebrated twenty-two, soon-to-be graduates who received coveted judicial clerkships. The celebration included a champagne toast by faculty, alumni, and staff at Myron Taylor Hall.

The event was the first of its kind to highlight the growing number of graduates who clerk for judges at all levels of the state and federal court systems across the country. The future clerks were honored by Eduardo Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law; John Blume, the Samuel F. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques; and Judge Richard Wesley ’74 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

"Over the last decade, we've definitely seen an increase in the number of clerkships for each graduating class," said Elizabeth Peck, assistant dean for professional development and clerkships. "Clerkships have become a much greater priority for our institution."

One way the Law School has made a stronger commitment to clerkships was by creating a new position for Peck to help current law students and recent graduates land clerking positions. The Clerkship Celebration, held on April 26, is another way the law school is highlighting the value of clerkships.

"Securing a judicial clerkship is a 'capstone event' based on years of hard work and academic excellence, both before our students arrive at Cornell and during their time here with us, high above Cayuga's waters," Blume, chair of the faculty clerkship committee, said at the event.

Amelia Courtney Hritz, ’17, who is working on a Ph.D. in Cornell's joint program in developmental psychology and law, was one of the graduates honored at the celebration. She will clerk for Judge Peter Hall ’77 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for a one-year term beginning in 2019.

"I'm excited to learn more about how judges think by observing what types of legal arguments are persuasive to Judge Hall," Hritz said. "I think that by clerking I will gain a different perspective and become a better lawyer."

Hritz, former editor in chief of the Cornell Law Review, said she became interested in the Second Circuit when the Law Review published a special volume containing biographies of all the judges who served on the court for its 125th anniversary last year. She decided to pursue clerking while taking the class, Federal Appellate Practice, which Wesley and Blume co-taught last fall.

Peck, a former clerk herself, said clerking for a judge allows graduates to sharpen their skills in a number of areas, including legal research and writing. "It also provides clerks with a lifelong mentor and great networking opportunities," she said. "It's the kind of credential that will be valuable for the rest of their careers."

By Allison M. Hermann

The Department of Human Development commended the graduating seniors of 2017 who made exceptional contributions to research and outreach.


The Henry Ricciuti Award for Outstanding Seniors in Human Development

Front row, left: Brian LaGrant, Angel Khuu, Prof. Elaine Wethington, Joanna Ezratty, Danielle Weinstein Center row, left: Emily Hagen, Ben Zang, Prof. Qi Wang, Assoc. Prof. Eve De Rosa Back row, left: Assoc. Prof. Adam Anderson, Prof. Robert Sternberg, Marcos Moreno, Sharnendra Sidhu, Assoc. Prof. Corinna Loeckenhoff, Deaven Winebrake (Not pictured: Anna Claire G. Fernández)

Ten graduating Human Development seniors received the Henry Ricciuti Award for having achieved "distinction in research, excellence in leadership, and/or have contributed to exceptional community and public service during their undergraduate career at Cornell University." Dr. Ricciuti  taught at Cornell for 53 years and was an expert in the cognitive and emotional development of infants and children and mentored many students in human development.


The Janet and Joseph Zuckerman Award for Excellence in Human Development Studies

From left: Prof. Elaine Wethington, Brian
LaGrant, Assoc. Prof. Eve De Rosa, Prof.
Anthony Ong

The Janet and Joseph Zuckerman Award is given to a senior whose honor's thesis is judged by HD faculty to be the most outstanding of the year. Brian LaGrant wrote “Individual Differences in Perspective Taking with Interactive Social Learning” and was advised by Dr. Eve De Rosa.  Here is the abstract from his thesis:

Imitation and perspective taking have been studied extensively independently, but little research has examined how they can impact one other. The purpose of this study was to determine how one’s perspective on a model performing a behavior can impact how veridically the observer imitates the behavior, and whether individual differences in autistic traits can mediate this relationship. 57 young adults and 29 young children were randomly assigned to observe a model open a puzzle box from one of three perspectives (0º, 90º, or 180º relative to model). All participants then attempted to open it from the model’s perspective. Surprisingly, perspective did not affect success rate or overimitation, but did show an unexpected effect on reaction time in adults. As predicted, autistic traits score did mediate some outcomes among individuals in the 90º and 180º conditions. Lowtrait adults had significantly more success at opening the puzzle box than hightrait adults. Moreover, the perspective from which participants desired to open the box was accurately predicted as a function of autistic traits: high-trait children were more likely to choose the perspective they initially observed from, whereas low-trait children were more likely to pick another perspective. The findings suggest that although the perspective from which one watches someone else solve a novel task does not substantially guide task performance, individuals with high levels of autistic traits can exhibit, and might be unconsciously aware of, deficits in imitation and perspective taking. Key implications of these results are discussed.


