Cheryl Deep directs media relations and publications for the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute. To interview faculty, pursue a news tip or learn more about what we do, contact her at 313-664-2607 or

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2024 Coverage
Detroit Free Press, March 4, 2024
Featuring MPSI Faculty Dr. Ann Stacks.

"Sometimes children are not safe, and that is when child protection needs to step in — when children aren't safe. It is equally important to remember that removing children from their parents is a last resort because of the trauma associated with being removed from one's family," said Dr. Ann Stacks, director of the Infant Mental Health Program at the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute at Wayne State University and part of Michigan's Stop Overreporting Our People (STOP) initiative. "It is so important to make sure that children aren't being unnecessarily
investigated or removed."

2023 Coverage

Wayne State University Warrior Podcast, 10/22/2023 (10 min.)
Halftime Interview with Dr. Alissa Huth-Bocks, MPSI, Director

Bridge, 6/16/2023
Surgeon general warns about social media, teens: Will Michigan listen?  
By Riley Hodder 

Featured: Hannah Schacter, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences 

The Conversation, 3/22  

Mounting research points to health harms from cannabis, THC and CBD use during pregnancy, adolescence and other periods of rapid development  
By Hilary A. Marusak, School of Medicine 

Novi Community School District, Podcast, 3/11
Why Are Opioids So Dangerous? 
Featured: Stella Resko, Professor of Social Work 

The Conversation, 1/17/2023
Parents in the U.S. had alarmingly high rates of anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic – and that has a direct effect on kids  
By Lucy (Kathleen) McGoron 

The Conversation, 1/12
Meditation and mindfulness offer an abundance of health benefits and may be as effective as medication for treating certain conditions
By Hilary A. Marusak

Hilary A. Marusak, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University, wrote an article for The Conversation about the benefits of meditation. She writes: “Many people look to diet trends or new exercise regimens – often with questionable benefit – to get a healthier start on the new year. But there is one strategy that’s been shown time and again to boost both mood and health: meditation. In late 2022, a high-profile study made a splash when it claimed that meditation may work as well as a common drug named Lexapro for the treatment of anxiety. Over the past couple of decades, similar evidence has emerged about mindfulness and meditation’s broad array of health benefits, for purposes ranging from stress and pain reduction to depression treatments to boosting brain health and helping to manage excessive inflammation and long COVID-19. Despite the mounting body of evidence showing the health benefits of meditation, it can be hard to weigh the science and to know how robust it is. I am a neuroscientist studying the effects of stress and trauma on brain development in children and adolescents. I also study how mindfulness, meditation and exercise can positively affect brain development and mental health in youth.”

2022 Coverage
Hour Detroit, May 2022
The Way It Was

The New York Times, 3/17 
For some teens, as masks come off, anxiety sets in 
By Emily Sloan 

Adolescence has long been defined by insecurities about body image, social pressures to conform, a growing sense of identity and a susceptibility to social anxiety. As mask mandates end in schools around the country, many teenagers have mixed emotions. Whether its virus worries, social pressure, shyness or acne, some kids are reluctant to ditch their masks. Understanding what young people are going through emotionally can help parents and kids navigate the transition. Social media has exacerbated the fixation that teens may have about their appearance and concerns about being judged, and the implications of mask choices are also being magnified on social platforms. “Mask fishing,” the idea that someone could be hiding facial flaws under a mask, first emerged on dating apps and became a trend on TikTok late last year. This isn’t the first internet phenomenon to rate people on their physical appearance, said Hannah Schacter, a developmental psychologist and an assistant professor of psychology Wayne State University. “Mask fishing is concerning because it may open teens up to embarrassment or humiliation, especially when peers are passing negative judgements on their mask-less appearance,” said Schacter. “They may feel like they’re essentially opening themselves up to unwanted peer scrutiny after two years of being hidden away.” 

Neuroscience News, Science Daily, Scienmag, 2/15/2022 
Memory formation is influenced by how brain networks develop during you
In a new, rare study of direct brain recordings in children and adolescents, a research team led by faculty members at Wayne State University has discovered as brains mature, the precise ways by which two key memory regions in the brain communicate make us better at forming lasting memories. The findings also suggest how brains learn to multitask with age. According to the researchers, it has long been suspected that the interactions between the medial temporal lobe (MTL) and prefrontal cortex (PFC), two regions of the brain that play a key role in supporting memory formation, are responsible for the robust increase in memory capacity between childhood and adulthood. "We started by identifying two distinct brain signals oscillations that one can think of as fluctuations in coordinated electrical brain activity, both in the theta frequency, a slower and a faster theta that underlie memory formation in the MTL. We then continued to isolate unique effects that these fast and slow theta oscillations play in the MTL-PFC interactions," said Noa Ofren, associate professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and faculty member in the Institute of Gerontology, Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, and Translational Neuroscience Program at Wayne State. "We found that both oscillations underlined MTL-PFC interactions but in complementary unique ways and were excited to also find that these distinct signatures of interactions between memory regions dictated whether a memory was successfully formed."

2021 Coverage

The Conversation, 12/17  
The 'runner's high' may result from molecules called cannabinoids the body's own version of THC and CBD
By Hilary Marusak 

Hilary Marusak, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University and a former fellow at Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, wrote an article sharing an explanation of the impact exercise has on the body's natural cannabinoids and the associated benefits for mental health and stress relief. The "runner's high" has long been attributed to endorphins, but research from Marusak's lab found that exercise reliably increases levels of the body's endocannabinoids which are molecules that work to maintain balance in the brain and body in a process called "homeostasis." This natural chemical boost may better explain some of the beneficial effects of exercise on brain and body.  

The Conversation, 12/2/21  
Compassionate Teaching
By Hilary Marusak 

WXYZ-TV, 4/26
Tips for getting younger kids to wear a mask as new mandate goes into effect
Michigan's extended mask mandate for kids ages 2-4 goes into effect on Monday, but we all know getting kids to do things they don't want to is tough. Kids ages 2-4 are now required to have face coverings while in public spaces and places like camps or daycare centers. Previously, the rule only extended to kids as young as 5. Many know it's going to be a challenge to get kids to wear masks, and it's hard enough convincing some adults and teens to wear them. "Maybe finding a mask in their favorite color, maybe they have a favorite cartoon character that they could find a mask with that. Anything you can do to get a child to let them make choices… compliant with what we need them to do," Lucy McGoron, an assistant professor of research at Wayne State, added.

NBC News, 4/9/21
Opinion | Chauvin trial is another display of the nonchalance toward Black death
By Mary Retta

Murder trials in the aftermath of police violence can be particularly emotionally taxing because often, even after the ordeal of a trial, police officers are often acquitted. According to 2018 data from Bowling Green State University, although 80 officers were arrested on murder or manslaughter charges from 2005 to 2017, only 35 percent were convicted, though some cases were still pending.This record is why some experts, such as Wayne State University professor and trauma researcher Jennifer Gomez, see the trial process as creating distress that can be better addressed elsewhere. "Regardless of what happens in the court case, radical healing within the Black community is still possible," she told me. "Radical healing as something that is not predicated on what police or courts do is something that Black people, as individuals and a community, can give themselves and each other." Gomez is referring to a framework put forth by the Psychology of Radical Healing Collective, which argues that through practices like intergenerational storytelling and advocacy work, we can address the root causes of racial trauma and promote resilience and better emotional well-being.

Detroit Free Press, 3/10/21
Some don't want to believe Meghan was suicidal. Why are we afraid to talk about trauma?
By Alia E. Dastagir
After Duchess Meghan revealed to the world she was previously suicidal, "Good Morning Britain" host Piers Morgan said to the millions of people watching his program: "I don't believe a word she says." On Wednesday it was announced Morgan had left the show, though he stood by his comments, tweeting that "On Monday, I said I didn't believe Meghan Markle in her Oprah interview. I've had time to reflect on this opinion, and I still don't." On social media, users referred to Meghan's interview as a "performance." She was called a "crybaby," a "liar," "manipulative" and "narcissistic." "Trauma is hard to grapple with," said Jennifer Gómez, a psychology professor at Wayne State University. "It is difficult to hold in our minds that we live in a world depraved enough for rape and violence to be as common as it is. It can be easier to deny that reality perhaps especially for people who are less likely to experience such traumas, such as white, straight, rich, cis men."

