Sample of Research Projects

Empowering and protecting children by enhancing knowledge, skills and well-being: A randomised trial of Learn to BE SAFE with Emmy™

Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Diane Shanley
Kerryann Walsh
Russell Hawkins
Katrina Lines
ACT for Kids

Funded by the Australian Research Countil, Linkage Grant, 2014-2016

Aims. Despite best efforts of child protection systems and increased government expenditure, child abuse rates remain at unacceptably high levels (AIHW, 2012; Thomas & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2012) and child protection systems struggle to provide enough effective interventions and treatments for high-risk families. Therefore, abuse prevention is a priority and the provision of school-based abuse prevention programs has been a key strategy in Australia’s efforts to protect children. The purpose of the current research is to conduct a multi-site randomised controlled trial (RCT) of Learn to BE SAFE with Emmy™, a psychoeducational children’s protection program developed by specialist staff at ACT for Kids (AFK). AFK is an Australian not-for-profit organisation working to prevent and treat child abuse. Through extensive collaborations with Griffith University, Queensland University of Technology, and James Cook University, AFK has built a reputation for developing quality programs, placing great emphasis on providing evidence of the efficacy and effectiveness of their programs, with the goal of widespread dissemination to improve the safety and well-being of children across Australia. In this collaborative study we have 5 goals (G1 to G5) that address 4 general aims.

*The first aim is to assess the efficacy of Learn to BE SAFE with Emmy™. Findings will identify whether the program:

G1. Increases children’s knowledge of interpersonal safety immediately, as well as 6 and 18 months after participation; Changes children’s behavior, resulting in increased safe responses when observed by parents, teachers, and on the playground immediately, 6, 12, and 18 months after participation; Increases children’s sense of self-efficacy by assessing how confident children are in their ability to take appropriate action in unsafe situations; Improves children’s intentions to seek assistance when faced with hypothetical unsafe situations; and Increases appropriate responses to children’s reporting of abuse, demonstrated through school incident reports and child safety records.

*The second aim of this collaborative study is to conduct a comprehensive process evaluation of Learn to BE SAFE with Emmy™. Hence, we will

G2. Ensure quality standardisation of program delivery (i.e., facilitator training, content delivery, use of validated measures), assisting future program implementation and dissemination. Such a process evaluation has never before been conducted in this area.

*The third aim is to conduct an economic evaluation. This will provide critical information for future program enhancement and policy recommendations. Specifically, we will:

G3. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the program is a sound investment for government by identifying the total cost of the program compared to the cost of risks associated with not running the program.

*The fourth aim is to conduct an analysis of treatment moderation and an analysis of dose-response to:

G4. Isolate groups for which the intervention is most valuable. Subgroups of children receiving more benefit from the program will be identified (e.g., boys/girls, high/low SES, high/low language skills, family composition, families with more or less life stress); and

G5. Identify which components of the intervention are necessary to see benefits. Low levels of participation in the intervention will be compared to full participation. Teacher-led booster sessions for parents and children will be evaluated for incremental validity gains in children’s knowledge, skills, self-efficacy, help-seeking, and school incident reports when compared to program delivery without boosters.

Improving outcomes of evidence-based behaviour therapy for paediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder: a translational efficacy trial of d-cycloserine augmented intensive behaviour therapy

Lara Farrell
Allison Waters
Eric Storch
Brett McDermott
Harry McConnell
Jennifer Hudson
Daniel Geller
Thomas Ollendick
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Evelin Tiralongo

Funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant, 2014-2016
@ $300,000

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a chronic neuro-behavioural disorder; previously ranked within the top 10 most disabling conditions worldwide.1Affecting over half a million Australians (ABS), OCD has a lifetime prevalence of more than 3%, making it twice as prevalent as schizophrenia and bipolar, and the fourth most common psychiatric disorder.2 Unfortunately, only about 50% of children with OCD are diagnosis-free following our best evidence-based treatments. These currently include behavioural treatment (BT), which incorporates exposure and response-prevention (ERP), either alone or in combination with serotonergic medication. Recent experimental research has shown that ingesting small amounts of anti-tuberculosis drug, d-Cycloserine (DCS) can enhance extinction learning, the process hypothesized to underlie ERP. Clinical studies have shown DCS augments outcomes of ERP in anxious adults, over and above that achieved by ERP alone. Given that OCD typically onsets during childhood, and that early onset predicts later psychopathology and a poorer prognosis,3 the possibility that DCS could enhance outcomes could be a major breakthrough in treating this debilitating and costly disorder.