The Urie Bronfenbrenner Awards for Achievement in Research

From left: Prof. Qi Wang, Angel Khuu,
Sharnendra Sidhu, Assoc. Prof. Corinna
Loeckenhoff

The Urie Bronfenbrenner Award was presented to two students who demonstrated excellence in research. Urie Bronfenbrenner taught at Cornell for over 50 years and was a highly influential developmental psychologist famous for his holistic approach to human development. Angel Khuu received the award for her research project, "How Do you Remember More Accurately? Young Adults Postdating Earliest Childhood Memories " and was advised by Dr. Wang. Here is the abstract from her thesis:

Thirty-two young adults were recruited on SONA, a Cornell University Psychology Experiment Sign-up system. They reported their five earliest memories and the properties of these memories (i.e. personal significance). Parents were then contacted to confirm these memories and dating estimates, and to provide any additional details. Consistent with the first hypothesis, these young adults postdated memories before 48 months and predated memories after 48 months. Furthermore, more dating techniques was associated with less dating error and the most frequently used techniques were seasons, school year, and landmark events, consistent with my second hypothesis. Finally, memories with landmark events were not different in dating error from memories without, evidence against the third. This study is the first to examine postdating effects in young adults. These findings have important implications on autobiographical processes.

Sharnendra Sidhu also received the Bronfenbrenner award for her research project, "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Pain Self-Management Techniques Among Older Adults with Chronic Pain" and was adivsed by Dr. Loeckenhoff. Here is the abstract from her thesis:

The literature suggests that the adoption and use of pain-management techniques varies across racial and ethnic groups. However, potential mechanisms for the observed differences remain unclear. The present study wished to determine whether the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) could predict the use of two types of self-management techniques, exercise and psychological strategies, among White, Black, and Hispanic older adults with chronic pain (n = 134). Thus, we examined participants’ attitudes, perceived control, implementation intentions, and usage of these two techniques as well as the influence of race/ethnicity on this model. The results were consistent with the TPB, however race/ethnicity only showed to be a main effect on exercise usage. The implications and limitations of this study will be discussed in order to provide suggestions for future research.


Honors in Human Development

Front row, left: Professor Elaine Wethington, Professor Anthony Ong
Back row, left: Leona Sharpstene, Brian LaGrant, Angel Khuu,
Sharnendra Sidhu, Deaven Winebrake, Hsiang Ling Tsai
(Not pictured: Anna Claire G. Fernández)

The following seniors received Honors in Human Development having completed original, empirical research, and wrote and defended a honors thesis: Anna Claire G. Fernández, Angel Khuu, Brian LeGrant, Sharnendra Sidhu, Leona Sharpstene, Hsiang Ling Tsai, and Deaven Winebrake.

Congratulations to all of the 2017 Human Development graduates!

Reprinted from Ezra Magazine, September 2016 Issue

Camille Sims '15 says fate brought her to Cornell. And now it has propelled her to reign as Miss New York and to finish second runner-up in September's Miss America competition.

Camille Sims

Camille Sims '15 visits the College of Human Ecology Sept. 21. Photo: Mark Vorreuter.

As a teen growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Sims volunteered with her mother in soup kitchens, joining the fight against hunger and homelessness. One day, while checking out books in an Atlanta public library, a Cornell recruiter approached her and encouraged her to attend an information session for the College of Human Ecology. There she discovered "how the college represents improving the human condition, solving social problems, and using research as a means to create social justice and to help people live better," she says.

"After that, I said, 'Mom, this is it, this is my school! I have to be there!'" Sims recalls.

As a freshman and a Meinig Family Cornell National Scholar, Sims sought out Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development, whose research on youth purpose and identity she had been tracking since high school. She took "every class that he offered" and conducted research and an independent study through his Purpose and Identity Processes Laboratory. Her project explored how mass incarceration impairs adolescent transitions into adulthood and sparked her to work with Ultimate Re-entry Opportunity of Tompkins County, which supports former inmates.

Today, she continues her work on reintegration and other social justice issues as a coordinator with Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Multicultural Resource Center.

