Study: Facial expressions evolved from optical needs

By Ted Boscia
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, March 20, 2014

Why do we become saucer-eyed when afraid and taper our eyelids to slits when disgusted?

These near-opposite facial expressions are rooted in emotional responses that exploit how our eyes gather and focus light to detect an unknown threat, found a study by a Cornell neuroscientist. In fear, our eyes widen, boosting sensitivity and expanding our field of vision to locate surrounding danger. When repulsed, our eyes narrow, blocking light to sharpen focus and pinpoint the source of our disgust.

The findings by Adam Anderson, associate professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, suggest that human facial expressions arose from universal, adaptive reactions to environmental stimuli and not originally as social communication signals, lending support to Charles Darwin’s 19th-century theories on the evolution of emotion.

“These opposing functions of eye widening and narrowing, which mirror that of pupil dilation and constriction, might be the primitive origins for the expressive capacity of the face,” Anderson said. “And these actions are not likely restricted to disgust and fear, as we know that these movements play a large part in how, perhaps, all expressions differ, including surprise, anger and even happiness.”

 These are modeled expressions for fear, disgust and average (average of all expressions, so it's not technically "neutral"). - provided

These are modeled expressions for fear, disgust and average (average of all expressions, so it’s not technically “neutral”). – provided

Anderson and co-authors described these ideas in the paper, “Optical Origins of Opposing Facial Expression Actions,” published in the March issue of Psychological Science.

For the experiment, Anderson, with collaborators at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo, used standard optometric measures to gauge how light reached the retina as study participants made fearful, disgusted and neutral expressions. Looks of disgust resulted in the greatest visual acuity – less light and better focus; fearful expressions induced maximum sensitivity – more light and a broader visual field.

“These emotions trigger facial expressions that are very far apart structurally, one with eyes wide open and the other with eyes pinched,” said Anderson, the paper’s senior author. “The reason for that is to allow the eye to harness the properties of light that are most useful in these situations.”

What’s more, the paper notes, emotions filter our reality, shaping what we see before light ever reaches the inner eye.

“We tend to think of perception as something that happens after an image is received by the brain,” Anderson said. “But, in fact, emotions influence vision at the very earliest moments of visual encoding.”

Essentially, our eyes are miniature cameras, constructed millennia before humans understood optics, said lead author Daniel Lee, Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto, where Anderson previously taught.

“As automatic actions accompanying our emotions, it means that Mother Nature had solved and programmed within us this fundamental optical principle,” Lee added.

Anderson’s Affect and Cognition Laboratory is now studying how these contrasting eye movements may account for how facial expressions have developed to support nonverbal communication across cultures.

“We are seeking to understand how these expressions have come to communicate emotions to others,” he said. “We know that the eyes can be a powerful basis for reading what people are thinking and feeling, and we might have a partial answer to why that is.”

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

Related Information

Book highlights memory’s role as social glue

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, March 3, 2014

Spreng book cover 182X238

Memory’s crucial impact on our ability to establish and maintain social bonds is the focus of a new book, “Examining the Role of Memory in Social Cognition” (Frontiers), edited by Cornell neuroscientist Nathan Spreng.

“The book brings together the first research on the linkages between memory and social behavior, processes traditionally studied separately,” said Spreng, assistant professor of human development and the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

“Remembering our own past and interpreting other people’s thoughts and feelings both activate similar neural pathways in the brain – a connection that may help us translate our personal experience into understanding others and navigating the complex dynamics of human social life,” he said.



“Discovery of the overlapping brain networks provided a clue about memory’s vital role in social interaction and inspired development of this first book on the topic,” he added.

In the book, neuroscientists and psychologists discuss their latest findings on topics such as how neural networks affect social abilities; how memory influences empathy; how aging affects memory and social abilities; how memory and social abilities are impacted by disorders such as schizophrenia and autism; and how amnesia and other memory impairments affect social abilities.

Intended for researchers and students in the fields of social and cognitive neuroscience, the book is a starting point for a line of cross-disciplinary research that may one day provide insights into how to improve social skills like empathy in healthy and impaired individuals, Spreng said.

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

Related Information

New institute focuses on human brain research

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, February 13, 2014

 Valerie Reyna, director of the new Human Neuroscience Institute and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility, says that the institute seeks to learn more about healthy development, decision-making, emotional processing, memory and attention, neurodegenerative diseases and developmental disorders. - Mark Vorreuter

Valerie Reyna, director of the new Human Neuroscience Institute and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility, says that the institute seeks to learn more about healthy development, decision-making, emotional processing, memory and attention, neurodegenerative diseases and developmental disorders. – Mark Vorreuter

The new Human Neuroscience Institute in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology aims to advance research on the neural basis of human behavior.

