Tag Archives: adolescence

Valerie Reyna

Science Friday, August, 25, 2017.

Ira Flatow, host of NPR's Science Friday, discusses a recently published paper which HD's Valerie Reyna co-authored as part of a collaboration between researchers at Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania.

The Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making (Bronfenbrenner Series on the Ecology of Human Development)

Edited by Valerie F. Reyna and Vivian Zayas

Risky choices about sex, drugs and drinking, as well as diet, exercise, money and health care pervade our lives and can have dire consequences. Now, a new book aims to help us understand the neural roots of bad decisions. The Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making (APA Books) synthesizes the research in this relatively young field for the first time, and introduces new models of brain function to explain and predict risky behavior.

The harm caused by risky decision-making is enormous understanding how the brain processes risks and rewards is the key to unraveling the mystery of irrational decision-making in real life, said Valerie Reyna, Lois and Melvin Tukman Professor of Human Development, Director of the Human Neuroscience Institute in the College of Human Ecology and the Cornell MRI Facility.

We anticipate this work will transform the next phase of research in the field and inform policy and practice innovations that can save lives and improve health and well-being, said Reyna, who co-edited the volume with Vivian Zayas, associate professor of psychology at Cornell.

In the book, leading neuroeconomists, neuroscientists and social scientists discuss recent findings on why people take risks and how risky choices shift in different circumstances and across the life span.

Dear Readers


FEATURES

Simple questionnaire predicts unprotected sex, binge drinking

Valerie Reyna and Evan Wilhelms developed a new questionnaire for predicting who is likely to engage in risky behaviors, including, unprotected sex and binge drinking. Their questionnaire significantly outperforms 14 other gold-standard measures frequently used in economics and psychology.


  Study challenges model of Alzheimer's disease progression 

 The research of Professor Nathan Spreng and his collaborators sheds light on the basal forebrain region, where the degeneration of neural tissue caused by Alzheimer’s disease appears before cognitive and behavioral symptoms emerge.


 Social media boosts remembrance of things past

A new study – the first to look at social media’s effect on memory – suggests posting personal experiences on social media makes those events much easier to recall.


Experts Address Elder Financial Abuse as Global Problem

Financial exploitation of older people by those who should be protecting them results in devastating health, emotional and psychological consequences. International elder abuse experts met at Weill Cornell Medicine to map out a strategy for conducting research on this problem.


For kids, poverty means psychological deficits as adults

Childhood poverty can cause significant psychological deficits in adulthood, according to a sweeping new study by Professor Gary Evans. The research, conducted by tracking participants over a 15-year period, is the first to show this damage occurs over time and in a broad range of ways.


STUDENTS IN THE NEWS

Miss New York Camille Sims fights for social justice     

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


Summer Scholar Spotlight: Brian LaGrant ‘17       

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


Risky decisions and concussions

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.


ARTICLES ON THE WEB

Alzheimer’s early tell: The language of authors who suffered from dementia has a story for the rest of us

Adrienne Day writes about how Barbara Lust, professor in Human Development, and other researchers are studying changes in language patterns in early Alzheimer’s disease.


 MULTIMEDIA

Listen to Associate Professor Corinna Loeckenhoff discuss self-continuity, or our perceived connections with our past and future selves.


Hear Professor Adam Anderson talk about his research in the podcast, "Brain waves: The science of emotion" for The Guardian.

Students and professors in Human Development worked this past summer to move their research into the real world at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills.

Kathleen McCormick '16 and Alexandra Holmes '16 invite students to join the journaling study - Mark Vorreuter

Kathleen McCormick '16 and Alexandra Holmes '16 invite students to join the journaling study - Mark Vorreuter

Guided by  human development undergraduates Alexandra Holmes '16 and Kathleen McCormick '16, campers reflected on puberty in the "Writing about Life Changes" study led by Jane Mendle, assistant professor of human development.

Following a successful pilot study last summer, Mendle is again partnering with camp director Tim Davis to study the health benefits of writing about teen transitions.

