CAPR Research and Funded Activity
Psychological Services Center
The Psychological Services Center serves over 500 individuals and families from the
Memphis community each year. The mission of the center is to train future clinical
psychologists, to provide mental health services to underserved individuals and families
in the greater Memphis area, and to engage in research pertaining to applied mental
health service delivery. Clinical assessment and treatment is provided to children
and families for a wide range of psychological problems, such as attention difficulties,
shyness, and family conflict. Likewise, individuals are treated for problems including
anxiety, depression, addiction, interpersonal adjustment, and grief. The fee for services
depends on family income. Jim Whelan serves as the director of the center, which
includes 10 faculty in clinical and school psychology.
Treatments for quitting smoking
Despite decades of warnings from the Surgeon General's Office, large numbers of teens
continue to take up smoking and quickly become addicted to tobacco. Many youth soon
realize the costs of smoking and attempt to quit, but the odds of success are very
low. Leslie Robinson is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health to
develop treatments for adolescents who want to quit. Her research program at The
Center for Health Promotion and Evaluation has also focused on predictors of smoking
onset, smoking prevention programs, and cigarette smoking among medically fragile
children. Her work has also produced much-needed services for the local school systems..
Treatments of weight loss
Obesity is a serious health problem that particularly affects African American females
and low SES populations. Although there may be many causes for obesity, it appears
that about 40% of middle school students believe smoking can effectively help them
lose weight. A series of studies have shown that smoking is, in fact, not an effective
weight control strategy. This research has been funded by grants from the National
Institutes of Health, led by Leslie Robinson.
The Institute for Gambling Education and Research (T.I.G.E.R.)
Gambling has become increasingly available and a culturally acceptable. For most,
it is an enjoyable recreational activity. However, between 3% and 7% of adults gamble
excessively and thereby, significantly damage their lives, families, careers, and
financial future. TIGER, directed by Jim Whelan and Andy Meyers, was established
to better understand gambling behavior and how to treat those with gambling problems.
The Gambling Lab is the research arm of TIGER. Researchers examine questions such
as the role of gambling-related distorted thoughts, the potential impact of warning
labels, the effect of alcohol consumption on gambling behavior, and gambling problems
among adolescents. The Gambling Clinic is the clinical arm of TIGER, where treatment
is provided to problem and pathological gamblers and their families. In 2005, the
State of Tennessee funded The Gambling Clinic to increase public awareness for gambling
problems. TIGER initiatives have received grants from the Assisi Foundation of Memphis,
Harvard Medical School's Division on Addictions, and the Tennessee Department of Health.
Reducing the Risk in Diverse Populations
African American, Hispanic and other minority youth are at great risk for engaging
in a host of health and life compromising behaviors: Becoming sexually active and
parents too soon, failing and dropping out of school, using and abusing alcohol and
other drugs, and becoming involved in criminal activity. With support from the Tennessee
Department of Health, several projects have been implemented through the Community
Outreach Laboratory. This laboratory uses "rites of passage" as a strategy for preventing
risky behavior in minority youth and other "at risk" populations. Theresa Okwumabua
spearheads much of this research. Theresa Okwumabua and Xiangen Hu are exploring the
efficacy of providing "at risk" populations some life skills training and academic
support through the use of intelligence tutoring systems.
Neurochemical and Genetic Mechanisms of Drug and Alcohol Addiction
The causes and consequences of drug addition is partially explained by genetic and
neurophysiological mechanisms. Chuck Blaha, Melloni Cook, Guy Mittleman, and Doug
Matthews are conducting research on animals to trace these processes in grants funded
by National Institutes of Health.
What do drugs such as alcohol, heroin, and ecstasy do to normal brain function? What
are the neural pathways in the brain that underlie addiction? Is there a genetic
basis for addiction? How is memory and learning affected by exposure to drugs? These
are a few of the many important questions faculty in the Behavioral Neuroscience Group
address in their integrative and collaborative studies. Specifically, Guy Mittleman
(NATO Post-Doctoral Fellow at Cambridge) studies the role of genes in mediating an
individual's vulnerability to abusing illicit drugs such as cocaine. Doug Matthews
(Research Society on Alcoholism 2002 Young Investigator of the Year) investigates
the biochemical mechanism of alcohol action in the brain with a focus specifically
on the interactions between stress, genetics and alcohol self-administration and dependence.
