Texas Tech University


Research in the PRYDe lab strives to discover common biological, neuropsychological, and psychosocial pathways through which environmental experiences shape developmental outcomes. It is biopsychosocial, multidisciplinary, and focused on at-risk populations. Much of our current research aims at understanding risk and resilience among justice-involved youth (JIY), children sustaining traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and individuals exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).


Much of our recent published work has centered on understanding outcomes of JIY. We have demonstrated that psychopathology and gender influence juvenile justice placement decisions apart from the type or degree of offense (Kempker, Schmidt, & Espinosa, 2017). We found that children with high levels of callous unemotional traits are nonetheless able to benefit from treatment if they maintain a strong therapeutic alliance with their teachers and therapists (Matos, Schmidt et al., 2017). We showed psychotropic medication does not reduce delinquency or justice-system involvement among high-risk youth (Hoskowitz, Schmidt et al., 2020). Together with colleagues at Rutgers University, we explored the role of prosocial behavior, social support, and mentoring in improving outcomes for justice-involved adolescents (Duron et al., 2020; Schmidt et al., 2022, submitted for publication; Williams-Butler et al., 2020). Finally, work from the PRYDe lab indicated patterns of executive function deficits were similar between youth with conduct problems and youth sustaining a TBI (Maloney, Schmidt et al., 2020). These studies illustrate the strong multi-disciplinary approach of the research within the PRYDe lab, which dovetails well with the complex array of variables we investigate.


The PRYDe lab has received three externally funded grant projects for studying justice-involved adolescents. The first project which continues to collect data is in collaboration with Dr. Paul Ingram (TTU) and Drs. Stuart White and James Blair (Boy's Town National Research Hospital). This project examines the role of trauma exposure on neurocognitive and personality functioning within JIY. The second project also still collecting data is a collaboration with Dr. Steven Hicks (Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine). This project focuses on clarifying the role of micro-ribonucleic acids (miRNA) in the neuronal response to child adversity in JIY. MiRNA are small, non-coding strands of RNA which are potent epigenetic regulators of gene expression and cellular processes. We hypothesize that miRNA are sensitive to child adversity and psychopathology through their role in regulating neuro-inflammation. Our findings to date support this premise (Schmidt et al., 2022b, submitted for publication). These projects are ongoing and have already yielded important pilot data that formed the basis of several federal grant submissions. Finally, the PRYDe lab recently concluded a project that examined the state of the science and helped to formulate research-based standards for psychological assessment of JIY. The major aims of this project were to highlight gaps in the research on the multiple, systemic needs of these vulnerable youth and to develop evidence-based recommendations for working with justice-involved children and adolescents. By combining methods from personality psychology, neuropsychology, developmental psychology, and neuroscience, these projects highlight the biopsychosocial and integrative nature of work in the PRYDe lab.


Deficits in social cognition and psychopathology are frequent sequelae of pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI). Our prior work demonstrated that difficulties with basic cognitive processes, such as emotional recognition and decision making, underlie many of the social and behavioral difficulties seen in children following TBI (Schmidt et al., 2010a, 2012, 2013b). Additional research illustrated the impact of family functioning, community resources, and pre-injury abilities on TBI recovery (Holland & Schmidt, 2015; Schmidt et al., 2010b, 2014, 2015). These studies laid the foundation for more recent work at Texas Tech. We examined the patterns of executive dysfunction observed in children with disruptive behavior disorders who have sustained a TBI (Maloney, Schmidt et al., 2020). Disruptive behavior disorders and TBIs often co-occur within justice-involved youth, and our study was one of the first to examine these relations prospectively and to show children with disruptive behavior disorders exhibit cognitive deficits very similar to individuals sustaining a TBI. We have also begun examining the impact of TBI on health risk behaviors including risk for substance abuse and violence within adolescents. In a recent investigation, we showed that caregiver and community resilience-promoting factors correlate with decreased white matter damage after TBI, which suggests a potential neurobiological mechanism for resilience (Schmidt et al., 2021). As part of the Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics by Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) moderate / severe TBI working group, we collaborate with an international team of collaborators to examine longitudinal white matter changes in cortical structures implicated in social cognition following pediatric TBI (Dennis et al., 2021). The multiple experimental methods and theoretical perspectives we employ in our work with TBI illustrates our overall approach to studying the role of environmental experience on brain development.


ACEs contribute to multiple mental and physical health problems. Together with colleagues at TTU, Sam Houston State University, and Columbia University, we have investigated multiple outcomes within populations with high rates of ACEs. For example, we showed urban youth with high rates of ACEs and psychiatric symptoms benefited from intensive outpatient family therapy despite the multiple challenges they faced (Hogue, Henderson, & Schmidt, 2017). Work from the PRYDe lab identified unique connections between caregiver victimization and childhood psychopathology and delinquency (Gissandaner, Schmidt et al., 2020; Schmidt et al., 2020). In a recent paper (Gette et al., 2021), we worked with the SUDS lab at TTU to model the component structure of a common measure of ACEs. This effort was one of the few investigations in this area to use theoretically grounded modeling techniques. By providing a coherent and parsimonious component solution, we are hopeful this work will guide future research examining the role of ACEs on multiple mental and physical health outcomes. Recently, we launched a project examining the role of ACEs on transdiagnostic mechanisms of psychopathology and resilience. Finally, we are completing work on several papers showing that changes in neuro-inflammatory miRNAs directly relate to a youth's level of ACE exposure. This work is one of a few studies directly relating child adversity to ongoing neuronal processes within human participants and suggests a potential molecular mechanism connecting chronic adversity to long-term outcomes such as psychopathology.


The PRYDe lab also recently completed another grant-funded project examining the relations between parent ACEs and the cognitive and behavioral development of a high-risk population of preschooler's. Initial findings underscore the transgenerational effects of ACEs. That is, we observed positive correlations between caregiver ACE exposure and childhood psychopathology. Results suggested little evidence for attenuation by caregiver resilience (Gissandaner, et al., 2022, submitted for publication).


These research efforts exemplify our biopsychosocial approach, our appreciation of multi-disciplinary expertise, and our focus on at-risk populations. Moving forward, research in the PRYDe lab will continue to investigate foundational processes of positive and negative adaptation across populations. For example, we are pursuing funding to expand our investigation of miRNA expression following ACE exposure within young children and adolescents, pursuing pilot funding investigating the long-term consequences of TBI for JIY, developing projects examining the role of violence exposure on mental health symptoms within justice-involved youth and other underserved adolescents.