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Research Projects

Current Data Collection:

Posttraumatic Distress and the Immigrant Experience

This study recruits undocumented Latinx immigrant adults seeking asylum in the U.S. to examine how trauma exposure at various stages— prior to, embedded in the asylum-seeking experience, and during their first year settling in the U.S.— concurrently and prospectively influences risk for posttraumatic distress and quality of life via the biological pathway of inflammation.
  • Key Collaborators: Dr. Luz Garcini, Rice University; Dr. Alfonso Mercado, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Dr. Tony Payan, Rice University; Dr. Thomas McDade, Northwestern University
  • Funding: National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities

The Physiological & Relational Bases of PTSD in Latino Immigrant Youth

Latino immigrant children are disproportionately affected by posttraumatic stress symptoms, therefore there is a critical public health need to understand risk and protective factors related to the persistence of these symptoms in the post-migration U.S. context. The proposed study will test both a physiological mechanism underlying this disparity—increased inflammatory response—and the protective effects of parent-child relationship factors in mitigating risk for persistent posttraumatic stress symptoms post-migration; the sample is drawn from a population that is disproportionately affected by posttraumatic stress and rapidly growing in the U.S. and Texas, recently immigrated Latino families. This study will provide novel data on a critical need in minority mental health, posttraumatic stress symptoms, by linking this outcome to a disease mechanism at the physiological level and to protective factors representing putative intervention targets for future research.

  • Project Leader: Debbie Torres
  • Key Collaborators: Dr. Jeremy Bechelli, Sam Houston State University; Dr. Jodi Berger, University of Houston; Dr. Peter Fonagy, University College London
  • Funding: National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities

The Family Relationships & Child Wellbeing Study

Much of the work in our lab centers on understanding how family relationships affect the wellbeing of children and teenagers. To date, this work has typically focused on psychological variables and neglected other important aspects of wellbeing like physical health. The broad aim of this study is to examine how parent-child attachment and a parent's capacity to mentalize, or understand the behavior of others as driven by underlying mental states, relates not only to the psychological health of their children but to their children's microbiome health.

  • Project Leaders: Jesse Walker
  • Key Collaborator: Dr. Aaron Lynne, Sam Houston State University Department of Biological Sciences
  • Funding: SHSU Interdisciplinary Grant Program
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Completed Data Collection:

Longitudinal Data on Psychopathology in Recently Immigrated Teens

Currently, a large number of adolescents are entering the U.S. mainly from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. A smaller but significant group of adolescents migrate from North African nations. Recently immigrated youth are at a very high risk for emerging psychopathology due to many contextual risk factors present in their home countries (e.g., community violence, abuse, and poverty).  Indeed, for many of these adolescents, rampant regional violence and trauma are key motivations for migration and nearly half report having been personally affected. For all of these adolescents, migration represents a major separation from their primary attachment figures. The broad aim of this study is to address the critical need for empirical data regarding psychopathology in this group. Specifically, we are collecting prospective data regarding risk and protective factors for youth psychopathology.

  • Project Leader: Betsy Galicia
  • Funding: American Psychological Association of Graduate Students, SHSU Center for Enhancing Undergraduate Research Experiences and Creative Activities, and SHSU Enhancement Research Grant

Mental Health and Campus Experiences of Immigrant Undergraduate Students

The aim of the study is to gather data regarding the typical campus experiences, mental health experiences, and health care utilization of immigrant students at several college campuses in Texas. The study is the first large scale study of immigrant experiences on college campuses in Texas. It will seek to model the role of immigration status as well as cultural variables in the context of campus experiences and mental health. The role of attachment style as a protective factor that facilitates seeking social support and prompts resilience will be tested.

  • Project Leader: Tessa Long
  • Key Collaborators: Dr. Alfonso Mercado, UT Rio Grande Valley; Dr. Adam Schmidt, Texas Tech University; Dr. Carla Sharp, University of Houston; Dr. Sara Elkins, University of Houston- Clear Lake; Dr. Jennifer Schroeder, Texas A&M University- Commerce

The Physical and Psychological Wellbeing of Children Left Behind by Migration

The aim of the study is to gather data regarding the interpersonal, intrapersonal, and physical wellbeing of young adults attending college in Central America. Survey questions include probes regarding caregiver migration, with the aim of understanding the long-term consequences of caregiver migration on wellbeing. 

  • Project Leader: Cassie Bailey
  • Key Collaborators: Dr. Alfonso Mercado, UT Rio Grande Valley; Dr. Cecilia Colunga, University of Guadalajara

Psychosocial Assessment of Justice Involved Youth

This study aims to gather data regarding how attachment, personality, and social cognitive variables relate to re-offending in adolescents as well as adolescents' behavior while in detention. Data is collected from adolescents who are currently detained with the aim of identifying predictors of recidivism. 

  • Project Leaders: Kaisa Marshall & Ashley Malchow

New Questions for the Hispanic Health Paradox

The overarching goal of this study was to examine Ruiz and colleagues’ (2016) sociocultural model of Hispanic health resilience by specifically assessing Hispanic cultural values in relation to the physical health of Central American immigrant mothers and their children within 24 hours of arrival in the U.S. This study provided the first direct exploration of this sociocultural resilience model in recently immigrated mothers and children at a respite center in South Texas. Moreover, the study sought to examine the role of trauma, a psychosocial experience of increasing prevalence in Central America, in relation to the physical health of mothers and children. Data collected will be used to develop the first integrated model of Hispanic health that includes both sociocultural resilience factors and l trauma-related risk factors in recently immigrated mothers and children from Central America.

  • Key Collaborator: Dr. Alfonso Mercado, UT Rio Grande Valley
  • Funding: University of Texas System, Office of Global Engagement

The Psychological Effects of Social Media Use in Teens

Understanding the social world of adolescents requires understanding their virtual social connections, though this area is currently understudied. The broad aim of this study is to examine the interpersonal and intrapersonal effects of social media use on teens. A small literature base has begun to identify the positive and negative effects of social media use on young adults, but this literature base is limited in two key ways. First, the majority of these studies have been conducted in college students, with few examining social media use in adolescents and few exploring social media use other than Facebook. Second, these studies have focused on correlations between risk behaviors and social media use, with little examination of the psychological mechanisms by which social media use translates to increased risk behavior. This study sought to address these limitations by examining social media use across multiple sites in a large sample of high school students. In addition to examining connections between social media use and several behavioral and functional outcomes, we explored links between social media use and several intrapersonal and interpersonal mechanisms like attachment style and social cognition.

  • Project Leader: Jennifer Harmon

Enhancing Relationships in Schools through Teacher Training

Ample empirical research demonstrates that strong, emotional connections between youth and adults lead to positive outcomes, including academic success and emotional well-being, and mitigate risk for mental illness, peer problems, and school difficulty. Less research has been devoted to how these connections can be fostered for youth and adults who do not spontaneously form them. Further, the bulk of this research has focused on cultivating connections between youth and their parents, with very little research attempting to form protective relationships for youth outside of the home context. The broad aim of this study is to collect outcome data for a program designed to give teachers the skills to form strong attachment relationships with their students, with the ultimate hope that those connections will enhance outcomes for their students.

  • Project Leader: Anna Abate
  • Key Collaborator: Fuel Ed

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