Melloni Cook (Recipient of National Institute of Mental Health Pre and Post-doctoral
Minority Awards) addresses how genetic factors influence anxiety-related behaviors
and other complex behavioral traits. Her research also examines the relationships
between genes, the brain, and behavior. Chuck Blaha (Medical Research Council of
Canada Research Scientist Award) studies brain dopamine neurotransmitter systems and
the functional roles they play in incentive-motivated behaviors, including both normal
(feeding, drinking, and mating) and abnormal (self-abuse of cocaine, amphetamines,
and heroin) behaviors. His research also involves the development of new neurochemical
recording procedures to improve the therapeutic success of deep brain stimulation
in individuals suffering neurological disorders such as Parkinson's Disease. To date,
the Behavioral Neuroscience group has been awarded several grants from the state (Tennessee
Mouse Genome Consortium), the Federal government (National Institutes of Health),
international bodies (National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia) grants,
and industry (Advanced Neuromodulation Systems).
Intelligent Tutoring Systems
These are sophisticated tutoring systems that help the learner acquire knowledge at
deep levels. These systems are different than the shallow information delivery systems
that are popular in commercial computer-based training. AutoTutor is an animated conversational
agent (talking head) on the internet that helps students learn by holding a conversation
in natural language. AutoTutor simulates the discourse, facial expressions, and training
strategies of human tutors. It guides the student through interactive simulations
in microworlds. It is sensitive to the thoughts and emotions of the learner. AutoTutor
has been tested on thousands of college students at several universities and has demonstrated
impressive learning gains. This work has been funded by several grants from the National
Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the Institute of Education Sciences.
Over 100 faculty and students have worked on this project from several departments,
the interdisciplinary Institute for Intelligent Systems, and the FedEx Institute of
Technology. Art Graesser leads the AutoTutor project, along with other faculty in
psychology (Barry Gholson, Xiangen Hu, Max Louwerse), computer science (Stan Franklin,
David Lin, Vasile Rus), and physics (Don Franceschetti).
Learning from Text: The Text and the Reader
Learning from high school textbooks is challenging for many students because the texts
are often not written in a way that supports learning. To make matters worse, students
rarely use reading strategies to help them overcome the barriers posed by the text.
Danielle McNamara and her team of researchers (including Randy Floyd, Art Graesser,
Xiangen Hu, Max Louwerse) are developing tools that can be used to improve both the
quality of textbooks and students' approach to learning. The goal of the Coh-Metrix
project is to design a tool that uses a battery of indices to assess text difficulty.
Proper assessment of text difficulty ensures that students receive the high quality
texts that maximize learning. The goal of the iSTART project is to improve students'
reading comprehension by teaching students the critical strategies they need to tackle
challenging texts. iSTART is an intelligent tutoring system that uses the latest
technology to provide reading comprehension training that is tailored to the specific
needs of the student. iSTART has been found to improve strategy use, comprehension
abilities, and course performance for both college students and high-school students.
Workforce Learning: Advanced Learning Environments and Sharable Learning Objects
The University of Memphis is home to the Workforce Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL)
Co-Lab, which is affiliated with the Institute for Intelligent Systems. Both groups
are part of the University of Memphis Learning Technologies area of focus. Xiangen
Hu and Dan Rehak (Engineering) lead the ADL Workforce Co-Lab, which has been funded
by grants from the Department of Defense and the state of Tennessee. The missions
of the ADL Co-Lab are to develop computer based learning environments on the web that
are both useful to the workforce and can be shared by learners and computers throughout
Intelligent Tutoring Systems Envisioned by ADL
The primary developmental goals of the ITS community are aligned with ADL's long-term
vision: To generate, assemble, and sequence content that dynamically adapts to the
learner to optimize learning. ADL is actively engaging in research and implementation
of the digital knowledge environment of the future in the areas of standards and authoring
tools that give instructors the ability to create ITS functionality within a virtual
Evaluating Intelligent Tutoring Systems in K12 Classrooms
The efficacy of Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITSs) in producing significant learning
gains has been shown in both military and business contexts. Many believe that ITS
technology has matured to such a degree that bringing it to the K12 classroom is appropriate.