“The 4-H program has always had a wonderful connection with the university,” says Davis, interim executive director and 4-H program leader of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ontario County.

“There is a real emphasis on how the camp experience will develop the whole child, and if there is a good fit between faculty and our priority areas – healthy living, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), or workforce development – we’re very open to discussing partnerships.”

Lindsay Dower ’17 guides students in a nutrition game – Mark Vorreuter

Lindsay Dower ’17 guides students in a nutrition game – Mark Vorreuter

Indeed, 4-H Camp Bristol Hills is becoming a prime spot for Cornell professors and students to pursue research and outreach projects. Along with Mendle’s study this summer, the camp hosted the “Health and Brain Neuroscience Outreach” project by Valerie Reyna, professor of human development. Lindsay Dower '17, an undergraduate in human development, engaged campers in learning about neuroscience, genetics and nutrition through interactive games and bottom-line messages about health designed to help young people make healthy choices.

Read the full story

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, October 9, 2014

Teaching adolescents to think more simply and categorically about risks helps them make healthier choices, finds a recently published, randomized experiment by Cornell psychologist Valerie Reyna. Her research shows that adolescents can be taught to think in these more protective, adult-like ways even though their brains are still developing, she says.

“We found that emphasizing bottom-line meaning was more effective than the standard approach for reducing risky sexual behaviors because such gist messages are preserved over longer periods and are key memories used in decision-making,” said Reyna, professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, reporting results from her extensive study testing interventions to reduce sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy among adolescents.

“The goals of most risk reduction interventions are to enhance risk perceptions in order to overcome adolescents’ belief that they are invulnerable and to turn intuitive adolescent decision-makers into analytical, unbiased adults – but ironically, these aims are misguided,” Reyna said.

“Most adults reason more categorically than adolescents and base their decisions on the gist of information; they barely consider engaging in many high-risk behaviors because they intuitively grasp the risks and call up their experience and values more quickly,” she explained.

“Adolescents, on the other hand, take more time to weigh the benefits and risks, and often decide in favor of the benefits.”

Reyna and coauthor Britain Mills, Ph.D. ’09, developed a new risk-reduction program by incorporating her research on how adolescents reason into the proven sex education curriculum, Reducing the Risk (RTR). The main difference between the two curricula is that Reyna’s adaptation emphasizes framing typical sexual decisions in categorical ways that should promote risk avoidance (i.e. “even low risks add up to 100 percent if you keep on doing it”). Both curricula communicate the same facts about risk, but their gist-enhanced program, RTR+, promotes gist extraction, automatic retrieval of relevant personal values and automatic application of those values, Reyna and Mills say.

The effectiveness of the new curriculum was compared to the original and to an unrelated curriculum in a random, controlled trial design involving more than 700 youth in Arizona, Texas and New York. Participants took part in 14 hours of classroom instruction and activities, with follow-up surveys at completion and every 3 months up to a year after the intervention.

Reyna and Mills found that RTR+ produced improvements for 17 outcomes, whereas RTR produced improvement for 12. Effects of RTR+ were greater than RTR for nine outcomes and remained significantly greater than controls at one-year follow-up for 12 outcomes. Only RTR+ had a significant impact on measures of sexual behavior. Participants in the RTR+ group delayed initiation of sexual activity longer, had a lower increase in number of sexual partners, fewer unprotected sexual acts, less favorable attitudes toward sex and greater perception of risks of sex compared to the other two groups.

Their results suggest that by emphasizing gist representations, which are preserved over longer periods and are key memories used in decision-making, the enhanced intervention produced larger and more sustained effects on adolescent sexual risk taking, the authors say.

The study, “Theoretically motivated interventions for reducing sexual risk taking in adolescence: A randomized controlled experiment applying Fuzzy-Trace-Theory,” funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(4).

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

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Valerie Reyna
The paper
College of Human Ecology

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, June 23, 2014

Mendle

Mendle

Genetic factors related to how sexually mature a girl thinks she is influence her sexual behavior, above and beyond her actual physical development, reports a new study.

