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Hand placement critical to learning and concentration.

Research by Christopher Davoli shows hand placement critical to learning and concentration​

Psychology faculty member Christopher Davoli uncovers new factors in learning, perception and attention

November 30, 2015

​Century-old beliefs have led most of us to think that caffeine or taking a break from information and returning to it later are the best or only strategies to improve a person's focus, learning, or how they view the world and objects around them. New research, however, sheds light on how hand placement also is part of the equation.

Christopher Davoli, assistant professor of psychology at Central Michigan University, and Philip Tseng, an associate professor at Taipei Medical University, coordinated the global research, published in the peer-reviewed journal, Frontiers in Psychology, and as an e-book. The researchers found how we view and perceive objects around us, remember information, focus our attention or shift attention from one topic to the next can be traced directly to the placement of our hands.​

The findings have practical implications for a broad range of environments and situations, including workplace efficiency, education, attention deficit interventions, building design and consumer product development.

"The key is identifying your end goal. If your goal is to find a creative solution or understand complex information, there is likely a posture and hand placement to match any need or situation," he said.

More information is being driven into our hands than ever before – from e-books to mobile devices – to improve efficiency and learning in an increasingly fast-paced world. Having information quite literally at our fingertips may not always be beneficial to effective learning, concentration and our ability to be flexible in our thought processes.

"Reading a story on a tablet device may make a person more likely to concentrate and retain details, but less likely to think about the bigger picture or message in what they are reading. A story read on a computer screen further from a person's hands will be processed differently, and it will be easier to think bigger; however, the mind also may be more likely to wander to other topics or objects," Davoli said.

Davoli said the research is a significant stride forward in understanding the use of hands-on learning, but more work is needed to solidify specific solutions for consumer products, schools, workplaces and homes.

"Now that this research exists, we can begin to apply it to real world situations to improve the way we create products, communicate information and improve productivity," Davoli said.

Davoli and Tseng coordinated experts from around the world to gather research, review results, and analyze the common effects of body posture and hand placement on a person's attention and cognition. In total, the call for research generated 12 peer-reviewed articles by 34 experts spanning 23 institutions in countries including Germany, England, China and Canada. The studies allowed researchers to observe the effects of hand placement and posture on subjects in a variety of laboratory settings that mimicked real-world scenarios, including cutting food, using a mobile device and working with another person to complete a puzzle. ​​



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Gary Dunbar named Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year

Gary Dunbar named Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year

April​ 10, 2015

Central Michigan University neuroscience professor Gary Dunbar's passion for teaching and mentoring has transformed the lives of hundreds of students throughout his 33-year career at CMU, all while ­guiding CMU's neuroscience program to national prominence.

On this foundation, Dunbar has earned recognition as 2015 Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year, sponsored by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.

Dunbar, a CMU alumnus, is a nationally recognized leader in neuroscience education. He developed and has nurtured CMU's undergraduate neuroscience program, leading it to be named the country's top program in 2013.

 Dunbar has attained national recognition for his program of student-centered research and actively garners experiential learning opportunities for his students. Working alongside him, Dunbar's students have conducted hands-on research, primarily using stem cells, that has resulted in significant findings related to the stroke, as well as diseases such as Alzheimer's and Huntington's.

 "Dunbar's passion for developing strong, independent thinkers is evidenced in the way he structures his classes and his research laboratory and also in the leaders who have emerged from his mentorship," CMU Provost Michael Gealt said. " All of the students who have the opportunity to work with Dunbar comment on his commitment, the amount of time he devotes to them and his accessibility."​

To Dunbar, this award is very special.

"This award recognizes what attracted me to this profession, which is to help provide a nurturing learning environment for undergraduates," Dunbar said. 

One example of Dunbar's life-changing influence is the story of CMU alumnus Charles Weaver. As an undergraduate student at CMU, Weaver was struggling as a student and as an athlete on CMU's baseball team. Dunbar encouraged Weaver to keep working in his lab. That encouragement, along with the experience in the lab, helped Weaver to not only graduate but also go on and get his doctorate in neuroscience. He currently teaches at Saginaw Valley State University. Hear​ more about Weaver's story in the video below.

 
 
"I was fortunate to have many role models and outstanding mentors throughout my life," Dunbar said. "However, it is during the undergraduate years when many students, including me, have the greatest need for the care, empathy and guidance that will help them set the courses of their lives."

The Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year award program recognizes the outstanding contributions made by faculty from Michigan's public universities to the education of undergraduate students. Each of Michigan's 15 public universities were invited by the Presidents Council to nominate a faculty member who has had a significant impact on student learning through various media, including teaching excellence and student advising.

Dunbar is one of three in the state to receive the award. He and the other awardees were recognized during a ceremony April 10th at the Lansing Convention Center.



