Children’s and Adolescents’ Interests and Priorities

Investigators: Rick Hoyle, Erin Davisson, Megan Golonka

This pilot project examines self-regulation and goal-setting as they unfold during early adolescence, particularly during the transition to middle school. Given recent research suggesting the importance of transition timing for student outcomes (e.g., Cook, MacCoun, Muschkin, & Vigdor, 2008), we are interested in examining whether the timing of the transition to middle school (i.e., after 5th grade vs. after 6th grade or later) influences the degree to which students are able to self-regulate effectively and manage their pursuit of goals. Through an agreement with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction we have the unique opportunity to sample rising 5th and 6th grade students based on school type (i.e., schools in which students make the transition to middle school following 5th grade vs. following 6th grade or later) and then to assess current individual and school characteristics to predict outcomes of interest (e.g., academic success, goal-setting) in a target sample of 2000 students. This study will provide psychological data that when merged with existing administrative data will provide new insights into how developing self-regulatory and goal pursuit processes impact students’ outcomes during the transition to middle school.

Neural Mechanisms in Adolescent Self-Regulation Across Cultures

Investigators: Jennifer Lansford, Ken Dodge, Ahmad Hariri, Megan Golonka

An ongoing grant1 provides support for a longitudinal investigation of the development of self-regulation across adolescence as a function of puberty, parenting, peer relations, and culture. Participants are 1,400 12-year-old children and their parents from 14 cultures across the world. This pilot project introduces the study of neural mechanisms in this development by measuring brain processes through fMRI during the participants’ completion of standard self-regulation tasks (Stroop, Delayed Discounting, Tower of London, etc.), for 300 local participants from African American, Latino, and European-American cultures. Demonstration of feasibility with this population and initial findings could lead to studying these processes in more cultures.

1NICHD R01HD0548054: Parenting, Adolescent Self-Regulation, and Risk-Taking Across Cultures

Testing Promotion-Related Neural Activation as a Mediator of Perseverative Behavior: A TMS Study

Investigators: Timothy Strauman, Ahmad Hariri, Bruce Luber, Sarah Lisanby, Erin Davisson

Both psychology and neuroscience have identified failure in goal pursuit as contributing to maladaptive behavior patterns such as response perseveration. Regulatory focus theory proposes two basic motivational systems for goal pursuit and hypothesizes that perceived success or failure leads to specific affective and motivational consequences. Recent research has found support for an interactive model of vulnerability to self-regulation failure consisting of (a) a preference for promotion (approach) rather than prevention (avoidance) goals, (b) a specific genotype that influences tonic and phasic dopamine signaling, and (c) the unanticipated experience of prolonged failure feedback. Individuals characterized by this risk phenotype are likely to perseverate on unsuccessful goal pursuit strategies rather than disengaging or altering their behavior. We test the mediating role of promotion-related neocortical activation within the risk phenotype by using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to manipulate promotion vs. prevention circuit activation during a well-validated monetary incentive delay task. Via TMS, we will temporarily inactivate a site supporting promotion behavior or prevention behavior and simultaneously manipulate probabilities of winning money to create unexpected and consistent failure feedback. We hypothesize that whereas the participants matching the risk phenotype will show greater response perseveration (as measured by reaction time and mood ratings) when encountering failure feedback on the win-money trials, using TMS to inhibit the promotion-related site will eliminate the response perseveration.

Methylation Markers Associated with SUD Trajectories

Investigators: Jane Costello, Bill Copeland, Edwin van den Oord (VCU)

As part of an ongoing longitudinal study2 of the development of Substance Use Disorders (SUD) participants have been genotyped and gene environment-development analyses are ongoing. In this project, we explore DNA methylation, focusing on sequence variation, as a promising complement to these genetic studies in 3 ways:

  1. Methylation markers may have higher predictive power, as methylation is directly related to gene expression and methylated cytosines are known to be mutational hotspots 5-6.
  2. Methylation studies may also be better able to account for the stage-wise trajectories of SUDs and provide a mechanism for the mediation of environmental influences.
  3. The translational potential of methylation studies is profound as methylation sites are modifiable targets for interventions.

In this exploratory study we are sequencing 1,500 methylomes using DNA collected at three different time points from 30 youth who never use drugs, compared with 30 youth who continue to use drugs into adulthood.

2NIDA R01DA011301: Vulnerability to Drug Abuse: Pathways to Recovery