Fighting social media addiction
Students create intervention to promote healthy use for teens
October 16, 2017
How much is too much when it comes to adolescents and social media?
Teens in the United States spend nearly nine hours of each day online. At least a third of that time is spent using social media, and that is rapidly increasing.
The number of teens engaged in problematic social media use — such as using social media after bedtime and cyberbullying — is growing, prompting a team of six Central Michigan University students to create an intervention for at-risk adolescents.
The undergraduate and graduate students designed the Development of Healthy Social Media Practices Intervention through the CMU Family Health Lab, under CMU psychology
faculty member Sarah Domoff
It is designed to promote healthy social media use for adolescents needing treatment and aims to decrease the risks involved with overusing social media.
"It is so fascinating that our society spends so much time using media, yet we rarely step back and think about the many effects that media may pose to our lives," said Chelsea Robinson, a senior exercise science kinesiology major from Plainwell, Michigan. "This intervention really aims to educate adolescents about the effects that media may have on them, which directly ties into my interests in public health."
Introducing the intervention
The intervention would help adolescents better understand the good and bad of social media use and its impact on their health and well-being.
Three separate sessions would improve how adolescents respond to social media content and usage by helping them develop coping and problem-solving skills.
The end goal? Adolescents will identify social media practices they want to change and then develop a plan to use social media more responsibly.
"The concept of using media seems so simple," Robinson said. "It seems like one could sum up the effects of media in a few sentences, yet we made three nearly 40-minute sessions out of the information we had."
The team will present the intervention proposal to clinicians in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for their review.
Tackling Tweets, likes, shares and swipes
Feedback from the clinicians and adolescents will help prepare the intervention for a large-scale study, Domoff said. It was designed so that clinical psychologists could adapt the individual assignments for outpatient therapists to use.
"Our students are developing an intervention that could increase healthy social media use in adolescents. This has not yet been done in clinically referred youth," she said. "We will be happy to share our intervention with any clinician in the hope that it could be implemented in outpatient and school settings."
This is a reason that school psychology doctoral student Sarah Brenner wanted to get involved with the project. She said adolescents are a key audience to focus on following recent news stories about children experiencing forms of cyberbullying.
"I think learning how social media affects our youth can lead to interventions targeting social media management to prevent some of these negative outcomes," said Brenner, of Cincinnati, Ohio.
In conducting the research for her intervention session, junior psychology major Rachel Gerrie said she found little information related to adolescents and social media addiction.
"Developing the module itself is just the tip of the iceberg with the issue we are looking into," said Gerrie, of Atlanta, Michigan. "I feel as though this project is something that is going to put my name out there and actually make a difference."
ADHD, classroom chairs and therapy balls
CMU student researches options for on-task behavior
August 14, 2017
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may be overly active or have trouble paying attention or controlling impulsive behaviors.
But one school psychology student researcher at Central Michigan University wondered if these children actually could be sitting on a solution to their ADHD.
Abbie Taipalus questioned, "Would sitting on a therapy ball instead of a traditional four-legged classroom chair improve their on-task behavior and academic performance?"
Therapy balls — also known as exercise balls or stability balls — are air-filled rubber balls that range from 20 to 30 inches in diameter. An increasing number of school systems across the United States are using them to improve student attention, but the research into their effects is limited.
Taipalus was onto a great topic to pursue as a thesis paper, and she had the full support of her professor Michael Hixson.
Even the research journal Behavioral Interventions took interest and recently published the work Taipalus collaborated with Hixson and fellow CMU psychology graduate students Robert Wyse and Sophie Fursa.
ADHD is one of the most common childhood neurobehavioral disorders. An estimated 5.1 million children between ages 4 and 17 have a current ADHD diagnosis.
"In learning about how common the balls are in school settings today, I knew the study would be valuable," said Taipalus, of Jonesville, Michigan. "I've always believed in the positive effects of movement and exercise on learning. I knew this study would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about these theories."
She is working as a school psychologist in the Jackson County Intermediate School District as she finishes her doctoral studies at CMU.
It turns out Taipalus and her team found that therapy balls fall flat in helping elementary school students diagnosed with ADHD to stay on task. There were relatively small differences in academic engagement between when a child sat on a chair or a therapy ball.