National Geographic, MSN, 2/9/21
How the pandemic is changing children's friendships
By Vicky Hallett 
When clinical psychologist Julie Wargo Aikins couldn't leave her house last year without stepping on chalk drawings and spotting packs of kiddie cyclists, she realized something was changing when it came to kids and friendships. The associate professor at Wayne State University knew that with the shift to remote learning and Zoom everything, the kids in her Michigan neighborhood had started getting noticeably closer to those who lived nearby. "Children are seeking out socialization where they're at and interacting with children they wouldn't have before," says Aikins. In a survey of about 400 ninth graders entering high school in the fall of 2020, about 90 percent reported having close friends. Schacter, an assistant professor at Wayne State University and co-researcher, says that indicates that these young people are managing to keep up connections in a time when extra support is critical. "In the face of stresswhether that's being bullied or going through a global pandemicno one wants to go through anything alone," she says. Schacter adds that with friendship, quality may matter more than quantity. When it comes to fending off feelings of loneliness, the key difference is "between one and not having anyone," she adds.

The Conversation, 1/5/21

How kids can benefit from mindfulness training
By Hilary Marusak
Hilary Marusak, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, wrote an article for The Conversation on the benefit of mindfulness training., "Now that 2021 is here, many are looking for new ways to manage stress. Although mindfulness and meditation are not new there is evidence suggesting that humans have been practicing meditation for more than 5,000 years  many are turning to these techniques to improve overall well-being. Mindfulness is a technique that involves paying attention to what's happening now in the present moment, in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner. There are mindfulness apps for managing stress, anxiety, chronic pain, weight loss, better sleep and quitting smoking."

2020 Coverage

Yahoo, 12/15/20
How schools can reduce parents' anxiety during the pandemic
By Lucy (Kathleen) McGoron and Julie Wargo Aikins
Lucy (Kathleen) McGoron, assistant professor of child and family development, and Julie Wargo Aikins, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, wrote a piece for The Conversation. "Our recent survey found that schools can affect the mental health and well-being of not just students but their parents, too. From April through June 2020, we surveyed 152 parents primarily mothers in Detroit, Michigan, who were managing the new demands of remote schooling for their children. Not surprisingly, they reported high levels of anxiety (34%) and depression (27%) during this stressful period, but some indicated that support from their child's school played an important role in reducing their mental health difficulties. Generally speaking, the more school support parents in our survey felt they had received, the less anxiety and depression they reported. However, this finding did not extend to families that were highly affected by COVID-19 due to lost income, food insecurity or lost access to health care."

Lifehacker, 12/7/20
How to help kids who feel isolated right now
By Patrick Hayes
For many families, the deeper we get into this pandemic, the harder it gets. Hannah Schacter, a developmental psychologist at Wayne State University studies how adolescents' social relationships affect their mental and physical health. She said what we're experiencing right now is not uncommon. "One of children's and adolescents' favorite things about going to school is getting to interact with their peersboth in and outside of the classroom. The shift to predominantly online learning has limited kids' abilities to engage in those informal school-based interactions that make them feel goodthings like lunch with their friends in the cafeteria, sports games, after-school clubs, and sharing funny stories at their lockers during passing time." She also notes that those emotional needs shouldn't be thought of as separate from learning, calling them "intricately intertwined, not separate priorities." Hilary Marusak is a developmental neuroscientist at Wayne State who studies brain development in children and adolescents, and the effects of stress and trauma on the brain. She notes that most kids do have anxieties related to social distancing and life during the pandemic. She and Schacter both say that one simple way parents and caregivers can check in on kids' mental and emotional health is simply asking them questions.

WXYZ-TV, 11/24/20
Kids, teens could be feeling pandemic-related stress. Here's how parents can help
By Jenn Schanz
From the global pandemic to the divisive 2020 election, kids and teens are absorbing a lot of the same stress 2020 has brought adults; and what's worse, is that at a time when play dates or sleepovers are discouraged for public health reasons, kids might be needing that social outlet the most. Most organized youth sports are on hold right now, and many school districts in Michigan have moved fully remote due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. "During adolescence, this is a time when kids are really primed to want to explore their environment, to seek out new experiences. And being stuck at home with your parents isn't really the best way to fulfill those developmental needs," said Hannah Schacter, an assistant professor of psychology at Wayne State. In the onset of the pandemic -- kids, especially teens, missed out on some key social milestones like prom, sporting events, and graduation. "And now suddenly you have moments of hope, of maybe it's getting better and maybe we're heading back there and then suddenly that's shifting," Schacter said. Until Dec. 8, high school students statewide are learning remotely due to the an epidemic health order aimed at the slowing the spread of the virus. It's a move Schacter said could pose a greater problem for students who rely on in-school academic or social support. "It requires a greater sort of pro-activeness to seek out those services which is not always entirely possible in a virtual environment."

The Conversation, 11/17/20
CBD sales soaring, but evidence still slim that the cannabis derivative makes a difference for anxiety or pain
By Hilary A. Marusak
Hilary A. Murasak, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Wayne State University's School of Medicine, wrote an article for The Conversation on the rise of CBD usage during the pandemic. "Many people have turned to cannabis and its derivatives as they search for pandemic relief, and one of the most widely available ones is CBD. It is also legal and readily available. You can buy oils, tinctures, capsules, gummies, cosmetics and even toilet paper said to contain the molecule. Martha Stewart has a line of CBD products, and some companies are marketing CBD products for holiday gifts. And, you can even buy CBD products for your pet. An investment bank has estimated that this market will be worth $16 billion by 2025, even though many of the products that allegedly contain CBD may not contain any CBD all. And, if they do, the amount often is far less than the amount stated on the product bottle or box."

The Conversation, 11/3,20; Mexico Star, 11/4/20
How schools can reduce parents' anxiety during the pandemic
By Lucy (Kathleen) McGoron and Julie Wargo Aikins
Lucy (Kathleen) McGoron, assistant professor of child and family development, and Julie Wargo Aikins, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, wrote a piece for The Conversation. "Our recent survey found that schools can affect the mental health and well-being of not just students but their parents, too. From April through June 2020, we surveyed 152 parents primarily mothers in Detroit, Michigan, who were managing the new demands of remote schooling for their children. Not surprisingly, they reported high levels of anxiety (34%) and depression (27%) during this stressful period, but some indicated that support from their child's school played an important role in reducing their mental health difficulties. Generally speaking, the more school support parents in our survey felt they had received, the less anxiety and depression they reported. However, this finding did not extend to families that were highly affected by COVID-19 due to lost income, food insecurity or lost access to health care."

Forbes, 10/10/20
8 things mental health experts want you to know on World Mental Health Day
By Jessica Gold
According to Jennifer M. Gómez, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child & Family Development at Wayne State University, having good mental health does not mean you are happy all of the time. She pointed out that a wide range of emotions from sadness to anger to grief are "integral parts to being alive." Listing many triggers in our environment including Covid-19 and police violence, Gómez noted that reacting happily after experiencing any of those things directly or indirectly would be abnormal. She added, "If you're struggling, there's nothing inherently wrong with you."

KCBS Radio, 8/27/20
College kids and COVID-19: Rebellion or biology?
Every day seems to bring another report of a Covid-19 outbreak on a college campus; dozens of cases at USC and more than 500 confirmed cases at the University of Alabama in this morning's headlines. What's going on here? Is it youthful rebellion or some biological hard-wiring in young people? KCBS' Stan Bunger spoke with Hannah L. Schacter, assistant professor of psychology at Wayne State University.

The Wall Street Journal, 8/3/20
Why the teenage brain pushes young people to ignore virus restrictions
By Nancy Keates
Covid-19 cases among the 18-to-29-year-old age group are rising, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They accounted for 27.1% of U.S. cases in July. The group's share in cases has been climbing every month since April. As a result, young adults are getting tagged as irresponsible. But many scientists argue that scolding won't help. They say the impulse among adolescents and emerging adults to break away from family and interact more with peers is part of normal development. Socializing and seeking new experiences is how they forge their identities. The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating these biological cravings, says Hannah Schacter, an assistant psychology professor at Wayne State University and an adjunct assistant professor at Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute. Adolescents normally fulfill their need for peer contacts at school. Schools also provide behavioral guidance and a place for discussing emotional distress. "Suddenly they have to find other ways to get their needs met," she says.

The Conversation, 7/31/20
Timeouts improve kids' behavior if you do them the right way
By Lucy (Kathleen) McGoron
Lucy (Kathleen) McGoron, assistant professor of child and family development, wrote an article for The Conversation. "With parents spending more time with their children than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their need for discipline that works is greater than ever. Fortunately, there are some proven techniques. As a developmental psychologist, I believe that anyone raising little kids could learn how to better use timeouts. This disciplinary technique is among the best ways to stop frustrating child behavior, like not listening, breaking family rules or being overly aggressive. Following all the required steps is essential.

