Features

Features

Excerpted from the Cornell Chronicle, April 17, 2019.

by Matt Hayes

Stephen Ceci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornell Chronicle, March 19, 2019

by Stephen D'Angelo

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

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

Adam Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valerie Reyna

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

What is your role with Extension?

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

How has working with CCE has informed your research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marlen Gonzalez

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

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

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

College of Human Ecology Communications, by Tom Fleischman

Elaine Wethington

Nine Cornell faculty members have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.

The association elected 417 new fellows for 2018, honoring their efforts to advance research and its applications in scientifically or socially distinguished ways. New fellows will receive a certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin at the 2019 AAAS annual meeting, Feb. 16 in Washington, D.C.

Elaine Wethington, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology, of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences and of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. Wethington is recognized for distinguished contributions to medical sociology, focusing on the social aspects of physical and mental illnesses, their epidemiology and rigorous measurement, and for making her findings translatable to diverse audiences, including patients and the public.

thehindu.com, Age well: attitudes matter in a greying world, June 14, 2018, by Jim Rendon and Olumfemi Terry.

Healthy ageing has become increasingly important, but a WHO analysis found that 60% of people surveyed across 57 countries had negative views of old age.

At 85, Claude Copin, a retired French welder, may have discovered a secret to living a long, healthy life. She stays active by playing a petanque game with friends in a Paris park. And she has made friends with her teammates’ children, many of whom are teenagers. They take her to parties and movies — sometimes forgetting that she might need a rest before they do.

“I make my life beautiful,” says Ms. Copin. “I am still healthy because I have activities and I meet people.”

Ms. Copin is right. A growing body of research and global data collected and analysed by Orb Media shows a strong connection between how we view old age and how well we age. Individuals with a positive attitude towards old age are likely to live longer and in better health than those with a negative attitude. Older people in countries with low levels of respect for the elderly are at risk for worse mental and physical health and higher levels of poverty compared with others in their country. A shift in attitude, the research shows, could improve a lot.

Healthy ageing is increasingly important: countries everywhere outside Africa are rapidly growing older. If population trends continue, by 2050 nearly one out of five people in the world will be over 65, and close to half a billion will be older than 80. Smaller, young populations will have to care for large, older populations with increasingly expensive health care needs.

Surprisingly, in a world brimming with older people, negative views of old age are common. A World Health Organization analysis found that 60% of people surveyed across 57 countries had negative views of old age. Older people are often viewed as less competent and less able than younger people. They are considered a burden on society and their families, rather than being recognised for their valuable knowledge, wisdom and experience.

Orb Media compiled data from over 1,50,000 people in 101 countries to learn about their levels of respect for older people. Pakistan was among the countries that scored the highest.

Respect for older people is a long-standing tradition in Pakistan, says Faiza Mushtaq, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, Pakistan. But as more people move to cities, traditional family structures are being disrupted, making it harder to care for elders. Without a government safety net, many older people fall into severe poverty, she says.

Nonetheless, there are tangible benefits to the way elders are viewed, says Ms. Mushtaq. “This attitude towards ageing is a much healthier embrace of the ageing process, rather than having all of your notions of well-being and attractiveness and self-worth being tied so closely to youth,” she says.

Japan, with the world’s longest lifespans and low birth rates, is at the leading edge of this global demographic shift. There Orb found low levels of respect for the elderly. Kozo Ishitobi, an 82-year-old nursing home physician, says that older people were traditionally seen as a burden.

“Japanese people are starting to realise that elderly people need support,” he says. “We all go through it, so we should support each other.”

Broad implications

It turns out that one’s attitude towards ageing has broad implications. Becca Levy, a Professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in the United States, has been fascinated by the power of age stereotypes for decades. She started her work in the 1990s with a hunch. If older people are respected in society, perhaps that improves their self-image.

“That may in turn actually influence their physiology and that may influence their health,” says Ms. Levy.

Over the past two-and-a-half decades, Ms. Levy, the leader in the field, and the researchers that followed have found just that: those with positive views about old age live longer and age better. They are less likely to be depressed or anxious, and they show increased well-being and recover more quickly from disability. They also are less likely to develop dementia and the markers of Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, Ms. Levy found that Americans with more positive views on ageing who were tracked over decades lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative views. Studies in Germany and Australia have found similar results.

“Some of the magnitudes of the findings have been surprising,” says Ms. Levy.

