Current Projects – Biobehavioral Development Lab

Current Projects

Biological effects of colorism in adolescence: Improving the measurement of skin tone to assess associations with stress hormone levels

This is a brand new collaboration between the BDL at Purdue University and the Louisiana State University Medical Health Center

Purpose: Colorism is a form of discrimination that privileges lighter skinned individuals and disadvantages darker skinned individuals within-in and between racial groups. Colorism is linked to poor health and social outcomes. Colorism is often measured by using skin tone rating scales. However, ratings of skin tone are often biased. The purpose of our study is to evaluate a novel training protocol to improve how people rate of skin tone for use in research studies by using culturally sensitive best practices. We will use the ratings provided during training to assess whether skin tone is related to higher levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress and experiences of discrimination, in children and adolescents. The ratings may be used in future research asking similar questions.

Sample: We have enrolled participants with the following demographics from each study site (New Orleans, LA and West Lafayette, IN): • 2 Asian • 2 Black • 2 Latinx • 2 White. *all research participants must be between 18 and 30 years of age, and be able to come into their local site research space to conduct ratings of skin tones and faces.*

Status: Data collection is underway.

Early growth and development study

Purpose: The primary study aims are to examine how child, family, peer, and contextual processes affect children’s adjustment, and to examine their interplay (mediation, moderation) with genetic influences.

Sample: The Early Growth and Development Study is a prospective adoption study of birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted children recruited in two cohorts (N = 561 triads). Families are followed from birth, with data collection ongoing into adolescence. Adopted children’s siblings are also assessed. This is a multi-site study following a unique sample where children were adopted at birth into non-relative families, and the birth parents, children, and adoptive parents have been followed with repeated assessments since birth. Participants live in most of the states in the U.S.

Status: Data collection is ongoing (although the BDL is not engaged directly with participants) for both the hormone assessment and a series of short questionnaires about COVID impacts, stress, and health. Here at the BDL we are engaged in data management, documentation, and analysis. Data is available for student research projects.

Families Tackling Tough Times Together – Phase 4

Purpose: This “pop up” program was designed by faculty, students, staff from the college of Health and Human Sciences at Purdue with support from partners at Purdue and beyond to support families build resilience as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. See for more information. The goal of “phase 4” – a community-engaged research project – is to adapt an effective intervention, the Families Tackling Tough Times Together (FT) program, to promote and strengthen family resilience to at-risk families. With the support of Bauer Family Resources, we will: 1) refine the FT curriculum for Bauer’s Community Partners for Child Safety (CPCS) program, 2) train staff to implement the program, 3) obtain pilot data and evaluate effects on CPCS outcomes, and 4) disseminate the findings and program updates to Bauer and Extension Educators (many whom helped develop the initial program, have access to program materials, and can implement updates with at-risk families).

Sample: This is primarily an outreach program that supports the development and health of families. We plan to assess the program in a sample of ~100 families under phase 4.

Status: We are currently refining the program materials, collecting and analyzing qualitative data, and designing the quantitative data portion.

Adolescent substance use – What can parents do?

Purpose: This outreach program was designed by students in the BDL working in close collaboration with faculty in Human Development in Family Studies, Psychological Sciences, Anthropology, and Sociology, and Extension Educators. The program provides data, activities, videos, tips and handouts for parents and service providers of youth about substances teens currently use, the risks of addiction and overdose, adolescent characteristics, and family and peer relationship factors that can put youth at risk of substance use, links between availability and access to substances and use, prevention strategies that work, and real-life tips on how to leverage strategies and address concerns to help prevent substance use.

Sample: This is primarily an outreach program that supports the development and health of families. A small group of participants participated in qualitative program evaluation, and future program evaluation efforts are planned.

Status: Students in the BDL continue to improve the content and modes of delivery alongside Extension Educators to get knowledge from the literature into the hands who need it.

Maternal context of pregnancy project

Purpose: This pilot study had four goals: to test whether (1) prenatal maternal hair hormone concentrations are associated with subjective measures of prenatal stress, other pregnancy risks, and socio-demographic factors, and whether hormone concentrations and associations with subjective stress measures differ in pregnant compared to non-pregnant adult women (e.g., validation of hair hormone concentrations in pregnant women), (2) physiological and subjective stress is associated with birth and infant outcomes, (3) epigenetic changes in cord blood and placental tissue are associated with stress measures during pregnancy, and (4) epigenetic changes mediate and/or moderate the effects of stress measures on birth and infant outcomes.

Sample: 68 women (34 pregnant, and 34 non-pregnant women) in the Greater Lafayette area. Pregnant women were followed prospectively at 12, 26, and 38 weeks pregnant, cord blood and placental tissue was collected and assayed for methylation profiles at birth, and women and infants were followed-up at 6-months postpartum. The non-pregnant control group had three prospective visits mapping onto the pregnancy visits.

Status: Data collection, management, and documentation is complete. Data is available for student research projects.

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