Tag Archives: College of Human Ecology

FEATURES

Stephen Ceci awarded APA's highest honor for developmental psychology

Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development, will receive the American Psychological Associations’ G. Stanley Hall award for distinguished contributions to developmental science at APA’s August 2018 meeting in San Francisco.


PRYDE forum focuses on youth and social media

More than 50 Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and 4-H program leaders, youth service providers from community agencies and Cornell faculty members discussed productive social media use and youth development.


The lasting effects of childhood poverty

Gary Evans is interviewed about his research on the influence of childhood poverty on biology, health, and development.


The "Diana Effect" - How Princess Diana helped many seek help for bulimia

On the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death, Jane Mendle credits Diana with helping remove the stigma of mental illness and bulimia.


Aging brains make seniors vulnerable to financial scams

SprengIn a new paper, Nathan Spreng reports that some seniors are more at risk than others to scams because of age-related changes in their brains.


STUDENTS IN THE NEWS

Lindsay Dower - Outstanding Senior Award 2017

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.


MULTIMEDIA

Valerie Reyna - member of the National Academy of Medicine

 


 

Reprinted from The Cornell Chronicle, June 5, 2017.

By Stephen D'Angelo

In stark contrast to adolescent daily life prior to the digital age, social media allows today’s youth to see and interact with myriad individuals, images and information at any time, from any place.

This new reality has profound impacts on our interactions. Less clear is what those effects are and how they may shape the later life and social relationships of the youth growing up in it.

Such was the focus of the Seventh Annual Youth Development Research Update, a forum that brought more than 50 Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and 4-H program leaders, youth service providers from community agencies and Cornell faculty members from across campus to discuss issues relevant to the well-being and development of children and adolescents on May 31 and June 1.

The event, sponsored by the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE), based in the College of Human Ecology, concentrated on productive social media use and youth development through research and evidence-based approaches.

Elaine Wethington

“The idea behind productive social media is that there are ways to encourage youth to develop positive and productive uses of social media,” said Elaine Wethington, professor of human

development and co-director of PRYDE. She also leads the research project Productive Use of Social Media by Youth, which focuses on learning how teens can be “nudged” to make positive uses of social media as they transition into adulthood.

“This is in contrast to the fears that we see in the news how social media is creating bad habits and getting into antisocial behavior, such as bullying, or using social media as a way to distract them from more positive developmental goals,” Wethington said.

The program brings together practitioners and researchers to explore major contributions in this field of research to better understand the impact of social media on youth, which in turn can drive research as well as extension and public outreach programs that help youth and their parents through the murky waters of growing up on social media.

Speakers, including those from the Departments of Human Development and Communication, covered research on youth development and social media in education, moral development, social engagement, health and well-being, career development, and citizenship.

Janis Whitlock, research scientist at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, said youth today are not narcissistic, privacy driven, materialistic, antisocial, mean or especially savvy about these new digital platforms. In general, she said, they are very much like everybody else.

“They do however, live in a different world than most of us grew up in, largely due to changes in technology,” she said. “These affordances allow young people to see, experience, interact and learn and know things that were just simply never possible, not even just in the previous generation, but ever in human history.”

Whitlock continued, “This has created a landscape that is unusual, and none of us really know exactly what it means, and there are some amazing opportunities to research this.”

The forum further acted as an opportunity for practitioners to share their expertise with research experts to help guide ongoing and future studies. Brainstorming sessions provided opportunities for attendees to consult on new research projects that focus on youth or that apply current research on social media to youth populations. Topics discussed ranged from cyberbullying to the need for greater media literacy.

Wethington presses that “social media use is a major source of social interaction for youth and can contribute to positive, healthy adolescent development. We are looking forward to working with researchers and practitioner partners alike to promote greater digital literacy for youth – not only teaching kids how to be safe online, but engage with others and grow in positive ways.”

PRYDE is funded by The Morgan Foundation.

Stephen D'Angelo is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.

This interview with Dr. Gary Evans, Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor in the College of Human Ecologywas written for the Jacobs Foundation's BOLD initiative.

Reprinted from the Blog on Learning & Development, May 15, 2017.

Meeri Kim: Much of your work focuses on how children’s environment affects their health and well-being — in particular, the ways in which childhood poverty can lead to negative developmental outcomes. What are the components of poverty that tend to hit kids the hardest?