Orb’s research and analysis found that these effects can also be seen across cultures. Older people in countries with high levels of respect for the elderly report better mental and physical well-being compared with other groups in their countries, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations and others. Those countries also report lower rates of poverty among people over 50 compared with younger people in each country. It seems too simple: How can holding a better attitude towards old age help someone live longer? Ms. Levy found that people with negative age stereotypes have higher levels of stress. And stress has been correlated with a range of health problems. Those who expect a better life in old age are also more likely to exercise, eat well and visit the doctor, says Ms. Levy.

That has been the case for 57-year-old Marta Nazare Balbine Prates who moved her family into her parents’ home in Sao Paulo, Brazil a decade ago. She had to quit her job as a nutritionist at a hospital to care for them (her father passed away at the beginning of the year). It has been hard financially and emotionally. But, she says, the experience has made her think about the kind of life she wants when she is older.

“I try to watch what I eat. I work out as much as possible,” she says, “so I can reach old age in good physical condition.”

An achievement

We should be grateful that we are even concerned about growing old, says Marilia Viana Berzins. She has worked with the elderly in Brazil for 20 years and founded the advocacy group, Observatory of Human Longevity and Aging. “Old age is actually an achievement,” she says. “It’s humanity’s biggest achievement of the last century.”

But, Ms. Berzins says, in Brazil old age has become associated with incapacity. “When we change this mindset and old age is seen like just a stage of life, we’ll move forward,” she says. “And the elderly will be treated with more respect.”

Shifting stereotypes is no simple feat. People develop their views on ageing when they are toddlers, says Corinna Loeckenhoff, an Associate Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, who has studied age stereotypes across cultures. But they also change based on experience. Unfortunately, negative beliefs are often built on inaccurate impressions.

Corinna Loeckenhoff

As people grow older, their health usually remains stable until about five years before they die, says Ms. Loeckenhoff. Only then will most people experience the mental and physical decline most associated with old age. “People keep mixing up ageing and dying,” she says.

Some research shows that increasing meaningful contact between young and older people can break down negative stereotypes. For the past five years, the Résidence des Orchidées, a nursing home in Tourcoing, France, has tried to do just that. Every week, the home brings children from a neighbouring daycare centre to visit the residents. Pierre Vieren, a 91-year-old retired business owner, loves seeing the children.

“When I went to my balcony, the children said ‘Pierre, he is here,’” he says. “They all wave at me to say hello. That is my little ray of sunshine in the morning.”

The nursing home’s director, Dorothee Poignant, says the experience normalises old age for the children. “It recreates a family spirit with joy, children laughing, older people laughing,” she says.

“We don’t only have elderly, we have children, elderly, disabled people. It’s inclusive.”

Everyone can gain from improving ideas about old age, says Ms. Loeckenhoff. “The single-most important thing to realise about ageing stereotypes is that they are the only fair ones,” she says. “You will be the victim of your own stereotype, or the beneficiary as you get older.”

(Access full report at Orbmedia.org/agewell)

CNN.com, "Loneliness peaks at three key ages, study finds -- but wisdom may help,December 19, 2018, by Susan Scutti

Rising rates of loneliness may not be news, but the three periods when it peaks may come as a surprise: More people reported feeling moderate to severe loneliness during their late 20s, their mid-50s and their late 80s than in other life periods, according to research published Tuesday in the journal International Psychogeriatrics.

The general sense of isolation was also more prevalent than the researchers expected. A full three-quarters of all study participants reported moderate to high levels of loneliness, said Dr. Dilip Jeste, senior author of the study and a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego.

"One thing to remember is that loneliness is subjective. Loneliness does not mean being alone; loneliness does not mean not having friends," said Jeste, who is also director of UC San Diego's Center for Healthy Aging. "Loneliness is defined as 'subjective distress.' " It is the discrepancy between the social relationships you want and the social relationships you have, he said.

Within the dark clouds, Jeste also found a silver lining: An inverse relationship exists between loneliness and wisdom. "In other words, people who have high levels of wisdom didn't feel lonely, and vice versa," he said.

The friends we lack

Dr. Vivek Murthy, former US surgeon general, says the reduced lifespan linked to loneliness is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, Jeste noted in the study's introduction. Meanwhile, some research suggests that loneliness is common in old age, and others say it is typical in young age. "They are somewhat split, so that's what we wanted to find out," Jeste said.

A total 340 San Diego County residents between the ages 27 and 101 participated in the study. Jeste and his co-authors hypothesized that these community-dwelling participants, none with serious physical or psychological ailments, would report more loneliness in old age based on the "usual assumption that as people get older, they become more alone," he said. They were surprised when they discovered two peaks (during the late 20s and mid-50s) in addition to the one in the late 80s. The results do not explain the reasons why people feel lonely, but Jeste had his theories.

