Faculty Name:
Lee Raby


Faculty College:
Social & Behavioral Science


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Emotion dysregulation refers to experiencing emotions that are excessively intense, prolonged, or unpredictable. Emotion dysregulation is a feature of many mental disorders, and it often interferes with appropriate goal-directed behavior and interpersonal relationships. Emotion dysregulation can be transmitted intergenerationally from parent to child, resulting in increased risk for poor mental health and other problematic outcomes among children. The goal of this research study is to better understand exactly how emotion dysregulation is transmitted to young children early in their development. Specifically, we are examining how mothers’ levels of emotion dysregulation may: (a) program the child’s developing stress response systems during the prenatal period and (b) impact how they interact with their child during the first two years of the child’s life. To do this, we are recruiting approximately 220 pregnant women. During women’s third trimester of pregnancy, we are collecting questionnaire, behavioral, and physiological measures of emotional dysregulation from the women. After they give birth, we then evaluate their newborn’s behavior. When the children are 7 and 18 months of age, we follow up with the families to examine how the children physiologically and behaviorally respond to stressful situations along with how the mothers interact with their children. This research project will advance our understanding of the consequences of mothers’ experiences of emotional dysregulation for their children’s early developmental outcomes. This information, in turn, can be used to help identify vulnerable young children and intervene early in order to prevent the development of problematic outcomes later in life.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

The student will have a vital role in collecting and processing the data for this research project. With regard to data collection, the student will have the opportunity to assist with the research visits when the children are 7 and 18 months of age. The student will be trained on how to collect physiological data from mothers and their young children. This includes attaching sensors to mothers and their children, collecting saliva samples from the children, and collecting hair samples from mothers. In addition, the student will administer standardized protocols that are designed to elicit physiological and emotional responses from the children and capture how mothers care for their young children when the children are distressed. With regard to data processing, the student will have the opportunity to be involved with processing and interpreting physiological information that is being collected from mothers and their children and/or be trained to code the videotaped observations using well-validated systems that quantify mothers’ and young children’s behaviors during the potentially stressful situations. In addition to these roles, the student will be encouraged to formulate specific research questions that are of interest to the student and use data collected for the BABY Study to answer these questions. This involves selecting a topic, reading scientific papers related to the topic, preparing the relevant data for statistical analyses, and conducting the appropriate analyses. These skills give students a glimpse of the graduate school experience while working closely with the faculty mentor and graduate students involved with the BABY Study. Remote Contingency Plan: All of the BABY Study protocols have been adapted for remote work. Specifically, we have revised our data collection protocols in order to collect the physiological and behavioral data from the mothers and their 7- and 18-month-old children in families’ homes. The revised protocols have been approved by the University of Utah Institutional Review Board, and they ensure that students who are assisting with data collection do not have direct, in-person contact with the research participants. We have also adapted the protocols for processing the physiological and behavioral data so that this work can be done remotely. Students can access the necessary data and software packages from their homes (or other remote locations) in order to clean the physiological data or code the observational data. Finally, I also have continued to host regular one-on-one meetings with students as well as weekly lab meetings through Zoom in order to continue to foster collaborative connections between team members

Student Benefits:

The student will gain experience working with vulnerable populations of parents and young children that are at-risk for mental health problems and will develop expertise collecting cutting edge measures used in developmental and clinical psychology. In addition, the student will have cultivated a strong research identity that will inform future projects and graduate school program fit. In this way, the student will be well prepared for graduate school in psychology or a closely related field (such as social work, family studies, or clinical mental health counseling). In fact, a large percentage of our former research assistants have successfully applied to these types of graduate programs. Many of our former research assistants have also gone on to medical school given that our research is interdisciplinary and because we work closely with OB/GYNs and pediatricians. The student will also cultivate skills that can be valuably applied to non-profit or industry settings. These include quantitative skills, such as how to measure complex phenomena, collect different types of data, organize large amounts of information in data files, and use the data to answer pressing research questions. These also include communication skills, such as how to publicly present complicated information in a way that can be easily and accurately understood by both academic and lay audiences.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.