"I wouldn't be doing the work that I am doing now had it not been for the conversations and experiences in Professor Burrow's classes and lab," Sims says.

"Because of her innovative scholarship and passion to contribute to the health of the communities in which she lives, Camille makes a formidable ally to those enduring imprisonment and who will eventually re-enter the community," Burrow says. "Her particular talents are noticeable and effective -- she's the kind of student who demands there always be greater meaning to the assignments in which she engages."

Crowned Miss New York in May, Sims is using her title to raise awareness for her platform, Ensuring Wellness and Fostering Food Justice. Sims was drawn to the cause from her early experiences fighting hunger, as well as her work as a Cornell undergraduate at Ithaca's Southside Community Center, where she has helped low-income families with eating healthfully on a budget. Sims credits Cornell's Public Service Center for matching her with local groups as a freshman and her Human Ecology education with making her more effective as an advocate.

"I took classes in nutrition and health, human development and nearly enough for a minor in policy analysis and management," Sims says. "I've been able to develop an understanding of the food system from all these perspectives and tie that into my Miss America platform."

A jazz singer and songwriter who plans to release her second album this fall, Sims hopes to use her winnings from the Miss New York and Miss America competitions to pay for graduate school, where she plans to continue her research in human development. Ultimately, she hopes to inspire others to engage with their communities and fight for social justice.

"Caring is crucial to moving anything forward," says Sims. "For us to move forward as a society, we must ask questions about the food system and start conversations about inequity. There can't be apathy about inequality and social justice if you want to thrive as a community."

-- Ted Boscia is director of communications and media for the College of Human Ecology.

Camille Sims joins teens building computers on The Ithaca Commons

Sims joins local teens learning how to build computers at an event on the Ithaca Commons hosted by Cornell University and the Southside Community Center during National Week of Making, June 17-23. Photo: provided.

Reprinted from the College of Human Ecology, NewsHub

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17

Brian LaGrant ‘17; Photo by Mark Vorreuter

In faculty research labs, in communities across the state, and at jobs and internships around the globe, Human Ecology undergrads are making a powerful impact this summer as they apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Brian LaGrant ’17, a human development major from New Hartford, N.Y., discusses his research on factors surrounding imitation among children and adults:

What are you working on this summer?

I’m working on social learning in children and adults. I’m in the Affect and Cognition Lab. We work primarily on neuroscience research, but we’re also doing another project on social learning.

We have this apparatus like a puzzle box, and it’s supposed to simulate something that you haven’t seen before. People can watch somebody else see how to open it and then they can have their turn trying to open it. So that’s what we’re using to measure imitation.

When you copy somebody, they can have different characteristics, like they might be smart or they’re not sure how to open the box. They might be a very prestigious individual or a very well-respected individual or not so much. We want to see how those two factors—knowledge and prestige—can affect how much that model is imitated by children and adults.

How does this work relate to your coursework?

I’ve done a lot of neuroscience research, and this is a little different from what I’m used to, but I really like it because it ties into human culture and how we have evolved over many generations. Social learning is a very important aspect of development, especially a concept called the “ratchet effect,” which is how we innovate new technology over time. I haven’t really focused on social learning throughout my undergraduate years, but it’s a nice complement to the other kind of education I’ve been focusing on.

Who are your Human Ecology mentors?

I’ve formed a few close relationships within the College of Human Ecology as a whole, and specifically human development. Professor Marianella Casasola has been there with me since day one. When I lived in Donlon Hall, she was a faculty-in-residence and from there we formed a close relationship, and I was able to do some research with her, and she’s taught some of my classes over time. Professor Eve De Rosa, one of the principal investigators in my lab, has been a great help, and she’s so nice and so welcoming to any ideas that I have. They’ve both been very important to my development at Cornell.

What excites you about your research?

What excites me the most is that this is my first time having more of an independent role in the research where I can design the experiments and start running them on my own. Having that authority and independence is really, really exciting, and it makes me want to perform research in the future.

What societal impacts does your work have?

One thing I’ve been looking at recently is how autistic children might act differently at these tasks, and that’s something I could study in the future. For the area of research I’m focusing on, social learning, this kind of research hasn’t been done before. I think it’s important because looking at two or three different conflicting factors like I am is a better simulation of what the real world is like. Previous research has only looked at one factor, but there are so many different factors at play—whether a person is knowledgeable, prestigious, and things like that. I think my research is delving more into that area.