Project advances ADHD research
It may seem like this was an unsuccessful project. But finding nothing actually pushes researchers closer to discovering solutions for helping children with ADHD, Hixson said.
He explained that there is little research into the effects of using therapy balls in the classroom, and their collective results are inconclusive. Some studies show benefits while other studies show none.
"We want to know what works and what doesn't work," he said.
Taipalus first noticed therapy balls being used as chairs in schools during her first-year practical experience. She immediately started reviewing the research on using therapy balls as chairs. She found only four published studies.
"As a school psychologist, I work with students with ADHD on a daily basis who struggle socially, behaviorally and academically," Taipalus said. "A large number of these parents are choosing not to medicate, which makes it even more important to provide up-to-date research on nonpharmacological strategies to help these students be successful."
Psychologists in training
CMU students provide mental health services through on-campus center
July 24, 2017
James Simms knew he was taking his career in the right direction as soon as he met his first client at Central Michigan University's Psychological Training and Consultation Center.
The PTCC is where CMU psychology students get clinical training with real clients.
"This type of training is the most important part, because that is what it is all about," Simms said. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native is entering his third year in the clinical program.
"All of the research and studying we do is to better the treatment of psychological difficulties and disorders," he said. "Learning how to actually do treatment with people in need is the purpose of our profession."
Top CMU psychology experts and researchers supervise clinical psychology doctoral students who are training at the PTCC by treating clients from the university and throughout mid-Michigan. Simms has treated people with depression, low self-esteem, attention deficit and hyperactivity, and more.
One in five adults in the United States experiences a mental illness, and nearly 60 percent of these adults don't receive mental health services, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The center at CMU offers outpatient mental health services at minimal to no charge to clients whose mental health needs might otherwise go unmet. It has a general clinic and a psychological assessment clinic, and it also offers these specialized programs:
Doctoral students provide all clinical services under psychology faculty guidance.
Cheryl Chakranarayan is in her third year of the clinical psychology program. She has trained in the assessment lab and anxiety clinic. Chakranarayan will train in the neuropsychology clinic next year.
"Working at the center is essentially doing therapy with training wheels. Although there is a steep learning curve at the beginning, there also is support from supervisors and staff," said Chakranarayan, who is from Pune, India.
Students see an average of five clients each week. Training closely with faculty mentors helps set the CMU program apart from other clinical programs, said Amanda Lopez, PTCC director.
"Our students will follow faculty through the program, and the faculty will guide them toward that career path," she said. "Not all clinical psychology programs have that level of mentorship."
Lopez said students are ready to see clients on their own by the time they finish the training and move onto their internships and careers as psychologists.
The center gives clinical psychology students a wide range of training experiences, and it also fills a need for CMU and area community mental health services, Lopez said. Client referrals come from the CMU Counseling Center and from mental health agencies in many mid-Michigan cities.
"There is a waiting list in the community for mental health services, and I think we will likely see a continued increase in the number of people looking to access the types of services we provide," she said. "We get a lot of people referred because their health insurance doesn't cover mental health services, and they have to pay out-of-pocket for these services."
Simms said training through the center has been integral to his development as a clinical psychologist.
"It has helped me learn how to conceptualize what methods can best help a client with certain issues and how to convey that to clients and transplant science into constructive human interaction," he said.
Inspiring autism 'aha' moments
CMU treatment center chips away at shortage of trained professionals
July 14, 2017
Autism spectrum disorder affects every individual differently.
Brian Davis understands this after three years working with children in the Central Autism Treatment Center at Central Michigan University.
"No two people are the same," Davis said. "If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism."
Davis, of Owosso, Michigan, is a CMU experimental psychology graduate student who will graduate in December. He's a supervisor at the center, which is fulfilling a nearly $500,000 grant with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to expand services in Michigan for children with autism.
CAT provides a program that leads to behavior analyst certification.
Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley recently said Michigan needs between 1,500 to 2,000 certified service providers. Currently there are 603.
Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S., affecting approximately one in 68 children.
The CAT center currently serves 17 children, and grant funding trains the professionals who work with them. Undergraduate and graduate CMU students can complete their fieldwork and practical experience by participating in treatment.
The center supplements autism services that schools provide, said Director Christie Nutkins. She said space is limited, and the children receive service over a long period of time, so turnover is not high.
