Newsletter Article

New Faculty Grants

Our department continues its tradition of strong government funding support. In recent months our faculty have received two additional awards from the National Institutes of Health. They include a $1.8 million grant to Associate Professor Ione Fine to study “Effects of Blindness on Human Early Visual Pathways” and a $150 thousand grant to Assistant Professor Janxin Leu to study “Stress and moral judgment variation across contexts among immigrant Asian youth.”

Janxin Leu: Abstract

Photo: Ione Fine
Photo: Janxin Leu

The children of immigrants and adult immigrants who arrived as youth are at increased risk for mental health disorders compared with immigrants who come to the US as adults. This may be attributable to acculturative stress during formative developmental periods which often coincide with the age of onset of depression and anxiety disorders. The role that family cultural conflict plays in terms of the development of mental health disorders among immigrant youth has been understudied. Research on how family cultural conflict arises from conflicting moral norms between school and home settings, and from key life decisions (i.e., marriage and career), is a promising line of inquiry which has not been previously conducted among immigrant youth. At home, they are often socialized to fulfill familial duties. In contrast, American schools often emphasize prioritizing individual choice. As a result, normative pressures about how to be a good person change across home and school settings for immigrant youth. The resultant conflict may be a significant and distinctive factor affecting their risk for depression. This new investigator aims to demonstrate, for the first time, that key decisions about career and family vary across home and school contexts among immigrant youth (Aim 1), and, that this variability across contexts is associated with stress and depression symptoms (Aim 2). The proposed research is significant because it has the potential to identify the source of acculturative stress as arising not from immigrant youth, or immigrant homes, but from the mismatch between cultural norms in the families and schools. Advancement in this field has the potential to inform interventions which promote family-school engagement to support immigrant youth and clinical assessments of risk for depression. Innovative behavioral methods are used to simulate acculturative stress in a piloted cultural priming paradigm; an additional innovation is using a biological measure of stress. The study will focus on foreign- and US-born immigrant Asian two- and four-year college students, with non-immigrant European Americans as the control group. Using this sample is a conservative test of the hypothesis, because acculturative stress is likely to be greater among those who do not attend college and who generally have fewer opportunities and resources. Pilot data suggests greater change in moral judgments of career and marriage tasks across home and school priming conditions for immigrant Asians than for European Americans. Understanding what influences key decisions among immigrant young adults is important in predicting future demographic trends and individual mental health outcomes. This project is directly related to the NICHD’s Demographic and Behavioral Science Branch (DBS) priorities to study how outcomes for children from immigrant families differ from outcomes for other children; and how family characteristics and processes affect these differences.


Ione Fine: Abstract

Photo: Ione Fine
Photo: Ione Fine

While the effects of visual deprivation have been well studied in animal models, much less is known about the effects of blindness on human early visual pathways. We propose to use a combination of "state-of-the-art" MR imaging techniques to examine compare the effects of blindness within anophthalmic (born without eyes), early blind, late blind and sighted subjects. This will provide an entirely unique opportunity to compare the effects of embryonic development, postnatal development, and ongoing experience in adulthood on sub-cortical and cortical structures. As such this work has implications for our understanding of the time course of developmental disorders (such as dyslexia, frontal lobe disorders, amblyopia, autism, specific language impairment and ADHD) that involve abnormalities in gray and white matter.