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Sharon Manne Award supports 4 psychology graduate research projects

Awardees conducting research on eating disorders, attention, health disparities and prevention science

Collage of portraits of the Fall 2021 Sharon Manne Awardees.

Sharon Manne Award winners (from left to right): Sarah Curci, Aubrey Rhodes, Kimberly Yu and Alexis Torres. Photo by Robert Ewing.

November 03, 2021

Four Arizona State University Department of Psychology graduate students have been named Sharon Manne Award Scholars, providing funding for personal research projects that address important and timely mental and physical health issues.

Sharon Manne is currently a professor in the Department of Medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine and is the associate director of cancer prevention and control at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. She has committed to fund research proposals developed by ASU doctoral psychology students that allows them to conduct independent research projects, often outside the scope of what they are working on with their mentor. Manne was a doctoral student in ASU’s clinical psychology program and was mentored by Research Professor Irwin Sandler and former faculty member Alex Zautra.

The Manne scholarship provides seed funding to allow students to conduct independent research projects in health psychology, clinical psychology and behavioral neuroscience. These projects often span addiction, memory, neuroscience and hormones, and this semester’s recipients are no different.

The recipients this fall are graduate students Sarah Curci, Alexis Torres, Kimberly Yu and Aubrey Rhodes.

Sarah Curci

Curci, a fifth-year psychology graduate student studying clinical psychology is part of the Las Madras Nuevas research project with professors Linda Luecken and Marisol Perez. This project is a longitudinal study on the socioemotional health of Mexican American mothers and families. The Sharon Manne funding will allow Curci to explore the role of the grandmother in the long-term development of the children and their mothers.

“Thanks to the Sharon Manne funding, I'll be able to recruit the maternal grandmothers of our sample, so we'll have three generations of data, which I'm really, really excited about,” Curci said.

Curci was also recently recognized as a recipient of the 2021 American Psychological Foundation/Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology Graduate Research Scholarship for her proposed dissertation project with three generations of Las Madres Nuevas families, “Intergenerational Mechanisms of Resilience Promoting Child Biobehavioral Health Among Low-Income, Mexican-Origin Families,” and won the Faculty Women’s Association Distinguished Graduate Student Award for her work on health disparities in ethnic minority mothers.

Kimberly Yu

Yu is also a fifth-year doctoral student in the clinical psychology training area and she conducts research with Perez in her Body Image Research and Health Disparities lab. Yu's current research addresses disordered eating pathology, body image and eating behaviors specifically among underrepresented, marginalized or stigmatized populations.

“There are some really great body image interventions out there right now, but there's also a lot of research indicating there are some big disparities in disordered eating and how disordered eating presents among different groups,” Yu said.

“For example, disordered eating presents very differently among men compared to women, and might present differently among ethnic and racial minorities compared to Caucasian individuals where there's a lot of research already. Understanding the nuances of how these behaviors differ among these different groups can really inform prevention and prevention science going forward in the future.”

The Sharon Manne Funding is allowing her to take advanced statistical training to better understand mixed modeling and growth analysis, as well as paying for the software to run these analyses. This will complement the quantitative psychology training that she is currently receiving in the program and expand her capabilities.

Alexis Torres

Torres is a second-year doctoral student in the cognitive science training area who is mentored by Associate Professor Gene Brewer. She is part of the Memory and Attention Control Lab and conducts research on how people attend to and process information.

“My broad research focus is attention, specifically why it is that individuals vary in their ability to attend to tasks over long periods of time. Some people may be worse at it or better, and I'm interested in what contributes to those differences,” Torres said.

Currently, Torres is working in collaboration with professors Brewer, Samuel McClure, Daniel Peterson and Edward Ofori on an interdisciplinary project that is focused on understanding the effects of dopamine on attention in Parkinson’s disease patients. A common experience for Parkinson’s patients is the tendency to lose their balance and experience falls, often when they have divided attention.

“What we are trying to understand is whether the decrease in dopamine that occurs due to the disease has an effect on different cognitive abilities like attention,” Torres said.

Torres and her colleagues use fMRI to look at brain activity during these attention tasks and the additional funding will allow her to look at the structural integrity of the brains of people with Parkinson’s, specifically the pathways that are affected by disease progression. She hopes to evaluate performance on more cognitive tasks that measure memory and attention ability while also collecting additional data from more participants.

Aubrey Rhodes

Rhodes is also a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the clinical psychology training area and conducts research under the mentorship of Sandler and Professor Sharlene Wolchik. Rhodes is part of the REACH Institute, a prevention centered research institute within the Department of Psychology, and conducts research with the New Beginnings Program.

Rhodes is interested in expanding access and improving accessibility in prevention programs like the New Beginnings Program and is modifying the delivery mechanism to a podcast format. With the Sharon Manne Funding, she will be able to run a pilot study to examine the preliminary efficacy of the new programming and to see if similar podcast-style interventions have a future in prevention science.

“I work on a parenting intervention called the New Beginnings Program, which is a program for divorcing families, and I'm working on adapting that program to a podcast format so that it can be free and accessible to any English speaking family anywhere in the world who has a smartphone,” Rhodes said. “What I'm really interested in is investigating a novel telehealth platform to determine does this work?”

She had already begun modifying the program and the additional funding will allow her to find out how users engage with the podcast and conduct focus group interviews with divorcing parents and clinicians to ensure the podcast teaches the skills that are relevant and useful to those families.

A sense of gratitude

“For me personally, I would definitely like to do what Dr. Sharon Manne is doing for us students. It is really humbling to even be here and to be able to contribute to knowledge and work with such amazing and supportive people, in a university that provides so many resources and is so attentive to our needs,” Torres said. “I have this kind of sense of obligation that I want to give back, and I want to continue to make science better — and part of doing that is contributing to us. That's what Dr. Sharon Manne is doing for us and we are all so grateful!”

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