“Prioritizing the word ‘human’ in the name of the institute underlines the common commitment to human development,” said Valerie Reyna, director of the institute and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility. The focus of the institute – to better understand how brain systems drive cognition and behavior – has broad implications for enabling people to lead happier and more fulfilling lives, she said.

Cornell scientists can now observe on campus which areas of the brain fire when we think, react and decide, thanks to a 3-tesla MRI machine in the Cornell MRI Facility in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall that has been in place since 2012. Ready access to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) gives researchers more power to ask novel questions and test psychological and behavioral science theories with new data, said Reyna, professor of human development. She is leading the first National Institutes of Health-funded study in the facility: A team of economists, psychologists and neuroscientists are using the tool to better understand how teens and adults process emotions, gauge risks and make decisions.

“A lot of psychology traditionally relies on self-report,” Reyna explained. “With the advent of fMRI, brain scan data can be integrated with other data – behavioral, social and ecological – to shed light on the mechanisms driving behavior. We can look at the brain from the micro neurochemistry level to the macro social level, bringing basic research to bear on important human problems.”

But to conduct human neuroscience research and extract meaningful data from the images, far more than an accessible MRI machine is required, Reyna said.

So the new institute is developing other essential research services and tools – such as powerful computing – with a core group of neuroscientists in the Department of Human Development whose aim is to facilitate research, education and outreach in human neuroscience and, ultimately, to inform interventions that improve health and well-being.

The institute’s faculty affiliates are: Adam Anderson, Charles Brainerd, Eve De Rosa and Nathan Spreng. Anderson, associate professor, explores the psychological and neural underpinnings of emotions – what they are, how they are generated in the brain, and how we regulate them. Brainerd, professor, examines how normal aging and disease affect cognitive processes, focusing on factors associated with brain atrophy and memory decline in mild cognitive impairment and dementia. De Rosa, associate professor, uses neuroimaging and behavioral measures in humans and additional measures in rats to study learning and attention, with a focus on the role of the neurochemical acetylcholine. Spreng, assistant professor, uses fMRI to study large-scale brain networks, how these systems interact to support complex cognition and how patterns of brain activity change with advancing age.

Each of these scientists works at the frontiers of basic science, Reyna noted, but they also translate fundamental discoveries about brain function into ways to improve human well-being across the lifespan.

The nuts and bolts of MRI technology

The key advantage of magnetic resonance imaging is that it allows researchers to see inside living tissues, providing detailed pictures of internal structures without using invasive procedures or ionizing radiation. An array of specialized techniques allows scientists to visualize blood flow, the movement of water, the presence and concentration of various organic molecules, moving tissue in real time, and more.

The core of a magnetic resonance imaging machine is made up of coils of wire though which electricity is passed to create a magnetic field, which aligns the spins of hydrogen protons in the water abundant in living things, including humans.

A coil fit specifically for the body part being imaged transmits pulses of radiofrequency waves, causing some of the hydrogen protons to absorb the energy and temporarily change their spins. When the pulse is turned off, they return to their prior state, giving off an energy signal that the coils detect and send to the MRI computer. During imaging, additional small gradient magnetic fields encode this signal with spatial location. A map of the internal tissues can be reconstructed from the signal since protons in different tissues return to equilibrium at different rates.

To visualize neural activity in the brain, researchers often use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which generates images of brain activity in response to performing different tasks.

The most common fMRI method detects changes in blood flow when activated areas of the brain are recharged by fresh blood rich in oxygen and glucose. Oxygen-rich blood has different magnetic properties than oxygen-poor blood, and these differences can be measured and mapped to provide a picture of brain activity. The resulting images require complex processing and statistical analyses to extract meaningful data – the work of computing resources connected to the MRI machine.

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

Related Information

New project aims to engage youth in neuroscience

By Karene Booker

Deana Blansky leading a session for young adolescents on health and fitness - Mark Vorreuter

Deana Blansky leading a session for young adolescents on health and fitness – Mark Vorreuter

Last year Deanna Blansky ’16 jumped into a new initiative to translate faculty research into hands-on activities for teaching middle-school youth about the brain, health, and science. The initiative aims to develop a six-hour 4-H STEM curriculum on health and the brain and is led by Valerie Reyna, professor and director of the Human Neuroscience Institute in the Department of Human Development, and co-director of the Cornell MRI Facility.

To start, Blansky, a Human Biology, Health, and Society major, developed two modules, one on nutrition and fitness and another on breast cancer genetics, based on Reyna’s ongoing research.  She piloted these modules with middle school campers at Bristol Hills 4-H Camp in Canandaigua, New York as part of her summer Cornell Cooperative Extension internship. Both modules combined aspects of health and neuroscience, while providing an interactive learning experience for the campers.

The campers particularly liked the hands-on lessons, such as competing in the nutritional breakfast cook-off and creating model brains they could keep, Blansky said. They had fun comparing breakfast ideas and seemed surprised by how easy it was to create their own healthy meals. They were eager to take their ideas back home, she said.

The combination of outreach through teaching at summer camp and empirical neuroscience research was really rewarding, Blansky concluded. What she learned about the research process, curriculum development and lesson planning for different age groups will come in handy – she is planning on entering the field of medicine and public health, and hopes to incorporate community health into her future career.

This year, Noah Rubin ’16 will be refining the two modules and developing new segments. Rubin is majoring in Policy Analysis and Management and minoring in Computer Science and Math. He joined Reyna’s Laboratory of Rational Decision Making propelled by an interest in human behavior and the neuroscience behind it. An interest, he says, that was sparked in high school after reading a story about a man who had developed software that predicted investing behavior based on reactions to current events.

The new and revised modules will be piloted with youth this summer, with the plan of eventually making them more broadly available.

Two neuroscientists join Human Development’s faculty




Last fall, the department of Human Development welcomed two more neuroscience researchers, husband and wife Adam Anderson and Eve DeRosa, from the University of Toronto. Eve De Rosa is associate professor in the department of human development and Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow. DeRosa’s research focuses on the neurochemistry of cognitive processes such as learning, attention, and memory. She takes a comparative cognitive neuroscience approach, employing neuroimaging and behavioral measures in humans and additional measures in rodents, to gain deeper insights into how human behavior and the underlying neurochemistry changes with age.


Anderson 110x150


Adam Anderson is associate professor in the department of human development. His research explores the psychological and neural underpinnings of emotions—what they are, how they are generated in the brain, and how we regulate them. Although much of psychology focuses on understanding and treating disorders, Anderson is interested in human flourishing and the nature of happiness—what it is and its function and adaptive value. His research considers all emotions as evolutionarily selected biological adaptations, having their own rationality intended to help us navigate the physical and social environment.

Book debuts brain models of risky decision-making

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.

Scars of childhood poverty found in adult brain scans

By H. Roger Segelken
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, October 30, 2013



The chronic stress of childhood poverty can trigger physical changes that have lifelong psychological effects, a study of adult brains has shown.

“Some of the anxiety disorders, depression, post traumatic stress disorders, impulsive aggression and substance abuse we’re seeing in adults might be traced to a stressful childhood,” says Cornell’s Gary W. Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology.

The environmental and developmental psychologist joined researchers from three other universities to publish findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as “Effects of childhood poverty and chronic stress on regulatory brain function in adulthood.” The 15-year study confirms something Evans has long suspected: “Early experiences of poverty become embedded in the brain. Exposure to chronic stress in early childhood – when the amygdala and prefrontal cortex are rapidly developing – produces lasting neurological changes,” he says.

The longitudinal study followed 49 rural 9-year-olds for 15 years – checking in at ages 9, 13, 17 and 24. “Even if the 24-year-olds had escaped poverty and were making a comfortable living,” Evans says, “functional magnetic resonance imaging scans of two parts of the brain that process emotion, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, revealed neural patterns for emotion regulatory dysfunction.

“Chronic stresses of childhood poverty may make it harder to regulate your emotions and this remains whether or not you are upwardly mobile as an adult,” he adds.

The report by researchers at the University of Michigan, University of Denver, University of Illinois at Chicago and Cornell said “… children living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to chronic multiple stressors, including violence, family turmoil, separation from family members and substandard living environments.”

Pilyoung Kim, M.A. ’07, Ph.D. ’09, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver, is the lead author on the paper. Support for the long-term study came from the National Institutes of Health, William T. Grant Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Breakthrough discerns normal memory loss from disease

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, September 5, 2013

Charles Brainerd


Cornell researchers have developed a reliable method to distinguish memory declines associated with healthy aging from the more-serious memory disorders years before obvious symptoms emerge. The method also allows research to accurately predict who is more likely to develop cognitive impairment without expensive tests or invasive procedures.