"We really are training the future providers of applied behavioral analysis services in the state of Michigan," Nutkins said. "We want people from Michigan to stay in Michigan instead of moving away."
"Between graduate-level and undergraduate programs, 129 students have gone through the program, and 15 of them are certified," Nutkins said. "Not all of them who go through the program take the exam for certification because some choose to work in other fields such as education or speech-language pathology or communication disorders."
CMU's exam pass rate for students reporting results is 94 percent, which is higher than the national average of approximately 60 percent.
Davis is among the 15 who are certified.
He came to CMU as an undergraduate in 2014 to pursue a degree in physical therapy, but a psychology professor, Carl Johnson, encouraged him visit the then-new Central Autism Treatment Center in 2014.
"I checked it out, and I never left," Davis said. "Working here is extremely rewarding, and because our field is so data-driven, you get to see what your personal impact has had on a child over a month's time."
Davis remembers working with a 5-year-old who didn't have solid communication skills.
"When his dad came to pick him up, he said 'Hi' to his son, who responded with 'Hi, Dad,'" Davis said. "Seeing the parents' reaction to their kids actually acknowledging them, it was groundbreaking for them."
Shannon Hunyadi is a junior psychology major from Troy, Michigan, who has worked at the center for two years. Her memorable moment came earlier this year when she watched the 2-and-a-half-year-old child she's working with do his first sign independently.
What did he sign?
"He signed the word 'open,'" Hunyadi said proudly. "I was really excited."
Funding for future services
Additional services provided through the current grant included collaborating with area schools and offering training for educational professionals.
State of Michigan grant funding will end Sept. 30, but Nutkins is working to secure additional funding.
She said one of the benefits of being a university-based training center is the chance to provide data and publish research that could help other training centers.
After bullying, mentors make a difference
CMU faculty find close relationships prevent future problems
June 8, 2017
More than one in three middle and high school students say they are victims of bullying, but people can help such victims when they reach out and connect as mentors.
Two Department of Psychology
faculty members have published research showing how mentoring relationships can help victims overcome related mental health difficulties and other interpersonal problems later in life.
Such mentoring relationships are low-cost interventions that can help prevent negative outcomes of bullying, said Stephanie Fredrick, one of the researchers. They often provide a sense of escape from daily stresses of life.
"Not only is bullying related to mental health problems of high school students, but the problems persist into college," she said. "Having that warm, supportive relationship is a step toward alleviating mental health problems."
It isn't like victims of bullying outright ask for a mentor, and this is why it is important for potential mentors to be perceptive and cognizant of students' actions and well-being, she said. Students dealing with bullying-related concerns are more likely to confide in a person they feel close to.
"If the student feels they are being bullied, I want them to know that I am one adult they can tell that to," Fredrick said. "We want students to just tell somebody who can then help them find the help they need."
How everyone silently is a mentor
The study specifically looked at what researchers considered "natural mentoring relationships," meaning connections bullying victims had with people beyond their immediate family and professional mentors such as a Big Brother or Big Sister.
Fredrick and fellow school psychology faculty member Daniel Drevon examined the connection between past victimization, the presence of mentors and whether the effects of bullying persist in college. Their research was published in the Journal of School Violence
"What we were looking at is how the mentoring relationships in early adulthood protect against the development of future problems," said Drevon, who began the project during his postdoctoral teaching at CMU in 2013. "Victims of bullying who reported having natural mentors reported fewer interpersonal problems than those without a natural mentor."
Natural mentors include people such as coaches, teachers, school psychologists, supervisors and neighbors, Drevon said — people who provide opportunities for closer and more long-term relationships.
The research showed that mentoring relationships provided protection from interpersonal problems, but they did not help overcome senses of depression. Drevon said this shows that mentoring isn't the only solution, but there are further treatments to help overcome depression.
"That's a problem, but encouragingly there are things that are potentially identifiable that we can change in order to reduce some of the negative impact associated with bullying victimization," he said. "The research is needed because we need to know how to intervene, and we need to know how to prevent bullying."
Why every day should be take your dog to work day
CMU professor's research makes case for canines' impact on group dynamics
June 5, 2017
When it comes to the workplace, there's blue collar, white collar and now, maybe, flea collar.
Research shows having a companion dog present during group meetings could improve employee emotions, enhancing communication and cooperation, according to Central Michigan University psychology professor Stephen Colarelli.
