Where did you grow up?
a small town in Michigan
What undergraduate schools did you attend?
Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University's Thomas Jefferson College
What influenced you to pursue psychology?
Working with delinquent and troubled youth for many years before pursuing graduate work in psychology
I got interested in research after graduating. I worked for many years as a master's level counselor with street kids and other delinquent and troubled youth. It became increasingly clear to me that most of the interventions didn't work very well. I wanted to know why psychotherapy and other psychological treatments worked for some people, sometimes, but not for other people and not all the tine. These questions led me to the library at the University of Washington. I read a lot of journal articles and started talking to researchers.
I ended up working in a lab at University of Washington with John Gottman, who is a brilliant researcher. His lab conducted interesting and innovative studies of couples and this work convinced me to pursue a PhD and learn more about conducting research.
Why did you decide to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona?
I had a lot of years of clinical training and experience and wanted strong training in research and psychological clinical science.
Who was your mentor?
What prompted you to pursue your dissertation subject?
I had come across troubled kids who set fires in clinical settings. They were interesting kids and I was interested in better understanding what factors are associated both with delinquency and with firesetting. In general, I look to types of problems that interfere with functioning and that haven't had as much attention paid to them and tend to ask why.
I am interested in the development of psychopathic traits in adolescents. There is clear impairment in understanding and experiencing emotions in youth who have psychopathic traits (which we refer to callous and unemotional traits). Another way to think about these traits is that they describe cold and unfeeling responses to others. Youth who don't recognize fear and other distressful emotions in other people often are violent towards those people. Expressions of fear and pain usually evoke empathy in others. The kids I study don't respond that way and it leads to a lot of antisocial and aggressive behavior.
In general, I am interested in the underlying emotional and cognitive deficits and in what might be done to change how these youth respond. We are currently looking at relations among these traits and drug use and developing a study to see if we can improve ability to recognize emotion in these youth.
Antisocial behavior is the most costly mental health problem in North America. By one estimate, a high risk youth in the U.S. who becomes an antisocial adult costs about $1.5 million in just his or her lifetime. That is, preventing just one high-risk youth from a life of crime can save close to 1.5 million dollars in societal costs. Moreover, there are lots of other costs in terms of victim suffering, the youth's suffering and loss of opportunity to contribute more positively. Thus, this work benefits our communities and society by creating knowledge that can lead to understanding, prevention, and treatment of a serious and costly problem.
Why would an undergrad want to become involved in this research?
It is really interesting, it is important in terms of public health, psychology, criminology, and other fields. The lab has a great team of enthusiastic people that other people would be lucky to work with and to learn from.