CHARGE Lab researchers

Psychology students, professor study rare genetic disorder in CHARGE Syndrome Research Lab

November 19, 2014
By Lexi Carter, CM Life

When Tim Hartshorne’s son Jacob was born, he was different than the rest of the infants delivered that day.​ Jacob was one of 15,000 births to carry a rare genetic disease caused by the mutation of a specific gene, commonly known as CHARGE syndrome.​ 

In CHARGE, the C stands for coloboma, which results in a missing piece in the eye. H stands for heart defect. A is for atresia of the choanae, which means that the openings in the back of the nose that allow air to pass are blocked. The R is for retarded growth or development. G is for genital hypoplasia and the E is for ear malformations.

“The interesting thing about CHARGE is that the kids vary in  the extent of which they are affected by the different anomalies,” Hartshorne said. “I think the most important things about it are the multi-sensory impairments. They have lots and lots of different kinds of sensory issues which makes it very very challenging.”

The sensory impairments include visual impairments, an impaired sense of smell and balance problems because the mechanism that controls balance in the inner ear is malformed.

Hartshorne first decided to focus his research on CHARGE in the mid '90s. When the lab was created, there were only one or two students. Now the lab has grown to have seven active members, both graduate and undergraduate students.

Each student in the lab has a research project they are working in that focuses on some aspect of CHARGE syndrome. The meetings in the lab are directed towards keeping people on task with their projects and seeing if anyone needs assistance.

 “I try to put people into their own projects," Hartshorne said. "It’s a little exhausting for me because I’m supervising lots of projects, but it’s really nice because it give people a sense of identity when they’re in the lab that they are important and what they’re doing is significant.”

CMU steps up

The lab is essential for students when applying for graduate school and is equally important for graduate students who need research and dissertations.

Students get to become an expert in something that not many people know about.

“These guys know more about CHARGE syndrome than some of the professionals in the area of CHARGE syndrome,” Hartshorne said. “They get out there and they get recognized.”

Megan Schmittel, a graduate student in the school of psychology from Warrenton, Mo., said the lab is extremely beneficial in terms of research and gathering ideas for topics and how to conduct them. Traveling is also a regular occurrence when students are a part of the CHARGE lab.

“Being able to bounce ideas off of Tim and your peers is really helpful in that respect. I get social aspects from it because we do have a lot of fun,” Schmittel said. “Being able to travel, meet people around the world, learn different things from different people and spread out and connect with other professionals is great. There are a lot of really amazing opportunities.”

Schmittel is researching the development of social play in kids with CHARGE syndrome and how it could possibly hinder their ability to develop social skills.

“I want to see if social skills develops differently in kids with charge and how that affects their behavior and their self-regulation, because we do see some behavior problems and some social issues in kids with CHARGE,” Schmittel said “I’m kind of wondering if there is a connection between if they have delayed social play, if that’s affecting social skills because play is important in the development of those skills”

Rachel Malta, a graduate student in the school of psychology from Roseville, is planning on working in school systems and hopes that the lab will help her work not only with children with CHARGE, but others as well.

“It’s really great for me to be able to learn about a specific population of students and how best I can support them in the school,” Malta said. “It’s also not just for CHARGE students, because a lot of these characteristics aren’t just for kids with CHARGE, but with deaf or blindness. I could encounter kids that have that in general, and it really helps me learn how best I can address this in the schools.”

When working with kids with CHARGE, Schmittel said it is important to focus on the child and their individualities.

“You really have to look at the child in terms of how you’re going to intervene with them, and you can't just have this kind of catch all intervention,” Schmittel said. “That taught me when I’m working with any child I need to look at the kid as a person. I need to figure out who they are as a person and what kind of challenges they’re facing instead of just changing them.”

Today, Hartshorne’s son is 25 years old and on the low functioning end of CHARGE syndrome.

“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. He made my career,” Hartshorne said. “Because of Jacob I travel the world. I’m an international expert on something. It’s just wonderful. I thank him all the time. Not everybody does research because of personal interest or personal investment.” 

>>View article on CM Life website



CMU opens new center to provide autism assessment, treatment & training.

New CMU center to provide autism assessment, treatment and training

October 30, 2014

A new center at Central Michigan University will help tackle Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S., affecting approximately one in 68 children according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Clinic will provide diagnosis and treatment to children and adolescents in central and northern Michigan. The new center is one of only eight of its kind in Michigan, and one of only two that train professionals in diagnosis and treatment.

The center, which opened this week with financial support from the Michigan Department of Community Health, is addressing priority needs in Michigan by decreasing the wait time for a diagnosis and for receiving applied behavior analysis therapy.

“With an increase in ASD referrals, we need more practitioners who have specific training in this area to promote accurate diagnosis,” said center director Christie Nutkins. “We can help one child at a time but we can impact many more people by training CMU students on how to accurately diagnose this growing disability.”

For those visiting the new clinic, a comprehensive multi-disciplinary assessment is completed in order to reach a diagnosis. The assessment includes interviews with parents and/or caregivers, speech and language evaluation, a full psychological battery test; and a medical examination by a CMU College of Medicine pediatrician.

According to the CDC, it is estimated to cost at least $17,000 more per year to care for a child with ASD compared to a child without ASD.

“The diagnosis portion is very important as a diagnosis is needed for insurance companies to cover treatment,” said Nutkins.

