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Department Research in the News


Since no one has been able to locate the fountain of youth, researchers are determined to identify factors that influence the aging process. Dr. Turiano, an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department's Life-Span Developmental program area, recently discussed with TIME magazine how certain personality traits could add years of healthy living. Individuals reporting higher levels of conscientiousness (those who tend to be responsible, organized, and plan for the future) tend to engage in healthier behaviors and live longer and healthier lives. Unfortunately, those scoring higher in neuroticism tend to experience greater anxiety and emotional reactivity, which is part of the reason these individuals report more disease burden and shortened life. The good news is, regardless of your personality now, personality can change and so can health. Take a look at a recent smartphone app that has been shown to successfully change personality.  


Parents and children are struggling during the pandemic. Caregivers are faced with financial insecurity and the stress of trying to juggle work and children at home.  Child behavior problems are increasing with loss of routine and family stress. Cheryl McNeil, Ph.D., developed The Cooperation Chart to help families during social distancing. This empirically supported program is available free of charge at the It includes a 13 minute parent instructional video Feel free to share this information with any parents who might be needing some extra support during this period of quarantine. 


In just a few short weeks, our daily lives and routines have been brought to a halt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Shopping malls, coffee shops, and movie theaters are closed, schools and universities have transitioned to virtual platforms, and many are now required to work from their homes. For many of us, this experience is unprecedented, and as we strive to practice behaviors such as social distancing and handwashing, we must also consider the influence that the pandemic will have not only our physical health, but our mental health. Our social media news feeds are flooded with information about health recommendations and advice, however, it is important to rely on evidence-based strategies for managing stress in these unusual times. Faculty and students in the WVU Department of Psychology have created a webpage entitled " Managing Mental Health while Social Distancing during the COVID-19 Pandemic" with helpful tips and resources based on the available scientific evidence for coping in the era of coronavirus. 


Many children with autism spectrum disorder also struggle with aggression and defiance. While successful treatments exist to help children with autism spectrum disorder and separate evidence-based treatments exist to address severe and significant levels of disruptive behavior, there are few services for families of children with autism spectrum disorder that address their children’s aggression and oppositionality. Dr. Cheryl B. McNeil, a professor in the Clinical Child program area in the Psychology Department, along with her doctoral student, Lauren B. Quetsch, and a former department alum, Dr. Cynthia Anderson of the Mayo Clinic, worked together to address this gap in services. Gathering the leaders in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (an evidence-based treatment to reduce disruptive behaviors for children ages 2 – 7 years) and researchers of autism, Dr. McNeil, Ms. Quetsch, and Dr. Anderson edited a book to inform therapists and researchers on how to work with families to improve the parent-child relationship and children’s compliance. The large handbook will be available for purchase and review in early 2019.


How we talk about substance use disorder can affect a patient's treatment seeking and retention. Jonathan JK Stoltman, a graduate student in the Psychology Department program of Behavioral Neuroscience, and his collaborator Laura Lander, an assistant professor of Social Work and clinical faculty in the department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry, sit down with Jesse Wright, news director at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, to talk about the language of addiction and how important accurate news coverage is to reducing the stigma associated with the current opioid epidemic. You can listen to the discussion  here (starting at the 6:35 mark and runs roughly 8 minutes long).


It has long been posited that increased interaction between members of different groups leads to a reduction in prejudice.  Natalie Shook, Associate Professor of Psychology at WVU, and her collaborator, Dr. Russell Fazio from Ohio State University, demonstrated that university residential housing provides a real-world situation where such interactions can occur.  They found that first-year students randomly assigned to live with a roommate of a different race experienced a reduction in prejudice by the end of the first semester at college.  Students who were randomly assigned to a roommate of the same race did experience any change in their prejudice levels.  Learn more about this research here.

78 IS THE NEW 47

Many believe that we get more frail as we age.  Rebecca Delaney, an advanced student in our graduate program in life-span developmental psychology, dispels this myth in a recent article picked up by the Public Interest Directorate of the American Psychological Association.  You can read the article here.


Many states, including West Virginia, are considering partial or full legalization of marijuana. The psychoactive drug was been used for millennia but has recently been marketed as a natural medicine. But the research supporting such claims is weak and may be biased by expectations.

So what evidence is there to support the claims that marijuana and its extracts are effective medical treatments in people?