DCS arguably offers the most exciting novel pharmacological adjunct to exposure based treatment to date, with numerous preclinical and small clinical trials (four trials collectively by CIs) providing support for therapy enhancing effects. In order to understand the translational potential of DCS, large randomised controlled trials are now needed. 4 This research will be the first large multi-site, placebo-controlled, randomised trial (RCT) of DCS augmented ERP for childhood OCD, which will allow for robust efficacy data, as well as critically determine important therapeutic, clinical, and biological moderators of treatment response. Identifying moderators of response, will move the field forward in terms of highlighting clinical parameters for optimizing response to DCS, as well as identifying patient variables which will assist in the development of personalised approaches to prescribing appropriate evidence-based treatments. The trial brings together a strong team of national and international experts to conduct a RCT across two Australian University’s – Griffith University (GU – two campuses in QLD) and Macquarie University (MQ), cementing a strong collaboration among two of Australia’s pre-eminent “child anxiety” research teams.

Helping young Australians to “Look for Good”: A school-based trial of positive attention training to increase children’s emotional health and prevent anxiety and depression

Allison Waters
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Karin Mogg
Brendan Bradley
Michelle Craske

Funded by the Australian Rotary Mental Health Grant Scheme, 2014-2016

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health problems affecting Australian children, with 10-20% of school-aged children experiencing emotional disorders during their young lives (Mathews et al., 2011). These disorders cause life-long impairment (Bittner et al., 2007), and are costly to families (Bodden et al., 2008) and national health care systems (Andrews et al., 2004).

These alarming figures emphasise the need to invest in fresh approaches to prevention research for childhood emotional problems if we are to have any impact on improving the quality of life for future generations of Australians. Yet, our best practice treatments such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), are effective for about 60% of children with emotional disorders (see Rapee et al., 2009), are time and resource intensive, and may not be accessible or appropriate for many children (Lyneham & Rapee, 2006; Farrell, Waters, & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2012). Most concerning, universal prevention programs based on CBT have had modest long-lasting benefits for young people, particularly with depression (Merry & Spence, 2007).

The present study builds on the latest evidence from developmental cognitive neuroscience that highlights biases in the way that children with emotional problems and those at risk for their development, attend to positive and negative stimuli (e.g., Waters, Bradley, & Mogg, 2013; Joormann, Talbot, & Gotlib, 2007). Based on this literature, we have found encouraging evidence from our published preliminary trial (Waters, Pittaway, Mogg, Bradley & Pine, 2013) and a randomised controlled trial currently underway with clinically anxious children to suggest that a short, computer-assisted program that encourages children to focus their attention on positive stimuli and to persist with this strategy even when circumstances become challenging, is effective in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms and increasing positive emotional well-being.

The aim of this initial prevention trial, conducted in partnership with Marymount Primary School, a coeducational Catholic school located in Burleigh Heads, Queensland, is to examine whether the “Positive Attention Program” is effective in offsetting emotional problems and increasing positive emotional well-being in children. In 2014, a cohort of approximately 400 children across Grades 3, 4 and 5 at Marymount Primary School will be assigned to either the Positive Attention Program or the Active Placebo condition. Children assigned to the Positive Attention Program will complete 30 minute sessions in computer labs during school hours 4 times per week for 3 weeks while the Active Placebo group will receive CBT sessions of the same duration and frequency. Both groups will be assessed using child-, parent- and teacher-report measures to assess change in negative emotional symptoms, positive emotional well-being, and cognitive and behavioural biases, before and after the assigned intervention and across a 24-month follow-up period.

