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You are viewing 13 posts for 2012

Makeba Wilbourn Featured in Duke Today

P&N's Makeba Wilbourn is featured in  Duke Today for her work  at Durham's C.C. Spaulding Elementary.  Dr. Wilbourn's research-in-practice hopes to close the achievement gap with students by pairing gestures and body movements with vocabulary instruction and memory tests.  Full text of the article:

    • Makeba Wilbourn
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David Rubin Receives Honorary Degree From Denmark's Aarhus University

Congratulations to P&N faculty David Rubin, who received an honorary degree from Denmark's Aarhus University on September 14.  Check out the feature story on Duke Today as well as the video feature where Rubin talks about his research.

    • David Rubin Receives Honorary Degree From Denmark's Aarhus University

Dean Svend Hyllenberg, left,  presents Duke's David Rubin with an honorary degree. Seated wearing a gray dress (background, center) is Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. Photo by Lars Kruse/Aarhus University

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Harris Cooper Featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education

P&N's Harris Cooper starts a new psychology journal, Archives of Scientific Psychology. Read all about it in the  Chronicle of Higher Education.

    • Archives of Scientific Psychology
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Lise & Michael Wallach Co-author New Book

P&N's Lise and Michael Wallach co-author a new book, Seven Views of Mind, published by Psychology Press.

    • Seven Views of Mind
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Treating Depression Can Prevent Substance Abuse in Adolescents

Congratulations to P&N"s John Curry, whose  5-year study on adolescent depression and substance abuse featured in Duke Today. Don't miss his video on yoututbe either.


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Staci Bilbo's research featured on Duke Today

How Staci Bilbo's research could illuminate human brain development:

This article originally appeared in Gist from the Mill, the news magazine from the Social Science Research Institute.

Staci Bilbo is one of the few researchers in her field who meld neuroscience and immunology techniques.

Article from Duke Today

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Gist from the Mill, the news magazine from the Social Science Research Institute.

Staci Bilbo is one of the few researchers in her field who meld neuroscience and immunology techniques.

DURHAM, NC - Researchers sometimes go to great lengths to construct animal models that could shed light on human problems. Staci Bilbo, in studying the immune system and brain development, has been known to replicate life in a low-income housing project for her rodents and enroll the pups in a rodent after-school program. All this to determine what happens to human babies born to stressed mothers exposed to air pollution and what can be done about it.

"We're trying to figure out a behavioral intervention, like an enriched environment for the offspring," Bilbo said. "We take the pups to a playroom for a few hours each day and ask whether that reverses any of the negative effects we've seen."

Bilbo, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, is one of only a few researchers studying microglia, immune cells that reside in the brain. She looks at what happens in neural-immune interactions in the brain under various conditions and how that affects brain development. Her work has won widespread acclaim. Many of her research papers have been published in highly respected journals, and she recently received the Frank Beach Young Investigator Award from the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology. She has been a very successful grant writer and was elected to her department's advisory committee while an assistant professor. Her fall class evaluations were among the top five percent from across the university. All this in the first eight years of her career after graduate school.

Neuroscientist Staci Bilbo. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

"One of the most exciting things we're doing is trying to model socio-economic status in animals," Bilbo said. Poor neighborhoods not only have poor housing conditions but more maternal stress, fewer resources and greater exposure to toxins because they're usually located closer to highways -- all cumulative factors people in poor neighborhoods face that people in wealthy neighborhoods don't. Researchers rarely model cumulative risk factors, she said, because "throwing a bunch of factors in together gets very messy. "But people are messy."

Through work done in collaboration with a research grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and funded by a Research Incubator Award from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS), Bilbo has found that giving air pollutant particles to rodent pups themselves doesn't change their brain or immune system much. But stressing the pregnant mothers while exposing them to pollution has a hugely synergistic effect on their offspring, she said.

"They're much worse off," she said of those pups. Once the baby mice grow up, they have cognitive deficits and anxiety and changes in metabolism that make them heavier. Bilbo's research is designed to tease apart any behavioral change in the mother that is mediating something in a pup from a physiological effect, such as transferring stress hormones while nursing the pup. Non-traditional in her methods, she is one of a few researchers in her field to meld neuroscience and immunology techniques, employing flow cytometry, a method of sorting cell types to find out what brain cells are producing.

"We're very interested in what about mom is producing the effect and how that's transferred to her pups," Bilbo said. "Is she changing her behavior? Or are her stress hormones getting to the fetus and interacting with the toxin exposure in an inflammatory cascade?"

