Tag Archive | "Department of Psychology"

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Researchers Go High-Tech to Explore the Social World of Children

Psychology researchers will team up with physicists to monitor children’s real-time, movement-based interactions in preschool classrooms.

By Deserae E. del Campo
Special to UM News

children-social-networksCORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 12, 2016)— Remember your earliest friends from preschool? Researchers from the University of Miami want to know how those friendships form, and they plan to do just that through a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a nifty device that will track the movements of children at two UM centers in real time for four years.

“We know that early social experiences in the classroom impact later development and learning,” said Dr. Daniel Messinger, a psychology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Yet, we really don’t know how those social networks form. The whole point of this project is to learn what kids are doing moment-to-moment, hour-to-hour, month-to-month, and year-to-year in the classroom.”

While child psychologists have observed classroom behavior in the past, research was always limited by the frequency and accuracy of the observations. Now, explains Messinger, researchers can harness technology to detect and record children’s movements throughout the day. Worn like a wristwatch, the data-tracking device gathers large amounts of data that UM researchers will analyze to ask how children’s social networks in early childhood change moment-to-moment and over several years.

The collection and analysis of this big data is possible through an interdisciplinary collaboration between the departments of psychology and physics in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“This is another exciting example of what the college has made possible through its support of complex systems science,” said physicist Neil Johnson. “I do not know of any other interdisciplinary project that involves psychology and physics working so closely together.”

The movement-tracking devices will be worn by children from the Debbie School at the UM Mailman Center for Child Development, which offers education services for children who are deaf and hard of hearing from birth through the second or third grade, and the Linda Ray Intervention Center, a Department of Psychology program that serves newborn to 3-year-old children who are developmentally delayed as a result of abuse, neglect, or prenatal exposure to drugs.

Dr. Lynne Katz, research associate professor and director of the Linda Ray Intervention Center, says the research will not only assist psychologists who study children’s behaviors, but help teachers understand the inner workings of how children play, who they play with, where they play, and where maximum learning and maximum language output occurs.

“At Linda Ray, we are going to see how we can best put this study into place,” adds Katz. “The children are very young and we need to get them comfortable with wearing the data-tracking devices.”

Kathleen Vergara, director of the Debbie School, said she is excited about the study and its focus on children with hearing loss at the school, which will “lead to the development of important interventions for this population.”

The study is expected to take four years to complete and will follow children from toddler to pre-kindergarten age.














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New Program to Offer Certificate in Behavior Analysis

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New Program to Offer Certificate in Behavior Analysis

Special to UM News

AustismCertificationAddressing the growing demand for qualified behavioral therapists in the treatment of individuals with autism and other developmental conditions, the psychology department at the College of Arts and Sciences is implementing a new program for graduate students seeking a professional certificate in applied behavioral analysis.

The post-baccalaureate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program is a structured, full-time graduate program designed to benefit students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. The year-long certification program begins in the fall 2016 semester.

“The program will provide students with excellent classroom instruction as well as the opportunity to gain specialized practicum experience working in our on-site clinic alongside University of Miami faculty,” said Dr. Anibal Gutierrez, a research associate professor in the psychology department.

Students in the graduate program who complete all coursework and experiential requirements will be eligible to take the exam to become a Board Certified assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). The BCaBA is a certification offered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), an internationally recognized credentialing agency for practitioners of applied behavior analysis.

The program is designed to provide graduate students with the knowledge of behavior analytic concepts and clinical competency while also acquiring the skills to uphold and maintain ethical and responsible conduct, as defined by the BACB.

Currently, the demand for behavior analysts is growing in today’s job market, and according to the BACB’s website, there has been a constant increase in individuals seeking the certification since its inception in 1999.

The method of applied behavioral analysis is a recommended treatment for individuals with autism and endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General, American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, among others.

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Researchers SPARK the Nation’s Largest Autism Study

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Researchers SPARK the Nation’s Largest Autism Study

Spark_Logo_CMYK[1]Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 21, 2016)Researchers from the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD) in UM’s Department of Psychology just helped launch the Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge, or SPARK, an online research initiative designed to become the largest autism study ever undertaken in the United States.

Sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), SPARK, for the Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge, will collect information and DNA for genetic analysis from 50,000 individuals with autism—and from their families—to advance our understanding of the causes of this condition and to hasten the discovery of supports and treatments.

UM-NSU CARD is one of a select group of 21 leading national research institutions chosen by SFARI to assist with recruitment. Melissa Hale, clinical assistant professor, and her colleagues in the College of Arts and Sciences, Anibal Gutierrez and Michael Alessandri, executive director of UM-NSU CARD, are leading the SPARK effort locally.

UM-NSU CARD is a state-funded resource and support program dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with autism and related disabilities, including deaf-blindness and pervasive developmental disorders.

“SPARK empowers researchers to make new discoveries that will ultimately lead to the development of new supports and treatments to improve lives, which makes it one of the most insightful research endeavors to date, in addition to being the largest genetic research initiative in the U.S.,” Hale says.

Autism is known to have a strong genetic component. To date, approximately 50 genes have been identified that almost certainly play a role in autism, and scientists estimate that an additional 300 or more are involved. By studying these genes, associated biological mechanisms, and how genetics interact with environmental factors, researchers can better understand the condition’s causes, and link them to the spectrum of symptoms, skills, and challenges of those affected.