Appearance-based Rejection Sensitivity from Childhood to Adolescence: Victimisation, Mental Health Consequences, and Rejection Resilience

Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Allison Waters
Drew Nesdale
Lara Farrell
Geraldine Downey

Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC Discovery), 2013-2015

Teasing and victimisation about body shape and size or other aspects of appearance can cause children to chronically and anxiously expect rejection. Referred to as appearance-based rejection sensitivity(appearance-RS), this longitudinal study of Australian children will examine appearance-RS as a significant mechanism explaining how teasing and victimisation by peers, as well as media messages and parents, contribute to adolescents’ escalating mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders. An appearance-RS model and two psychoeducational programmes will be tested. One programme will be for the classroom and the other will be targeted at improving mental health problems related to adolescents' appearance-RS.

The Future of Childhood Anxiety Treatment: Translating Cognitive-Neuroscience Insights into Clinical Practice

Allison Waters
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Daniel Pine
Michelle Craske
Karin Mogg
Brendan Bradley

Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC Discovery), 2012-2014

One robust clinical correlate of anxiety disorders across the lifespan is hypervigilance, the tendency to inappropriately and chronically direct attention to threatening stimuli; this tendency is often referred to as threat attention bias. This project brings together an expert, international research team to test the hypothesis that a novel computer-based intervention for childhood anxiety disorders designed to reduce threat attention biases leads to greater reduction in children's anxiety than a placebo intervention or a no-training waitlist group. This novel treatment is designed to alleviate anxiety disorders in childhood quickly and efficiently, stopping them before they have the opportunity to yield lifelong patterns of disability. Moreover, recent neuroscience work has begun to delineate the neural circuitry underlying abnormal attention to threat in anxiety. An additional aim is to test, in childhood anxiety disorders, abnormalities in the underlying brain systems mediating threat attention biases and the extent to which pre-treatment abnormalities in neural circuitry predict response to the novel intervention. Finally, dissemination and access to treatment are the major goals of all intervention work. We therefore test the feasibility and outcomes of the novel intervention when completed on PCs at home with just minimal therapist contact. In doing so, this project is at the forefront of international intervention and brain research, focused on accelerating the translation of cognitive neuroscience insights into clinical application.

Enhancing outcomes for children with anxiety disorders: An interdisciplinary approach to innovative treatments

Allison Waters
Lara Farrell
Laetitia Hattingh
Harry McConnell
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Caroline Donovan
Thomas Ollendick

Funded by Areas of Strategic Investment, Griffith Health Institute, Griffith University, 2012-2013

The psychotherapeutic intervention – cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) – is considered a first line treatment for childhood anxiety disorders (Pine et al., 2008), with approximately 60% of children likely to be free of diagnoses after treatment (James et al., 2006; Seligman & Ollendick, 2011). CBT has its theoretical foundations in cognitive, learning-based models of anxiety, whereby threat-based dysfunctional thinking processes are targeted through cognitive restructuring, while gradual exposure to feared stimuli is utilised to address behavioural avoidance (e.g., Waters & Craske, 2005). However, approximately 10-15% of treated children will relapse after successful CBT, and as noted, approximately 40% of children do not respond initially (James et al., 2006). Moreover, the vast majority of anxious children do not receive treatment at all (Essau et al., 2002), and combined with the significant public health burden of current treatments (Bodden et al., 2008), advancements in treatment options, accessibility and outcomes are critical.

Accordingly, latest international developments in enhancing treatments for childhood anxiety disorders are focusing on two major areas, which relate directly to the major aims of this project: (1) augmenting CBT with novel interventions that improve treatment outcomes, and (2) improving accessibility to treatment for a greater number of anxious children. Our group is at the forefront of international research in both respects and this project synthesises our work to examine innovative ways to augment CBT outcomes in a manner that can also enhance access to effective treatments.

