Psychology Laboratory Directors Discuss Research at “Science Café”

Psychological scientists from laboratories around the state shared their work at the first “Science Café,” hosted by the Louisiana Psychological Association this week in New
Orleans. Researchers from the University of New Orleans, Pennington Biomedical and the
University of Louisiana Lafayette discussed current advancements with psychologists
attending the association’s Fall Workshop.

Dr. Elliot Beaton, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University
of New Orleans and the director of the Stress, Cognition, and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, discussed how stress affects brain development and function in children and adolescents at ultra-high risk for later development of serious mental illness.

The goal of Dr. Beaton’s work is to help explain diagnosis, prevention, and mitigation by
understanding early prodromal indicators. He uses functional and structural magnetic
resonance imaging with network connectivity analyses. Dr. Beaton combines this with
behavioral, psychophysiological, hormonal, and immunological stress measures. He was joined by researchers Ashley Sanders, MS, and David Stephenson, MS.

Dr. Christopher Harshaw, Assistant Professor, directs the Mechanisms Underlying Sociality Laboratory at U. of New Orleans. His focus is on understanding the role played by somatic factors in cognition and behavior. Autism Spectrum Disorders frequently exist with a
variety of somatic complaints and issues, including gastrointestinal problems, allergic and immune disorders, as well as thermoregulatory and/or metabolic dysfunction. Dr. Harshaw discussed whether and to what extent such somatic correlates are simply “noise” versus causally related to clinically important facets of dysfunction.

Dr. Robert Newton, Jr., is Associate Professor and director of the Physical Activity & Ethnic Minority Health Lab at Pennington Biomedical. Dr. Newton discussed the effect of
physical activity on African American’s health through the Aerobic Plus Resistance
Training to Increase Insulin Sensitivity in African American Men study. One major goal of
the study is to determine the physiological effects of exercise training in this hard-to-reach
population. African-Americans suffer disproportionately from various health conditions, and
decreased physical activity and increased inactivity levels have been shown to be independent
risk factors for the development of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease,
diabetes, and obesity. AfricanAmericans spend less time in activity and more time in inactivity than is recommended.

Dr. Valanne MacGyvers is Assistant Professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where she has taught for 23 years. In her lab Dr. MacGyvers focuses on issues of mindset in achieving excellence, examining the role of mindset in the prediction of academic excellence and in the understanding of psychological problems in adolescents, including depression, anxiety and eating disorders. She discussed current research which examines academic achievement in college and graduate school, measurement development, the role of music in preparing impoverished preschoolers for Kindergarten, understanding the development of empathy, and people’s attitudes about breast feeding in public.

Dr. T. Scott Smith is Assistant  Professor and director of the Louisiana Applied and Developmental Psychological Sciences Laboratory, a laboratory primarily focused on applied
research, or how information may be used to understand the world better or even make adjustments towards our overall  understanding of cognition. One major area of focus is cell phone distraction and how cell phone distraction affects the learning process, not only in the
classroom, but also how applicable distractions may affect driving behaviors and eyewitness
memory.

Dr. Smith also discussed his work on the effects of video game play on aggressive behaviors for children, adolescents, and adults, and how young children process information, specifically reconstruction memory, and how these processes affect their ability to be (in)effective witnesses.

Dr. Charles Taylor, Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering, is founder of the Cajun Artificial Heart Laboratory, a biomedical research lab with high-end computing and
visualization systems as well as a mock circulatory loop for the purpose of testing artificial heart valves. Dr. Taylor is a bioengineering professor and his lab delivers research capabilities
to the artificial internal organ community in the form of robust in vitro systems, with accompanying computational tools, to accelerate medical device development. Dr. Taylor
discussed the theories and principles of artificial organ creation and his on-going projects.

Dr. Taylor and Dr. Scott Smith, from the U. of Louisiana Lafayette Psychology Department, are
collaborating to develop the SMART test or Sensory Motor and Reaction Time Test for persons with blindness and visual impairment.

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