"So the late 20s is often a period of major decision-making, which is often stressful because you often end up feeling that your peers made better decisions than you did, and there's a lot of guilt about why you did this or did that," he explained. It's a period of stress, which increases loneliness, he said.

"The mid-50s is the midlife crisis period," Jeste said. Typically, your health begins to decline, and many people learn that they have pre-diabetes, say, or heart disease.

"You see some of your friends are dying, and really, it's the first time you realize that your lifespan is not forever," he added. "And the late 80s is, of course, a period when, if you're lucky to have survived to that age, then things start getting worse." Along with health issues, you may experience financial issues and the death of a spouse and friends, he said: "It's probably the most understandable of the three periods."

The surprising main finding of the study was the 76% prevalence of moderate to severe loneliness, Jeste said: "We thought that it would be little more than a third." Men and women felt equally lonely and to the same degree -- no sex differences were found in either prevalence or severity, he and his colleagues found.

The study also showed that loneliness is associated with declines in physical health, mental health and cognition, though this has been reported in the past.

The third main finding, the inverse relationship between loneliness and wisdom, was "surprising and interesting and actually positive -- an optimistic finding," according to Jeste. He and his colleagues measured the six components of wisdom in each participant: general knowledge of life; emotion management; empathy, compassion, altruism and a sense of fairness; insight; acceptance of divergent values; and decisiveness -- the ability to make quick, effective decisions when necessary.

The traits we need to develop

Anthony Ong

This inverse association between loneliness and wisdom is "suggestive of the role of personality in the development and persistence of loneliness over time," said Anthony Ong, a professor of human development at Cornell University and a professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The focus on wisdom as a protective factor is "novel, but more research is needed to clarify the mechanisms underlying the reported association between wisdom and loneliness," Ong, who was not involved in the new research, wrote in an email.

A "full understanding" of the phenomenon of loneliness is far from complete, Ong said. "Questions remain about whether the associations between loneliness and health reflect the effects of loneliness." Research has found that loneliness is a known risk factor for cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, disability and depression.

Ong added that more studies "addressing the direct, indirect, and moderated effects of social isolation and loneliness on health are urgently needed."

"More research is also needed to clarify the brain mechanisms underlying the association between loneliness and cognitive decline in old age and the extent to which such decline is reversible through intervention," he said. He believes that combating loneliness "may play an important role in improving well-being and prolonging life."

Jeste agrees that more research is needed and that answering the question, "How do you reduce loneliness?" is the "main goal." With suicide, opioid abuse and now loneliness all at "epidemic" levels, Jeste believes there is "increasing stress in general society over the last few decades."

"People need to realize that [loneliness] is a common problem. It is a serious problem," said Jeste, who suggested that the six component traits of wisdom might be cultivated. "Loneliness is sad; nobody disagrees with that," he said. "But it is a little bit more under our control than some people think."

Cornell Chronicle, "Empathy project goes online," August 17, 2018, by Stephen D’Angelo

Corinna Loeckenhoff

Since its launch in September 2016, the Cornell Race and Empathy Project has recorded, archived and shared the everyday stories of Cornellians that evoke racial empathy. The physical incarnation of the project – a cozy listening booth shaped like a stylized ear – is showing wear and tear and will have to be retired.

To continue fostering the ability to identify and understand the feelings of someone of a different background, the project has evolved into an online presence.

“This online archive provides a record of the responses that we have gathered over the past one-and-a-half years and makes them available to a broader audience,” said Corinna Loeckenhoff, associate professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology and of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Anthony Burrow

The project was funded through the Cornell Council for the Arts’ 2016 biennial and meant to remain open for three months. Because of strong resonance with the local community, the project has remained active with stopovers at Mann Library, the Human Ecology Commons, Gates Hall and off-campus venues.

François Guimbretière

Along with Loeckenhoff, the project is managed by Anthony Burrow, associate professor of Human Development, and Francois Guimbretiere,

According to research, interracial conversations can be experienced as stressful, which limits willingness to engage in them. Yet powerful stories of racial empathy exist and, when shared, can provide opportunities to celebrate one another’s joy and happiness or lament suffering and grief.

The digital archive features thoughts and ideas gathered over the years, provides a space for conversation and invites users to listen to other’s stories, write a response and share their own story.

