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Faculty & Staff Newsletter

February 2018

MRI machineBrain Science Research Study Includes Springfield 4-H Adolescents

Youngbin Kwak PhD, UMass Amherst assistant professor in psychological and brain sciences, is on a mission to understand the neural bases of motivational control of human learning and decision-making. In particular she is interested in the neural and cognitive development that takes place during adolescence and hopes to delineate a brain-based reason for why adolescent behave in certain ways.

To that end, she is focusing part of her research on teenagers in Springfield. Her two-year study is designed to better understand relationships between brain development, risky behaviors (i.e. speed driving, experimenting with substances and unprotected sex) and neuromechanisms in the brain. She aims to learn what contributes to patterns of risky behavior. Kwak says there is a common misperception that, “teens are doing stupid things because they are irrational.”  But her evidence shows that teenagers can be more rational than some adults.  She wants an accurate assessment of their development and is using neuroimaging techniques such as EEGs and MRIs to investigate the behavioral and neural characteristics of adolescent risk-taking. The study will take place at UMass Amherst Springfield Center as part of a research program in the Healthy Development Initiative. 

Collaboration with UMass Extension 4-H Program

In an effort to collaborate with the outreach efforts of the UMass Extension 4-H Youth Development Program, Kwak is combining her research with a two-day workshop covering concepts of psychological brain sciences. The first day, that covered basics of psychological and brain sciences, including the techniques she is using, was well-received by the students. A second day will be devoted to how the research is being applied in the real world in medicine and marketing.