SPARK aims to speed up autism research by inviting participation from this large, diverse autism community, with the goal of including individuals with a professional diagnosis of autism and of both sexes and all ages, backgrounds, races, geographic locations, and socioeconomic situations.

SPARK will connect participants to researchers, offering them the unique opportunity to impact the future of autism research by joining any of the multiple studies offered through SPARK. The initiative will catalyze research by creating large-scale access to study participants whose DNA may be selectively analyzed for a specific scientific question of interest.

SPARK also will elicit feedback from individuals and parents of children with autism to develop a robust research agenda that is meaningful for them. Anyone interested in learning more about SPARK or in participating can visit SPARKforAutism.org/card, or e-mail SPARK@psy.miami.edu.


SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge) is a national autism research initiative that will connect individuals with a professional diagnosis of autism and their biological family members to research opportunities to advance our understanding of autism. SPARK’s goal in doing so is not only to better understand autism, but to accelerate the development of new treatments and supports.

SPARK was designed to be easily accessible to the entire autism community and was fashioned with input from adults with autism, parents, researchers, clinicians, service providers, and advocates.

Registering for this first-of-its-kind initiative can be done entirely online in the convenience of one’s home and at no cost. DNA will be collected via saliva kits shipped directly to participants. Once the SPARK participant’s family has returned their saliva samples and provided some medical and family history information, the SPARK participant will receive a $50 gift card. SPARK will provide access to online resources and the latest research in autism, which may provide participants and families with valuable information to help address daily challenges.

For researchers, SPARK provides a large, well-characterized cohort of genetic, medical and behavioral data, and will result in cost-savings for researchers by reducing start-up costs for individual studies.

SPARK is entirely funded by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI).


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Stress Management Enhances Breast Cancer Survival

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Stress Management Enhances Breast Cancer Survival

antoni bcCORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 1, 2015) – Newly published research from a National Cancer Institute-funded randomized trial shows that women who were taught skills to manage stress early in their breast cancer treatment had improved survival rates and longer intervals of remission 8 to 15 years post-diagnosis.

Michael Antoni, leader of the Adaptation to Cancer Treatment and Survivorship group of the Cancer Control Program at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and a professor of psychology, psychiatry, and behavioral sciences, and his research team previously found that cognitive-behavioral stress management (CBSM)—an intervention approach Antoni created at UM—improves psychological adaptation and lowers distress and inflammatory signaling in circulating cells during breast cancer treatment and long-term follow-ups.

Women receiving CBSM learned techniques like muscle relaxation and deep breathing as well as skills to change negative thoughts and improve coping strategies in ten weekly group sessions.

This secondary analysis, published online and in the November 2015 issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, examined whether breast cancer patients who received CBSM in the weeks after surgery had improved survival and a greater “disease-free interval” until recurrence.

“Our ongoing work is examining whether the effects of stress management on depressive symptoms and inflammatory biomarkers during the first year of treatment are linked to longer-term disease recurrence and survival,” said Antoni.

Antoni, also a professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, and researchers in the Department of Psychology noted that prior research has showed that distress, negative mood, and heightened inflammation during treatment may all facilitate disease progression and poorer health outcomes, thus “we wanted to test whether participating in a program like CBSM could decrease the risk of disease progression and mortality over the long term.”

The study is titled “A randomized controlled trial of cognitive-behavioral stress management in breast cancer: survival and recurrence at 11-year follow-up.”

Lead author Jamie Stagl, who earned his Ph.D. in psychology at UM after the research period, is currently a post-doctoral fellow in psychiatric oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston. In addition to Antoni, who also serves as director of UM’s Center for Psycho-Oncology Research, other coauthors include Suzanne C. Lechner, Charles S. Carver, Laura C. Bouchard, Lisa M. Gudenkauf, Devika R. Jutagir, Alain Diaz, Qilu Yu, Bonnie Blomberg, Gail Ironson, and Stefan Gluck.

The researchers are now testing whether changes in inflammatory gene expression during and after the stress management intervention predict disease outcomes up to 15 years later, and are developing and testing even shorter versions of the stress management program to see if five-week versions of programs specifically targeting either relaxation training or cognitive behavioral coping skills training are equivalent to the ten-week CBSM program.

Additional versions of stress management interventions that are adapted to meet the needs of specific vulnerable cancer populations—African American women, Latinas, or older women of all races and ethnicities, for example—are also being tested.

“Our work is unique in that more than one-third of the participants were of an ethnic minority, compared to mostly non-Hispanic White women studied in prior research, which means that the findings may be generalizable to the larger population of breast cancer patients,” Antoni said. “Our overarching goal is to improve survivorship and health outcomes by reaching patients early in the cancer treatment process and providing them the tools they need to manage current and future challenges on their journey.”

The latest publication is published by Springer and can be accessed online at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10549-015-3626-6.

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Babies Time Their Smiles to Make Their Moms Smile Back

UM News


As part of a National Science Foundation effort to use robots to better understand human development, researchers programmed a toddler-like robot to behave like the babies they studied. Photo courtesy of UC San Diego.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (September 23, 2015) — Why do babies smile at their parents? Are they trying to achieve something or is it a random act? In the September 23 issue of PLOS ONE, a team of computer scientists, roboticists, and developmental psychologists confirm what most parents already suspect: when babies smile, they do so with a purpose—to make the person they interact with smile back.

In addition, babies reach that goal by using sophisticated timing, much like comedians who time their jokes to maximize audience response. But there is a twist: babies seem to be doing this while smiling as little as possible. Read the full story

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