Rejection Sensitivity in Children and Adolescents: Antecedents, Consequences, and the Promotion of Rejection Resilience.

Professor Drew Nesdale
Professor Melanie J Zimmer-Gembeck
Professor Geraldine Downey

Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC Discovery), 2010-2012

Human beings are an exceptionally social with a strong need to belong and an even stronger aversion to rejection (or ostracism or exclusion). Rejection is experienced by almost everyone, and when it does occur, the experience is typically quite distressing with potentially serious implications (Leary, 2001). Importantly, Downey and colleagues argue that early, prolonged or acute experiences of rejection by valued others, such as parents or peers, can give rise to rejection sensitivity (RS) -- a tendency for an individual to anxiously expect rejection, readily perceive it and overreact (Downey & Feldman, 1996; Feldman & Downey, 1994). Research has now identified RS in older children, adolescents and adults, and that it occurs in the same proportions across genders and ages (Downey & Feldman, 1996; Zimmer-Gembeck & Vickers, 2007). Of critical importance are findings indicating that RS has negative cognitive, emotional and behavioural consequences over and above the impact of actual rejection experiences (e.g., Sandstrom et al, 2003), including anger and hostility, despondency, social withdrawal, loneliness, depression, aggression, dating violence, and relationship breakdown (Levy et al., 2001; Watson & Nesdale, 2008; Zimmer-Gembeck & Wright, 2007). Further, Australian (Zimmer-Gembeck & Vickers, 2007) and USA (Downey & Feldman, 1996) research indicates that RS can occur in 20% or more of the population.

The aims of the present project are to:

  1. determine whether children in middle childhood through early adolescence develop RS and to identify the critical social experiences and individual factors contributing to its development.
  2. isolate the major effects of RS on children and early adolescents, including cognitive, emotional and behavioural responses and mental health outcomes.
  3. shed light on the nature of the mechanism(s) underpinning the development of RS in children and adolescents.
  4. develop and test an intervention that will enhance children’s and adolescents’ coping and resilience when confronted with social rejection, thus promoting a healthier start to life, and extending their capacity to form stronger and more stable relationships.

Children’s Coping with Stress: Threat and Emotion Appraisals, Development and Gender Differences

Professor Ellen A. Skinner
Professor Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck

Research on coping during childhood and adolescence belongs to a rich set of literatures examining how children are affected by stress and adversity. Coping research is distinguished by its focus on how children deal with actual stressors in real-life contexts, and how the effects of these episodes accumulate. Despite burgeoning literatures within age groups, studies on age differences and changes across developmental levels have proven resistant to integration. Two recent advances promise progress toward a developmental framework. First, a variety of dual process models based on the notion of coping as “regulation under stress” establish links between coping and the normative development of emotional, attentional, and behavioral self-regulation as well as suggest constitutional underpinnings and social factors that shape the development of coping. Second, analyses of higher-order coping categories have converged on about a dozen families whose overarching functions can be used to identify corresponding lower-order ways of coping that, despite their apparent differences, are developmentally-graded members of the same family. This analysis can help identify shifts common across families, and suggests that general mechanisms of coping may accumulate developmentally, for example, starting with stress responses guided by reflexes during the neonatal period, and adding regulation via action schemes during infancy, supplemented by coping through direct action during preschool age, coping using cognitive means during middle childhood, and coping using meta-cognitive means during adolescence. Together, these advances sketch the outlines of a multi-level systems perspective on the development of coping as including both the successive differentiation of responses to different demands (e.g., novelty, failure, delay, separation) and the integration of regulatory subsystems, potentially allowing coping to become more flexible, organized, cooperative, and autonomous across childhood and adolescence.

A series of studies are underway to test these theoretical and expand previous research on chidlren’s coping and emotion regulation.

Can we facilitate cognitive development
in 4- and 5-year-old children?

