Psychology graduate researches link between childhood trauma and impaired control over drinking

April 22, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Depression and anxiety disorders affect almost 20% of the American population, including 25% of children between 13 and 18 years old. Emily Bobel Emily Bobel's research involves a potential missing link connecting childhood trauma and problems with alcohol consumption. Download Full Image

Emily Bobel, an undergraduate psychology major at Arizona State University, wanted to find out if depression could be a missing link connecting childhood trauma and problems with alcohol consumption.

Bobel’s senior honors research thesis, “The Exploration of Depression as a Mediating Mechanism Between Trauma and Alcohol Problems” looked at whether depression could explain why individuals who suffered childhood trauma experience impaired control over drinking and other negative drinking outcomes later in life. Because feelings of shame and self-concealment behaviors have been linked to impaired control and problem drinking, Bobel also looked at whether individuals who experienced childhood trauma have behaviors like heavy episodic drinking or other alcohol-related problems later in life. 

“We thought depression, which is an internalizing disorder, and impaired control could be an additional explanation for the relationship between childhood trauma and drinking behaviors,” Bobel said.

Childhood abuse comes in many forms and can include emotional, physical, sexual, verbal, financial or cultural abuse. According to ChildHelp, a Phoenix-based nonprofit dedicated to helping victims of child abuse and neglect, over 6.6 million children are referred to state child protective services each year, and a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds.

Bobel’s thesis research showed emotional abuse was strongly related to depression and negative drinking behaviors.

“Emotional abuse was more strongly related to depression and impaired control than any of the other kinds of childhood trauma in our college student sample,” she said.

Related: ASU researchers identify role for inflammatory marker in cognitive decline tied to child abuse

For her senior thesis, Bobel worked in ASU’s Social Addictions Impulse Lab (SAIL) with lab director Julie Patock-Peckham, a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Barrett Honors Faculty. Research in the SAIL Lab seeks to understand the root causes of addiction in adulthood, including from internal sources like anxiety or depression or external sources like a personality disorder.

“Emily is a talented writer and presenter, and we depend on her a lot in the SAIL lab,” Patock-Peckham said. “Everyone in the SAIL lab is very proud of her and all that she has accomplished in the last year.”

We asked Bobel the following questions about her time at ASU:

Question: What made you interested in psychology?

A: I’ve always been interested in helping people and finding out why they end up in their current situations. I feel like psychology does both of these things very well. It’s been very interesting for me to study how something that happens to you so early on in life can affect your behavior so many years later, and sometimes not for the best. 

Q: What made you choose ASU?

A: I chose to attend ASU because the weather here is much nicer than it is in Michigan, where I’m from. I was also accepted into Barrett, The Honors College and wanted to take advantage of all the opportunities Barrett had to offer. 

Q: What was your favorite part of campus?

A: My favorite part of campus is the balcony on the student services building. You can barely see it when you walk past from the ground, so people don’t utilize the space a lot. Whenever I go up there to study it’s basically empty, so you can study with a view and little to no distractions! 

Q: What was your favorite class?

A: My favorite class was an Inside Out Prison Exchange honors course called Men and Feminism. It was a discussion-based course that consisted of eight Barrett students and 10 men from the Maricopa Reentry Center. I have never felt more connected to a group of people or learned so much about a topic that is so important in our society in such a short period of time. 

Q: What is the best advice you can give an undergraduate at ASU?

A: The best advice I can give to an ASU undergraduate is to get involved as soon as possible and take advantage of all of the resources ASU has to offer. I also would encourage them to take classes in a bunch of different subject areas to see if there is something that interests them that they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. The privilege of education is one that should never be taken for granted. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to take some time to determine what my greatest interests are and how I can turn them into a career that satisfies my desire to help others. I will most likely pursue a graduate degree in clinical psychology and focus my research on correctional psychology. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem, what would you tackle?

A: If someone gave me $40 million dollars, I would try to determine the most effective methods to reduce recidivism rates in the U.S. I would love the opportunity to travel to other countries with more effective prison systems and determine if we could implement their practices here in the U.S. I would also want to address mental health care for prisoners, as I feel that getting treatment can be an effective way to help people leave a criminal lifestyle in their past. 

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


Grad learned to value herself as a researcher, student and person while at ASU

April 22, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Sarah Dillon, who will be receiving her master’s degree in geological sciences this May from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, originally chose ASU for graduate school because of an interest in igneous petrology (rocks that are formed from magma). Sarah Dillon will be receiving her master's degree in geological sciences this May from ASU. Download Full Image

Her focus changed, however, when her adviser, School of Earth and Space Exploration Professor Rick Hervig, offered her a position to work in ASU’s Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS) lab, a National Science Foundation-funded facility. Dillon jumped at the opportunity to work on an analytical instrument, which had been a goal of hers.

“Sarah came to ASU expecting to study igneous petrology and high-pressure phases and perhaps conduct some experiments. Instead she was shunted into a basement lab to examine the minutiae of sputtered ion formation,” said Hervig, SIMS facility director. “However, her work could indeed have relevance to igneous petrology and high-pressure phases, and so things may have worked out closer to her original goals than she might have thought.”

Dillon says her "aha" moment happened about six months into her degree program when she personally felt she had mastered the SIMS instrument. “It was at this time I knew that no matter what I ended up doing after completing my master's, I wanted to work with or on a SIMS instrument,” she said.

At first, Dillon didn’t feel smart enough or like she deserved the position she was offered. “I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome,” she said.

But the further she got into her degree research, the more she learned to appreciate her work and realized her value as a researcher, a student and a person. “While at ASU, I learned to love myself and appreciate my achievements,” she said.

When asked about which faculty influenced her the most, Dillon says professors Rick Hervig of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Peter Williams of the School of Molecular Sciences both taught her incredibly important lessons: Always question your data, never treat an instrument like a "black box" (in other words, beyond just output, it’s important to learn how an instrument works, how the data is collected and how to interpret the results) and always have fun whenever possible.

“Because of her interactions at ASU with students, scientists and engineers as a research assistant with the SIMS lab, Sarah obtained a unique education,” Hervig said. “Her scientific ability to detect that which is anomalous, combined with her openness to exploring new horizons, will contribute greatly to her success.

After graduation, Dillon will be starting a job as a surface scientist at Micron Technology, a semiconductor manufacturer in Boise, Idaho, crossing a boundary from scientific research into materials production and research and development. She’ll be moving to Idaho with her soon-to-be husband and cat to start a new and exciting chapter in their lives.

Question: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

Answer: To those still in school, I'd say trust your gut, believe in yourself no matter what and never listen to those nasty thoughts in your head that make you doubt yourself. You're at ASU because you're amazing, so never doubt yourself!

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus is the ASU SIMS lab (located in the Bateman Physical Sciences Building F-Wing), or as I refer to it, "my cave.” I've spent most of my time at ASU in the lab and I do everything there. I love the spot because I'm surrounded by amazingly sweet, smart and inspirational people and I get to meet new people almost every day.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I'd want to tackle air pollution. I think it IS possible to clean our atmosphere and it's important for the future of our planet and the human race. Although I don't know how I'd do it, I'd love to be given the opportunity to try.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration