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First two Sewanee-at-Yale Directed Research Program students return to Sewanee

Senior Psychology majors Emily Simpson and Chris Hague have returned to Sewanee to share some of the work they have pursued during their semester at Yale as the first two participants in the Sewanee-at-Yale Directed Research Program. Both will present their work at Scholarship Sewanee on April 29, 2011.

Chris Hague will give an oral presentation titled, Does an apple a day keep the autism away? A review of nutritional remedies to autism spectrum disorders at 2 p.m. in Spencer Hall 151. Emily Simpson will present a poster titled, Investigating maternal distress tolerance: The simulated baby paradigm from 3 – 5 p.m. in Harris Commons of Spencer Hall.

Sewanee’s Office of Undergraduate Research and the Psychology Department are providing funding for travel and associated costs, allowing Emily and Chris to return to campus for Scholarship Sewanee. While in town, they will also speak with interested students about their experiences at Yale in an informational session for the Sewanee-at-Yale Directed Research Program on Tuesday, May 3rd at 5:30 p.m. in McClurg Meeting Room C. Both Emily and Chris will return to Yale following Commencement to continue their research through the summer as part of the semester-plus-summer program.

Additional information on the presentations:

Chris Hague ’11.  Does an apple a day keep the autism away?  A review of nutritional remedies to autism spectrum disorders.  Advisor, Fred Volkmar, Irving B. Harris Professor in the Child Study Center and Professor of Pediatrics, of Psychiatry and of Psychology in the Yale School of Medicine;  Chief, Child Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital;  Chair, Child Study Center]

  • I plan to discuss the effects and effectiveness of nutritional remedies to treating autism. In the wake of the recent natural food craze and the fear of over medicating children, many parents have been turning to more “homeopathic” and natural remedies to treating autism and autistic behavior. However, like the majority of naturalistic cures and diets on the market, most of the evidence about their success is based on small case studies with dubious experimental designs that have many confounding variables such as concurrent therapy, use of additional medication drugs, and age. In this paper, I therefore plan to summarize the theoretical premises that this treatment is based on, research the current evidence, evaluate their credibility, and then, based on my findings, conclude with my own opinion of whether these treatments have any empirical backing to support them and, if not, what further research needs to be conducted and what considerations need to be considered when designing an experiment to test them. Whether parents should adopt them will be discussed.

Emily Simpson ’11, Linda Mayes, M.D., and Helena Rutherford, Ph.D.  Investigating maternal distress tolerance:  the Simulated Baby Paradigm.  [Linda Mayes (C ’73) is Arnold Gesell Professor in the Child Study Center and Professor of Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases), of Pediatrics and of Psychology in the Yale School of Medicine;  Chair, Directorial Team, Anna Freud Centre at London.  Helena Rutherford is Postdoctoral Associate in the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine.]

  • Much literature has devoted itself to examining the infant’s developmental relationship to the mother. Everyone from Bowlby to Ainsworth has speculated on the matter, yet little research has examined the developmental relationship of the mother to the infant. Mothers undergo a complex neurobiological transition into parenthood, where there is a shifting of focus to the new baby. To any mother, a crying baby is distressing, and repeated efforts to soothe an infant increase the stress response experienced by the mother. Therefore an important component of parenting is being able to successfully regulate stress reactivity and distress in the parenting situation. Using a simulated baby, this experiment seeks to explore the nature of maternal response to infant distress. Some basic questions of the study concern the similarity or uniqueness of maternal distress tolerance to the simulator versus other non-maternal distress tolerance tasks, as well as individual differences in emotion regulation, reward sensitivity, and maternal anxiety and depression. Thirty-five mothers completed extensive parenting questionnaires, a computer activity designed to measure non-maternal distress tolerance, one measuring reward sensitivity, and an interaction where they were instructed to soothe the crying simulator. Initial results indicate that the persistence times on the non-maternal distress tolerance task do not correlate with the persistence times with the maternal distress tolerance task (the simulator interaction). These early findings suggest that a mother’s response to infant distress is unique among activities demanding distress tolerance, reflecting the necessity of research involving this crying simulator paradigm.