NBC News, 7/18/20
Coronavirus catcalling is real. Mask or no mask, harassment is all about power
By Danielle Campoamor
"Hey honey." "Hey baby." "Hey, where ya going?" Those are just a few of the things Cat Bowen, a 37-year-old writer living in South Brooklyn, has heard while walking past the corner near her home. Like many New Yorkers, she has been sheltering in place for over four months, sequestered inside with her husband, two kids, two cats and a dog. When she does leave the safety of her home, she practices social distancing and wears a mask. But covering half of her face to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 has not shielded Bowen from street harassment. "Street harassment, like all forms of sexual and gender violence, are fundamentally about power and reinforcing inequality," Dr. Jennifer M. Gómez, a trauma psychologist and assistant professor in psychology at Wayne State University, said. "Sexualizing a woman or girl in public through street harassment reduces her to an object for others' consumption. Meaning, she is stripped of her full humanity and instead reduced to simply a physical or sexual thing whose purpose is men's pleasure."

Forbes, 7/1/20
Feeling anxious about wearing a mask? Here are 5 ways to overcome it
By Jessica Gold
Feeling anxious about wearing a mask is actually a normal physiologic reaction. Jennifer M. Gómez, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child & Family Development at Wayne State University says our bodies detect when we are not getting the resources we need to survive and one of those resources is air. Even though wearing a mask does not put a person in danger of actually suffocating, Gómez says the mask will tell our body, "Hey! I think there's something bad here that's interrupting breathing! Danger is afoot!" Our body will then respond by hyperventilating, becoming anxious, or panicking to alert us that there could be a problem. Gomez says, "your body is responding like your fire alarm in your house does when the kitchen gets too smokey but there's no fire. It's a false alarm."

Newsweek, 6/19/20
The Black Lives Matter protests are running on much more than anger | Opinion
By Joan Cook
Dr. Jennifer Gomez, an assistant professor at the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and an expert in the impact of violence on black and other minority youth and young adults, had this to say about the Black Lives Matter protests. "The tragedies that we're witnessing are neither new nor isolated. And, of note, they haven't stopped, even though videos have made it possible for the world to be watching and condemning the government-sanctioned violence against black people in the U.S. The difference is this moral elevation, this action-oriented hope, that has resulted in so many of us coming together to fight for justice."

CNN, The Conversation, San Antonio Express-News, 6/11/20
Neighborhood-based friendships making a comeback for kids in the age of coronavirus
By Julie Wargo Aikins
Julie Wargo Aikins, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, wrote an article for The Conversation. "As the weather has warmed in my Midwestern town, my neighborhood is full of children on bicycles pretending to be riding through the Wild West. I can't walk down the sidewalk without stepping on chalk drawings or hopscotch boards. There are children jumping rope and playing ball. In the eight years I've lived here, I've never witnessed this before. As a clinical psychologist who studies children's friendships, I am fascinated by this development. In some places, a silver lining of COVID-19 may well be the resurgence of childhood friendships in American neighborhoods."

InStyle, 6/2/20
How to check in on your Black friends and coworkers
By Kylie Gilbert
You've seen the Instagram posts: Check in on your Black friends and coworkers; they may seem like they're OK, but chances are they are not. On top of a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black people, experts agree the public, government-sanctioned violence against Black people can take a serious, if often invisible, mental health toll. "The onslaught of media and videos showing threats, beatings, and murders can be overwhelmingly painful. Because racist violence is not new, some Black people have learned how to cover up their ongoing fears, stress, and mental health problems related to racism," explains trauma psychologist, Jennifer M. Gomez, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child & Family Development at Wayne State University. At the end of the day, honesty is key, Gomez says. "Whatever you offer (support, listening, advocacy, etc.), you need to be willing to do," she says. "Remember: racism divides us. Humble, genuine solidarity can reunite us."

Education Week, 4-15-20
Why the Coronavirus Hits Teenagers Particularly Hard
By Leah Lessard & Hannah Schacter
"Here's what parents and educators can do to help during social distancing. "The unquestionable necessity of social distancing is likely to throw these developmental patterns out of whack."

The Conversation, 4/13/20
Isolating together is challenging and relationship stresses can affect biological functioning
By Hannah L. Schacter
Assistant Professor of Psychology Hannah L. Schacter, a developmental psychologist who conducts research on adolescent and young adult relationships, wrote a piece about how relationship stresses affect people's health. "Past research shows that people who have higher-quality friendships and romantic relationships during their teens and 20s typically have lower risk for illness and disease during adulthood, whereas individuals with early relationships characterized by conflict or violence experience heightened risk for negative health outcomes. Why might this be the case? Can matters of the heart affect your heart?

2019 Coverage

The Conversation, 2/19
Weinstein trial begs a question: Why is the pain of women and minorities often ignored?
By Anne P. DePrince and Jennifer M. Gómez
Anne P. DePrince, professor of psychology at the University of Denver, and Jennifer M. Gómez, Wayne State University assistant professor, wrote a Conversation piece about the trial of media mogul Harvey Weinstein and the painful effects on women and minorities. "For months, he (Weinstein) has presented his pain to us, granting a hospital-room interview to catalog his suffering and using a walker on his way in and out of the courthouse. His defense team has argued he deserves your sympathy. These requests for your compassion are reminders that sympathy is not automatic. In studying trauma and intimate violence, we have learned much about whose pain is believed or disbelieved. Studies suggest there is bias against women and ethnic minorities in both the health care and criminal justice systems. Pain bias in the health care system."

Second Wave Michigan, 8/15/19

Infant mental health programs create better futures for little Michiganders and their parents
By Estelle Slootmaker
Infant-parent psychotherapy is an intense, complex intervention that repairs the child-parent (or child-caregiver) relationship. It can take place in a clinic or an in-home visit. The infant is never on "the couch," but always present with the parent so the provider can observe the parent-child relationship, reinforce positive interactions, and explore negative experiences that arise. The provider helps the parent pick up on the baby's cues and also provides emotional support to families in crisis. Ann Stacks, Ph.D., director of the Infant Mental Health Program at Wayne State University, says the resulting template is "the foundation for relating to others, taking part in groups, staying calm, and paying attention in school. It matters downstream," she says. Infant mental health interventions are traditionally made within the context of a baby's home environment. But Stacks says it's equally important to implement programs that consider young children's relationships in daycare and preschool settings, noting that young children are expelled from daycare at much higher rates than school-aged kids. "There's some pretty good research to suggest that early behavioral health problems in toddlers along with other risk factors are good predictors of mental health and future involvement with the justice system," she says. "It's such an opportunity to intervene early."

Grosse Pointe News, 8/7/19

An Interview with Dr. Steve Ondersma

Medical Xpress, Science Codex, News-Medical, 7/29

Midwives and nurse-midwives may underestimate the dangers of prenatal alcohol use
Alcohol use during pregnancy can have harmful consequences on the fetus including restricted growth, facial anomalies, and neurobehavioral problems. No amount of alcohol use during pregnancy has been proven safe. Yet a recent survey of midwives and nurses who provide prenatal care showed that 44% think one drink per occasion is acceptable while pregnant, and 38% think it is safe to drink alcohol during at least one trimester of pregnancy. "Many prenatal care providers remain inadequately informed of the risks of drinking during pregnancy," said John Hannigan, Ph.D., one of the study's authors and a professor at Wayne State University's Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute. "They fail to screen actively for alcohol use and miss opportunities for intervention." The research team analyzed 578 survey responses from professional members of the American College of Nurse Midwives. In collaboration with researchers at University of Massachusetts, the survey assessed knowledge of the effects of prenatal alcohol use, attitudes toward and perceived barriers to screening for alcohol use, and the use of standard screening tools in clinical practice. "Only about one in three respondents said they screen for alcohol use at least some of the time," Hannigan said, "and many screening tools aren't validated for use in pregnant women." Midwives and nurses who believed alcohol was safe at some point in pregnancy were significantly less likely to screen their patients. "Midwives need to understand the health effects of alcohol use during pregnancy, the importance of screening, and the most reliable screening tools to use," Hannigan said. "The good news is this problem can be fixed."

Today@Wayne, 6/12/19

Lasting Lessons from the Little Ones
by Cheryl Deep
Students in Wayne State University's Developmental Psychology Service Learning Lab work at the Early Childhood Center at Merrill Palmer Skillman to get hands-on experience working with young children. The service learning experiences were created by Dr. Hilary Ratner to enrich and deepen student learning. "They typically learn a lot about the field and themselves, and I have the opportunity to see and support their deepening understanding," she said.