Gary Evans

Gary Evans: Throughout my work, I’ve tried to make the point that one of the reasons why poverty is harmful for kids is the chronic stress they experience as a result. One of the things that is unique and unfortunately quite powerful about childhood poverty is this accumulation of stressors, both physical and psychosocial. Physical stressors include housing issues, noise, crowding, and pollution. But the kids also experience psychosocial stressors like crime, family turmoil, and residential instability.

“Parts of the brain may change in children who grow up in poverty, leading to less efficient control and regulation of some cognitive and emotional processes than their wealthier peers.”

MK: How does constant exposure to such stressors impact the developing brain?

GE: The physiological response systems that are designed to handle relatively infrequent environmental stressors become overwhelmed for disadvantaged children. There is good evidence that parts of the brain linked to executive control — involved in coordinating things and keeping everything organized — are sensitive to chronic stress. Structurally as well as functionally, these regions may change in children who grow up in poverty, leading to less efficient control and regulation of some cognitive and emotional processes than their wealthier peers.

At the same time, other parts of the brain tied to automated, quick responses to stress and emergencies like the amygdala become over-developed and over-activated. So you have this bad mix of heightened emotional responses coupled with less regulation and control.

MK: Recently, you published a study on the link between childhood poverty and adult psychological well-being. What did you find?

GE: I looked at the psychological well-being of 24-year-olds in relation to their family income when they were 9 years old, finding relationships with a number of mental health and cognitive outcomes. Childhood poverty is linked to deficits in adult memory, greater psychological/physiological distress, and higher levels of aggression.

Another research interest is how motivation and helplessness differ for those who grew up in an impoverished environment. We have given both children and adults age-appropriate tasks to persist on, and we see consistently less persistence from the disadvantaged. When challenged, they’re much more likely to give up. To me, that unfortunately fits our model — if you grow up with a lot of stressors, your environment sets you up for feeling like you don’t have a sense of mastery or self-efficacy. This is a dynamic, particularly for children, that we need to look more at.

“If you grow up with a lot of stressors, your environment sets you up for feeling like you don’t have a sense of mastery or self-efficacy.”

MK: Given your findings on poverty, what kinds of policy changes could help enhance these children’s lives? Universal basic income?

GE: Various experiments have shown that when you increase the income of families in poverty, you may get better health outcomes, better parenting, and reductions in various negative outcomes. I believe any policy approach has to increase income in a way that is predictable and reliable, coupled with more available and affordable services for these families.

“Because poverty includes a convergence of multiple risk factors and stressors, it really means multiple interventions are necessary.”

Because poverty includes a convergence of multiple risk factors and stressors, it really means multiple interventions are necessary. You can’t just provide housing or job training. You really have to look across the board. A classic example is taking people off of welfare and giving them a low-income job, which is usually right around the minimum wage. However, if there is little or no childcare, the program winds up not being nearly as effective as it ought to be. Good-quality free or heavily subsidized childcare coupled with employment or job training may work better.

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.

The Cornell Research Program for Self-Injury Recovery is pleased to announce a unique set of evidence-informed and web-based education and training courses for individuals interested in understanding non-suicidal self-injury (also sometimes referred to as “cutting”) in youth. The courses are ideal for professionals who work directly with youth in schools or other community-based settings but will also be useful for clinicians and parents.

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury 101 (NSSI 101) was designed especially for professionals who work in schools or other youth-serving settings. Based on current, cutting-edge science, this training includes detailed information on the who, what, where, when and why of self-injury as well as evidence-informed strategies for detecting, intervening, treating and preventing. It also includes strategies for supporting the development of protocols for managing self-injury in school and other institutional settings.

This can be taken for continuing education credits (CEUs) from Cornell University or from the National Association of Social Workers. It is available as a self-paced course or as a 3-week facilitated course.

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury 101: A Web-Based Training

NSSI 101 can be taken as a self-paced or instructor-led course, is designed for individuals who need to know a significant amount about what self-injury is, where it comes from, what it is clinically associated with, how to respond individually and institutionally, and best practices in intervention and prevention.

There are two versions of the full 8-11 hour NSSI 101 course: a self-paced version and an instructor-led version. Both versions include videos, audio segments from well-known self-injury researchers and treatment specialists assignments and quizzes. The course will take between 8 and 11 hours, depending on the format you choose. There are discounts for students, groups, and parents. Scroll down for more information on discounts.

