Through the generous support of the Charles Lafitte Foundation, P&N is pleased to announce the 2018 inaugural recipients of faculty seed grants, which will promote innovative research by teams of our faculty and students.
The inaugural recipients are:
Tobias Egner, Associate Professor: The Eyes are the Window to the Mind: Tracking Control over Multiple Items in Working Memory. Abstract
Sarah Gaither, Assistant Professor: Social, Cognitive, and Behavioral Responses to Identity Threat. Abstract
Bridgette Martin Hard, Associate Professor of the Practice: Do Beliefs about Teaching Shape Academic Attitudes and Outcomes? Abstract
Kevin LaBar, Professor: Causally Testing a NeuroCognitive Model of Distancing as an Emotion Regulation Technique. Abstract
Eve Puffer, Assistant Professor: A Pilot Trial of a Family-Strengthening Intervention for Low-Resource Communities: Integrating Prevention and Treatment Within Supportive Social Structures in Kenya. Abstract
Timothy Strauman, Professor: Peer Avatars: Improving In-The-Moment Delivery of Mental Health Services. Abstract
Christina Williams, Professor: Mapping a Depression-Like Phenotype in a Female Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease: Relation to Cognitive Decline, Hippocampal Plasticity, and Neuropathogenesis. Abstract
Each grant supports the efforts of a team of faculty members, undergraduate students, graduate students, and/or postdoctoral fellows. The funds will support faculty research in many ways, with examples including the purchase of a cutting-edge eye tracker, supplies for systems neuroscience microscopy, compensation of research participants, usage of transcranial-magnetic stimulation and functional MRI systems, support for a mental health field site in Kenya, professional training for undergraduates who will serve as peer mental health counselors, and support for the salaries and conference travel of the numerous undergraduates who will be involved in the projects.
Congratulations to the recipients, and thank you to the Charles LaFitte Foundation!
Tobias Egner, Associate Professor: The Eyes are the Window to the Mind: Tracking Control over Multiple Items in Working Memory
“Working memory” (WM) refers to our ability to temporarily keep information (like a shopping list) “in mind”. Information in WM guides our attention (for example, to the sought-after items in the supermarket), and some researchers claim that multiple items can bias attention simultaneously while others argue that only a single item at a time can bias attention. Here, we use eye-tracking methods to test the hypothesis that people can strategically vary the number of items in WM that are allowed to guide attention depending on their usefulness, such that this number will vary with task demands.
Sarah Gaither, Assistant Professor: Social, Cognitive, and Behavioral Responses to Identity Threat
For the first time in modern U.S. history, there are more non-White than White individuals being born. Moreover, increases in immigration and interracial marriage, and shifts in language about biracial and transgender populations, highlight the need for research to be more inclusive regarding the role that multiple identities may play in one’s experiences with and responses to social threat. Across the next year, seven studies spearheaded by graduate and undergraduate students will investigate how diverse participants respond to gender and racial identity threats to pinpoint what contexts lead to increased versus reduced social threat.
Bridgette Martin Hard, Associate Professor of the Practice: Do Beliefs about Teaching Shape Academic Attitudes and Outcomes?
How do students’ beliefs about the nature of teaching influence their academic behaviors and outcomes? One way that beliefs are conveyed is via metaphor, which both reflect and shape how people think about complex subjects like crime, the economy, and learning. My research aims to understand the dominant metaphors that students hold about teaching, how students’ preferred metaphors predict their academic attitudes and behaviors, and whether metaphors can be used to change students’ academic attitudes and behaviors in ways that promote their success.
Kevin LaBar, Professor: Causally Testing a NeuroCognitive Model of Distancing as an Emotion Regulation Technique
Distancing oneself from a current distressing situation is a mental skill that can help people to manage their emotions. However, little is known about how distancing works behaviorally or in the brain. Here we wish to apply recently developed tools in neuroscience, along with behavioral manipulations, that can modify brain activity in ways that we think will make distancing more or less effective. In doing so, we will come to a better understanding of the cognitive processes and neural circuits that support distancing as a form of emotion regulation. If successful, this research may lead to the development of new treatments to help those who suffer from stress-related disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Eve Puffer, Assistant Professor: A Pilot Trial of a Family-Strengthening Intervention for Low-Resource Communities: Integrating Prevention and Treatment Within Supportive Social Structures in Kenya
Mental health disorders affect 20% of young people worldwide, and family environments can increase or decrease risk. Family-based prevention and treatment have proven effective but have rarely been tested in low-resource contexts where care is extremely scarce. We will test a family intervention in Kenya delivered through religious congregations. The intervention, Tuko Pamoja (“We are together” in Kiswahili), combines a group program to strengthen all families in a congregation with tailored family therapy for families in distress. Tuko Pamoja is delivered by congregation members themselves. We will pilot Tuko Pamoja in one congregation to evaluate feasibility and participants’ responses.
Timothy Strauman, Professor: Peer Avatars: Improving In-The-Moment Delivery of Mental Health Services
Although college students are burdened by mental health issues, accessibility and stigma are barriers to receiving treatment. Having a trained peer who can coach a student through a difficult moment may be a way to help students who cannot access professional services. We designed a peer mental health coaching program that uses virtual avatars and a smartphone messaging application. We will examine our effectiveness at: training coaches, improving the mental health and empathy of peer coaches, and improving mental health in students. We intend to make Duke a community that helps each other, while eliminating barriers to mental health support.
Christina Williams, Professor: Mapping a Depression-Like Phenotype in a Female Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease: Relation to Cognitive Decline, Hippocampal Plasticity, and Neuropathogenesis
Despite the fact that Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and depression affect vastly more women than men, studies to understand this increased vulnerability in females, the relationship between AD and depression, and optimal treatments for these conditions in females are lacking. While we know that regular aerobic exercise is good for brain health and can improve symptoms of AD and depression, we do not know whether or when exercise might particularly benefit women. Here, we propose to use our powerful mouse model of female AD to address these issues of significant consequence for the brain health of more than half the human population.