Texas Tech University


Research in the PRYDe lab explores biological, psychological, and social factors contributing to positive outcomes in justice-involved youth and youth at risk for engaging in delinquency. The research emphasis of the PRYDe lab is shaped by two major constructs, mainly, neuroplasticity (i.e., the nervous system's response to positive and negative environmental inputs) and the utility of neuropsychological assessment. We are particularly interested in understanding neurocognitive and neurobiological development within juvenile offenders and youth who are victims of maltreatment, two populations seldom studied from a neuropsychological perspective.

Underserved and justice-involved youth, in particular, have extremely high rates of child maltreatment including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, indirect victimization, and neglect. Many studies demonstrate the relationships between child maltreatment, cognitive deficits, and overall mental health. However, few examine the interactions of these three domains within justice-involved youth while also keeping in mind the broader context in which these adolescents develop (e.g., frequently experiencing parental incarceration/psychopathology, economic hardship, and familial discord). As such, it is challenging to disentangle the contributions of these destructive influences on the emergence of psychopathology or delinquency. This uncertainty leads to inconsistent research findings and provides little guidance for practitioners looking to help their patients.

A primary focus of research in the PRYDe lab is understanding how child maltreatment interacts with other risk factors and impacts a juvenile offender's neuropsychological development, the risk to recidivate, prosocial development (i.e., resilience), and their ability to benefit from evidence-based treatment. The PRYDe Lab has recently submitted a grant to the National Institute of Justice to study the impact of stress and trauma on neuropsychological functioning and mental health disorders among justice-involved youth. We are also in the planning stages of several other studies on this general topic including an investigation examining the impact of trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy on neuropsychological functioning within maltreated youth.

A related focus of our research involves exploring the role of psychosocial protective factors in brain development and resilience for high-risk youth. For example, in collaboration with researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Rutgers University, we recently completed data collection on a four-year longitudinal project funded through the U.S. Department of Justice. This project used a community-based participatory research design to examine environmental and cognitive contributors to recidivism, prosocial development, and treatment success among juvenile offenders participating in a community-led mentoring program. A key finding of these projects was that justice-involved youth who exhibited more prosocial attitudes and beliefs had a significantly reduced rate of recidivism compared to their peers.

In another study, also with collaborators at BCM, we found that adolescents with greater caregiver and community support exhibit more in-tact white matter structures one-year post-traumatic brain injury. Although this study used a different population, results suggest a role for psychosocial factors in promoting neurologic recovery following an insult to the developing brain. We are interested in designing future studies to determine if this pattern of results generalizes to neural plasticity within justice-involved youth and youth exposed to child maltreatment.

Finally, research in the PRYDe lab is concerned with understanding the utility and incremental/ecological validity of neuropsychological assessment data both in forensic and child clinical settings. For example, we are curious how therapists might be able to systematically use information on cognitive abilities or protective personality characteristics to individualize behavioral and psychological interventions. In a recent study with collaborators at Columbia University and Sam Houston State University, we found that various demographic and cognitive variables, including executive functioning, moderated the effectiveness of family-based therapy in a high-risk adolescent sample. We would like to extend this basic finding to a justice-involved sample and determine if cognitive abilities impact therapeutic progress within these youth. Similarly, we are very interested in exploring whether neuropsychological test data adds incremental validity and/or improves predictive accuracy of risk assessment instruments commonly used within juvenile justice settings.