Following diagnosis, patients will be treated at the center through applied behavior analysis. Graduate and undergraduate students will be involved to assist in treatment.

“Intensive intervention makes a difference,” said psychology faculty member and board certified behavioral analyst Deborah Grossett. “We’ll do whatever we can to help children learn their best and teach them to be more independent.”

Autism spectrum disorder can cause significan​t social, communication and behavior challenges. Symptoms often emerge between two and three years of age. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends children be screened for ASD at the ages of 18 and 36 months. A diagnosis at a young age can improve the opportunities for early interventions. 


​Additional media stories

9&10 News, 11/4/2014
CMU welcomes new ​autism clini​c

UpNorth​ Live, 11/4/2014
Central Michigan University launches first northern Michigan autism clinic




 

​​ Daniele Ruscio in the CMU DEER Center.

​CMU driving center joins forces with Italian university to make roads safer

​September 29, 2014

Two universities whose campuses are more than 4,000 miles apart have come together with a goal of making roads safer around the world.

Central Michigan University and Cattolica University in Milan, Italy, conduct similar traffic psychology research. Using driving simulators and other technology, researchers assess cognitive fitness to drive and conduct research on attention and driving in older adults and in persons with attention, neurological or developmental disorders. 

CMU's research is conducted in the Center for Driving Evaluation, Education and Research in Anspach Hall.

“Our labs have very complementary interests,” said Rick Backs, director of the DEER Center. With CMU in a rural location and Cattolica in an urban location we hope to be able to do research together on rehabilitation and training of vulnerable driver populations that neither of us could do on our own.”

The relationship has recently gained ground with the first exchange between the two institutions. Daniele Ruscio from Cattolica began a one-year term this fall as a postdoctoral faculty member in CMU’s DEER Center. He specializes in traffic and transportation psychology, including how visual attention, emotional regulation and decision-making processes can be trained to prevent road accidents.

“Dr. Ruscio's visit is just the first of what we hope will be ongoing faculty and student exchanges between our labs,” said Backs.

The DEER Center aims to provide clinical services that evaluate cognitive fitness to drive, education to improve driver safety and research on driver’s safety.

Since his arrival in Mount Pleasant, Ruscio has spent much of his time understanding how the DEER Center equipment and software work. He noted many similarities between the two institutions, but also many differences.

“The lab I study at in Italy is primarily research focused, but this center intrigues me as it also offers evaluation and research that help the local community,” said Ruscio.

Maria Ciceri, scientific head of the traffic psychology unit at Cattolica, and Federica Biassoni, a postdoctoral faculty member at Cattolica, visited CMU Sept. 23 through 25 to tour the DEER Center and learn more about CMU’s research. Backs also will visit Cattolica University later this fall to help further strengthen the relationship.

Learn more about the DEER Center here​.​

Faculty from Cattolica U




CMU student researchers study complex genetic disorder

CMU lab provides critical insight into CHARGE syndrome

June 10, 2014

Over the past 10 years, a CMU faculty member and his students have helped the world better understand a relatively rare disorder through research and hands-on interaction.

Central Michigan University houses the only CHARGE syndrome research lab​ in the nation that focuses solely on the complex genetic disorder and its behavioral implications.

“CHARGE syndrome is an extremely complicated condition, and parents are faced with so many surgeries, hospitalizations and doctor visits that it is easy to forget the individual and get caught up in all the ‘medical stuff,’” said David Wolfe, president of the CHARGE Syndrome Foundation. “In the process, the behavioral and psychological components, which in many ways are the most complex portion of the syndrome, are put on the back burner. It is in this critical area that CMU has excelled.”

Psychology professor Tim Hartshorne began researching behavioral issues in those with the syndrome in 1999 and established the CMU CHARGE lab in 2004. In the past 10 years, 22 students have conducted research projects in the lab and interacted with children and families impacted by the syndrome.

“CMU is a leader in trying to develop a better understanding of some of the behaviors that are often associated with CHARGE syndrome,” Wolfe said. “A better understanding always leads to better treatment and strategies.”  

CHARGE syndrome occurs in about one in every 10,000 births worldwide and can cause deafness, blindness, heart defects, growth and development issues, and physical anomalies, according to the CHARGE Syndrome Foundation.

Hartshorne said he is impressed with his students’ enthusiasm for the research and opportunities to work with the children and families.

“The students who work or have worked in CMU’s CHARGE lab have learned a tremendous amount about this relatively rare genetic disorder so that they are actually experts,” Hartshorne said.

Hartshorne and his students have published 30 studies from their research on CHARGE. These studies have explored autistic-like and challenging behavior in CHARGE syndrome, executive function and much more. Families of those affected by CHARGE also benefit directly from these studies as Hartshorne and his students travel to present their research at conferences through the U.S. and around the world.

Current research taking place in the CHARGE Lab includes the development of play in children with CHARGE syndrome, Tai Chi as an intervention for issues, headaches in children with the syndrome and communication systems in CHARGE.​