In graduate school, Bilbo began with the notion of plasticity in the immune system: External events could impact the immune system, which would respond in an adaptive way to organize other systems in the body. Her research is built on emerging research that showed that stressors and nutritional deficiencies during development could permanently change metabolism, stress reactivity, anxiety and propensity for depression later in life. She figured it might affect the immune system, too.

First, Bilbo examined the interaction of the immune system and endocrine system. When she reduced the length of time Siberian hamsters were exposed to daylight, their bodies responded as if it were winter -- their fur grew thicker and whiter, their reproductive systems turned off and their immune systems kicked into high gear.

Randy Nelson, her doctoral mentor at Johns Hopkins University (he has since been successfully recruited to Ohio State), said Bilbo stands out in her ability to take information from many disparate fields and put it together in new, fresh ways that cause other researchers to say, "Of course!"

"But it took Staci to figure it out and do the critical studies," Nelson said. "She's brilliant in looking for unexpected outcomes and following those up in her work." Bilbo's interest in the brain's role developed as she studied sickness behavior. She discovered that the organized responses to illness an animal exhibits -- lethargy, fever, reduced interest in eating and drinking -- were adaptive, not pathological, behaviors.

"They're recuperative behaviors that help you overcome the infection more quickly," she said. "They're very cool because they're a motivational shift. You're not motivated to do the same things you usually do, and you have a very strong motivation to sleep. That implicated the brain."

Brain development is a very underexplored area, she said, yet it presented an interesting plasticity experiment: short-term plasticity resulted in long-term changes.

"The brain's development must be the time that all of these different things were set up," she said. "I looked at neuralimmune interactions in the brain and got immediately fascinated because I found all this early evidence that the immune system was critical for brain development."

Harris Cooper, chair of Duke's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, said that Bilbo's research on immune system compromise influencing risk or resilience for later brain functioning and behavior speaks to a broad spectrum of issues that interest scholars across psychology and other social sciences.

"Her work helps us understand serious concerns about the implications of childhood poverty," Cooper said. Bilbo is one of the pioneers in the field of understanding how the inflammatory response of the immune system affects other areas of functioning later in life.

Quentin Pittman, a neuroscience researcher at the University of Calgary, is familiar with Bilbo's work and, like many others in the field, holds her research in high regard. Her studies of microglia, the white cells in the brain that act as scavengers against infection, and how they are modulated by early infection, has implications for vulnerability in adults.

"Many central nervous system diseases have a very strong inflammatory component to them -- Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, dementia -- and the states of obesity and autism," Pittman said. "In the area of neuroinflammation, she's the most promising young investigator I know of."

Bilbo has recently uncovered a new class of molecules that could be useful in treating addiction. Yet she doesn't ignore the importance of behavioral interventions, like maternal bonding, exercise and the rodent playroom fun.

"You can't re-create a behavioral experience with a pill," she said. Bilbo grew up mainly in Texas and received an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. She did her graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, obtaining her Ph.D. in psychological and brain sciences in 2003. She conducted postgraduate work at the University of Colorado's Center for Neuroscience, where she continued to be extraordinarily productive in writing and publishing research papers.

She joined Duke's faculty in 2007. She has been invited to speak at dozens of colloquia in the past few years and has published more than 40 articles and several chapters and abstracts, and serves as a reviewer for many well-respected journals. In an era of tight funding, she secured major grant funding for three path-breaking studies that she is now conducting simultaneously. She recently completed two others.

Bilbo is uncommonly efficient, said Nelson, her mentor at Johns Hopkins. When she had an idea for a project, he remembered, she would write up a protocol and explain what she planned to do in the study. She included the previous research on the topic, her hypothesis and what she intended to do with the results, and laid out the methodology. Once he approved her project, she was off and running. As soon as she got the results, she'd plug those in and take a few days to write the discussion section.

"Within a week of the study being completed, she had a paper to submit, and a very nice one at that," Nelson said. "She was the easiest grad student I had -- very independent, smart and highly motivated. She was the entire package."

Her longtime friend Jacqueline Wood attested to Bilbo's efficiency. Wood remembers sitting next to her in class, as an undergraduate, watching her take copious yet concise notes in a compact notebook.

"She's very observational," Wood said. "She's very patient and a good listener."

Wood also saw Bilbo's maternal side, not just with her whippet and cats at home, but the creatures in her lab. "She took very good care of her laboratory lizards, and the crickets she fed to them," Wood said.

Maternal bonding, among other behavioral interventions, can set the trajectory for the way the brain works for the rest of the lifespan. Bilbo's research underscores the importance of prenatal care and resources for moms, something the U.S. doesn't do a very good job of, according to Bilbo.

