Sharon Manne Award continues to enable graduate students to pursue their own research projects

By

Robert Ewing

Three Arizona State University Department of Psychology graduate students are the newest recipients of the Sharon Manne Award, a scholarship that provides seed funding to allow students to conduct independent research projects. The award funds research projects in health psychology, clinical psychology and behavioral neuroscience that address important and timely mental and physical health issues. The funded projects are separate from the work the graduate students do with their mentor, which gives the awardees the chance to begin pursuing their own research interests.

Sharon Manne is currently a professor in the Department of Medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine and is the associate director of cancer prevention and control at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. She was a doctoral student in ASU’s clinical psychology program and was mentored by Alex Zautra and Irwin Sandler. She credits their mentoring as pivotal in her career and said she wanted to pay it forward in the form of a research scholarship each semester.

The new recipients — Jack Waddell, Erin Mistretta and Victoria Bernaud — are all conducting psychological research in diverse areas such as addiction, memory and hormones, and chronic pain.

Waddell, a third-year clinical psychology graduate student and RSA Memorial Award Winner in 2019, has been conducting research as part of the BARCA and Pathways of Risk Resilience labs, to discover how the context of where and when people drink alters how they respond to alcohol. His research typically is conducted in an in-person wet lab where they monitor drinking behavior in social environments but plans to extend his research into participants’ daily lives.

The Manne Award allowed Waddell to purchase a phone app to monitor with in-the-moment-data the addictive behavior in people who are consuming alcohol and cannabis. While the social environments have changed to a remote setting, this allows Waddell to research the interplay of impulsivity, cognition and their subjective experience while using alcohol and cannabis.

The addiction literature shows that co-use of alcohol and cannabis is associated with a higher risk of having negative alcohol consequences such as an alcohol use disorder long-term. Waddell is investigating to see the daily contexts for people who use both alcohol and cannabis to see whether they are more likely to drink more heavily than just alcohol users and what is causing heavier drinking days. He also wants to find out if these people also have a stronger, more positive association with alcohol use long-term to inform future interventions.

“Ecological momentary assessment is just very expensive to do, but without the Sharon Manne Award, I wouldn’t have the resources to do that,” said Waddell. “It is a huge asset to be able to collect this data that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”

Mistretta, a fourth-year clinical psychology graduate student in the Emotion Regulation and Health Lab, is interested in mindfulness and how it can contribute to chronic and acute pain management. Chronic pain is defined as any pain that is ongoing, even after the acute injury has subsided. This includes back pain, or persistent inflammation in the nervous system, which is typically moderated with pain medication.

The Manne Award allows her to find and fund participation in a large-scale research survey project to determine delay discounting and its effects in chronic pain management.

“This award allows me to investigate the idea of delay discounting in individuals with chronic pain. This measures the extent to which people value immediate versus long-term rewards and punishments. Would you prefer this many days of pain relief starting today, or even more days of pain relief, but starting in a month?” said Mistretta. “This is going to help us elucidate where we might go with prevention and intervention efforts.”

Bernaud, a fourth-year behavioral neuroscience graduate student in the Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory and Aging Lab, conducts research on reproductive hormone interactions in the brain and how it may impact memory and cognition. Bernaud also previously won the prestigious Society for Neuroscience Trainee Professional Development Award for her research on hormone therapy combinations and their impact on memory during menopause.

“During the menopause transition, there are a lot of different experiences that women can have, both in how menopause is initiated as well as the different indications that women have across that transitional time. One of the things that women can experience is inflammation, both peripherally and in the brain as well,” said Bernaud.

The Manne Award funds Bernaud’s additional research investigating inflammatory markers in the brain and how they relate to cognition and memory.  

“It feels really impactful to be able to be supported by someone who has a passion for the university and the Department of Psychology. It is so meaningful. It is wonderful that there is such breadth in what all of the students are doing who have received the award, but that we are all focused on answering these important health-related questions — I think it is really significant,” said Bernaud.