Model D, 5/22/19
Here's how we can address rural Michigan's alarmingly high infant mortality and poor maternal health
By Estelle Slootmaker
Addiction is one of the biggest challenges for Michigan's rural mothers and infants. In Michigan's rural areas, more pregnant women smoke cigarettes and abuse opioids than pregnant women in urban areas. "Cigarettes are the most commonly used substance during pregnancy and are at least as powerful a contributor to infant mortality as any of the other substances," says Dr. Steven Ondersma, a professor in Wayne State University's departments of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences and obstetrics and gynecology. "If I could wave a magic wand and remove one thing from pregnancies everywhere, it would be cigarettes."

Model D, 5/20/19
How technology is bridging gaps between healthcare and underserved populations
By Patrick Dunn
Steven Ondersma discovered that "only a very small proportion, maybe 10 percent" of the people who need professional care realize that need and have the means to address it. "I've just become really interested in having whole-population effects, rather than helping a few people who might be ready to make use of the treatment and have access to that treatment," says Ondersma, deputy director of the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute at Wayne State University. Ondersma and others in Michigan who are interested in addressing the social determinants of health have increasingly turned to technology as an answer to that question. Weisong Shi, professor of computer science at Wayne State envisions the potential for technology to bring a doctor's office to those more remote patients. He proposes a vehicle, "just like an ice cream truck," that would allow people to get basic physical tests in their communities, with the results being transmitted back to a provider's office. Asthma disproportionately affects African-Americans nationwide, but in Detroit the problem is particularly pronounced and often an emergency situation.

Today@Wayne, May 2019
Testing a New Approach to Parent Education
by Cheryl Deep
Dr. Kathleen (Lucy) McGoron of the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute unveils an app she has created to make it easy for parents to learn new parenting strategies and deal with disruptive behaviors. Dr. McGoron received $533,000 from teh National Institute of Mental Health to refine and test her product.

Model D, 3/22/19
Addressing Michigan's Alarming Infant Mortality Rate Part 1
Dr. Steve Ondersma, of Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute outlines his technological approach to improving health outcomes for mother and child when the mother is addicted to drugs or abusing alcohol. Cigarettes are the most commonly used substance during pregnancy and a powerful contributor to infant mortality, he said.

2018 Coverage

Model D, 11/27/18
How Detroit businesses and institutions are contributing to employee welfare with on-site childcare
By Melinda Clynes
Wayne State University has two on-site childcare centers for faculty, staff, students and community members: the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute Early Childhood Center and the College of Education Early Childcare Center, both serving children ages 2-and-a-half to 5 years old. Even with two centers, WSU still is experiencing an overwhelming need for additional childcare. Cost and quality are also front and center for the Daycare Implementation Committee. "Affordability and quality of care are high priorities for our community members and thus the institution," says Keashly. "So we are also looking at ways to subsidize the costs of care to enhance affordability for our WSU community members." Wayne State University was a forerunner in offering on-campus daycare, with the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and Early Childhood Center established in 1922 (not officially part of WSU until the 1980s). According to Anna Miller, who serves as executive director for both centers, it was one of the first "nursery schools" in the country, and a place where people would come to learn about child development. Merrill Palmer and its sister center across campus serve 80 to 90 children total, and parents have multiple scheduling options. Both WSU centers have waiting lists.

Michigan Chronicle, 11/3/18
Teens Take Giant Steps to Build Empowering Friendships
Donald James
More than 300 students in Detroit area schools join together at Wayne State in the Giant Step Teen Conference. There, they meet, discuss, befriend and learn how similar they all are. Keynot Arianna Quan, 2016 Ms. Michigan and the first to be of Asian American descent kicked off the conference discussing how hard it was to come to the US as an immigrant and how important friends are.

The Infant Crier, 10/26/18
Pathways to Parenting: The Research of Dr. Carolyn Dayton
For many parents, pregnancy represents a time of reorganization that leads to psychosocial growth and the hope of new possibilities. The coming of a new baby inspires shifts within the psychological worlds of the parents as their emotional ties to the infant begin to take shape. The development of these ties is critical because they are related to parents' postnatal feelings about the baby and they provide psychological fuel for the demanding work of postnatal infant care.

Science Daily, 3/26/18
Prenatal stress changes brain connectivity in-utero
The time babies spend in the womb is far from idle. The brain is changing more rapidly during this time than at any other time in development. It is an active time for the fetus to grow and explore, and of course connect to its mother. New evidence from in-utero fetal brain scans shows, for the first time, that this connection directly affects brain development: a mother's stress during pregnancy changes neural connectivity in the brain of her unborn child. "It has long been thought that the stress of a mother during her pregnancy may imprint on the brain of her developing child," says Moriah Thomason of Wayne State University and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute. "Despite the clear importance of this time frame, we presently possess very little understanding of how functional macroscale neural networks build during this precious time in human life, or the relevance of this to future human health and development."

Independent, Premium Times, The Daily Mail, 3/26/18
Study shows mother's stress can affect baby's brain
New evidence from fetal brain scans has shown that a mother's stress during pregnancy can change the neural connectivity in the brain of her unborn child, potentially affecting the baby's brain functions. Moriah Thomason, assistant professor at Wayne State University, presented this new finding at the 25th meeting for the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in Boston. She explained that research in newborns and older children to understand prenatal influences has been confounded by the postnatal environment. But recent advancements in fetal imaging allowed researchers to gain insight into a critical time period in brain development never previously accessible. Using fetal resting-state FMRI or functional magnetic resonance imaging, they examined functional connectivity in 47 human fetuses scanned between the 30th and 37th week of gestation. They found that mothers reporting high stress had fetuses with a reduced efficiency in how their neural functional systems are organized. It is the first time imaging has shown a direct influence of maternal stress on fetal brain development, independent of influences of the postnatal environment. "The major thrill is that we have demonstrated what has long been theorized, but not yet observed in a human, which is that the stress of a mother during her pregnancy is reflected in connectional properties of her child's developing brain," Thomason said.

CNN Money
Emotional Tax Afflicting Women of Color
By Julia Carpenter

Many people of color carry an invisible weight at work, particularly women. In fields dominated by white men, women of color often battle exclusion, microaggressions and murmured insults. This is not just a mental toll, but a physical toll. People of color report greater difficulty sleeping because of work issues that can exacerbate conditions like hypertension and insomnia, says Jennifer M. Gomez, a postdoctoral fellow at WSU's Merrill Palmer Skilman Institute.

Inside Higher Ed, 2/16/18
A Time for arrogance
By Jennifer M. Gómez
Jennifer M. Gómez, a postdoctoral fellow in the Wayne State University Postdoctoral to Faculty Transition Program at Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, reflected on what she found to be a discriminatory job market -- and the resulting need for a greater allegiance to herself. She developed cultural betrayal trauma theory to examine outcomes of violence in minority populations. "Facing impending unemployment in a field I had spent 10 years preparing for," Gomez wrote, "I went through my second wave of applications. I received two job offers, ultimately accepting my current position as a fellow in the Postdoctoral to Faculty Transition Program at Wayne State University, with placement at the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute. The campus visit was unlike most of the others. I was not subjected to any open discrimination. I was spoken to respectfully, with my expertise valued. This interview resulted in a speedy job offer, with a negotiated, stellar start-up package. With one semester done, I feel I am working in a nontoxic environment -- a rare academic feat I was unsure was possible after my experiences last year."

The SC Communicator, Jan/Feb 2018
Encore Award to Ann and Jim Nicholson
At this year's Auction Gala, Ann and Jim Nicholson, the Honorary Chairperson for the event, won the 2017 Encore Award for their incredible contributions to making our community a better place to live.The theme of the Gala was"The Encores," in keeping with continued focus on all that is possible in the "encore" stage of life. These years are characterized by purpose, contribution and  commitment, particularly to the well-being of future generations. Our honorary chairpersons certainly exemplify the "Encore" spirit.
Their list of accomplishments and honors would fill the biographies of a dozen people. Ann Nicholson has been an active and committed member of the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute board since 1999.

2017 Coverage

Inquiring Minds, 11/13/17
Moriah E. Thomason, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, talked about the neuroimaging of fetuses.

Wall Street Journal, 1017/17
By Bruce Cole
A look inside the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian, reopened after a major upgrade. The Freer has been restored to its donor's intent. Platt's rooms, marvels of architectural reticence carefully designed to complement the art they house, and his severe barrel-vaulted corridors, wisely left unadorned, are themselves well worth a visit.

