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Center for Applied Psychological Research Information

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.

Behavioral Neuroscience

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 the world.

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 training environment.

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 city government.

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 Tennessee.

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.


Multichannel 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.

Sensing Emotions

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.  


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 Safety Office.

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, and productivity.


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.

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Last Updated: 1/23/12