Texas Tech University

Current Projects

Neurocognitive Functioning of Justice-Involved Youth

Collaboration with Boys Town National Research Hospital and Dr. Paul Ingram

Summary of Project: Youth involved in the justice system are unfortunately exposed to a number of traumatic experiences. Exposure to trauma is related to several problems in youth, including mental health disorders, disruptions in normal brain development, and delinquency. The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between trauma exposure, neurocognitive functioning, and mental health disorders with justice-involved youth detained at Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center (LCJJC). Specifically, we are interested in determining if neurocognitive functioning (e.g., executive function, language, emotion processing, response to threat) moderates the impact of trauma and other adverse childhood experiences (poverty, parental incarceration, parental substance abuse, etc.) on the development of mental health disorders and delinquency. This work has implications for the treatment and prevention of delinquency and mental health problems within justice-involved youth and other vulnerable populations.



Examining the Influence of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Adult Cognitive Functioning and Psychopathology-Related Variables

Summary of Project: This study aims to examine the long-lasting effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) across multiple domains of functioning in a college sample. We are collecting performance-based measures of cognition (e.g., language, processing speed, attention, working memory updating, inhibitory control, episodic memory) as well as self-reports of executive dysfunction, psychopathology-related variables (e.g., symptoms of psychopathology, emotional reactivity, cognitive reappraisal, automatic thoughts, coping strategies, emotion regulation), family-related variables, and substance-use variables. This broad approach to examining potential outcome variables, moderators, and mechanisms will aid in increasing our understanding of how individuals with ACEs may function uniquely or relate differently to important variables in clinical psychology thus providing future directions for improving diagnoses and interventions for adults with ACEs.



Exploring Epigenetic Influences of Aggression, Risk, and Resilience in Justice-Involved Youth

Funded by American Psychology-Law Society Research to Enhance the Impact and Diversification (REID) of Psychology & Law Research August 2019-August 2020

Summary of Project: This study aims to examine the relations between micro RNA (miRNA) - an epigenetic regulator - and environmental and criminogenic risks common in justice-involved youth (e.g., child maltreatment, antisocial peers, traumatic brain injury) as well as examine if specific miRNAs are associated with outcomes of interest to forensic psychology (e.g., externalizing psychopathology, substance use, and cognitive deficits). In collaboration with Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center, we are collecting measures of intellectual, neuropsychological, and executive functioning; adverse childhood experiences as well as direct trauma exposure; traumatic brain injury history; criminogenic risk and needs from the Risk-Needs-Responsivity Model; and general psychopathology in addition to miRNA saliva samples. This project aims to comprehensively examine potential epigenetic regulators of environmental and criminogenic risk within a justice-involved youth sample at several levels of analysis including behavioral (e.g., questionnaire based measurement), genetic/biological (e.g, miRNA salivary samples), and neuropsychological (e.g., individually administered clinical tasks). 



An Examination of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Externalizing Behavior Problems in Adolescents

Collaboration with Dr. Michael Gomez and the Center for Superheroes, TTUHSC Pediatrics

Summary of Project: Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is a therapy that treats Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other problems in children and adolescents following a traumatic experience. We want to learn more about how children's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors change during TF-CBT and more about those factors that help or hinder the effectiveness of TFCBT. Specifically, this study aims to examine the pattern of change in externalizing behavior problems, PTSD symptoms, executive functioning, and distress tolerance throughout the entire course of TF-CBT. This study includes youth who have gone through a traumatic event, are experiencing behavior problems (e.g., including defiant, oppositional, or aggressive behavior) and symptoms of PTSD, as well as the youth's primary caregivers. This study is of longitudinal design and the youth and their caregiver/s attend TF-CBT sessions and complete a myriad of assessments weekly at the Center for Superheroes. In therapy the youth and caregiver learn skills to cope with and treat the symptoms related to trauma, including behavior problems. This study will provide a better understanding of the mechanisms of change and patterns of symptom change during TF-CBT will allow for the refinement of existing treatment procedures to make therapy more efficacious and efficient and aid in dissemination efforts to ensure the essential components of therapy are delivered.



Understanding the Influence of Caregiver Risk and Protective Factors on Child Development with an At-risk Preschool Population

Collaboration with Dr. Jason Van Allen and the ENERGY Lab at Texas Tech University

Summary of Project: This study aims to examine how caregiver and family factors impact a child's functioning in multiple domains within an underserved preschool age group, including children enrolled in Head Start.  From child participants, we are collecting measures of intellectual development; language skills; executive function skills (e.g., planning and problem solving, cognitive control / impulsivity, and short-term memory); physical activity, nutrition, and body mass index; behavioral development (e.g., mental health symptoms and adaptive function skills); and epigenetic factors (e.g., micro RNA associated with stress and brain development). From caregivers, we are collecting thorough information on caregiver risk and resilience factors (e.g., caregiver histories of traumatic stress, child maltreatment, mental health symptoms, family functioning, community / social support, access to community and economic resources, and individual traits such as emotion regulation and resiliency). This type of comprehensive approach will help clarify risk / resilience mechanisms increasing our understanding of the biological and psychosocial mechanisms that potentiate intergenerational transmission of adversity and pave the way for the development of novel interventions.