Spectrum, 8/17/17
By Nicholette Zeliadt  
Brain scans of people with autism reveal many things structures that are unusually large or small, or atypical patterns of activity. But increasing evidence suggests that autism begins well before birth. By the time a person is diagnosed, her brain may have already adjusted to compensate for the condition. To glimpse what the brain looks like as autism takes root, scientists have sought to scan children as young as toddlers and, more recently, babies. At least two different teams are reaching back even further, scanning fetuses with a family history of autism. Baby sibs with autism also have unusual patterns of brain activity as early as 6 months of age. Researchers say analyzing activity patterns is likely to be more informative than looking at structure alone. "It's about the way the brain regions are communicating with each other," says Moriah Thomason, assistant professor of pediatrics at Wayne State University. Thomason and her colleagues used a similar approach to identify brain features that underlie the language difficulties seen in some preterm babies. They scanned 32 fetuses, 14 of whom went on to be born prematurely, and found that those born preterm have weakened connections between areas of the brain that specialize in language processing. They plan to track the children's language development to see how it might relate to behavior.

mHealth Intelligence, 7/3/17
The National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a four-year $533,151 grant to Wayne State University to develop an mHealth parenting app for addressing disruptive behavioral health disorders. The newly funded grant, "Pediatric Motivational mHealth Parent Training for Child Disruptive Behaviors," aims to develop technology-based solutions that can be accessed in primary care facilities and online. A team led by Kathleen McGoron, PhD, assistant professor of research in the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute at Wayne State University, will develop an mHealth system called the Parenting Young Children Check-up. "Young children with disruptive behavior problems often require specialized parenting skills in order to flourish," said McGoron. "While these skills can be effectively taught in face-to-face parent-training programs, most families in need of such services do not receive them due to lack of access or desire."

Eureka Alert, Newswise, 6/27
Wayne State University received a four-year, $533,151 award from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health to develop a technology-based parent-training program for addressing young children's challenging behaviors. There are a number of effective training programs for parents of children who have disruptive behavior disorders. However, the reach of these programs is limited due to lack of access and limited parental motivation. The newly funded grant aims to address this issue by developing technology-based solutions that can be accessed in primary care facilities and online. The team of researchers, led by Kathleen "Lucy" McGoron, Ph.D., assistant professor of research in the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute at Wayne State University, will develop a mHealth parenting system, called the Parenting Young Children Check-up, which will be delivered in health care settings. The system will assess children for disruptive behavior problems, provide a motivational intervention and connect parents with a training website. According to McGoron, this project will facilitate the creation and evaluation of a system that could expand the reach of parent training of young children with disruptive behavior problems.

Metro Parent, 2/26/17
By Amanda Rahn
Recent research found an increase in bonding between a father and child when the hormone oxytocin was administered. Oxytocin was found at higher levels in fathers versus in men without children, supporting the idea that the hormone might play a key role in promoting caregiving behavior in dads. Carolyn Dayton, Wayne State University assistant professor of social work and associate director of the Infant Mental Health program at Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development, says everyday activities necessary to care for an infant create bonds naturally, but sometimes dads get forgotten in the newborn shuffle. "The seemingly simple tasks of holding, rocking, feeding and soothing their newborns are actually the building blocks of healthy parent-child relationships and of the baby's healthy growth and development," says Dayton. "The profoundly positive influence of these behaviors on the parent-infant relationship work the same for mothers and fathers. Fathers, however, sometimes feel left out of these critical early bonding moments."

Michigan Radio, 1/16/17
By Kate Wells
In a perfect world, all of our doctors would be really good at something called "motivational interviewing." Wayne State University psychiatry professor Steven Ondersma is a big believer in the power of motivational interviewing. So much so that he spent the first chunk of his career traveling around training physicians how to do it. Then, he hit a wall. "I was getting more and more skeptical of my abilities, or anybody's ability, to really implant it into the healthcare system, and have it reproduce with fidelity," he says. For one thing, he says, you can only do so much training. For another, doctors don't have a lot of time in their day for in-depth screenings and open-ended "feely" questions. "Some people can learn it very quickly and are masters at it. And some people, if they were ever to get good at it, they'd really have to work at it," he says (which is motivational-interviewing speak for saying that some doctors are terrible at this). So Ondersma started exploring a growing field called "computerized intervention. It's already being tested for everything from reducing violence, to screening for mental health issues, to getting high schoolers to just say no to drugs. But Ondersma is especially interested in helping one kind of patient: pregnant women grappling with substance abuse, primarily marijuana, alcohol, smoking, and opioids. In the long run, Ondersma is hoping to build up a big enough study to look at web interventions and other substances, like opioids.

Wayne State Student Health Magazine 1/13/17
By Amy Graham
Many students are confused about marijuana. There are a lot of mixed messages in everything from social media to peer-reviewed scientific research. Some say marijuana is not a drug at all. It's green and natural and not a health concern. Others say it can cause brain damage and kill you. This article examines the facts to help students decide what's right for them. Written by Amy Graham a clinical psychology and infant mental health doctoral student at the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute.

Publicnow, 1/13/17
Evidence that fetuses at risk for preterm birth have abnormal neuroconnectivity has been revealed for the first time by researchers based at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, the Perinatology Research Branch of NICHD/NIH and the Yale School of Medicine. Preterm infants are three times more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, developmental delays, and experience a higher rate of school failure. This new discovery suggests that disordered neuroconnectivity associated with developmental disorders and human prematurity may originate in utero. Prenatal differences in neuroconnectivity may be the basis for neurodevelopmental disorders that become clinically apparent in infancy, adolescence or adulthood in a subset of children born preterm. 'This discovery will alter current conceptualization of prematurity and injuries associated with early delivery by spotlighting prenatal differences in neural circuitries,' said Moriah Thomason, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the WSU School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics, WSU's Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and section head of the Unit on Perinatal Neural Connectivity within the Perinatology Research Branch of NICHD/NIH/DHHS. "Observed effects agree with evidence of atypical brain connectivity in preterm-born neonates, and establish for the first time that those differences have onset prior to the potentially injurious experiences of early delivery," said Thomason.

News Medical, 1/10; Natural Science News, Health Canal, 1/9/17
Even before they are born, premature babies may display alterations in the circuitry of their developing brains, according to a first-of-its kind research study by Yale School of Medicine researchers and their colleagues at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Wayne State University.
The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports, a Nature Publishing Group Journal. According to the authors, 10 percent to 11 percent of American babies are born prematurely. This new study suggests that factors contributing to early birth might also impact the brain's development in the womb, leading to significant neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and cerebral palsy. In the study, Yale School of Medicine researchers Laura Ment, M.D., Dustin Scheinost, and R. Todd Constable collaborated closely with principal investigator Moriah Thomason of Wayne State University, and Roberto Romero, M.D., chief of the Perinatology Research Branch and Program Director for Obstetrics and Maternal-Fetal Medicine of NICHD/NIH.

Science Magazine, 1/9/17
By Greg Miller
Babies born prematurely are prone to problems later in lifethey're more likely to develop autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and more likely to struggle in school. A new study that's among the first to investigate brain activity in human fetuses suggests that the underlying neurological issues may begin in the womb. The findings provide the first direct evidence of altered brain function in fetuses that go on to be born prematurely, and they might ultimately point to ways to remediate or even prevent such early injuries. In the new study, published today in Scientific Reports, developmental neuroscientist Moriah Thomason of Wayne State University School of Medicine, and colleagues report a difference in how certain brain regions communicate with each other in fetuses that were later born prematurely compared with fetuses that were carried to term. Although the findings are preliminary because the study was small, Thomason and other researchers say the work illustrates the potential (and the challenges) of the emerging field of fetal neuroimaging. Thomason and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate brain activity in 32 fetuses. The pregnant mothers were participants in a larger, long-term study of brain development led by Thomason. "The majority have just normal pregnancies, but they're drawn from a low-resource population that's at greater risk of early delivery and developmental problems," she says. In the end, 14 of the fetuses were born prematurely.

