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Researcher receives grant to help better investigate PTSD in youth

Monday, September 27, 2010 – Jeremy Craig, University Relations

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ATLANTA — A Georgia State University professor has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to help create better tools that will lead to a greater understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety in youth, especially among minorities.

Erin Tone, assistant professor of psychology, received a nearly $150,000 grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to help develop a better way to measure anxiety and stress, which could lead to better treatments for the disorders affecting children who have suffered severe trauma or abuse.

Tone will expand a tool that uses photographs to help measure attention to threat cues, which can help show reactions to stress in persons who have anxiety due to past abuse or other traumatic stressors.

Tone collaborates with Kerry Ressler and Bekh Bradley, Emory University researchers who run the Grady Trauma Project, a large ongoing study of responses to trauma in minority populations.

“We’re trying to characterize what those stress reactions look like in kids who represent a wide range of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds and who have experienced different amounts of trauma,” Tone said. “In this case, we’re looking at a largely African-American population, but we would like to expand to a broad range of groups.”

The tool she is adapting requires children to rapidly view photographs of faces showing different emotional expressions. Existing versions of the tool use images drawn from sets that are not diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, gender, and age. Because such characteristics can affect reactions to the photos, Tone is working to build a broader library of photos from a much more diverse population.

Pilot work shows that the different races and ethnicities, genders, and ages matter in determining the reactions, Tone explained.

“Some people are more attentive to cues displayed by a person of one race or another, or an adult versus a child,” she said. “We’re trying to understand inconsistencies in the literature that arise, perhaps, from using stimuli that aren’t tailored closely enough to an individual’s day to day experiences.”

In the end, the goal is to help better define anxiety disorders like PTSD in children, Tone said.

“My concern is that we’re not identifying kids who need help because we don’t yet have the language or the tools to describe PTSD in ways that fit their experiences,” she said. “It is important since kids, especially young ones, don’t always have the words to tell us. We have to find creative ways for them to let us know what’s going on.”

Tone and her colleagues currently need volunteers to be photographed for the project, from a diverse population of races and ethnicities, ages, and genders
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Those interested in participating in the project should contact Tone at etone@gsu.edu or call the Lab for the Study of Anxiety and Depressive Disorders (LSADD) at 404-413-6341.