Seed Grant Awards, 2014-2015

Congratulations to the 2014-2015 Seed Grant Award Recipients! Scroll down to see project abstracts.

#Racism: Examining cultural racism and multiple stress responses in the context of contemporary public media

Courtney D. Cogburn (Social Work)

Mass media, news, social and popular entertainment, have become increasingly powerful forces in shaping American identity, ideologies and culture. Once reduced to a trivial form of entertainment, popular culture is now believed to function as a hegemonic tool that has the ability to “distort, shape and produce reality” (p. 116, Dirks & Mueller, 2008). Media based racism encompasses a) the vicarious exposure via media to racial discrimination experienced by others (e.g. coverage of racially motivated shooting) and b) the use of language, imagery and symbols to diminish and devalue non-White racial groups as portrayed in the news and entertainment media (e.g. as use of the phrase “inner city” as a coded proxy for race). This is a potentially pervasive and chronic source of racism-related stress and as such may play an important role in producing stress responses that cumulatively pose a significant threat to health. Although multidimensional models identify this form of racism as an important source of psychosocial stress, this concept has been largely overlooked in the empirical literature (Lewis, Cogburn & Williams, 2015). The current proposal employs a laboratory experimental design to examine 1) whether exposure to cultural racism produces meaningful changes in physiological, psychological and behavioral stress responses and 2) the role of cognitive appraisal processes in moderating this association. The proposed research is part of a series of pilot studies that will provide a conceptual and empirical basis for a larger grant to be submitted to the National Institutes of Health.

Accelerated maturation in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study: Relation to timing, type and severity of in-home stressors

Cindy Hagan (Psychology)
Nim Tottenham (Psychology)
Frances Champagne (Psychology)
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn (Teachers College)

In accordance with theories emerging from both evolutionary psychology and evolutionary biology, absence of the biological father is associated with earlier age at menarche (even when considering other pubertal measures), as indicated by a recent meta-analysis (Webster, Graber, Gesselman, Crosier & Schembler, 2014). The presence of in-home stressors such as exposure to step-fathers and maternal history of depression may also contribute to early puberty in females (Ellis & Garber, 2000). However one may question whether in-home stressors, such as absence of warmth, presence of conflict, chronic harshness, or unpredictable environments, equivalently influence maturational processes in females, or whether the timing, type or severity of stressor(s) experienced matters. Similarly one may ask whether maturational processes are slowed by re-introduction of the biological father to the family, or a healthy mother-daughter relationship. The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is uniquely poised to examine these questions in a large-scale birth cohort. These questions have important implications for health policy as early maturation of females is associated with various adverse mental health and psychosocial outcomes, such as increased incidence of depression, anxiety, disruptive behavior problems (Belsky, Ruttle, Boyce, Armstrong, Essex, 2015) and early use of alcohol, which is associated with pregnancy during the adolescent years (Deardoff, Gonzales, Christopher, Roosa, Millsap, 2005). A better understanding of the relationship between early life stressors and developmental maturation may assist in the better identification of risk and protective factors in vulnerable individuals.

The Bureaucratization of Undergraduate Sex

Constance A. Nathanson (Sociomedical Sciences)
Shamus Kahn (Sociology)

Sexual assault on college campuses has become a public problem in the United States to the point of receiving significant attention from the federal government in the form of formal guidelines directed to colleges and universities and the recent inauguration of an official White House Task Force. The issue has been covered extensively, and heavily dramatized, in the medial. There is little evidence, however, that this increased attention is due to a sharp rise in the frequency of assaultive behavior. The purpose of this seed grant proposal is to lay the groundwork for a larger study of the historical and institutional context in which the meanings and management of sexual violence in the United States have shifted over time and in different settings.

Columbia University Research Consortium on Autism Spectrum and Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Peter Bearman (Sociology)
Jane Waldfogel (Social Work)
William Fifer (Psychiatry and Pediatrics)

The overall goal of this application is to enhance the nascent linkages between population level researchers and key neuroscientists and developmental psychobiologists, so that we can jointly design and execute cutting edge studies to provide answers to critical issues in autism spectrum disorder research and generate innovative approaches to early intervention and prevention in ASD and related disorders.
Very practically this means that we propose to establish a consortium that incorporates researchers affiliated with the Columbia Population Research Center (CPRC), Columbia Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology, and the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute (Z-MBBI) to investigate early markers, prenatal and early influences, and developmental trajectories of ASD risk.
We have started to work together. This application for a seed grant is written with the aim of enhancing our collaboration so that we can build a consortium, integrate prospective and clinical studies in humans with animal models in which mechanistic pathways can be investigated experimentally, and link new population level findings to new approaches in neuroscience.This application is submitted by Peter Bearman and Jane Waldfogel, along with 10 other investigators from CPRC, Sackler, and Z-MBBI (see cover page).