Such news is perfect timing for National Take Your Dog to Work Day, which this year is Friday, June 23.
While previous studies show how dogs improve brief social encounters between two people, Colarelli and his research team studied the canine influence on group interactions. The end results, in the 2017 issue of Anthrozoös research journal, suggest workplaces could benefit from having a dog handy.
"Dogs are a social lubricant," Colarelli said. "When work teams are first formed, it often takes a while for people to get comfortable with each other, but having a dog in the room seems to put people more at ease."
Colarelli and his team of undergraduate and graduate research assistants spent two years collecting the data on how a standard poodle, Jack Russell terrier and mixed-breed dog could influence the way groups of four people interacted with each other. Two separate studies focused on problem-solving and decision-making tasks, and a third study examined a companion dog's effect on emotions expressed within individual groups.
All three studies found group members were noticeably more friendly and positive through making eye contact, leaning toward each other, and increasing senses of trust and cooperation.
"Most workplaces of today are increasingly high-stress environments, and the results of this research indicated how companion dogs can influence prosocial behaviors," Colarelli said.
The research was conducted with recruited subjects in an on-campus test laboratory. Colarelli said it will be interesting to pursue similar research in an actual workplace —one that uses dogs as well as other animals.
"Some people may say the groups were more at ease because of the novelty of having an animal of any kind present," he said. "I'd like to test this using other animals, but we chose the dog because dogs are intuitively more connected to humans.
"Dogs were the first animal to be domesticated, and a dog is the only animal that follows a human gaze," he said.
Teaming up for autism and special needs
CMU autism center and athletics create Chippewas TOPSoccer
Melissa Tuttle, director of autism assessment in Central Michigan University's Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center, knew CMU women's soccer coach Peter McGahey could help her level the playing field for children with autism and special needs.
McGahey is active in the Midland Soccer Club's TOPSoccer — a national program that's inclusive for children 5- to 14-years-old regardless of disability — and together Tuttle and McGahey launched Chippewas TOPSoccer.
"TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) provides a safe space for children with autism to be successful at fun, recreational activities and provides them with a place to develop relationships with others, practice social skills, and continue developing motor and leisure skills," Tuttle said. "It also demonstrates a commitment to making the community a more inclusive place — one where all persons have opportunities and are valued."
The program is free for all players and is coordinated through a partnership with CMU women's soccer, Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center, and the Midland Soccer Club.
Tuttle, a 2016 CMU graduate of the school psychology doctoral program, first learned of TOPSoccer through previous work in Omaha, Nebraska. But it regularly has been a part of McGahey and his family's life for many years.
"This is a way to give back to the communities where we live and to the game that has given me so much," said McGahey, who this fall will enter his fifth season as CMU's head soccer coach. "TOPSoccer focuses on encouragement and offers opportunities to participate in soccer at the ability level of each athlete."
Through this partnership, McGahey and Tuttle established an internship to provide professional development opportunities for an interested student who will help the program grow and ensure its longevity. Kaylin Hoomaian, a senior exercise science major from Novi, Michigan, served as the first TOPSoccer intern.
In addition to behind-the-scenes coordination and organization, Hoomaian also interacted and played soccer with the children at their respective skill levels.
"It is so cool to see the athletes' confidence grow from one week to the next, as well as their pure enjoyment for the game," said Hoomaian, a member of the CMU soccer team and two-time Academic All-Mid-American Conference selection. "It opens the door to not only learn the fundamentals of soccer, but also to experience teamwork and just have fun! It makes my day being able to smile, laugh and enjoy soccer with them."
The spring TOPSoccer program that started April 3 will conclude May 1, and plans are underway to host it again this fall and in spring 2018.
TOPSoccer is one of many programs and resources CMU offers to help with diagnosing, treating and living with autism spectrum disorder. In addition to the Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center, other resources include:
Visualizing a bigger personal space
CMU students researching effects of meditation on personal space perceptions
March 13, 2017
Undergraduate students at Central Michigan University are investigating whether meditation can help people change their perceived personal space.
The research has the potential to help people overcome conditions such as claustrophobia and social anxieties as well as improve athletic performance. Nathan Houle, a sophomore psychology major and religion minor from Midland, Michigan, and Jessica LaLone, a senior psychology and Spanish major from Auburn Hills, are co-leading the research project.