The study, published in June in Developmental Psychology (Vol. 50:6), is the first to directly test the link between pubertal timing and involvement in specific sexual behaviors, disentangling the genetic and environmental influences shaping adolescent sexual timing and behavior, the authors say. Their findings indicate that unique genetic factors influencing how mature girls think they are predict their engagement in dating, romantic sex and casual sex, whereas genetic factors associated with the timing of puberty predict the age when girls first become sexually active.

Sara Moore

Moore

“We’ve known for a long time that when kids go through puberty is strongly influenced by genetic factors, but there’s more to puberty than just biology,” says Jane Mendle, assistant professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and recipient of this year’s Young Investigator’s Award from the Society for Research on Adolescence.

“Dramatic social and environmental changes take place as kids transition into the new roles that come with sexual maturity; it turns out that how girls interpret and respond to these changes is also genetically influenced,” Mendle says.

“While environmental influences are extremely important in the dating and sexual outcomes we studied, we were surprised that genetic factors played such a large role,” Mendle adds.

“We suspect that genetically influenced traits such as sensation seeking and sociality could be at play in shaping how teens navigate the complex social environments surrounding puberty,” says Cornell graduate student Sarah Moore, who is first author on the study, “Pubertal Timing and Adolescent Sexual Behavior in Girls” with Mendle and K. Paige Harden from the University of Texas.

The researchers analyzed information from more than 900 female sibling pairs in a national longitudinal study of adolescent health and risk behavior. The pairs included identical twins, fraternal twins, half siblings, cousins and unrelated siblings, allowing the researchers to distinguish the effects of environment from heredity.

The team found that shared genetic influences on age of puberty and on how girls perceive their physical maturity were responsible for differences in the age at which girls became sexually active. Girls who matured earlier than their peers perceived earlier maturity and also initiated sex at an earlier age. Potentially, this is because genetic factors such as hormone levels influence age of menarche and also affect visible appearance and sexual desire, the authors say.

Genetic factors related only to girls’ perceived maturity, on the other hand, were responsible for their engagement in sexual behavior. Girls who perceived earlier maturity than their peers were more engaged in dating, romantic sex and nonromantic sex. Furthermore, the team found no association between girls’ involvement in specific sexual behaviors and genetic or environmental factors influencing the onset of puberty. In other words, pubertal timing itself is not a risk factor for casual sex as some prior research had suggested, say the authors.

“Our research shows that girls’ perceptions of their pubertal development are different from their actual pubertal development and drive different outcomes down the road,” Mendle concludes.

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

Related Links:
Jane Mendle
The Paper

By Susan S. Lang
Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, March 3, 2014

Mendle

Mendle

The age at which people become sexually active is genetically influenced – but not when they grow up in stressful, low-income household environments, reports a new study.

“Our study shows that environmental influences – rather than genetic propensities – are more important in predicting age at first sex (AFS) for adolescents from stressful backgrounds, who have few societal and economic resources,” says Jane Mendle, assistant professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology, pointing out that genes determine when teens begin puberty, which is a strong predictor of AFS.

“In fact, genes contribute only negligibly to AFS for these teens. It can almost be thought of as the environment ‘taking over’ the natural developmental trajectory that might occur in a less stressful background,” she adds.

For teens from financially advantaged backgrounds, on the other hand, the environment is much less influential and genes play a more important role in predicting AFS, Mendle notes.

The study, co-authored with University of Texas at Austin researchers, was published online in January in the journal Developmental Psychology.

While many studies have examined either genetic influences or environmental influences on AFS, “ours was one of the very first to consider gene-environment interactions in AFS, or how genetic expression may vary according to environmental circumstances,” Mendle says.

Using a sample of 1,244 pairs of identical twins (who share 100 percent of their genes) and non-twin full siblings (who share 50 percent of their genes) from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the researchers found that genetic influences on AFS were suppressed among low-socioeconomic-status and ethnic-minority teens compared with higher socioeconomic status and ethnic-majority youth. Father absence did not uniquely moderate genetic influences on AFS.

