Monitor on Psychology - January 2012 - (Page 82)

Foundation amerIcan psychologIcal Developmentally peaking Armed with $25,000 APF grants, six young scholars are strengthening child development research in such areas as autism and language learning. BY JAMiE ChAMBERLiN Monitor staff b efore she was a psychology graduate student, Sandra y. Nay McCourt worked as a lawyer representing lowincome survivors of domestic violence in divorce and child-custody cases. The job immersed her in the challenges atrisk children and families face, and made McCourt long to do more to prevent child abuse and neglect and to foster healthier relationships among parents and children. “I became very frustrated by the limitations of my legal training to address these issues,” says McCourt. So, she left a job at one of New York’s top law firms to pursue her doctorate in clinical psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. With assistance from the American Psychological Foundation, McCourt is now on her way to achieving her goal: For her dissertation, she is conducting a longitudinal study of resilience in neglected children with the help of a $25,000 grant from APF’s Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz graduate fellowship program. The program, which funds promising graduate student research in child psychology, selected six Koppitz scholars last year, including McCourt. Here’s a look at their research. Making sense of moral thinking Does offering a toddler a loaded statement like, “If you open this box, other kids will cry,” affect what they do next? Nadia Chernyak of Cornell University is using her Koppitz grant to study how moral and causal reasoning develops in young children. Her preliminary findings show that children as young as 22 months can respond morally by choosing, for example, to keep the box shut and their friends happy. The research is important because children are learning to use moral explanations to alter their behavior far earlier than one would think, says Chernyak. “The next step is to discover how parents communicate about morality with their children, such as how parents may be highlighting the effects their child’s actions may have on the world without even realizing it,” she says. tailored treatments When she started studying autism at the University of California, San Diego, Allison Jobin (formerly Cunningham) was struck by the fact that most autism research has focused on finding the best treatment, rather than customizing treatments to particular children. “What we know is that all kids with autism respond very differently to treatment,” says Jobin. “The individualization research is an area that’s in its infancy and needs a lot of work.” Jobin is using her Koppitz grant to study differences between two different interventions used to teach language, play and imitation skills to young children with autism. So far, the children in her sample are responding in unique ways to the two treatments, Jobin says. She hopes to identify the variables that might predict which intervention will work best for a particular child. Building better interventions Creating more tailored interventions is also the focus of research by University of Virginia graduate student Matthew D. Lerner. He is studying the underlying differences between two strategies for promoting social behavior in children with Asperger’s and highfunctioning children with autism. Some of the children he observes experience performance play activities where, for example, they act out emotions as part of a game, and others are given verbal instructions on how to understand other people’s emotions. “Most treatments actually have some of both,” he says. “I’m trying to tease out which might be the more active ingredients for one kid or another.” After assessing their overall health and social functioning and observing how they interact with peers, Lerner assigns adolescents ages 9 to 16 to either a performance or verbal skills training, then observes them to see if their social skills improve. He hopes his findings could help clinicians match the treatment to the teenager. “My hope is to build from there and 82 M o n i t o r o n p s y c h o l o g y • J a n u a ry 2 0 1 2

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Monitor on Psychology - January 2012

Monitor on Psychology - January 2012
President’s Column
From the CEO
Apa’s Statement on the Dsm-5 Development Process
Girl Scouts Badge Promotes Positive Psychology
Early Investments Pay Off for Poor Children, Study Finds
Apa Meets With Chinese Psychological Society to Further Interaction and Exchange
Unique Opportunity for Psychologists to Travel to Cuba
In Brief
Government Relations Update
On Your Behalf
Psychology’s Growing Library of Podcasts
Standing Up for Psychology
Judicial Notebook
Random Sample
Time Capsule
Science Watch
Beyond Psychotherapy
Perspective on Practice
Yes, Recovery Is Possible
Inequity to Equity
Making E-Learning Work
New Standards for High School Psychology
A Trailblazer Moves On
Psychologist Profile
Plan Now for Psychology’s Regional Meetings
New Journal Editors
Apa News
Division Spotlight
American Psychological Foundation

Monitor on Psychology - January 2012