The content for the course is the same regardless of format but the facilitated version:

  • Offers a higher number of CEUs
  • Will allow discussion and strategies exchange with other students and with the instructor, an expert in NSSI
  • Allows for international participation and exchange
  • Increases the likelihood of course completion, since there are expectations about progress over the 3 week period.

Please note that we are working with Cornell’s premier e-education service provider, e-Cornell, to make this offering possible so you will be asked to sign up for an account at e-Cornell when you register.

What’s covered?
The course is designed to provide participants with broad grounding in non-suicidal self-injury, particularly as it shows up in adolescence and young adulthood. It contains material related to:

  • Adolescent development: Although a review for some of you, this section focuses on the features of brain, body, and identity development that affect self-injury onset, maintenance and recovery in the adolescent and young adult years. Since self-injury is most common during this time, understanding the way they are linked is useful.
  • Non-suicidal self-injury basics: In this section we get into the who, what, where, when and why of self-injury. We also discuss the important but poorly understood relationship between non-suicidal self-injury and suicide thoughts and behaviors, common myths, and factors that influence contagion.
  • Detection and intervention: Here we cover what you need to know about effective detection and responding, managing contagion, and common treatment approaches. There are also dedicated sections on effective intervention strategies and on and the nuts and bolts of developing protocols for handing self-injury in institutional settings.
  • Recovery: This section focuses primarily on how and why self-injury ends, what to expect as recovery happens, how you can best support the recovery process, and how self-injury can open opportunities for psychological growth.
  • Prevention: The final section covers prevention of self-injury behavior.

Are you a NYS Cornell cooperative extension educator?

All versions of Non-suicidal self-injury 101 are free to NYS Cornell cooperative extension educators. If you are an educator interested in enrolling in the course, please call (607) 255-6179 or e-mail us at self-injury@cornell.edu.

FEATURES

The Rhythms of Sign Language

Daniel Casasanto, a new member of the HD faculty, heads an NSF investigation of brain areas activated by hand movements when communicating through ASL.


Range of good feelings key to healthy aging

In a new study led by Anthony Ong, people who experienced the widest range of positive emotions had the lowest levels of inflammation throughout their bodies.


NYC-based research finds interaction with kids is key

Marianella Casasola is working with Head Start Centers and day schools in New York City to promote development of spatial skills and language acquisition in preschoolers.


Seeing eye expressions help us read the mental state of others

New research by Adam Anderson reveals why the eyes offer a window into the soul.


STUDENTS IN THE NEWS

Simulation workshops teach youth about concussion risks

Students in Valerie Reyna's Laboratory for Rational Decision Making welcome the Ithaca Youth Bureau's College Discovery Program for workshops on neuroscience and concussion risks.


The vegetarian identity - it's not just eating vegetables

Daniel Rosenfeld '18 and his adviser Anthony Burrow, have developed a new way of thinking about what it is to be a vegetarian.


2017 CCE Summer Intern Elizabeth David: Child development in an outdoor classroom

Elizabeth Cavic '18 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. Read about her internship experience.


MULTIMEDIA

NPR's Science Friday discusses risky decisions and the teenage brain

 


 

The National Science Foundation's blog, Discovery. July 14, 2017

by Stanley Dambroski and Madeline Beal

From an outside perspective, understanding a spoken language versus a signed language seems like it might involve entirely different brain processes. One process involves your ears and the other your eyes, and scientists have long known that different parts of the brain process these different sensory inputs.

To scientists at the University of Chicago interested in the role rhythm plays in how humans understand language, the differences between these inputs provided an opportunity for experimentation. The resulting study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences helps explain that rhythm is important for processing language whether spoken or signed.

Previous studies have shown the rhythm of speech changes the rhythm of neural activity involved in understanding spoken language. When humans listen to spoken language, the brain's auditory cortex activity adjusts to follow the rhythms of sentences. This phenomenon is known as entrainment.

But even after researchers identified entrainment, understanding the role of rhythm in language comprehension remained difficult. Neural activity changes when a person is listening to spoken language -- but the brain also locks onto random, meaningless bursts of sound in a very similar way and at a similar frequency.