2016 Coverage

Model D, 12/20/16

Access to quality childcare grows in Detroit

By Claire Charlton

Legislators, educators, and other stakeholders are beginning to grasp that daycare experiences are the earliest form of childhood educationa fact that child development experts have long known. "The research has been there, and we have been working a long time at making the public aware of the importance of those early years and the long-term impact on children's growth, development and later school success," says Anna Miller, early childhood education lecturer at Wayne State University. The measure of a city's vitality is the support available to grow and maintain strong families, says Miller, who also serves as executive director of the Wayne State University College of Education Early Childhood Center and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute Early Childhood Center. She feels optimistic about the many early education-focused initiatives that are forming. "We've done a wonderful job attracting business back into Detroit and some understand the importance of investing in young children and families," says Miller.  In addition to all the new daycare centers opening in Detroit, a brand new civic partnership kicked off late this fall with the intent to strengthen and align early educational offerings to all of the city's children. Hope Starts Here is a collaboration between the W.K. Kellogg and Kresge foundation, and will include more than 100 community leaders sharing wisdom about what young children need to succeed socially and academically.

Metro Parent 12/2/16

Improving Intelligence in Young Children

Boosting your child's brainpower isn't rocket science. It is, however, a series of mindful little steps and tactics along the way. What, precisely? That's what you'll learn from Dr. Julie Wargo Aikins, an associate professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development in Detroit.

Detroit Free Press, 11/19/16

The Free Press spent a year talking to children across Detroit about how they live and what issues they see as most important. Safe neighborhoods, schools, job opportunities, teen pregnancy and help for young parents were among key issues raised. Based on these conversations, as well as community meetings and a poll, the Free Press looked at efforts both in Detroit and around the country. Beverly Weathington, LMSW, coordinates the Healthier Urban Families Program at Merrill Palmer Skillman and ran the focus groups. This project was done with a $75,000 grant from the Solutions Journalism Network, New York-based nonprofit that partners with newsrooms around the country to do projects that focus on solutions to social issues. Beyond crime, students interviewed by the Free Press expressed concerns about a range of other issues. First in Series by Katrease Stafford.

Wayne State Division of Research, 8/18/16

Warriors in Action - Health DIsparities

Researcher Moriah Thomason awarded $2.3 million to study impact of trauma and PTSD on developing brains of young children.

Pivotal Moments Spotlight, 8/18/16

MPSI Trainee Laurel Hicks Tells Key to her Success

Laurel HIcks cites scholarship and fellowship as the foundation for her academic success. She researches mindfulness-based therapies as an avenue for healing trauma and improving pregnancy outcomes.

Huffington Post, 8/2

Pregnant? Stressed? Science says talk to your baby

By Kathleen Man Gyllenhaal
Moriah Thomason, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics and in the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development at Wayne State University, uses novel methods in her lab for detecting and characterizing large-scale human brain networks. While using safe MRI technology to scan the brains of developing fetuses, she and her team discovered something quite staggering. We tend to think of the brain as forming in the way a building is constructed sturdy foundations are laid first, then we build up and up, level by level. Later we add the nuances. Thomason's team discovered that the emotional and abstract thinking aspects come on line at the very earliest stages. Then, the more primal elements form. This runs totally counter to our Newtonian way of thinking. This is quantum.

Today at Wayne, 7/5/2016

Freer House Cited in Overview of Historic WSU Buildings

A bountiful collection of historic buildings is located on Wayne State's campus, including the historic Thompson Home (pictured), Jacob and Linsell Houses, Charles Lang Freer House (Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute), Old Main and McGregor Memorial Conference Center.
"I think that Wayne State is one of largest single owner of historic buildings in the city," says William Colburn, executive director of the Charles Lang Freer House and was founding executive director of Preservation Wayne (now known as Preservation Detroit).

News Medical, 7/12

Wayne State researcher awarded $1.9M NIH grant to identify memory networks in children

Noa Ofen, Ph.D., a Wayne State University researcher in lifespan cognitive neuroscience, received a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health to study the development of memory networks in children. Researchers will investigate brain activity predictive of memory formation in children who undergo surgery as part of clinical management of medically uncontrolled epilepsy. "Little is known about how memory systems develop in the human brain," Ofen said. "In this project, we will use a combination of unique neuroimaging methodologies that allow us to add new insights about the neural basis of memory development. We also hope this project will be a first step toward clinical applications that can ultimately improve the quality of life of children with focal epilepsy." Ofen is jointly appointed to Wayne State's Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Gerontology's Lifespan Cognitive Neuroscience Program that together with research laboratories at the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child & Family Development apply a cognitive neuroscience approach to study developmental effects from pre-birth to old age.

2015 Coverage

Today@Wayne, 12/7/15

88-Year-Old Graduates in December Thanks to MPSI Trainee

Dorothy Mahlin graduates from Wayne State University 40 years after her first class.  MPSI Trainee Amy Graham supported Dorothy through the process to insure she got the remaining credits for her bachelor's degree in Communication Studies this December.

Newswise, EurekAlert, 11/20/15

Michigan's URC wins $2.5m to improve interactions between parents, teachers, toddlers

MPSI Researcher Teams to Win $2.5 M Grant for Head Start Parents, Teachers and Toddlers

Researchers from Wayne State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan which make up the University Research Corridor (URC) will receive $2.5 million over five years in a cooperative agreement with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. They have designed a program of professional development for teachers and an intervention for parents and will evaluate its effects on parent and teacher mindfulness and reflective functioning. The team hopes that strengthening those skills will support more responsive interactions between teachers, parents and children in Early Head Start programs. Ann Stacks, director of the Infant Mental Health program at WSU's Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, is the principal investigator. "We want to induce and sustain lasting change. Sensitivity in parenting and teaching young children is a key component of later social and emotional competence and school readiness. This skill is especially important when infants and young children are at-risk for delays. We will test whether our approach can promote that sensitivity," Stacks said.

WLRH-FM (Huntsville, Ala.), Capital Public Radio (Sacramento, Calif.), KPCC-FM (Los Angeles), NPR, 10/19/15

Weak brain connections may link premature birth and later disorders

NPR Audiofile of Interview

Babies born prematurely are much more likely than other children to develop autism, ADHD and emotional disorders. Now researchers think they may have an idea about how that could happen. There's evidence that preemies are born with weak connections in some critical brain networks, including those involved in focus, social interactions, and emotional processing, researchers reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago. Another team attending the neuroscience meeting presented evidence that at least some of the brain connection differences found in preemies at birth are also present during pregnancy. The team used new MRI technology that allowed them to study the brains of 36 fetuses during the 30th week of pregnancy. Half the fetuses went on to be delivered prematurely and half went to full term. When the researchers looked at connections between areas of the brain involved in movement and balance, the full-term fetuses had "higher levels of connectivity than the preterm born," says Moriah Thomason, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics from Wayne State University School of Medicine. This could explain why premature babies often are late to sit up and stand, she says. The results suggest that it's not necessarily premature birth itself causing brain connection problems, Thomason says. Both premature birth and weak brain connections, she says, may be triggered by factors like stress or illness or exposure to toxins.

The Guardian, 10/19/15

How much alcohol is safe for pregnant women? U.S. pediatricians say none

By Jessica Glenza

The American Academy of Pediatrics has renewed advice to pregnant women: do not drink alcohol, not even a little bit, not at all. The update of an old warning from the U.S. surgeon general is meant as a best practices paper for clinicians, but also a warning to American mothers-to-be. Since the 1970s, researchers have associated prenatal drinking with neurocognitive and behavioral problems, as well as distinct facial deformities. The group of symptoms is known collectively as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or FASD (the most severe of which is fetal alcohol syndrome). But the admonition to American women is muddled by a lack of knowledge about the disease and varying international standards. Perhaps most surprising, the highest prevalence of drinking among pregnant women remains among college-educated, middle-aged women. "If a patient admits to drinking a glass of wine perhaps before she knew she was pregnant, there's no reason for panic," said John Hannigan, a professor of obstetrics and psychology at Wayne State University. "And the correct and clinical recommendations are not to worry but stop your

WDET-FM, 9/28; dbusiness, The Elkhart Truth (Elkhart, Ind.), 9/29/15

Wayne State's Historic Hecker Mansion receives $2M, new name

A Wayne State graduate is donating $2 million to the school's alumni association. The gift will be used to maintain the organization's new offices in the Hecker House and fund future programming. Chacona Johnson, vice president for development and alumni affairs, says the donor, Thomas Tierney, inquired about naming rights for the house after attending the school's Detroit Homecoming event last year. "At that time we were purchasing what was then the Charfoos law office in the Hecker House, and, unbeknownst to us, Mr. Tierney was paying close attention to that. He's very partial to older homes and grand mansions." Johnson says, prior to Tierney's 2014 visit, he had not been back to Detroit in almost 40 years. The school is officially dedicating the Hecker House as the Tierney Alumni House on Wednesday.

