What’s an extra 10 seconds on a memory test?
For adult children of alcoholics it could be the difference between a misdiagnosis of attention deficit disorder and the correct identification of a milder learning challenge.
Student researchers in the Addiction Research Laboratory in the Crean School of Health and Life Sciences know that adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) routinely fail a common memory test given to detect attention deficit disorder. The brief test challenges its subjects to memorize a group of geometric figures and draw them from memory onto a piece of paper. It’s a challenge ACOAs struggle with mightily.
But it’s not necessarily because they have attention deficit disorder. Rather, they process visuospacial information — the positions of objects in space — more slowly than other people. Now student researchers are looking at what an extra 10 seconds does for ACOAs. The students are finding that with the time boost, the ACOAs do as well as anyone. Those with ADD show no improvement with the added time.
That’s just one example of the profound research that will be on display in the Sandhu Conference Center on Wednesday, May 14, when the Office of Undergraduate Research hosts Student Research Day. The annual event is an opportunity for Chapman University students from across the disciplines to showcase their research and creative activity. More than 200 student researchers from a wide range of disciplines will participate.
It’s a showcase day for all, but for many it doubles as a warm-up for scholarly conferences beyond campus, says Christopher Kim, Ph.D., director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and an associate professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
“Some of this work that students are doing will get presented at a national or international conference, so this research day is meant to both highlight the breadth and depth of independent research and creative activity happening across campus and also give students a good launching pad to present their work,” Kim said.
Among those students eagerly displaying their findings will be psychology majors Taylor Stephens ’15 and Brooke Snelgrove ’15, who work with Steven L. Schandler, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychology and director of the Cognitive Psychophysiology and Addiction Research Laboratories at Chapman. The pair are among several undergraduates who have assisted Schandler on the long-term study of learning challenges in adult children of alcoholics. The work is building on award-winning research conducted by Schandler showing that ACOAs have difficulty processing visuospacial information, the professor says.
Now Schandler and his student researchers are looking at how learning strategies might help ACOAs. The extra 10-second tactic is one of them. People with ADD don’t benefit from the extra time, but ACOAs do. The implications could be profound for schoolchildren, since a misdiagnosis of ADD can send a student down a path of costly educational interventions and drug therapies. If properly diagnosed, ACOAs could be better helped with classroom accommodations – like more time for a geometry test or instruction in efficient study skills.
A few hundred more subjects must be tested before the study reaches the 800 needed for a significant statistical analysis, but the early results are promising, he says.
Meanwhile, both students say the undergraduate research experience in the Crean program has inspired them to look at graduate programs that combine research with training for clinical practice.
“I was thinking of just leaning toward health psychology, but then seeing how research can be applied toward practice, I thought ‘Oh, that’s what I want do,’” says Snelgrove. “I want to be able to have research that impacts people that I work with personally.”
Student Research Day will open with a morning poster session from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. featuring arts, humanities and social sciences. Students from the natural and applied sciences will present from 4 to 6 p.m. The noon keynote speaker will be Jennifer Backhaus ’94, founder and artistic director of the award-winning Backhausdance company. The complimentary lunch program is open to all students who RSVP with the Office of Undergraduate Research at email@example.com.