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Release: May 23, 2002

Four UI professors win grants from Obermann Center for studies of children

Four University of Iowa researchers have won grants from the UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies for projects studying children and their families. These Center for Advanced Studies Spelman Rockefeller (CASSPR) Grants are designed to support the early stages of research projects so that researchers can cull enough data to be competitive when seeking funds from external granting agencies like the National Institutes of Health and others.

CASSPR grants are supported by the UI Laura Spelman Rockefeller Fund and by the UI Office of the Vice President for Research. The $6,000 grants will fund research to be carried out in 2002-03.

This year's award recipients are Erika Lawrence, assistant professor of psychology, Irwin P. Levin, professor of psychology, and Kathleen M. Tangenberg, assistant professor of social work, all of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Beth Troutman, assistant professor (clinical) of psychiatry in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

Lawrence's project, "Understanding the Mechanisms that Influence the Developmental Course of Family Violence," will examine marital violence and its impact on families and children. She expects her research to aid in development of effective programs to prevent family violence, which affects more than 8 million couples each year. The CASSPR grant will fund a pilot study of 60 newlywed couples. She will use this initial data as the basis for external grant applications to expand the study to 300 couples.

Levin's project, "Development of Tasks for Studying Decision Biases in Children," has developed out of more than 30 years of decision-making research at the UI. While previous research has focused on adults, Levin is now turning his attention to children ages 4-6 to determine whether they have the same tendencies as adults to make risky choices to avoid a loss and to make less risky choices to achieve a gain. The research will examine whether children are more, less, or equally inclined toward this "decision bias" and whether differences in children's decision making are predictable based on personality, cognitive, and social development. They also plan to compare the correlation between children's decisions and those of their parents on similar tasks. To compare children and adults, the research team must first develop a variety of test tasks that can be completed by children but still capture the essence of the decision processes of adults.

Tangenberg's project, "Children of Mothers with Chronic Pain: Family Relationships and Community Supports," is a pilot study examining ways chronic pain affects women's relationships with school-aged children and relationships with social institutions such as schools, community centers, and religious organizations. Tangenberg says that while social isolation, depression, and stress related to chronic pain have been clearly documented, little research has examined the effects of chronic pain on mother-child relationships and ways community institutions can better respond to family needs for social report. She will use information gathered from this study to design a larger national study of maternal chronic pain and prevention of drug abuse, as women with parenting demands and few support resources are at increased risk for drug dependency.

Troutman's project, "Effect of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) During Pregnancy on Infant Emotional Development," will examine the effect of in utero exposure to a group of medications commonly used to treat depressive disorders (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors—SSRIs) on infant emotional development. Recent studies indicate that SSRI use during pregnancy is not associated with major congenital problems, which may have led to increased use of these medications in pregnant women. However, some reports suggest that SSRI exposure may be associated with increased irritability in infants.

Jay Semel, director of the Obermann Center, said that since its inception the CASSPR program has resulted in numerous scholarly publications as well as more than $17.5 million in external grants, including a $3.75-million grant in 2002 from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment to James Hall, associate professor of pediatrics, social work, public health, and nursing. Hall used a 1999 CASSPR grant to develop a directory of youth serving agencies in Johnson County, which enabled him to demonstrate a commitment to building community linkages between agencies, a requirement for the external grant application.

In recent years CASSPR recipients have gone on to win grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the American Heart Association. Work begun with CASSPR grants has led to books and articles on topics such as childhood disease, health of homeless rural women and children, single parent families, children's accident injuries, and family stress.

Local community and professional groups who wish to invite researchers to speak at their meetings about completed projects should contact the Obermann Center at (319) 335-4034.