Crain's Detroit Business, 9/11

Restoration of historic Freer House garden at Wayne State begins

By Kirk Pinho

Charles Lang Freer loved Asian and American art so much that he had his 1892 shingle-style Detroit home expanded three times in 1906, 1910 and 1913 to accommodate his expansive collection. Those Eastern and Western influences also were seen in his garden, installed when the house was built, redesigned in 1906, and now target of a more than $250,000 restoration campaign. The project, which is expected to take two years to complete, begins with the removal of slate outside the home at 71 E. Ferry St. so an aggregate-material driveway mimicking the wealthy railroad freight car manufacturing magnate's original can be installed. Existing plants are also being removed and repurposed around the campus of Wayne State University, which owns and manages the home's property between Woodward Avenue and John R Street in Midtown, said Meghan Urisko, research assistant at the Freer House. The campaign is an effort to lift the school into the top ranks of public urban research universities in the U.S. The project is part of Wayne State's $750 million Pivotal Moments campaign, launched last year and expected to be complete in 2018 to coincide with the school's 150th anniversary.

Wallet Hub, 5/19/15

2015's Best & Worst States for Working Moms

By John S. Kiernan

Although women now comprise roughly half of the American workforce, they still earn about three-quarters as much as men do and have far less upward mobility, as evidenced by the fact that less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female chief executives. Even the new crop of high-profile female CEOs seems to be drastically underpaid compared with their male peers. "Although there is currently a greater emphasis on father involvement in child rearing relative to prior time periods in U.S. history, most mothers continue to contribute a great deal more than fathers to childcare activities in the family," said Carolyn Joy Dayton, assistant professor in Wayne State University's School of Social Work and associate director of the Infant Mental Health Program in the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child & Family Development. "This appears to be especially true during the early years of child development when fathers report engaging in fewer childcare activities, and report that they see themselves as more influential as a parent to their older children than they do to their infants and toddlers. This is likely to make the career/family balance especially difficult for mothers when their children are very young."

Prenatal Exposure to Alcohol Makes Later Smell of Alcohol More Pleasant, WSU Alumni Magazine, 2-15

CBS Detroit, 3/25/15

Every kid matters: Providing kids with an environment in which they can thrive

By Vickie Thomas

In a special WWJ presentation, "Every Kid Matters: The Case for Early Childhood Investment," WWJ City Beat reporter Vickie Thomas takes a look at brain science and what we can do to help children learn in the earliest years of life. Moriah Thomason, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Wayne State University's School of Medicine, says from a scientific standpoint, it's more than just looking at the structure of the brain. "We are really considering interplay and action," said Thomason. "This makes sense on an intuitive level the brain is complex … so it's exciting that we are moving beyond that single dimension to get a more complex organization. "A big effort in my lab is even in utero mapping the development of functional developments while women are pregnant. I don't think we can do any better than that, so that's an exciting future research," said Thomason., 2/24

Army, kids & deployment

If you're an Army spouse with children currently ages 3 to 7 years old, researchers at Wayne State University would like your input into a survey assessing the role of parental deployment on parent and child well-being. Information obtained will advance the understanding of child development and help identify the needs of military families facing deployment. Project CAPS (Child Adjustment to Parental Separation) is a Department of Defense-funded research project located at Wayne State University. Researchers Julie Wargo Aikins and Deane Aikins are hoping to better understand the impact of soldiers' deployments on spouses and young children.  

Fine Art Connoisseur, 2/1/15

Whistler, Freer, and Their Living Legacy

By Peter Trippi

Detroit has recently been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons; the growing success of the Freer House is one story not heard enough. With the support of Wayne State University president M. Roy Wilson, Freer House director William Colburn welcomes everyone to join in preserving and restoring the site. Through regular public tours and lectures by major scholars (often co-sponsored with the DIA and other regional partners), the organization is raising awareness of Freer's legacy in Asian and American art and architecture, and of his contributions locally, nationally, and internationally.

Over the past five years, Wayne State University has committed major funds for a new historically appropriate roof with copper gutters and downspouts, and for a cleaning of exterior masonry. Underway now is a fundraising campaign by the Freer House t revitalize the garden and courtyard, where Freer once planted an unusual mix of Asian and Western plants that provided the harmoniously balanced colors he craved. Indoors, the organization is raising money to renovat the 1906 picture gallery, which Freer had created above a former carriage house and service block.

The Guardian, 1/4/15

Prenatal blueprints give an early glimpse of a baby's developing brain

By Vaughn Bell

Brain development during pregnancy is key for future health, which is why it gets checked so thoroughly during prenatal examinations. But neuroscientists have become increasingly interested in how the activity of the brain becomes progressively integrated and synchronized during development to support human experience, something developmental neuroscientist and assistant professor at Wayne State University calls "bringing us closer to the blueprints of the brain." These "blueprints" are not easy to read, however, as they are encased within a tiny skull and float within the mother's body, protected and nurtured from the outside world, making them a difficult subject for scientific study. Thomason, a fMRI specialist, describes how it involves "more than 30 hours of work before we have the kind and quality of data that most folks using functional MRI postnatally start with". "It is a lot of extra work," she says, "but for very good reason."

2014 Coverage

Giant Step Teen Conference Unifies Diverse Students 10-31-14

Michigan Lt. Governor Visits Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute 7-23-14

Dr. Harvey Karp visits Woodward Corridor Early Childhood Consortium, 7-1-2014, 5/4/2014

Novel method for measuring functional connections in the human fetal brain

An unprecedented method for measuring functional connections in the human fetal brain developed at Wayne State University's School of Medicine could open a window into how the brain becomes "wired-up" at the beginning of life. Application of this method may help scientists discover the origins of neural injury or disease before a child is born. Scientists can now detect abnormal signaling between two or more brain regions, a once impossible achievement. Many early childhood diseases, including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, prematurity, schizophrenia and dyslexia, involve abnormal connectivity with no structural irregularity. "As a result, how the human brain is connected into functional systems, or 'wired-up,' has become a question of global interest," said study principal investigator Moriah Thomason, Ph.D., assistant professor in the WSU School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child and Family Development, and director of the Unit on Perinatal Neural Connectivity at the Perinatology Research Branch. 

Research Study Among First to Study PTSD's Effects on Children (4-23-14)

Baby on Board Project Studies Early Parenting (4-24-14)

Dr. Noa Ofen Named Fellow at Kavli Frontiers of Science (4-6-14)

2013 Coverage

Downtown Birmingham, 12/16/13
Board Member Ann Nicholson Honored at DAC Tribute
Phebe Goldstein Speak at Nicholson Tribute
Merrill Palmer Skillman Director Lichtenberg Awards Nicholson
Merrill Palmer Skillman Board of Visitors member Ann Nicholson is honored for her contributions to the achievements of the institute and particularly the Early Childhood Center for 3 1/2 to 5 year olds.  The luncheon, held at the Detroit Athletic Club, hosted about 60 of Ann's friends and colleagues, including her son David who was recently elected to the Wayne State University Board of Governors.

The De La Salle Collegiate, 10/30/2013
Students attend MPSI's Giant Step Teen Conference

Celebrating 30 Years of Helping Teens Unite, 10/24/13
GIant Step Conference moves to bigger venue to help more teensToday@Wayne

The Educator, 9/1/13
A Great Start for Detroit's Midtown Children
The Woodward Corridor Early Childhood Consortium is working to raise the quality of all Detroit's preschools, starting with more than a dozen schools and daycare centers in the Midtown area. The Consortium is a joint project of the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and the College of Education at Wayne State University.

The Examiner, 7/31/13
Tour historic homes in Detroit on August 13
By Frank Nemecek
The local historic preservation group Preservation Detroit and the Wayne State Insiders will offer a tour of several historic homes in the Midtown neighborhood on Tuesday, August 13. Doors will be open from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. A docent from Preservation Detroit will share points of interest at each destination. The seven historic homes on this tour of the Midtown neighborhood include the David Mackenzie House, Beecher House, Freer House, Jacob House, Linsell House, Rands House and Thompson House. The Wayne State Insiders group includes alumni, friends, students, parents, faculty and staff who serve as informal ambassadors for Wayne State and our Midtown community.

The Jewish News, 5/30/13
Freer House Event Celebrates Yoga and Eastern Art

Prognosis News, 5/16/13
MPSI  Researcher Chairs Major Symposium
Dr. Noa Ofen, an assistant professor in the MPSI and IOG Lifespan program and in the School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics, received high honors in being selected to chair and speak at a major symposium at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry in San Francisco. Her symposium, "Memory Systems in Development, Risk and Disease: A Case Study for R-DoC Applications in the Schizophrenia Diathesis" was one of the few selected for presentation. Dr. Ofen's research with children and adolescents seeks to understand learning and memory networks in the developing human brain, including vulnerability to schizophrenia.