That's where the University of Chicago team saw an experimental opportunity involving sign language. While the natural rhythms in spoken language are similar to what might be considered the preferred frequency for the auditory cortex, this is not true for sign language and the visual cortex. The rhythms from the hand movements in ASL are substantially slower than that of spoken language.

The researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) to record the brain activity of participants as they watched videos of stories told in American Sign Language (ASL). One group was made up of participants who were fluent in ASL, while the other was made up of non-signers. The researchers then analyzed the rhythms of activity in different regions of the participants' brains.

The brain activity rhythms in the visual cortex followed the rhythms of sign language. Importantly, the researchers observed entrainment at the low frequencies that carry meaningful information in sign language, not at the high frequencies usually seen in visual activity.

Daniel Casasanto

"By looking at sign, we've learned something about how the brain processes language more generally," said principal investigator Daniel Casasanto, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago (now Professor of Human Development at Cornell University). "We've solved a mystery we couldn't crack by studying speech alone."

While the ASL-fluent and non-signer groups demonstrated entrainment, it was stronger in the frontal cortex for ASL-fluent participants, compared to non-signers. The frontal cortex is the area of the brain that controls cognitive skills. The authors postulate that frontal entrainment may be stronger in the fluent signers because they are more able to predict the movements involved and therefore more able to predict and entrain to the rhythms they see.

"This study highlights the importance of rhythm to processing language, even when it is visual. Studies like this are core to the National Science Foundation's Understanding the Brain Initiative, which seeks to understand the brain in action and in context," said Betty Tuller, a program manager for NSF's Perception, Action, and Cognition Program. "Knowledge of the fundamentals of how the brain processes language has the potential to improve how we educate children, treat language disorders, train military personnel, and may have implications for the study of learning and memory."

Time, June 22, 2017

By Amanda MacMillan

Happiness isn't the only emotion that can help you stay healthy as you age. How excited, amused, proud, strong and cheerful you feel on a regular basis matters, too. In a new study, people who experienced the widest range of positive emotions had the lowest levels of inflammation throughout their bodies. Lower inflammation may translate to a reduced risk of diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Past research has shown that positive emotions may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, but the new study, published in the journal Emotion, looks at whether the range and variety of those feelings play a role as well. Evolution suggests that they would; drawing on the evolutionary advantages of ecosystems with plenty of biodiversity, researchers from the United States and Germany wondered if similar perks may exist for variety within the human emotional experience. Such a range may improve physical and mental health by “preventing an overabundance or prolonging of any one emotion from dominating an individuals’ emotional life," they write.

The researchers asked 175 middle-age adults to keep a daily log of their emotional experiences for a month by recording how often and how strongly they experienced each of 32 different emotions: 16 positive (like being enthusiastic, interested and at ease) and 16 negative (such as being scared, upset, jittery and tired). Six months later, scientists tested their blood samples for markers of systemic inflammation, a known risk factor for many chronic health conditions and for early death.

Anthony Ong

Overall, people who reported a wide range of positive emotions on a day-to-day basis had less inflammation than people who reported a smaller range—even if their overall frequencies of positive emotions were similar. That was true even after researchers controlled for traits like extraversion and neuroticism, body mass index, medication use, medical conditions and demographics. (Surprisingly, a similar effect was not observed for the other end of the spectrum. It didn't seem to matter for inflammation whether people regularly experienced many or only a few variations of negative emotions.)

Lead author Anthony Ong, professor of human development at Cornell University, suspects that people may be able to maximize these benefits by more closely examining their emotions. “When it comes to infusing more diverse positive emotions into our lives, it may turn out to be a simple daily practice of labeling and categorizing positive emotions in discrete terms,” he says. “Pay attention to your inner emotions and be able to mentally recognize situations that make you feel calm versus, say, excited.”

The Cornell Chronicle, August 1, 2017.

By Stephen D'Angelo

Cornell researchers are working with Head Start Centers and day schools in New York City on early-intervention work to promote development of spatial skills and language acquisition in preschoolers.

Marianella Casasola

Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development and a faculty fellow of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, said studies show those with better spatial skills are more likely to flourish in STEM fields.

“Working with children at Head Start in Harlem and through a partnership with the Audrey Johnson Day Care Learning Center in Brooklyn allows us to focus on families from a variety of demographics and backgrounds, and to target research on environmental factors within populations of various socioeconomic status,” Casasola said.