"A lot of the meditation I've worked with manipulates the sense of the body in space," Houle said. "With the meditation, we focus our attention on people's visualization, and there isn't a lot of research being done in this area."
The student research team is working under the direction of experimental psychology faculty members Emily Bloesch and Chris Davoli. Students conduct their research using a pool of participants who are tested on their relation to objects in front of them and then are retested on the same objects following several meditation sessions.
"Whenever I meditate I know my perception shifts in many ways, so learning specifics about this interested me," LaLone said. "This research is beneficial for many reasons; however, the reason that excites me the most is that we could discover if meditation helps us expand both the mental and physical space around us."
Project development began in October, and pilot testing started in February. Members of the research team hope to test at least 60 students this semester, said researcher Valencia Smith, a senior psychology major and family studies minor from Detroit.
"It's going to take some time to pull the information together and analyze it, but we are very encouraged by what we're seeing initially," she said.
Sense of place influences state of being
As faculty members and researchers, Bloesch and Davoli concentrate on the recently developed concept of "embodied cognition," which theorizes that people's cognition goes beyond the brain and is shaped by people's positioning in space.
The brain is responsible for motor skills and reacting to outside influences, but how people understand and respond to situations is directly connected to the physical capacity of their bodies, Bloesch said. For example, people judge hills to be steeper when they're wearing a heavy backpack because it would take more effort to climb to the top.
"The brain isn't out there on its own — it's set in the body, which is the only way we can navigate the environment," she said. "What we do with our body changes the way we see the world."
Davoli and Bloesch had presented to the students the broad idea of studying meditation and body space, based on recent findings showing the relationship between meditation and other forms of cognition. The idea for researching the impact meditation has on people's visualization of the space around them was entirely developed by the students, Davoli said.
A couple of the students came to them with the idea to compare the effect of different types of meditation on body space and introduced them to the meditation app and website headspace.com
that helps to provide meditative insights for the research.
"This is a project that the students built from the ground up," he said. "The students connected with Headspace administrators, and through our relationship with the organization, we get experimental control and ecological validity for the research."
Learning conflict resolution — in prison
CMU students learn alongside men in Saginaw Regional Correctional Facility
March 29, 2017
Jac Ewasyshyn said she was incredibly intimidated the first time she saw the housing unit at Saginaw Regional Correctional Facility. Some of the men are serving life sentences, but preconceived perspectives shifted for the Central Michigan University senior the moment she interacted with one of them.
Ewasyshyn saw him as a person and not as a criminal.
"We can't make criminal behavior go away overnight, but you can't fix the problem until you understand it," said Ewasyshyn, a psychology major from Harrison Township, Michigan.
Ewasyshyn and her 14 fellow honors students are taking an eight-week service-learning and conflict resolution class alongside men who are incarcerated in the Freeland, Michigan, prison. CMU communication professors Shelly Hinck and Ed Hinck co-teach the course that studies how communities create, sustain and transform conceptions of topics such as crime, guilt, innocence and justice from a communications perspective.
"When you give students the opportunity to interact with the individuals that the organization you're working with is serving, it really has the potential to be transformative," said Shelly Hinck. "The students and the men who are incarcerated both are learning this material together. They're engaging as co-learners in the process."
In addition to visiting the correctional facility, CMU students attend on-campus class sessions to begin deconstructing their understanding of what a prison is (there to punish), who is housed in the prison (stereotypes of what it means to be a prisoner) and the perceived fairness of our justice system. They read articles about the prison industrial complex, the role of race in the criminal justice systems and the need for educational programming that rehabilitates rather than punishes.
"While the conflict resolution class is important in helping the men who are incarcerated address and think about their conflict skills, the on-campus class is just as important for our students because it serves as a way to understand the experience in the prison," Shelly Hinck said.
The Hincks have worked with four correctional facilities in Michigan and one in Kansas since 1996 to engage undergraduate and graduate students in the scholarship of service learning. Through these collaborative efforts, more than 240 students have served 277 inmates over the course of 10 different classes.
When conflict management becomes contagious
Ed Hinck said in some ways, the academic portion of the class he is responsible for this semester is like a deconstruction of who is incarcerated. Working with men serving life sentences is important because they generally are the Department of Corrections' lowest priority for programming. He said learning about conflict resolution also can lead to inmates serving shorter sentences.