Brian’s summer project, The Influences of Model Social Status and Knowledge State on Imitation in Children and Adults, is funded by a College of Human Ecology summer research stipend, which provides undergraduate students will funding for full-time research with a faculty member.

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17; photo by Mark Vorreuter.

By Nora Rabah, Allison M. Hermann, Thomas W. Craig, and David Garavito

David Garavito, graduate student in the Law, Psychology, and Human Development Program, under the supervision of Dr. Valerie Reyna, is working with communities in New York and around the country with support from an Engaged Cornell grant for student research. He is working with coaches and student athletes to study the effects of concussions on decision making about risks. For his dissertation research, Garavito is developing a model based upon Dr. Reyna’s Fuzzy Trace Theory (FTT) which integrates research on Alzheimer’s dementia (AD), behavioral economics and decision making, and neuroscience to study the perception of risks associated with sports-related concussions among people vulnerable to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Garavito and undergraduates in the Laboratory for Rational Decision Making are working with a growing number of students, coaches, and administrators from high schools and colleges in New York (including Watkins Glen and Moravia high schools, Cornell University, and Ithaca College), Colorado, and Minnesota. Engagement with sports communities has provided the team with the opportunity to educate--and listen to-- the public about current research on concussions and how values or principles can affect perceptions and decisions about concussion risk. Garavito has found that coaches are very supportive of research projects that aim to help keep athletes safe and further knowledge about concussions. Many athletes have enthusiastically agreed to volunteer in Garavito’s studies. The student team also has been working with the Ithaca Youth Bureau and the experiences of coaches and educators at the center have been essential in the development of interactive activities to teach youth about the brain and concussions. The ultimate goal of the concussion intervention is to strengthen healthy values and educate people about risks, and the importance of reporting symptoms of concussions.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a form of dementia, like Alzheimer’s, which results in an accumulation of tau proteins in the brain, however, the onset and progression of CTE is related to a history of concussions. Athletes in contact sports are particularly vulnerable to CTE because many athletes fail to report concussions and their symptoms – a very risky decision that could result in brain damage and cognitive impairment. Using the FTT framework, Garavito and his team of undergraduates are studying this underreporting phenomenon.

Although current research on the underreporting of concussions has brought about the creation of laws mandating concussion education nationwide, research based on FTT has shown that not all education programs are equal. How people process information can have a profound effect on how they make decisions (Mills, Reyna, Estrada, 2008; Widmer, Wolfe, Reyna et al., 2015). Dr. Reyna’s research has shown that adolescents are more likely to rely on verbatim, surface-level details, whereas adults tend to rely on qualitative reasoning and the bottom-line gist of information (Reyna & Farley, 2006; Reyna, Estrada, DeMarinis et al., 2011). For example, if told an athlete has a 2/3 chance of having another concussion if they go back out on the field after having had a concussion on the same day, adolescents make their decisions about risk by considering the numbers and take the chance in order to play more sports because the benefits, to them, outweigh the risks. Adults, on the other hand, get the point that the mere possibility of a catastrophic injury, no matter how small, of getting another concussion (which could result in permanent brain damage or death), is not worth the risk for more playing time. This difference in information processing has not been studied in the underreporting or the perception of risks in sports-related injuries.

Many educational programs emphasize the acquisition of verbatim fact-based knowledge in the hope that these details will help the public understand and make better decisions. Unfortunately, this can lead to the opposite effect – giving people more detailed information causes them to engage in greater precise deliberation and leads them to take unnecessary risks. Football players, for example, may know verbatim facts about the symptoms of concussions, but still “gamble” by not reporting their symptoms, instead of choosing the “sure thing” of being safe and reporting them. This risky decision-making among athletes, in turn, is exacerbated by impairment from prior concussions.

Currently, Garavito, Dr. Reyna, and their team of undergraduates, are using scales based on FTT, to test several important hypotheses. These scales are sensitive measures that can detect if a person is relying more on categorical than fact-based thinking. Fuzzy Trace Theory predicts that categorical or gist-based thinking is more developmentally advanced and can deter people from taking dangerous risks. Garavito hypothesizes that adolescents affected by cumulative concussions may rely less on categorical thinking than non-concussed adolescents. This could lead concussed adolescents to engage in greater risk-taking, in general. Garavito and Reyna are studying whether FTT measures can cue developmentally advanced categorical thinking. Cuing adolescents to engage in categorical thinking will lead them to approach dangerous risks like adults, and is consistent with Dr. Reyna’s research on other types of risk-taking behavior (Reyna, Wilhelms, McCormick et al., 2015).