Their results hold promise for detecting cognitive impairment early and monitoring treatment, but also have implications for healthy adults, said Charles Brainerd, professor of human development and the study’s lead co-author with Valerie Reyna, director of the Institute for Human Neuroscience and professor of human development, both in the College of Human Ecology.

Valerie Reyna


Their research, “Dual-retrieval models and neurocognitive impairment,” appears online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, Aug. 26.

The memory abilities affected by cognitive impairment differ from those affected by healthy aging, the authors say, resulting in unique error patterns on neuropsychological tests of memory. Their theory-driven mathematical model detects these patterns by analyzing performance on such tests and measuring the separate memory processes used.

“With 10 or 15 minute recall tests already in common use worldwide, we can distinguish individuals who have or are at risk for developing cognitive impairment from healthy adults, and we can do so with better accuracy than any existing tools,” said Brainerd.

The notion that memory declines continuously throughout adulthood appears to be incorrect, they say. “When we separated out the cognitively impaired individuals, we found no evidence of further memory declines after the age of 69 in samples of nationally representative older adults and highly educated older adults,” said Reyna.

To develop their models, the team used data from two longitudinal studies of older adults – a nationally representative sample of older adults, the Aging, Demographics and Memory Study, and the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative – that include brain and behavioral measures as well as diagnoses for cognitive impairment and dementia.

Specifically, the researchers found that declines in reconstructive memory (recalling a word or event by piecing it together from clues about its meaning, for example, recalling that “dog” was presented in a word list by first remembering that household pets were presented in the list) were associated with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s dementia, but not with healthy aging. Declines in recollective memory – recalling a word or event exactly – were a feature of normal aging.

Over a period of between one and a half to six years, declines in reconstructive memory processes were reliable predictors of future progression from healthy aging to mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s dementia, and better predictors than the best genetic marker of such diseases.

“Reconstructive memory is very stable in healthy individuals, so declines in this type of memory are a hallmark of neurocognitive impairment,” Reyna said.

Younger adults rely heavily on recollection, Brainerd said, but this method becomes increasingly inefficient throughout mid-adulthood. “Training people how to make better use of reconstructive recall as they age should assist healthy adult memory function,” he said. “Our analytical models are readily available for research and clinical use and could easily be incorporated into existing neuropsychological tests.”

The co-authors of the paper are Carlos Gomes, a graduate student in the field of human development; Anna Kenney ’11, Caroline Gross ’12 and Emily Taub ’10 of Cornell – all of whom helped conduct the research as undergraduates in Brainerd’s lab; and Nathan Spreng, assistant professor of human development and Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in the College of Human Ecology.

The research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and the CAPES Foundation, a federal agency under Brazil’s Ministry of Education.

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

Memory-related brain network shrinks with aging

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, September 19, 2013

Network of brain regions, highlighted in red and yellow, show atrophy in both healthy aging and neurodegenerative disease. The regions highlighted are susceptible to normal aging and dementia.

Brain regions associated with memory shrink as adults age, and this size decrease is more pronounced in those who go on to develop neurodegenerative disease, reports a new study published Sept. 18 in the Journal of Neuroscience (Vol. 33:38). The volume reduction is linked with an overall decline in cognitive ability and with increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the authors say.

“Our results identify a specific pattern of structural brain changes that may provide a possible brain marker for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Nathan Spreng, assistant professor of human development and the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

The study is one of the first to measure structural changes in a collection of brain regions – not just one single area – over the adult life course and from normal aging to neurodegenerative disease, said Spreng, who co-authored the study with Gary R. Turner of York University in Toronto.

Overall, they studied brain data from 848 individuals spanning the adult lifespan, using data from the Open Access Series of Imaging Studies and the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). About half of the ADNI sample was assessed multiple times over several years, allowing the researchers to measure brain changes over time and determine who did and did not progress to dementia.

The researchers found that brain volume in the default network (a set of brain regions associated with internally generated thoughts such as memory) declined in both healthy and pathological aging. The researchers noted the greatest decline in Alzheimer’s patients and in those who progressed from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. Reduced brain volumes in these regions were associated with declines in cognitive ability, the presence of known biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease and with carrying the APOE4 variant of APOE gene, a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

“While elements of the default network have previously been implicated in aging and neurodegenerative disease, few studies have examined broad network changes over the full adult life course with such large participant samples and including both behavioral and genetic data,” said Spreng. “Our findings provide evidence for a network-based model of neurodegenerative disease, in which progressive brain changes spread through networks of connected brain regions.”