Dr. Glenda Andrews
Dr. Ruth Ford
Professor David Shum
Professor Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck

Funded by the Griffith Health Institute, 2011

Two experiments will be conducted to investigate two factors that potentially influence the transition from binary- to ternary-relational processing in 4- and 5-year-old normally developing children. These factors are the efficiency of children’s binary-relational processing and the explicitness of their binary-relational representations.

Integrating Knowledge and Service for Queensland Children: Needs, Evidence, and Collaborative Dissemination

Dr. Rae Thomas
Professor Melanie J Zimmer-Gembeck
Professor Ross Homel
Dr. Michael Hurlburt
Dr. Mark Chaffin

Funded by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, 2010

Development of Sexual Health and Sexual Risk-Taking in Emerging Adulthood: The Roles of Sexual Subjectivity, Sexual Agency, Exploration and Interpersonal Relationships

Professor Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck
Dr. Marie-Aude Boislard-P.
Jessica French
Laurenne See

The aims of this project are to examine (a) sexuality, sexual risk behaviour, perceptions and relationships and (b) qualities of relationships and sociocultural factors associated with later sexual health, well-being and positive interpersonal functioning. Two gaps in research will be filled. First, current understanding of sexual risk behaviour will be complimented by an understanding of normal, healthy sexual development. Second, sexual health will be studies as both behaviour and the way that young people think and feel about their sexual and relational lives.

Parent-Child Connection: A Trial of an Early Intervention to Increase Caregiver Sensitivity and Improve Caregiver-Child Attachment.

Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Doug Shelton

Funded by the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund, 2007-2008

Harsh disciplinary strategies and psychological unavailability (i.e., child maltreatment) are associated with insecure caregiver-child attachment relationships, and are linked with children’s behaviour problems, psychopathology, and problem relationships. In fact, recent longitudinal evidence shows the intergenerational transmission of problems that follows from insecure caregiver-child attachments, with children growing up to have insecure attachments with partners and their children.1 It is critical to intervene early to reduce hostile parent-child interactions and support the development of positive caregiver-child interactions and secure attachment relationships. One way to improve parent-child attachment is to increase caregivers’ sensitivity to their young children’s behaviours and emotions.2 Within the Gold Coast region there are few programs with this aim and there are few services for caregivers who have children age 1 to 3 years. The current proposed research project is a trial of Parent-Child Connection (PCC), an intervention founded in attachment theory that has been developed within The Family Interaction Program (FIP) to fill this gap. The aim of PCC is to improve parent-child attachment and decrease child maltreatment. Through our previous work, we have developed innovative techniques that are the foundation of PCC. These techniques will assist parents to understand the behavioural and emotional cues of their young children, while also working to decrease parental stress, add to parenting skills, and decrease maltreatment. Using random assignment and following Consort guidelines, the project will be delivered to 30 caregivers at risk of child maltreatment with another 30 caregivers placed in a supported waitlist control condition. From our experience and the research evidence, we know that participants will have insecure attachment relationships and children will display behavioural and/or emotional problems. Data will be collected prior to program involvement and after 12 weeks. Changes in attachment, caregiver sensitivity, caregiver-child interactions, stress, parenting efficacy, and caregiver well-being will be assessed, and the treatment and waitlist groups will be compared on all measures.

The funding provided by the Rotary Health Research Fund is being used to evaluate the 12-week Parent-Child Connection program with 30 families who are risk of child maltreatment as compared to 30 families on a 12-week support waitlist. There are seven (7) primary aims of the research project and Parent-Child Connection.

  1. To provide an effective program that can be easily implemented with caregivers and their young children ages 1 to 3. This will fill a significant age gap in community services.
  2. To increase caregiver sensitivity and availability by enhancing carer responsiveness to the child’s behavioural and emotional cues and reactions.
  3. To improve and strengthen caregiver-child attachment relationships through the development of more trusting and nurturing caregiver-child interactions.
  4. To increase caregivers’ understanding of child needs and abilities.
  5. To increase caregiver self-efficacy by fostering appropriate parent-child interaction and child management skills.
  6. To reduce child abuse potential and risk of maltreatment by facilitating the development of positive parenting strategies.
  7. To reduce caregiver stress through skills acquisition, enhancing maternal sensitivity, increasing awareness of child development and fostering social support networks.