"By helping to teach men in prison about conflict resolution and mentorship, we’re not just putting a Band-Aid on the problem, we're actually taking tiny steps to help solve it."
Andrea Buckley, Saginaw senior
"The lifers, who don't want the younger men to make the same mistakes that they made, are trying to have a positive influence on the younger inmates," he said. "They are very much interested in conflict management skills to hopefully teach other inmates about conflict management to help them when they get out."
This is the second time the Hincks have facilitated the service-learning partnership between the CMU Honors Program and the Saginaw Regional Correctional Facility. Students Andrea Buckley and Dyese Matthews both enrolled in the first offering and now are serving as course teaching assistants to help lead and mentor the honors students as well as the men who are incarcerated.
"I'm here because of the mentors and influences in my life, and I hope to be a positive influence in the lives of people who need encouragement," said Buckley, a senior from Saginaw, Michigan, majoring in social work. "By helping to teach men in prison about conflict resolution and mentorship, we're not just putting a Band-Aid on the problem, we're actually taking tiny steps to help solve it."
Matthews, a junior from Chicago, Illinois, said she is encouraged to see the transformation of the CMU students when they realize the impact this experience is having on the men in the correctional facility and themselves.
"I remember what it was like last year, so it's interesting to see the students' reactions when they go to the prison for the first time," said Matthews, a fashion merchandising and design major. "Then, after going to the prison for a second time, they already are seeing the work that can be done to improve the lives of the men in prison and to address the problems that lead people to commit crimes."
Improving foster care starts with the family
CMU center partners with Chicago-based organization to strengthen parent-child relationships
March 7, 2017
Nearly 428,000 children in the United States are living in foster care, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families.
To help maximize the foster family experience, trainers and researchers from Central Michigan University's Center for Children, Families and Communities are working with Chicago-based organization Safe Families for Children to evaluate and implement a program that will develop stronger relationships between foster children and foster parents.
"If there's one thing you can do to help a child, it is to help build the parent and child relationship," said CMU psychology professor and CCFC director Larissa Niec. "Strengthening such relationships protects the child on so many levels."
The CCFC works to improve the well-being of children and families through research and mental health interventions, and Safe Families for Children is an alternative foster care agency where children are brought in by their biological parents who are experiencing challenging economic times and need assistance in keeping their children safe.
The two organizations are working together to facilitate, teach and measure the effectiveness of intervention techniques used within foster families. This will broaden the impact of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy currently used within the CCFC, said Niec, who is one of only 20 professionals worldwide certified as a PCIT Master Trainer to provide expert PCIT training and consultation.
Through two daylong workshops in October and January, Niec and her team of CMU students trained approximately 50 host parents on incorporating innovative intervention strategies into the relationships with the children temporarily under their care. In addition to training the host parents, the goal of this project is to empower them to help train the biological parents in order to have a long-term impact on the children's well-being, Niec said.
"We're developing new ways to reach families more effectively," she said, explaining her team has created in-person and online training programs.
Students learn while strengthening the foster care system
Among the CMU trainers and researchers was Irene Brodd, a first-year clinical psychology doctoral student who served as a coach in the training sessions. She said such opportunities are why she chose to pursue her doctorate at CMU.
"Being able to get to the training sooner is a unique thing to do as a first-year doctoral student," said Brodd, who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees at universities in California. "In addition to the training, I get to learn from the older students and then help the students who are developing their skills."
Brodd now is working with graduate and undergraduate students, such as Southfield senior Sydney Tappin, to review and evaluate the data collected in Chicago and determine which intervention strategies are most beneficial. Tappin is majoring in psychology and child development, and she echoed Brodd's appreciation for opportunities to learn from other students and see the impacts of various therapy programs through her work at the CCFC.
"This is part of my internship for child development, and I'm so much more equipped for my own career," said Tappin, who hopes to have her own practice and work to improve the lives of children. "There definitely are ways to get involved here at CMU, but you have to be active and put yourself in those situations."
Niec said the collaboration with Safe Families for Children — located in 70 cities in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and other countries — advances the CCFC's goal to improve the well-being of children and families worldwide. The CCFC already has working relationships with related centers in countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands.