Nora Rabah is a Biology and Society major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Allison M. Hermann is the Research and Outreach Manager for the Laboratory for Rational Decision Making.

Thomas W. Craig is the Law, Psychology and Human Development Program Assistant.

David Garavito is a graduate student in the Law, Psychology, and Human Development Program at the College of Human Ecology.

DIV. 7 AWARD WINNERS

Early Career Outstanding Paper Award winner: Sarah R. Moore

A summary of Sarah R. Moore's research, “Neurobehavioral Foundation of Environmental Reactivity.”

By Sarah R. Moore

Sarah Moore, Ph.D. student in Human Development

Sarah R. Moore, Ph.D. student in Human Development

In this review article, I propose a framework for understanding the neurobiological processes that guide how individuals navigate and internalize environments. Previous work brought to attention the empirical evidence that some individuals with particular temperaments, physiological characteristics and, more recently, genetic polymorphisms, demonstrate heightened effects of social environments on development (Belsky & Pluess, 2009). My review article, published in Psychological Bulletin, steps beyond this question of whether individuals vary in responses to social environments, which is now well-established, to why individuals differ in their responses. In other words, I set out to address: What underlies this variation in sensitivity to experience, and how does it develop?

Since the publication of seminal work on gene-environment interactions (Caspi et al., 2002, 2003), gene-environment interaction has become quite common in investigations of individual differences in responsiveness to environmental factors. Collectively, the work suggests that particular genes encoding neurochemicals relate to the degree that social contexts have enduring consequences on developmental outcomes. What was missing in this area was an explanation as to how variation of these neurobiological systems shapes individual differences in the enduring consequences of environmental factors. The first part of my review article thus addresses the neurobiological functions of genes commonly implicated in gene-environment interaction studies of sensitivity. These functions bridge genetic variation affecting neural systems to actual differences in neuroplasticity processes to environmental inputs, explaining mechanistically why particular genotypes might be linked to larger effects of the environment on development.

Inherent to the notion of plasticity is the critical role of experience. Plasticity means that environments are interacting with biology in the development of traits. Despite this accepted view of development as plastic, and thus involving an ongoing interplay of biology and experience, there still exists a heavy emphasis on genetics, in and of itself, wherever one or more genes might be implicated. In the second part of my review, a developmental framework is proposed that accounts for the dynamic nature of the biological processes that are affected by genes. Simply put, if a genetic factor shapes plasticity to the environment, then the history of environmental effects on the biology of the brain is as important to understanding outcomes as the genetic susceptibility factor: Any long-term consequences of such a factor is intrinsically dependent on the surrounding environmental context.

Taken together, the importance of this article lies in its novel insights into the mechanisms that may account for individual variations in sensitivity at a point where the field is in need of such an analysis. For the increasing number of developmentalists turning to research on genetic and biological markers of sensitivity, this article serves to inform the biological role of the prominently studied genes in human development. It also highlights other biological systems relevant to how experiences are registered and internalized. The article advances the current literature's myopic focus on identifying genetic plasticity markers to understanding the plasticity processes at play. The plasticity of neurobiological systems directly accounts for who responds and adapts and to what in the environment. This is essential for understanding developmental change, and for identifying targetable mechanisms of risk. After all, changing genes is not an option.

Ultimately, this article is intended to jumpstart more in-depth research aimed at understanding the nuanced developmental trajectories of individuals with different susceptibilities and unique histories. Understanding how biological tendencies are modified by experience will pave the way for tailored interventions that target the specific needs of individuals and, ultimately, improve psychological and physical health outcomes. I will be continuing this work as a scholar at the Child and Family Research Institute at the University of British Columbia. In this next phase, I will investigate the epigenetic mediators bridging the interplay of genetic variation and experience to neurodevelopment.

References

Belsky, J., & Pluess, M. (2009). Beyond diathesis stress: Differential susceptibility to environmental influences. Psychological Bulletin, 135 (6), 885–908.

Caspi, A., McClay, J., Moffitt, T. E., Mill, J., Martin, J., Craig, I. W., et al. (2002). Role of genotype in the cycle of violence in maltreated children. Science, 297 (5582), 851–854.

Caspi, A., Sugden, K., Moffitt, T. E., Taylor, A., Craig, I. W., Harrington, H., et al. (2003). Influence of life stress on depression: Moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science, 301 (5631), 386–389.