Using Multiple Methods to Develop A Gender-Balanced Assessment of Relational Aggression among Adolescents

Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Rhiarne Pronk

Funded by a Griffith University Research Grant, 2006-2007

Relational aggression includes intentional acts that hurt others via their relationships. Harm is expected to be the motivation for relational aggression, but little research has examined the “whys.” Also, measures of relational aggression may include behaviors that are more commonly found among females than males. Using a variety of methods, I aim to develop a more gender-balanced measure that assesses both the particular behaviors and the “whys” of relational aggression among adolescents. The outcome will be measures that will further our research on the development of aggression and rejection/exclusion, and improve our capacity to reduce these behaviors among young people.

In short, the aims of the present pilot research are to –

  1. Use interviews and observations to guide the development and piloting of a new peer report measure of relational aggression that is valid and reliable among boys and girls (ages 11 to 15).
  2. Examine the convergent validity of this peer report measure by comparing the measure to an existing peer nomination measure of relational aggression and a self-report measure.
  3. Gather information about motivation for relational aggression from girls and boys of various ages.
  4. Develop and test items that assess a variety of reasons for relationally aggressive behavior.

Motivating Young People Towards Success: Evaluation of Motivational Interviewing-Integrated Treatment Program for Clients in a Residential Therapeutic Community

Frances O’Callaghan
Amelia Callaghan
Peter Creed
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Stefanie Klag

Funded by the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund, 2007-2008

This research project involves young people with mental health and substance use problems receiving treatment in a residential therapeutic community.

The research aims are:

  1. to implement Motivational Interviewing training for the clinical staff
  2. to improve the mental health and substance-use related problems of young residential clients by implementing an MI-integrated treatment program
  3. to evaluate mental health, treatment engagement, retention and other treatment outcomes resulting from the integration of MI techniques and strategies with standard treatment
  4. to evaluate the effectiveness of the MI-integrated treatment by comparing outcomes with measures obtained in a previous treatment outcome evaluation (Klag et al)
  5. to evaluate the effectiveness of the training program (videos of training sessions and some counselling sessions) in order to assess uniformity and adherence/competence across clinical staff.

Adolescent Peer Relations and Aggression

Drew Nesdale
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck

Funded by a Griffith University Research Grant, 2004-2006

Grant; Group Processes and Children's Aggression

The significance of the present pilot project is that it will underpin a 2005 ARC Discovery grant on children’s aggression - a relatively common behaviour yet one with devastating effects for the targets. The proposed research project focuses on the delineation of the effects of group membership on different types of aggression by children who differ in age and gender. Although group membership is very important and meaningful to young children, its impact in facilitating children’s aggression has received little research attention. Support for the present research will greatly strengthen our ARC application because it will enable the development of new paradigms and materials which are critical to that research.

The proposed research

  1. Examines the development of direct and relational aggression of both boys and girls during the primary school years
  2. Assesses the extent to which children’s aggression is influenced by group processes such as group identification, group norms, and the nature of group membership.
  3. Determines the degree to which the impact of group processes is moderated by individual difference variables such as social self-esteem and interpersonal empathy.
  4. Provides valuable new insights into possible areas for interventions by teachers and parents designed to reduce childhood aggression.

Grant; The “Whats” and “Whys” of Relational Aggression: A Gender-Balanced Assessment of Relational Aggression among Adolescents

Summary: Relational aggression involves harm to relationships. Harm or retaliation is expected to be the main motivation for adolescents’ relational aggression, but little is known about the “whys” of these behaviors. Using a variety of methods, we will develop new measures of the whats and whys of relational aggression for adolescents. The outcome will be measures that are necessary for furthering our research program on the development of aggression and rejection/exclusion and advancing programs for schools and others who are managing these behaviors.