Detroit News, 4/24/13
For Wayne State scientist, the brain is a work of art
By Ingrid Jacques
Moriah Thomason, a developmental neuroscientist at Wayne State University and assistant professor of pediatrics, is doing groundbreaking research on brain connectivity in fetuses and children. Her research, which has the potential to lead to better understanding and future treatment of a range of conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and depression, is funded in large part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Many of the expecting mothers Thomason sees as part of the WSU project are depressed about 28 percent, which is much higher than average. A mother's depression can influence a child's chance of depression as well. In February, Thomason's innovative research appeared in Science Translational Medicine, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She scanned the brains of 25 fetuses between 24 and 39 weeks. She used functional magnetic resonance imaging to map the connections between various areas of the brain. This research is a collaboration between Wayne State's medical school and the NIH, which houses its Perinatology Research Branch at the university. NIH chose this location in 2002 because of Detroit's high number of pre-term births; and the agency recently announced it would renew the university's contract for another 10 years. Matt Lockwood, communications director at Wayne State University, says this is the only such lab in the country and the university is pleased the contract was renewed. "We're proud of it," he says. Roberto Romero, the obstetrician and gynecologist who heads the Detroit NIH branch, says Thomason's work will have "international impact." He says such research would be expected at universities like Harvard and Yale, but perhaps not at Wayne State. "This pioneering work is here in Detroit," Romero says. "People in Michigan should be proud."

Detroit Jewish News, 2/28/13
WSU's brain study breaks new ground
Wayne State University researchers have shown for the first time that brain connectivity in human fetuses can be measured, which could translate into new ways to prevent and treat brain disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. A collaborative project between Wayne State University and the Perinatology Research Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health led to this major discovery. (Subscriber access only.)

Detroit News, MIT Technology Review, Health24, 2/21; US News & World Report, Science Magazine (cover story), CBS Detroit, News Scientist, WWJ-AM, 2/20
Wayne State University researchers map fetal brain signal
For the first time anywhere, Wayne State University researchers have shown brain connectivity in fetuses, a discovery that could lead to new ways to prevent and treat brain disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. Moriah Thomason, a developmental neuroscientist, collaborated with other WSU researchers and used magnetic resonance imaging to capture real-time images that showed communication signals between more than 40 regions of the brain of fetuses in utero. "We never, ever have been able to peer into the fetal brain and look at the development of functional networks," said Thomason, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the WSU School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study. "Scientific researchers will take this new method and apply it to a great number of questions, and that will help us all."

Prognosis News, 2/20/13
WSU Researchers Capture Brain Connectivity in Human Fetuses

WDET-FM, 1/2/13
Are some children born anti-social?
Christopher Trentacosta, Wayne State University assistant professor of psychology, believes both nature and nurture appear to be significant factors in early antisocial behaviors of adopted children. Trentacosta was a guest on "The Craig Fahle Show."

2012 Coverage

Science Codex, Science Daily, 12/10/12
Wayne State researcher finds possible clue to children's early antisocial behavior
Both nature and nurture appear to be significant factors in early antisocial behaviors of adopted children, a Wayne State University researcher believes. Christopher Trentacosta, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, recently examined data from 361 linked triads (birth mother, adoptive parents, adopted child) in order to assess externalizing behavioral problems such as aggression and defiance when children were 18, 27 and 54 months of age. The triads were part of the Early Growth and Development Study (EGDS), a nationwide, prospective study of birth parents and adoptive families that is supported by grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health all part of the National Institutes of Health to Trentacosta's colleagues at the Oregon Social Learning Center and the Pennsylvania State University.

Med Research, Fall 2012
Beyond Grey Matter: Exploring the link  in utero between brain function and developmental outcomes later in life
By Andrea Westfall

WJBK Fox 2, 10/30/12
Giant Step Teen Conference held at WSU
Hundreds of teenagers attended the Giant Step Teen Conference held at Wayne State University yesterday. This year's keynote speaker was Ronnie Bachman, who told his inspiring story of survival and success. Ron was born with legs so badly deformed they hindered his ability to crawl. At age 4, his parents made the difficult decision to have both legs amputated at the hip.Giant Step is Michigan's longest running teen conference attracting over 5,000 participants.

Detroit Free Press, USA Today, Black Christian News, 6/10/12
Flipping the script on mundane habits can boost brain productivity
USA Today, Black Christian News
By Robin Erb
Research suggests that certain types of mental exercises -- whether they are memory games on your mobile device or jotting down letters backward -- might help our brain maintain concentration, memory and visual and spatial skills over the years. At a recent "Brain Neurobics" session at the Waltonwood Senior Living center in Novi, Cheryl Deep of Wayne State's Institute of Gerontology, encouraged several dozen senior citizens to flip the pictures in their homes upside-down. It might baffle houseguests, but the exercise crowbars the brain out of familiar grooves cut deep by years of mindless habit. "Every time you walk past and look, your brain has to rotate that image," Deep said. "Brain neurobics is about getting us out of those ruts, those pathways, and shaking things up." Assistant professor of pediatrics Moriah Thomason, a scientific adviser to, one of the fastest-growing brain game websites, is a proponent of mental workouts. "We used to think that what you're born with is what you have through life. But now we understand that the brain is a lot more plastic and flexible than we ever appreciated," she said. Photos from the event are included.

Observer & Eccentric, 4/8
Image is everything
By Jay M. Grossman
Dr. Moriah Thomason, a resident of Birmingham and faculty member at Wayne State University, talked about her cutting-edge work in scanning the brains of fetuses in utero during a "Sunday Morning Chat" Q&A feature. Thomason describes her work as quite different involving the study of human fetal functional development, making it a pioneering work. The majority of work, she says, has been done looking at human fetal brain development looking at anatomical development. "We are going to open a window into the fetal period that has never been opened. We are going to peer inside and take a look at brain function before birth." A photo of Thomason is included.

2011 Coverage

CBS Radio Detroit, 10/26/11
Steve Ondersma Gets Grant to Help High-Risk Mothers
By Matt Roush
A team of researchers at Wayne State University's Parent Health Lab in the School of Medicine have received a three-year grant to develop a computer-delivered intervention for pregnant women at risk for alcohol use, which can lead to lifelong negative effects on the fetus. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health funded the "Healthy Pregnancy Study," which will help Steven Ondersma, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, and colleagues develop and test a highly practical, high-reaching computer-delivered intervention to reduce alcohol use during pregnancy.

BLAC, 8/2011
Class before kindergarten
By Taylor Ivana
Susan Madro, director of the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute Early Childhood Education Center at Wayne State University and a Detroit school teacher for 20 years, commented in an article about the importance of preschool education. She says if parents choose a daycare center, they should make sure that their child will be educated while in attendance. "Children don't need to be just watching [television] or playing aimlessly. They need to have activities planned for them and opportunities for open-ended investigation," Madro said. "When they have those opportunities, they really flourish."

Science Daily, 2/23/11
Babies and Toddlers can Suffer Mental Illness, Seldom Get Treatment
Contrary to traditional beliefs that infants cannot have mental health problems "because they lack mental life," even young infants can react to the meaning of others' intentions and emotions because they have their own rudimentary intentions and motivating emotions, according to an article by Tronick and Marjorie Beeghly, PhD, of Wayne State University. While trauma can be a significant factor in developing mental health issues, the authors encourage more study of the impact of everyday life and continual interactions between infants and parents or other caregivers.

Ann Arbor News, 1/11/11
Dads Who Spank are More Likely to be Under Stress
By Juliana Keeping
Over half of dads don't spank, but those who do may be spanking because they can' t cope with parenting stress, or they're abusing alcohol or drugs, according to new research. The research, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, is one of the first studies to delve into corporal punishment as it relatesto a father's mental health, drug and alcohol use and paternal stress.Wayne State University professor Shawna Lee, of the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, led the study with help from University of Michigan social work professor Brian Perron and others.

2010 Coverage

People Magazine, 10/4/10
When Grandma is Mom
By Richard Stolley
Read about Detroit's grandparents who are bravely raising their grandchildren when their children cannot. Lifespan research done at the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State is cited.

2009 Coverage

The Wall Street Journal, 11/11/09
Why Puppy Love Matters
By Sue Shellenbarger
MPSI faculty researcher Valerie Simon was quoted in this article about teen dating.  Among all challenges as a parent of teenagers, understanding their affairs of the heart can be the most baffling.