Developmental psychologist Charles Brainerd to receive APA award

Charles Brainerd

Charles Brainerd, professor of human development and human neuroscience, will receive the American Psychological Association’s G. Stanley Hall award for distinguished contributions to developmental science at the APA’s August 2019 meeting in San Francisco.

Regarded as the highest honor in the field of developmental psychology, the award is given to an individual or research team who has made distinguished contributions to developmental psychology in research, student training and other scholarly endeavors.

Brainerd’s research has had an impact on educational, developmental and cognitive psychology, and he is credited with major breakthroughs across his theoretical and empirical work.

“Chuck has done groundbreaking work in human memory and reasoning through experimental behavioral methods, mathematical models and neuroscience techniques,” said Qi Wang, professor of human development and department chair. “He co-developed fuzzy-trace theory of memory, judgment and decision-making that has been widely applied in the law and in medicine. His work exemplifies the best integration of theory-driven experimentation and evidence-based translational research.”

According to the APA, the award is based on the scientific merit of the individual’s work, the importance of this work for opening up new empirical or theoretical areas of developmental psychology, and the importance of the individual’s work linking developmental psychology with issues confronting society or with other disciplines.

Brainerd’s current research centers on the relationship between memory and higher reasoning abilities in children and adults, also focusing on false-memory phenomena, cognitive neuroscience, aging and neurocognitive impairment.

He has published more than 300 research articles and chapters and more than 20 books. His research covers human memory and decision-making, statistics and mathematical modeling, cognitive neuroscience, learning, intelligence, cognitive development, learning disability and child abuse.

Brainerd has been elected to the National Academy of Education; is a fellow of the Division of General Psychology, the Division of Experimental Psychology, the Division of Developmental Psychology and the Division of Educational Psychology of the American Psychological Association; and is a fellow of the American Psychological Society.

The editor of the journal Developmental Review, Brainerd has served as associate editor for journals including Child Development and The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Brainerd’s win of the 2019 G. Stanley Hall Award immediately follows the 2018 win of Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development.

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

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, "Staff-family communication key to assisted living success" by Stephen D'Angelo

Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development.

New research by Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development and senior associate dean for research and outreach in the College of Human Ecology, has demonstrated an effective approach to reduce staff-family conflict in assisted living facilities – an important aspect of ensuring the well-being of residents in care.

“Staff members and relatives of residents can sometimes experience communication problems and interpersonal conflict with one another leading to distress on the family side and an increase in burnout and the likelihood of leaving the job on the staff side,” said Pillemer. “In some cases, problems between families and staff can negatively affect the residents’ well-being.”

Although forging partnerships between families and staff in assisted living is desirable, said Pillemer, few programs exist that promote such positive relationships. In response to this need, Pillemer and colleagues at the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging developed the Partners in Caregiving in Assisted Living Program (PICAL).

“We designed PICAL to address these problems by enhancing communication skills, fostering empathy between families and staff, and engaging individuals in discussions about how their assisted-living community could help break down barriers between the two groups,” Pillemer said. “It is based on extensive evidence that communication training in health care settings has a positive impact on patients.”

The program was tested in assisted-living centers across eight states where facilities were assigned either to receive the program or to a control group. PICAL involves two workshop series, one for assisted-living staff and one for residents’ family members. Training, averaging three hours in length, was primarily structured around advanced listening skills, communicating clearly and respectfully, and handling blame, criticism and conflict.

Upon completion of the training, staff and family members met to discuss their concerns and to identify at least one issue for change within the facility and a plan for next steps.

A total of 576 staff members and 295 family members from the control and treatment groups provided survey data on their relationship. Data were collected from the treatment group pre- and post-training to help show its impact.

The findings confirmed that family-staff relationships are sometimes challenging in assisted living, similar to nursing homes, and that an intervention can improve these relationships. Family members and staff reported they felt the program was highly effective and led to improved communication and improved relationships. The study found the strongest effects on staff, who reported a significant reduction in conflicts with family members and lower rates of burnout over the study period. Similar patterns were found for families, although the results did not reach statistical significance.

For Pillemer and PICAL, communication between both parties involved is vital for success.

“Assisted-living communities can enhance the experiences of both families and staff by providing training in communication skills and conflict resolution, which is likely to lead to improved care for residents,” he said. “Such efforts should increase the likelihood that family and staff see themselves as partners – and not as opponents – in the care of their loved ones.”

The study, which was funded by a research grant from the American Seniors Housing Association, was published Oct. 17 in Seniors Housing & Care Journal, where it won the Outstanding Research Paper of the Year award.

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