University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Psychological Science

Department of Psychological Science Colloquia

Every year the Department of Psychological Science hosts a variety of colloquia in which distinguished national and international scholars visit UVM to discuss their research. Our colloquia are open to all, though some require prior registration due to limited seating.

Elizabeth Shirtcliff, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Shirtcliff Early Research Professor
University of New Orleans
Riding the Physiological Roller-Coaster: How Life Stress Alters Stress Responsive Physiological Systems

May 2, 2013
4:00 p.m.
Davis Center (Williams Family Room)

The popular notion is that stress and, by extension, stress hormones are deleterious and aversive, but this view does not take into account many beneficial properties of stress hormones. Early theories about stress allow for dynamic hormone responses to stressors such that the stress hormone cortisol can be both beneficial and deleterious.

The present talk will build from these theories to describe the Adaptive Calibration Model of Stress Responsivity. The ACM emphasizes the functional purpose of the stress hormone cortisol in order to understand that cortisol's ups-and-downs are a roller-coaster, but at least the ride is fun.

Trevor C. Wu, Ph.D.

Trevor C. Wu Neuropsychology Post-Doctoral Fellow
Departments of Neurology & Neurosurgery (Clinical)
Baylor College of Medicine
Hosted by the Henderson Fellowship Program
Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Diffusion Tensor Imaging

April 22, 2013
3:00 - 4:00 p.m.
John Dewey Hall room 314

In recent years, the tragic deaths of several high-profile professional athletes suffering multiple concussions and returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan who sustained blast injuries have drawn more public attention to mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). However, the frequent absence of abnormalities on neurological examination and neuroimaging findings have made mTBI a somewhat controversial topic.

In the past several years, a relatively novel neuroimaging technique, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), has been widely used in mTBI research. Findings of mTBI studies using DTI have demonstrated microscopic alterations that are not typically evident on CT or routine anatomical imaging. Even though the utilization of DTI has advanced our knowledge of mTBI, complex microscopic alterations at acute and subacute stages and their correlations with cognitive functioning remain to be elucidated. In this presentation, I would like to introduce DTI, summarize recent DTI findings in mTBI, and present some of my own studies, potential future projects and clinical applications of this technique.

Michael Baratta, Ph.D.

Michael Baratta Post-Doctoral Fellow
Institute for Behavioral Genetics
University of Colorado Boulder
Hosted by the Psychology Department and The College of Arts and Sciences
Role of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex in Mediating Resilience to Adversity

November 13, 2012
12:00 pm
John Dewey Hall room 100

The outcome of an adverse event can vary widely between individuals, and many of the factors determining vulnerability and resilience to the impact of an adverse event revolve around coping factors. Perceived ability to exert behavioral control over the adverse event is central to coping, and the neural mechanisms that mediate this process are the focus of this presentation, as studied in an animal model. Uncontrollable, but not physically identical controllable, stressors produce a constellation of neural and behavioral changes that have been termed ‘stressor controllability effects’.

Research will be reviewed which indicate that an experience of controllable stress not only blunts the impact of the adverse event being controlled, but also alters the response to future negative circumstances, even those that are uncontrollable. Converging evidence suggests that a subpopulation of neurons within the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (mPFCv) selectively respond to the presence of control and utilize such information to regulate the brainstem response to ongoing and subsequent stressors. We are currently using loss- or gain-of-function optogenetic methodologies in order to isolate the mPFC connectivity, along with the temporal features of activity, that produce these protective effects. Collectively, this line of research may serve to identify core biological mechanisms underlying the formation of resilience and suggest novel therapeutic strategies for a broad array of psychiatric conditions.

Michael's postdoctoral research in the lab focused on understanding how stress affects behavior and emotion, in terms of the underlying circuit mechanisms, using newly developed optogenetic tools to manipulate neuronal activity with precise temporal and spatial resolution.

Gene Brody, Ph.D.

Gene Brody Regents Professor and Director of the Center for Contextual Genetics
University of Georgia
Sponsored by the Psychology Department and Neuroscience, Behavior, and Health TRI
Gene-Environment Interplay Research from the Center for Contextual Genetics

November 8, 2012
4:00 - 5:15 pm
Frank Livak Room
Dudley H. Davis Center

Reception immediately following in the Mildred Livak Room

The Center for Contextual Genetics at the University of Georgia is an interdisciplinary research center that includes psychiatric geneticists, clinical, developmental, and social psychologists, sociologists, and prevention scienctists. Together, this team has sought to understand how genetic and contextual influences combine to contribute to the health and well-being of African American children, adolescents, and young adults living in challenging, rural Southern contexts. In his presentation, Dr. Brody will provide illustrations of research from this team which suggest that, for genetic reasons, individuals differ in the extent they are affected by exposure to environmental influences.

Two strands of research will be described to support this notion. One strand will illustrate how youths, for genetic reasons, may be more sensitive to and benefit more from participation in prevention programs, and the second strand will illustrate how exposure to contextual adversity during childhood forecasts biological indicators of stress nearly a decade later, particularly for youths carrying genes that confer sensitivity to environmental influences.

Dr. Gene Brody is an internationally recognized expert on the risk and protective mechanisms that forecast drug use, sexual risk, and other problem behaviors among rural African American youth. He also has translated his findings into efficacious preventive interventions. He is the author of more than 300 publications, with his recent work examining gene by environment interactions in a randomized prevention trial. His research is unique in that it cuts across a number of disciplines and departments at UVM. Dr. Brody currently is the PI on multiple RO1 grants and a major center grant.

Richard M. Ryan, Ph.D.

Richard Ryan Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry & Education
University of Rochester
Hosted by the McNeil Prevention and Community Psychology Fund
Autonomy and Control in Human Behavior: Research on Motivation and Well-being from Self-determination Theory

October 10, 2012
4:00 - 5:00 pm
Rowell Hall room 103

The regulation of behavior takes many forms, not all of which are volitional or have the full support of the self. Self-determination theory (SDT) distinguishes people’s motivation in terms of the degree to which it is self-regulated or autonomous, versus being regulated by rewards or pressures that are experienced as controlling.

People’s quality of engagement, persistence and well-being are strongly affected by how autonomous or controlled they feel while acting. Moreover, SDT details how motivation is affected by the styles and strategies of motivators from parents and teachers, to managers, coaches, and health-care professionals.

In this talk Ryan will provide an overview of SDT research on motivation and well-being, with special emphasis on recent research in dual process theory and applications to education, health-care, virtual environments, and physical activity.