“And because we looked at identical twins and siblings, we could account for the importance of big family differences – and that enabled us to focus solely on understanding the environmental influences in AFS,” she says.

In addition to genetic influences, the use of twins and siblings in the study design accounted for shared environmental influences, such as religion or certain aspects of parenting, for siblings in the same family and for environmental influences that were unique to each youth.

Their findings “are broadly consistent with previous findings that genetic influences are minimized among individuals whose environments are characterized by elevated risk,” the researchers wrote.

“There has been a lot of dialogue and controversy in America on how to handle adolescent sexuality, and what programs may be most effective in reducing some of the outcomes associated with high-risk sexual behavior in teens,” Mendle says. “Many factors predict whether a teen is sexually active and when he or she transitions to sexual maturity. Our results help us understand in what contexts these factors will be malleable.”

The study, “Early Adverse Environments and Genetic Influences on Age at First Sex: Evidence for Gene x Environment Interaction,” co-authored by Texas researchers Marie D. Carlson and K. Paige Harden, received no outside funding.

Related Information

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, December 10, 2013

NeuroRisky12-9Risky choices – about sex, drugs and drinking, as well as diet, exercise, money and health care – pervade our lives and can have dire consequences. Now, a new book aims to help us understand the neural roots of bad decisions. “The Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making” (APA Books) synthesizes the research in this relatively young field for the first time, and introduces new models of brain function to explain and predict risky behavior.

“The harm caused by risky decision-making is enormous – understanding how the brain processes risks and rewards is the key to unraveling the mystery of irrational decision-making in real life,” said Valerie Reyna, professor of human development, director of the Human Neuroscience Institute in the College of Human Ecology and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility.

“We anticipate this work will transform the next phase of research in the field and inform policy and practice innovations that can save lives and improve health and well-being,” said Reyna, who co-edited the volume with Vivian Zayas, associate professor of psychology at Cornell.

In the book, leading neuroeconomists, neuroscientists and social scientists discuss recent findings on why people take risks and how risky choices shift in different circumstances and across the life span.

An initial chapter by Reyna and Scott A. Huettel, neuroscientist at Duke University, sums up the research on how the brain responds during risky decision-making and introduces a new theoretical framework for explaining the mechanisms that drive behavior. The chapters that follow cover such topics as how risky decision-making changes dramatically from childhood to adolescence as a function of age-related changes in brain structure; the role of emotional regulation, self-control and personality differences in risky choices; and the social, cognitive and biological factors that shape risky behavior. The final chapter presents evidence for a new “triple” process model of how rewards and losses are evaluated in the brain, potentially resolving conflicts between current single and dual system theories.

The book is intended for researchers, students and professionals in the fields of social, cognitive and affective neuroscience; psychology; economics; law and public health.

This volume is part of the American Psychological Association’s Bronfenbrenner Series on the Ecology of Human Development, affiliated with the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, with authoritative contributions from leading experts in the field.

Reyna will discuss her new book in a “Chats in the Stacks” book talk Feb. 10 at noon in 160 Mann Library.

Karene Booker is extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

By Olivia M. Hall
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, September 17, 2013

From left, research assistants Meredith Moser '15, Natasha Herrick '15 and Leticia Vasquez '15 at Camp Bristol Hills, where they studied teen transitions this past summer - Mark Vorreuter

Summer camp is often about archery, swimming and singing around the fire. But this past summer, Natasha Herrick ’15, Leticia Vasquez ’15 and Meredith Moser ’15 were in for a different kind of camp adventure – their first academic research study.

Working with Jane Mendle, assistant professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology, the three served as research assistants for a pilot study to test expressive writing interventions with adolescent girls at 4-H Camp Bristol Hills in Canandaigua, N.Y.

