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Diversity Research in Psychology

Diversity is extremely important to the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston. We encourage diversity both within our community of researchers and in the research topics they study. The following is a list of some of many ways issues of diversity are embedded in the research being done in our Department:

Dr. Candice Alfano’s research aims to better understand how individual, familial, and cultural factors influence sleep-wake regulation and the development of anxiety disorders across the life span. Current projects in her lab focus on better understanding sleep patterns as a marker of stress in Hispanic youth and children from military families.

Dr. Johanna Bick’s research programs investigates how early adverse experiences shape neurodevelopmental trajectories in young children. Her work involves families from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural, socio-economic backgrounds. Many studies involve sensitive populations, including families involved in the child welfare system.

Dr. Paul Cirino’s research focuses on developmental neuropsychology, including learning disorders, most often in low-income and diverse populations. For example, a key ongoing project in his lab is focused on the role of attention and achievement in English language learners.

Dr. Rodica Damian's research examines which personality and social factors might help people overcome disadvantaged backgrounds (such as a low socio-economic status) and later go on to succeed in their careers and be happy. Her lab is also interested in understanding how the recent political debate surrounding immigration has impacted the well-being of “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) recipients.

Dr. Jaye Derrick's work examines the influence of close relationships on self-regulation, health behaviors, and addictive behaviors, as well as the reciprocal effect of substance use on relationship functioning and intimate partner violence. Research in her lab considers the role of minority stress on these associations in Latinx and LGBT populations.

Dr. Matt Gallagher’s research examines psychological factors that promote well-being, predict resilience to anxiety and stress, novel treatments for anxiety/stress disorders, and how race, ethnicity, and culture may impact resilience.  Recent studies in these areas include clinical trials with low-income and ethnic minority populations and psychometric studies examining the measurement of resilience and well-being in diverse populations.

Dr. Arturo Hernandez’s research is aimed at understanding the neural bases of bilingualism.  This research has primarily focused on dual-language learners who come from Spanish-speaking homes.  The insights gained from this population challenge many of the hidden assumptions in a literature based to a great extent on monolingual English-speaking participants.

Dr. Therese Kosten examines sex differences in behavioral, neural, and hormonal responses to alcohol, drugs, and stress exposure in animals. Some of her research focuses on early life experiences that suggest organizational effects may occur during critical periods of development to shape sex-dependent responsivity in adulthood.

Dr. J. Leigh Leasure studies sex differences in brain vulnerability to alcohol using rodent models. The goal of this work is to understand the neurobiological underpinnings of health disparities in the severity of alcohol-induced brain damage and dysfunction.

Dr. Carla Sharp’s work focuses on a variety of factors that may influence the development of personality pathology and other psychopathology across the lifespan, including race, ethnicity and culture. Research in her lab develop and evaluate assessment tools and interventions for use in under-represented populations (e.g. HIV/AIDS orphans and HIV infected individuals) toward minimizing health disparities.

Dr. Christiane Spitzmueller’s work is geared toward maximizing the health, well-being and productivity of all employees. Diverse groups of employees, particularly those from historically underrepresented groups, often experience work differently from majority employees. Specific projects aim to understand how we can create supportive and equitable workplace policies and practices for employees from diverse backgrounds. 

Dr. Andres Viana’s research is focused on the study of cognitive vulnerabilities, biologically-based risks, and familial mechanisms related to the development of anxiety pathology across the lifespan. A growing line of research from this work has been the study of individual-difference and sociocultural mechanisms that may explicate the alcohol-anxiety comorbidity among Latinos.

Dr. Anka Vujanovic’s work focuses on understanding trauma-related correlates such as substance use among socioeconomically underprivileged populations from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Recent studies in her lab have included predominantly African American cocaine-dependent adults and acute-care psychiatric inpatients.

Dr. Alan Witt investigates the impact of organizational climate – diversity climate, diversity management practices, unit cohesion, and hostile work environments – on employee well-being, mission readiness, and bystander intervention in sexual assault. He also has examined the training of equal opportunity advisors in the military.

Dr. Rheeda Walker's program of research examines suicide science and African-American adult mental health, with attention to how resilience buffers psychological risk for suicide for second generation Asian American and Latinx adults. Recent works examine how seemingly universal risks (e.g., minor depression, anxiety symptoms) in response to racial discrimination and acculturative stress are buffered by ethnic identity and religious well-being.

Dr. Steven Paul Woods’ laboratory conducts state-of-the-art research and teaching that translates ideas from the cognitive neurosciences into new ways to understand, assess, and improve the day-to-day lives of people with brain dysfunction among diverse and underserved populations (e.g., persons living with HIV disease, older adults). 

Dr. Hanako Yoshida’s research investigates the role of early development of attention in language learning in infants and young children from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Her work provides new insights for interventional programs directed toward ensuring all infants have a healthy start to language development.

Dr. Mike Zvolensky’s research is globally aimed at eliminating inequalities in psychopathology, addictive, and other health risk behaviors through translational research. He has treatment and experimental studies presently focused on individuals from an array of minority groups, including those that are financially impoverished, homeless, Latino, African American, and a sexual minority.