There are questions, however. It has yet to be shown how ITS technologies would be
effectively incorporated into K12 classrooms, especially for Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. How effective are ITSs in K12 contexts?
How will student learning benefit from ITSs? Our goal is to optimize learning through
these advanced learning environments in both classrooms and private learning contexts.
Xiangen Hu, Barry Gholson, and Danielle McNamara have received grants on this work
from the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and the
Creating Learning Portals for TN workforce
Our task is to build a comprehensive learning portal on the web that will promote
workforce training and thereby help transform the State of Tennessee industry. It
is believed that technology-based training can benefit the economy of the State of
Tennessee over and above the training initiatives already underway and orchestrated
by the State of Tennessee. Tennessee Workforce Online Learning Portal (TWOLP) will
be available to all Tennessee Chamber members and will potentially be available to
anyone seeking jobs within the State of Tennessee. It will (1) show new training
materials that are more effective for learning, (2) demonstrate reduced costs of development,
and (3) illustrate for industry participants in Tennessee an increased return on investment
over other training. Xiangen Hu leads this project that is funded by the State of
A computer program that identifies bad questions on surveys
The validity of any survey is compromised if the respondent does not understand the
questions on the questionnaires. Art Graesser developed a computer tool, called QUAID,
that identifies specific problems with questions, such as having complex syntax or
unfamiliar words. QUAID was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation
and the US Census Bureau.
COMPREHENSION AND COMMUNICATION
The research from the MAD Research Lab (Multiple Aspects of Discourse) serves to test,
model and evaluate linguistic and paralinguistic modalities of discourse, including
text, speech, eye gaze, intonation and gestures (). The lab has two high-end eye tracking
systems available as well as a multimedia recording studio to monitor various modalities.
Research conducted in the lab focuses on sentence and discourse processing (including
interclausal relationships and other types of cohesion and coherence), processing
deictic expressions and gestures, as well as the interaction and alignment of facial
expressions, eye gaze, intonation, discourse structure and theme/rheme. Max Louwerse
leads this laboratory, which is currently funded by the National Science Foundation
and the Institute of Education Sciences.
Drawing Inferences from Text, Illustrations, and Web Sites
Adults draw inferences about the causes and consequences of events and from the traits,
personalities, and motives of people. Art Graesser and Max Louwerse have investigated
inferences that are generated when adults read web sites and illustrated texts on
everyday devices (dishwashers, toasters, locks). Eye tracking, think aloud protocols,
and behavioral measures are collected to trace these inference processes. This work
has been funded by the Office of Naval Research and National Science Foundation.
Analysis of Survey Questions
The validity of any survey is compromised if the respondent does not understand the
questions on the questionnaires. Art Graesser, Max Louwerse, and Zhiqiang Cai have
developed a computer tool, called QUAID (Question Understanding Aid), that identifies
specific problems with questions, such as having complex syntax or unfamiliar words.
QUAID was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research,
and the US Census Bureau.
Advanced sensing technologies allow computers to automatically detect the emotions
of individuals who interact with computers. For example, frustration, confusion,
boredom, and engagement can be detected by conversational dialogue, speech, facial
movements, and posture. Art Graesser and his colleagues (Zhiqiang Cai, Stan Franklin,
Barry Gholson, Xiangen Hu, and Max Louwerse) are working on this project that is funded
by the National Science Foundation, in collaboration with MIT.
COMMUNITY AND INDUSTRIAL ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY
Traffic safety and training
Traffic crashes and violations are significant problems in Memphis and across the
State of Tennessee. Bill Dwyer, Richard McCowen and Charlie McConnell have several
projects to uncover crash trends and profiles, improve systems for crash reporting,
and develop Web-based systems for tracking alcohol-impaired drivers as they progress
through the judicial process. They have funding from the Tennessee Governor's Highway
Stress reduction in Navy personnel
Entering military life can be stressful for the thousands of young people who volunteer
each year to serve their country. Through a relationship with Navy Personnel Research
and Training, Bill Dwyer and Frank are working on a funded project to develop a Web-based
a strategy designed to reduce the stress sailors, especially recruits, may experience
as they adjust to the challenges of Navy life.