The study, “Structural Covariance of the Default Network in Healthy and Pathological Aging,” was supported in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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

Human Ecology students dive deep into research

By Ted Boscia
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, August 28, 2013

Wendy Wei leads a child through spatial cognition tests – Mark Vorreuter

Human development major Wendy Wei ’15 spent most of her summer at Ithaca-area day care centers leading 4- and 5-year-olds through brain teasers and puzzles or building towers with blocks and Legos. Far from child’s play, her work sought to understand how preschoolers develop spatial cognition and whether those abilities could be nurtured through interactive play.

Wei is one of 15 undergraduates who received $4,000 stipends from the College of Human Ecology to work in faculty labs full time this summer as part of the college’s long-running research immersion program. Made possible by a mix of alumni endowments and college and federal funds, it allows students to conduct research uninterrupted by classes, exams, jobs or extracurricular activities.

“We want students to deeply engage in research, not just doing a few hours as an assistant in the lab but helping the team to define the research question, methods and data collection and interpretation,” said Carole Bisogni ’70, M.S. ’72, Ph.D. ’76, associate dean for academic affairs. “For some students, it changes their entire outlook.”

Wei entered Cornell on a path to become a physician. But, partly due to her research in associate professor Marianella Casasola’s Cornell Infant Studies Laboratory, she’s now focused on a career in research and education.

This summer, Wei led an experiment to test how children’s knowledge of spatial language (terms like “up,” “down,” “in” and “on”) influences their spatial cognition (how well they recognize two-dimensional shapes and patterns, and mentally map their physical surroundings).

“Prior work has shown a link between spatial cognition and future performance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields,” Wei said. “Hopefully the study will help in coming up with better methods for teaching kids spatial concepts.”

While Wei focused on cognitive growth, Judith Mildner ’14, human development, was examining declines in brain function. Mildner helped conduct a study in the Cornell MRI Facility searching for biomarkers in the brain that might predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases years ahead of what is now possible.

Mildner said she enjoyed working on a team of research assistants and the close interaction with faculty that’s rarely possible during the busy academic year.

“I want to work in neuropsychology research, probably on aging and dementia, and I have learned a lot about what it takes to run an functional MRI study [a type of imaging that allows neuroscientists to see different forms of brain activity],” she said. “I want a job doing research, and this summer I’ve been able to do it all day, every day.”

Ariana Levitt working on fiber electrospinning in the lab of Margaret Frey, associate professor of fiber science and apparel design, in the Human Ecology Building – Jason Koski, University Photography

Students from each of Human Ecology’s five academic departments – Design and Environmental Analysis, Fiber Science & Apparel Design, Human Development, Policy Analysis and Management, and Nutritional Sciences – received summer stipends.

Some, like Nivetha Subramanian ’15 and Ariana Levitt ’15, donned white coats at lab benches: Subramanian compared genetic properties of breast milk from mothers of full-term and premature infants, and Levitt looked for the right mix of polymers needed to spin nanofibers with high conductivity and low water solubility. Others contributed to social science projects: Williams “Carlos” Higgins ’14 surveyed occupants of Caldwell Hall to gather data for a project to identify structures best suited for energy-saving retrofits, and Max Kellogg ’15 built a statistical model to track how TV ads influence people’s daily consumption of sweetened and unsweetened drinks.

Higgins said the summer program builds on classes by allowing him to “dive in much deeper.”

“It’s exciting when I find something I don’t expect to,” he said. “Usually in class everything is laid out in the syllabus, and you know what’s coming. With research, I’ve thought about the problem for hundreds of hours and still get results totally different from what I expected.”

Ted Boscia is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.


Overall, six Human Development majors were among the 15 undergraduates who received research stipends from the College of Human Ecology this summer:

  • Rebecca Derven ’15 worked with Valerie Reyna, professor of human development, on “Interventions for Risk Reduction in Obesity Prevention;”
  • Judith Mildner ’14, mentioned above, worked with Nathan Spreng, assistant professor of human development, on “Age-related changes in enhancement and modulation of the default network;”
  • Emily Bastarach ’14 worked with Anthony Ong, associate professor of human development, on “Resilience to parental loss: A prospective study of early parental support and positive emotions;”
  • Wendy Wei, ’15 worked with Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development, on the project mentioned above called “Putting the pieces together;”
  • Jasmin Perez ’14 worked with Gary Evans, professor of human development, on “The effect of socioeconomc status on infant Distractibility;” and
  • Jenna Behrendt ’14 worked with Barbara Lust, professor of human development, on “Characterizing language deficits in mildly cognitive impaired elderly compared to a healthy aging and a young population.”