"The pregnant mother is a vastly underexplored slice of the population," Bilbo said, "and arguably one of the most important."

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Debating Dual Language Immersion

Listen to a podcast of Makeba Wilbourn and a panel of experts on today's "The State of Things"

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Congratulations P&N Ph.D students!

List of graduates and their thesis titles

  • graduateinsidebrochure2012
  • Honoring Psychology & Neuroscience 2012 graduates!

  • Download file
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Idan Shalev of the Caspi/Moffitt group featured in USAToday

Idan Shalev of the Caspi/Moffitt group is featured in USAToday.

For full text of the Shalev article in Molecular Psychiatry, go to
    • DNA
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Hariri's work featured in May issue of *Discover* Magazine

Friendship, Work and The Blue Devils

Article from Duke Today

Four-year study of student attitudes and behaviors finds the roots of a sense of belonging and shatters some pervasive myths.

    • studentgroup
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Dr. Gary Bennett's research featured in TIME Healthland

Girls Feel More Anger When Friends Offend

Article from Duke Today

Duke researchers found that pre-teen girls may not be any better at friendships than boys

In a Duke University study out Tuesday, researchers found that pre-teen girls may not be any better at friendships than boys, despite previous research suggesting otherwise. The findings suggest that when more serious violations of a friendship occur, girls struggle just as much and, in some ways, even more than boys.

The girls in this study were just as likely as boys to report that they would seek revenge against an offending friend, verbally attack the friend and threaten to end the friendship when their expectations were violated, such as telling one of their secrets to other children.

The girls also reported they were more bothered by the transgressions, felt more anger and sadness, and were more likely to think the offense meant their friend did not care about them or was trying to control them.

The study was co-authored by Julie Paquette MacEvoy, a former Duke doctoral student who's now an assistant professor at Boston College's Lynch School of Education, and Steven Asher, a professor in Duke's Department of Psychology & Neuroscience.

MacEvoy and Asher showed 267 fourth- and fifth-grade children 16 hypothetical stories in which they were asked to imagine that a friend violated a core expectation of friendship. These stories included a friend failing to hold up responsibilities in a joint school project, resulting in a bad grade for both friends, and a friend shrugging off the seriousness of another friend's sick pet, saying, "It's no big deal, it's just a pet."

For each story, the 9- to 11-year-olds from Granville County, N.C., and Providence, R.I., were asked how they would feel if the incident really happened to them, how they would interpret the friend's behavior, what they would do and how much the incident would bother them.

"Previous research suggests that girls may hold their friends to a higher standard than boys do, which led us to think that girls might have an especially hard time coping if one of their friends does something to disappoint them," MacEvoy said.

Other studies have suggested that girls are better at friendships than boys because they are more emotionally intimate in their friendships, they help their friends more, and they more readily resolve conflicts with their friends. 

Yet previous studies also found that boys' friendships last just as long as those of girls, boys are just as satisfied with their friendships as girls, and boys are no lonelier than girls. 

The researchers wanted to test a possible explanation for this paradox: that girls have a particularly difficult time coping when a friend disappoints them.

Steven Asher and Julie MacEvoy

"Our finding that girls would be just as vengeful and aggressive toward their friends as the boys is particularly interesting because past research has consistently shown boys to react more negatively following minor conflicts with friends, such as an argument about which game to play next," Asher said. "It appears that friendship transgressions and conflicts of interest may push different buttons for boys and girls."

The study found that anger and sadness played significant roles in how boys and girls reacted to offending friends. For both genders, the more strongly they felt a friend had devalued them or was trying to control them, the more anger and sadness they felt.

The angrier they felt, the less likely they wanted to fix the relationship. But feelings of sadness actually motivated both genders toward reconciliation: The more sadness the children reported feeling, the stronger their desire was to want to solve the problem and maintain the friendship.

Sadness, the authors said, can sometimes function like "social glue" that holds relationships together.

The study has implications for how to help children maintain their friendships in a healthy way. This is especially true for girls when a friend is unreliable, doesn't provide emotional support or help, or betrays them, the researchers said.

"When we try to help children who are struggling in their friendships, we may need to focus on somewhat different issues for boys versus girls," MacEvoy said. "For girls, it may be critical to help them learn how to better cope when a friend lets them down."  

The children in the study were representative of the regions in which they were located. The sample was also ethnically diverse: 49.3 percent Caucasian, 26.6 percent Latino, 21.5 percent African-American and 2.6 percent "other."

The study, "When Friends Disappoint: Boys' and Girls' Responses to Transgressions of Friendship Expectations," appears online Nov. 22 in the journal Child Development ( Print publication is scheduled for early 2012.

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