Detecting autism earlier
CMU students part of $2.2 million effort to train professionals in diagnosis and treatment
February 13, 2017
Two Central Michigan University doctoral students are taking steps to encourage early detection, diagnosis and treatment of autism and other disabilities with the help of a grant that pulls together professionals from many disciplines. Autism spectrum disorder 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.
Hannah Borton, a second-year audiology student from Coshocton, Ohio, and Mike Palmer
, a fifth-year applied experimental psychology
student from Alma, Michigan, are among the nine-member cohort of statewide students participating in training that encourages collaboration between medical professionals in identifying and treating such conditions.
"The earlier you can diagnose the condition, the sooner you can start treating it," Borton said. "This is why we want to work with people from other disciplines so we can help each other determine the diagnosis as quickly and accurately as possible."
The training is provided through a $2.2 million, five-year grant awarded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration for the Michigan-Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities Training Program, or MI-LEND. It addresses the complex needs of individuals with autism and other disabilities by increasing the training of medical, doctoral and postdoctoral students to identify the conditions and determine treatment options.
"This is a great opportunity for CMU to integrate training services and expand to new areas," said Carl Johnson, the experimental psychology professor who helped secure a place for CMU in the grant. "There are a lot of treatments for autism; we just want to get the children diagnosed sooner so we can make their lives better."
Through a series of weekly webinars and monthly in-person training sessions, MI-LEND participants share their clinical experiences and provide respective insights to collaborate in recommending disease diagnoses and treatment options. As they move forward with their training, Palmer works closely with his mentor, CMU psychology faculty member Christie Nutkins, and Borton collaborates with her mentor, audiology faculty member Carissa Moeggenberg.
CMU already is actively working through its programs and special centers to train students to diagnose and treat autism and related disorders. As an audiology student, Borton sees and helps treat patients through CMU's Carls Center
. Similarly, Palmer sees and helps treat patients through CMU's Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center
Palmer said learning to collaborate across various disciplines is helping him to view patient conditions beyond the perspective of a psychologist, which in turn provides more comprehensive treatment options for his patients.
"That kind of collaboration can help each professional provide better services, but also can make the individuals receiving the services feel like they are receiving a cohesive treatment rather than one professional telling them one thing and the next something else," Palmer said. "At the very minimum, this kind of training allows us as service providers to be able to let the people we serve know that those other services are out there and what they could do for them."
Other participating universities are Wayne State University, Michigan State University, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, University of Michigan–Dearborn and Western Michigan University. This is the first LEND-related grant Michigan has received, Johnson said.
Lab takes on toddlers' and teens' screen time
Research investigates impact electronic devices have on child health and development
December 8, 2016
Research shows the time each day that adolescents spend looking at a screen — everything from computers to smart phones, tablets and televisions — is nearly equivalent to a full-time job.
For an average of seven hours, they're capturing information that communicates, distracts, educates and entertains, and one Central Michigan University clinical psychology faculty member is looking into how this impacts adolescent health and development.
Sarah Domoff is director of CMU's newly established Family Health Research Lab
. The lab is engaged in projects focused on healthy media use and obesity prevention in adolescents and young children.
"Technology and digital media use isn't going away, and we have to be concerned about what it means for the health and development of children," she said. "We have to look into what can be negative about it, but we also need to look at how we can leverage the use of it to enhance and improve the lives and well-being of children. A lot of this research also has implications for how parents can be involved."
Work conducted at CMU's Family Health Research Lab is done through a collaboration with the University of Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development
and Momentum Center
. This partnership was established through Domoff, who recently completed her postdoctoral training at the University of Michigan and is completing related projects.
Current research involves five CMU students who soon will begin analyzing videos of families eating dinner in their home in order to investigate mealtime media use in families with children at different stages of development — toddlers, preschoolers and early adolescents — and testing whether screen use predicts obesity and other health outcomes across development. Students are measuring the amount of screen time as well as the types of interactions parents have with their children during the meals.
Rachel Gerrie is a sophomore psychology major from Atlanta, Michigan, who was interested in the research because it involves children. Seeing how media use and social networking has taken hold of children as young as two, she said it is important to determine the effect this has on child development and interaction with the people in their lives.
"I have been surprised to see that with the mobile device use and social media networking exploding over the past year, there is not a substantial amount of evidence and/or data exhibiting exactly how media may affect child-parent relationships, co-parenting, obesity and various other areas," Gerrie said. "There is a lot of progress to be made in this area."