Casasola is examining the benefits of constructive play – using blocks, puzzles and shapes – and how language through narration of activities affects cognitive development and spatial skills. She hopes her research findings will inform early-education programs and lead to creation of ideal environments to develop children’s cognitive skills, no matter their demographic background.

“Our goal is to not only understand how early spatial and language skills develop, but also how best to promote their development both at home and in the classroom,” she said. “Designed for preschoolers from low-income families, these programs would be constructed to establish environments for the early development of these skills and promote parent interaction within day-to-day activities, such as counting, simple math and reading.”

Casasola and her team of students are collaborating with the Clinical and Translational Science Center at Weill Cornell Medicine to discover effective approaches to translate such findings for families. She and her students design and host monthly parent training workshops at Brooklyn’s Audrey Johnson day school.

“Children who both interacted and were narrated to saw at least a 30 percent increase in spatial gains over the group that still interacted with the same sorts of activities and games, but did not have language incorporated into their play by an adult,” she said. “Both groups improved, but those who heard items being labeled and actions described showed significantly greater gains.”

The hope is to integrate such development practices into the busyness of day-to-day life and positively impact a child’s language and learning development.

“Many people are surprised to hear that talking to infants really matters,” Casasola said. “The simple message is, remember to talk to your child. And have fun even for only a few minutes of play.”

The Cornell Chronicle, April 13, 2017.

By Stephen D'Angelo

Adam Anderson

New research by Adam Anderson, professor of human development at Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, reveals why the eyes offer a window into the soul.

According to the recent study, published in Psychological Science Feb. 1, Anderson found that we interpret a person’s emotions by analyzing the expression in their eyes – a process that began as a universal reaction to environmental stimuli and evolved to communicate our deepest emotions.

For example, people in the study consistently associated narrowed eyes – which enhance our visual discrimination by blocking light and sharpening focus – with emotions related to discrimination, such as disgust and suspicion. In contrast, people linked open eyes – which expand our field of vision – with emotions related to sensitivity, like fear and awe.

“When looking at the face, the eyes dominate emotional communication,” Anderson said. “The eyes are windows to the soul likely because they are first conduits for sight. Emotional expressive changes around the eye influence how we see, and in turn, this communicates to others how we think and feel.”

This work builds on Anderson’s research from 2013, which demonstrated that human facial expressions, such as raising one’s eyebrows, arose from universal, adaptive reactions to one’s environment and did not originally signal social communication.

Both studies support Charles Darwin’s 19th-century theories on the evolution of emotion, which hypothesized that our expressions originated for sensory function rather than social communication.

“What our work is beginning to unravel,” said Anderson, “are the details of what Darwin theorized: why certain expressions look the way they do, how that helps the person perceive the world, and how others use those expressions to read our innermost emotions and intentions.”

Anderson and his co-author, Daniel H. Lee, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder, created models of six expressions – sadness, disgust, anger, joy, fear and surprise – using photos of faces in widely used databases. Study participants were shown a pair of eyes demonstrating one of the six expressions and one of 50 words describing a specific mental state, such as discriminating, curious, bored, etc. Participants then rated the extent to which the word described the eye expression. Each participant completed 600 trials.

Participants consistently matched the eye expressions with the corresponding basic emotion, accurately discerning all six basic emotions from the eyes alone.

Anderson then analyzed how these perceptions of mental states related to specific eye features. Those features included the openness of the eye, the distance from the eyebrow to the eye, the slope and curve of the eyebrow, and wrinkles around the nose, the temple and below the eye.

The study found that the openness of the eye was most closely related to our ability to read others’ mental states based on their eye expressions. Narrow-eyed expressions reflected mental states related to enhanced visual discrimination, such as suspicion and disapproval, while open-eyed expressions related to visual sensitivity, such as curiosity. Other features around the eye also communicated whether a mental state is positive or negative.

Further, he ran more studies comparing how well study participants could read emotions from the eye region to how well they could read emotions in other areas of the face, such as the nose or mouth. Those studies found the eyes offered more robust indications of emotions.

This study, said Anderson, was the next step in Darwin’s theory, asking how expressions for sensory function ended up being used for communication function of complex mental states.

“The eyes evolved over 500 million years ago for the purposes of sight but now are essential for interpersonal insight,” Anderson said.