Dr. Steven Kinsey, Assistant Professor of Psychology at WVU, and his former trainee, Dr. Divya Ramesh, explore the hype and research behind marijuana for the treatment of ailments including chronic pain and epilepsy. The article posted on the Conversation also explores the potential risks involved with administering psychoactive drugs to children, as well as the growing risk of marijuana use disorder, which affects 2-9% of users who find it difficult to quit. 


Recent findings reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Psychiatry suggest childhood abuse is associated with longevity. Nicholas Turiano , Assistant Professor of Psychology at WVU, and collaborators from Northwestern University utilized national data from over 6,000 adults to examine whether retrospective reports of physical or emotional abuse during childhood from someone’s mother or father was associated with 20-year mortality risk. Females reporting greater levels of childhood abuse were at a significantly increased risk of dying over the 20-year follow-up. Experiencing multiple types of abuse (e.g., both physical and emotional abuse) was associated with an increased risk of mortality compared to experiencing just one type of abuse. However, there were no significant effects of childhood abuse on mortality risk among men in the sample. Findings highlight the lasting negative influences childhood abuse can have on women decades after such abuse occurs.


Suicide is a major public health problem, claiming nearly 40,000 lives per year in the United States, and 800,000 worldwide. More people die from suicide than from homicide or even automobile accidents. Fortunately, research has identified risk factors for suicide as well as effective ways of reducing the risk. Yet, most people know very little about who is at risk—and what they think they know is probably not correct. Amy Fiske is a faculty member in the department of Psychology at West Virginia University whose research focuses on depression and suicide in older adults. Read about the demographic group at greatest risk for suicide in the guest blog post she wrote for the  American Psychological Association’s Public Interest Directorate.


When it comes to living a longer life, lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise get a lot of attention. However, more recent research hints that psychological factors might be just as important in determining how long someone lives. Nick Turiano, a new faculty member in the department of Psychology at West Virginia University, found that having a strong sense of purpose in life—goals, plans, or direction—actually leads to living longer. And for those people who still don’t know “what they want to be when they grow up”, there’s no need to worry. It didn’t seem to matter whether people found their direction in their 20s, 50s, or even 70s. To read more about the positive health effects linked to living a purposeful life, visit the story at  National Public Radio.


Most agree that exposure to stress leads to numerous health problems like high blood pressure, tension and migraine headaches, and even increased risk for coming down with the common cold. However, not everyone exposed to stress develops medical problems, suggesting that there is something within individuals that either leads to developing health problems or promotes healthy living. Nick Turiano, a new faculty member in the Department of Psychology at West Virginia University who will start this fall, has explored the association between personality traits and health outcomes. Some of his findings may surprise you. Read more about them at:  The Huffington Post


As we learn more about how critical sleep is for health, happiness, and even longevity, technology developers rush to fill the market with apps and devices that claim to monitor – and even improve – our sleep. Articles recommending new products have recently appeared in  USA Today and the  New York Times.

SMART CONSUMERS BEWARE! Ask these 4 questions before investing your money or time:

Does it claim to diagnose or treat a sleep disorder? If so, run away quickly. No product available can tell you if you have a sleep disorder, much less treat it.

Is it accurate? A valid, product will correctly identify when you are asleep (it will be sensitive) AND when you are awake (it will be specific). If it does not do both well then it is not worthwhile, even if it’s cheap. Think of it this way: Would you buy an affordable bathroom scale if it was inaccurate?

Has it been impartially tested? If it has not been scientifically tested by someone who has not received money from the company that makes the product, then don’t believe the claims.

Does it claim to monitor your sleep cycles? Be cautious – the only way to discern sleep cycles or brief sleep interruptions is by measuring brain activity. Devices that measure movement don’t track brain activity and thus cannot awaken you during the lightest part of your sleep, as some claim to do.

If an app or device does not pass these tests, you’ll be better off getting some shut-eye the traditional way. The most important thing is that you get enough, uninterrupted, sleep to leave you feeling alert throughout the day – which you can monitor for free.

For more information about healthy sleep visit the  National Sleep Foundation or contact a member of the WVU Sleep Research Lab. For clinical evaluation, visit an  American Academy of Sleep Medicine-accredited sleep disorders center or a  Certified Behavioral Sleep Medicine specialist.