More Details: After the recent publication of a chapter in the book Girls and Aggression (Geiger, Zimmer-Gembeck, & Crick, 2004), one of us (MZG) received a call from a school counselor on the Gold Coast. She was desperately trying to gather information about what she could do to reduce the teasing, backstabbing, manipulation of friendships and exclusion between groups of females at her high school. Groups of girls had become so embroiled in hurting each other through these methods that the sense of community at the school was in danger, victims of the aggression were emotionally distraught and some students felt they had no choice but to transfer to another school. What was to be done? It was suggested that the school start a campaign to improve the awareness of the problem at the school. This campaign should gather advice from students and involve influential students, teachers and parents. Yet, it was difficult to draw from the literature in order to give more specific information or provide materials about (a) how this should be done to be most effective, (b) how to intervene without targeting only certain individuals, females only, and/or assuming too much about the behaviours that were most problematic, (c) how to provide age appropriate interventions that would attract the attention of young people, and (d) how to develop messages that did not oversimplify the problem (e.g., “don’t gossip and tease others”, “let’s all just get along”).

The development, implementation and testing of an intervention that involves increasing student awareness, and relies upon student, teacher and parent interaction will be the focus of our large ARC and NH&MRC in 2006. In the areas of physical aggression and bullying, an intervention that increased the awareness of the problem in the school was shown to be an effective first step toward reducing aggression (Olweus, 1994). This intervention informed teachers and parents that physical aggression and victimization are serious problems plaguing schools. We will propose that this will be the most promising initial approach when managing other forms of aggression in the school environment, such as those described above. However, before we can design and implement a randomized-controlled trial of an intervention project of this magnitude, we must have the information about the range of problematic behaviours (the “whats”) that occur between individuals and groups in primary and secondary schools. Additionally, we need to gather more information about the reasons “why” these behaviours occur, so that any information or awareness campaign can address the underlying intra-individual and social reasons for problem behaviours. Finally, we currently do not have gender-balanced (i.e., equally valid and reliable for females and males) measures to assess these behaviours and the reasons for these behaviours. We will need these measures to examine change from pre- to post-intervention.

Adolescent Relationships and Health:
Patterns and Mechanisms of Vulnerability and Adaptation

Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck
Student affiliate: Karen Dacre

Project Summary
Adolescence and early adulthood are times of forming basic foundations in love and work. Romantic relationships emerge and form part of a progression of close relationships; bridging between family and committed adult relationships. Dating can consume the thoughts of young people, and this becomes a potential source of stress and support in their lives. In the proposed prospective study, links between adolescent romantic relationships and youth psychosocial functioning with be examined within a model of relational vulnerability and positive adaptation. This model will significantly increase understanding of intraindividual and social problems, and effective strategies for the promotion healthy adolescent functioning.

Research Goals
The research project proposed in this application has two primary goals:

  1. Based on theories of Erikson (1968) and Sullivan (1953), and empirical studies founded upon a stress model of child depression (Rudolph & Hammen, 1999), the first goal is to identify the experiences that young people have in romantic relationships including indices of involvement (e.g., dating history, current behaviours), recent romantic problems (e.g., loss, rejection, maltreatment), and positive and negative qualities in romantic relationships (e.g., commitment, support, companionship, psychological control), and to examine the impact of these different aspects of relationships on psychosocial health, well-being and competence.
  2. The second goal also draws from diverse theories including a stress model of child depression, a developmental-contextual model of romantic relationships in adolescence (Brown, 1999), and social cognitive theory (Downey et al., 1998) to investigate whether adolescents are more vulnerable to romantic problems or gain more benefits from positive romantic experiences depending on their age, gender, individual vulnerabilities and competencies, and social support from friends (both same- and opposite-sex friends) and family.