Work ethic and productivity
One of the major concerns in both the private and public sectors is the perceived
reduction in the level of work ethics among many of the people entering the workforce.
As part of a funded project with Orgill, Bill Dwyer and his students are investigating
strategies for measuring work ethic among job candidates and whether such instruments
are able to predict important work performance metrics such as: attendance, tenure,
Problems with children and families
The family environment accounts for many of the social problems that we face in society
today. CAPR faculty have conducted dozens of research projects on attention disorders,
problems with adolescent coping, social interactions among children, teenage pregnancy,
and problems in family dynamics, effects of family conflict and domestic violence
on children and family-based approaches to treating childhood obesity. This research
has been conducted by Bob Cohen and Katherine Kitzmann.
Grief and Loss
Unlike many forms of psychological distress and disorder, which affect the lives of
some people but not others, grief over the death and loss of loved ones touches every
life, often repeatedly, and sometimes traumatically. Bob Neimeyer and his research
group study the impact of loss, and especially tragic or violent forms of loss (such
as the death of a child or young person, or losses through sudden accident, suicide
or homicide) on survivors in an attempt to understand factors that contribute to both
complicated and resilient responses. Their research has sensitized them to the role
of meaning-making as a primary factor associated with healthy integration of loss,
and the inability to "make sense" of life-disrupting losses in practical, personal
or spiritual terms as a major predictor of prolonged and disabling complicated grief.
Other funded research by his group focuses on factors predicting quality of life and
death anxiety at the end of life in hospice patients.
Research on Psychotherapy Process and Outcome
Evidence suggests that the common factors across psychotherapy orientations account
for more variability in psychotherapy outcome than do differences in psychotherapeutic
orientation. Jeffrey Berman studies these factors, evaluating how the delivery of
therapy, its timing, and factors related to therapist credibility influence the effectiveness
of different forms of intervention for psychological problems. Heidi Levitt conducts
research examining the roles of factors such as therapist/client differences, silence,
and significant moments within therapy sessions in shaping clients' experience of
therapy and their implications for the therapy relationship as they unfold across
different psychotherapy orientations. Bob Neimeyer evaluates the effectiveness of
therapy approaches that foster "narrative reconstruction" or meaning making regarding
problematic life experiences, and how these can best be measured and fostered within
broadly constructivist therapies. A common thread running through all three interconnected
and collaborative research programs is the attempt to go beyond simply documenting
that a given "brand" of therapy works, to try to understand and facilitate essential
human change processes.
The Intersection of Gender and Identity
Heidi Levitt conducts research that examines the construction and evolution of gender
identities and presentations. She studies the influence of various gender presentations
upon personal identity within gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered subcultures
and the construction of new gender terms (e.g., transgender) within these communities.
She is interested in the function cultures have in generating gender and the ways
cultures can evolve to meet the needs of people whose gender experience is not recognized.
She has studied the affect of media upon gender construction and presentation in relation
to the popularization of eating disorders, and the meaning of gender roles within
different religious perspectives in relation to domestic violence.
Domestic Violence and Faith
Several projects have been investigating the interaction of faith and domestic violence
within the Memphis community. Researchers at the University of Tennessee, at the University
of Memphis counseling and psychology departments, and in private practice joined to
develop numerous projects investigating the factors within religion that both prevent
and promote the occurrence of domestic violence. Heidi Levitt has been directing and
co-directing both qualitative and quantitative projects within this group. This research
was funded by LeBonheur Health Services.
History of School Psychological Services
Tom Fagan directs the School Psychology Program and interested graduate students.
The research draws upon numerous previous and current resources to identify trends
and significant events and persons in the history of the field. The accomplishments
of more than three dozen contributors to the field have been published in career articles
and American Psychologist obituaries. The research is also connected to the archival
collections of school psychology associations at the state and national levels. Tom
Fagan also maintains a historical collection of psychoeducational tests dating from
the early 20th century, and a complete literature collection in school psychology.