In addition to examining the health outcomes of children's media use, current Family Health Research Lab projects include:
- The Problematic Media Use Measure, which psychologists and pediatricians will use to screen for excessive or addictive media use in children; and
- Evidence-based practices that promote effective media parenting.
"I believe that today's parents and their children face unique challenges," said Jacob White, a fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral student and graduate assistant from Shelby, Michigan. "This research with youth and media represents a growing area of concern for parents and the results may inform the field about how parents should monitor media use."
CAFE Ribbon Cutting
December 11, 2015
The Child and Family Enrichment Council (CAFE) hosted an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony at their new location within our Psychology Department's Center for Children, Families and Communities
. The ceremony was followed by the inaugural Dan Denslow Advocate of the Year award presentation, given to Sgt. Kevin F. Dush of the Isabella County Sheriff's Department.
CAFE investigates approximately 125 child abuse cases a year through a multidisciplinary team approach. The center's facility allows for children to be interviewed once by the forensic interviewer, with others watching in an observation room via closed-circuit television.
You can read more about our partnership with CAFE to strengthen child abuse services and prevention in Isabella County here: http://bit.ly/1mawt6b
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.
Partnership strengthens child abuse services, prevention and intervention
CMU and Isabella County to benefit from combined resources
October 19, 2015
For years, the Child and Family Enrichment Council conducted forensic interviews with potentially abused or neglected children in a converted garage.
"Interviewing occurred in a small, lackluster room that was cold in the winter and hot in the summer due to the fact that the room is located in a converted garage without any insulation," CAFE director Brooke Garcia-Nettz said. "Children and their families deserve better."
This was just one of the challenges addressed through a new partnership with Central Michigan University's Center for Children, Families and Communities.
CAFE, a child advocacy center that investigates child abuse and provides services to reduce trauma for child victims in Isabella County, recently moved its operations into the center's facility. This provides the organization with a professional setting as well as several other benefits to help them serve children and families in a more comprehensive, professional and efficient way.
Garcia-Nettz believes the impact of this partnership could be tremendous.
"We have the opportunity to mobilize and collectively build capacity to prevent child physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect, within our community," Garcia-Nettz said. "We also have the ability to create better outcomes for children and families by educating students on best practices in child abuse prevention and intervention techniques before entering their career."
CAFE investigates approximately 125 child abuse cases a year through a multidisciplinary team approach. Along with the forensic interviewer, law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney also are involved, along with a mental health professional in some cases. The center's facility allows for children to only have to be interviewed once by the forensic interviewer, with others watching in an observation room via closed-circuit television.
"The setup we have is exactly what CAFE needs, and our center can provide further help to the children they serve," CCFC director Larissa Niec said.
The center works to improve the well-being of children and families through research and mental health interventions. Utilizing state-of-the-art technology, the faculty and students provide real-time coaching for parents to help them learn and practice healthy discipline techniques and enhance their parent-child relationships.
Children who need further assessment or treatment, determined through the forensic interviews, also can get that assistance at the center with access to therapists and counseling services.
The new partnership also will provide new and unique opportunities for CMU students.
"This is great for our students as our graduate students will gain training in forensic interviewing and providing services to children who have experienced trauma, and it also will provide research and learning opportunities for undergraduate students," Niec said.
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.
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
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 significant 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.
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.
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.
Neuroscience student wins CMU Provost's Award
April 16, 2014
Neuroscience major Rebecca Culver (third from left) received the CMU Provost's Award during the annual Student Research and Creative Endeavors Exhibition in April. She is exploring a novel way in which dopaminergic neurons can be generated from stem cells. This research may provide a more efficient way to treat Parkinson's disease.
CMU neuroscience professor Gary Dunbar notes that Rebecca's work has been part of several published manuscripts from the neuroscience lab. She's also presented her work at the Society for Neuroscience national meetings during the past two years, and at the Michigan Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience meetings during the past three years.
Larissa Niec wins CMU President's Award
March 5, 2014
Psychology professor Larissa Niec is recipient of the 2014 CMU President's Award. Niec is an internationally recognized researcher, a licensed psychologist and one of only 16 Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Master Trainers worldwide.
She received her award during the 2014 Faculty Excellence Exhibition March 19th in the Park Library Auditorium.