The Circle of Relationships

Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck
Dr. Stephanie Madsen, McDaniel College, Maryland, USA
Student affiliate: Michelle Hanisch

The initiation of romantic relationships is considered a developmental task of adolescence. Yet, there has been little research on romantic relationships and the interface of these relationships with existing social networks of adolescents. This research study gathers information about relationships with parents, boyfriends/girlfriends and friendships from young people about age 14 to 18 (9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades). In addition, information on functioning (depression, loneliness, anxiety) and autonomy (emotional autonomy and level of voice in relationships) is being be collected. A number of research questions will be answered with this information. First, we will determine whether the quality of parent-adolescent relationships and relationships with friends influence the onset and quality of romantic relationships. Second, we will describe parents’ knowledge of and rules about dating, differences in knowledge and rules that occur as adolescents get older, and investigate whether parents’ knowledge and rules about dating are associated with other qualities of parent-adolescent relationships and dating behavior. Third, we will focus on how adolescent functioning and autonomy are affected by dating behavior. In particular, we will examine how the quality of dating relationships, parent-adolescent relationships, and friendships contribute to adolescent depression, loneliness, and anxiety, and we will examine the development of autonomy with parents, boyfriends/girlfriends and friends by comparing adolescents of different age.

Research Questions:

  1. Does the quality of parent-adolescent relationships influence the development of dating relationships (onset and quality)?
  2. Does the quality of relationships with friends influence the development of dating relationships (onset and quality)?
  3. How much knowledge and communication do parents have with their adolescents about dating relationships?
  4. Does knowledge and communication with parents change as adolescents grow older?
  5. Is parent knowledge and parent-adolescent communication about dating affected by the quality of relationships that adolescents have with their boyfriends/girlfriends?

An Integrated Model of Neurological, Cognitive, Psychosocial and Environmental Influences on the Development of Reading and Other Achievements

Elizabeth Conlon
Melanie J Zimmer-Gembeck
Peter Creed

Funded by a Griffith University Research Grant, 2004-2006

This two year longitudinal study integrates neurological, cognitive, psychosocial and environmental factors that have been identified as influencing the development of reading and related achievements (e.g., academic success, motivation and goal-setting) in childhood. The primary aim is to understand the development of children’s reading skills, academic motivation, future aspirations and related achievements by examining the roles of brain processing, knowledge of language, social environment, and self-perceptions of competence. These are the foundation years of a planned prospective study that will follow the development of these children from Grade 7 to age 19 (at least 1-year following secondary school for most participants). Funding has been received for grade 7 and 8 assessments

Specific Research Aims

  1. To evaluate the baseline functional reading skills of 250 year 7 students using a range of literacy measures.
  2. To determine children’s perceived reading skills, and examine discrepancies between actual and perceived skills.
  3. To determine parents' perceptions of their children’s literacy/reading skills, and examine discrepancies between actual skills and parents' perceptions.
  4. To investigate the antecedents of the development of reading skills including (1) neurological processing deficits; (2) children’s cognitive ability/functioning (e.g., IQ), (3) gender; (4) family history; (5) parents’ beliefs, expectations and attitudes toward reading and achievement; (6) children’s perceptions of control and perceived competence; and (7) school climate and children's relationships with teachers.
  5. To examine the impact of actual and perceived reading difficulties (and discrepancies between actual and perceived abilities) on (1) children’s motivations, and short-term and long-term achievement-related goals (e.g., life and career interests and goals) and (2) general achievement.
  6. To determine whether environmental and psychosocial factors affect biological (familial history of reading difficulties, or temporal processing difficulties) and cognitive (e.g. phonological processing problems) functioning.
  7. To investigate gender differences in the integrated model predicting reading performance, motivation, academic achievements, and goals/aspirations.

Preventing Violence and Health Risking Social Behaviors in Adolescents 2001-2002
Youth Violence Final Statement (PDF File)

Nancy Carney
Hugo de Coudray
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Carolyn DiGuissepi
Mark Helfand

U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Contract Number: 290-97-0018
Task Order No. 7, 18 months, US$250,000.