The project, funded partly by Cornell’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, formed when Tim Davis, 4-H youth development program leader with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Ontario County, discussed possible collaborations at the residential summer camp with Mendle.

“Everybody knows that puberty is rough on kids, as relationships with parents and peers are changing,” Mendle said. “Our lab, like a lot of others interested in puberty, tends to focus on the consequences of puberty – which can include depression, anxiety, externalizing or ‘acting out’ behaviors, poor self-esteem and body dissatisfaction. In this project we wanted to explore what happens if we intervene before teens get to that point.”

Mendle’s research assistants lived at Bristol Hills and used free slushies to recruit 45 girls, ages 11 to 13. (Boys will be included in a future study.) During six, weeklong camp sessions, the RAs gathered the girls after lunch on four days for an exercise in expressive writing, which Mendle describes as “a brief, focused intervention, in which people write about times of change in their lives.”

After filling out a standard psychological questionnaire on the first day, the girls spent 20 minutes daily writing about their relationships with their families, friends and the changes taking place in their own bodies

Though the data have yet to be fully analyzed – Mendle is planning to send out a follow-up questionnaire in a few months – the research partners are pleased with the outcomes to date of this first-time collaboration.

“4-H camps put a real emphasis on how the camp experience will develop the whole child,” said Davis. “This year we were really able to pilot how we can work with faculty to do research at the camp while greatly benefiting our campers.”

Mendle hopes to use the pilot data to write a grant proposal that will expand the study to include a control group and show more clearly how the writing intervention provides positive benefits to adolescents.

The undergraduate assistants, for their part, found their interest in working with adolescents confirmed. “This research helped to further convince me that kids in this age range and young adults are the focus I’d like to pursue later in life if I ever get my own private practice as a therapist,” said Vasquez.

Herrick, Moser and Vasquez assisted with the study as part of the CCE Summer Internship Program, which provides opportunities for Human Ecology and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students to support research and outreach projects in communities around the state. The RAs also assisted in a separate study on social exclusion among adolescents, led by Vivian Zayas, Cornell associate professor of psychology.

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, they and other CCE summer interns will present posters about their work at a reception, 5-6:30 p.m., in the Statler Ballroom.

Olivia M. Hall is a freelance writer.

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, February 13, 2013

Valerie Reyna

Reyna

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $1.7 million to Cornell to enhance understanding of why adolescents are prone to taking risks.The study, which will compare differences in the brains of teens and adults when faced with risky decisions, will be the first to use the Cornell MRI Facility, a new, state-of-the-art center for neuroscience and other fields of research in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall.

The project will bring together a team of economists, psychologists and neuroscientists to examine decision-making processes in adolescents and adults and shed light on competing theories about how the teen brain works.

"Research suggests that adolescents differ from adults in emotional reactivity, motivation and self-regulation, but substantial ambiguities remain about how these factors determine adolescents' risky decision-making," said Valerie Reyna, principal investigator for the grant, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility. "Our research will disentangle these key causal factors to better understand, predict and ultimately reduce adolescents' unhealthy risk-taking."

The team will answer unresolved questions about how adolescents' responses to rewards might differ from responses to losses or negative consequences and how desires, strong emotions or the way risks are presented may change responses to risk and to reward. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques performed on the 3 Tesla MRI scanner at the Cornell MRI Facility, the researchers will also look at how the adolescent brain reacts differently from the adult brain when making decisions about risks.

The universitywide facility is the newest addition to Cornell's imaging resources and will provide detailed structural and functional images for a broad range of scientific studies involving humans, small animals, plants and biomedical materials. Physicist Wenming Luh is the technical director of the facility.

Other investigators on the grant include William Schulze, the Kenneth L. Robinson Professor of Agricultural Economics and Public Policy; David Dunning, professor of psychology; Ted O'Donoghue, professor of economics; Brian Wansink, the John Dyson Professor of Consumer Behavior; Barbara Ganzel, research scientist in human development; all from Cornell in Ithaca; and Henning Voss, associate professor of physics in radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.