The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded more than $28,000 to The University of Texas at El Paso’s April Gile Thomas, Ph.D., to support undergraduate researchers who will recruit and survey participants for her two-year Adolescent Social Development and Sleep Study.
Thomas, an assistant professor of legal psychology, selected senior psychology majors Mayra Solis and Daniela Romero as research fellows.
They will work in conjunction with 29 undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students and three graduate students to assist Thomas with her study of the effects of incarceration on adolescent development. The research team is especially interested in how juvenile incarceration affects juveniles’ social relationships and the development of social skills during adolescence.
The investigators also will examine the effects of confinement on adolescents’ sleep patterns because the teenage years are a time of significant changes in sleep quality and the natural process that regulates a sleep cycle.
Solis and Romero, who started in their paid roles in January 2020, will interview three distinct adolescent samples: incarcerated, on probation or never arrested. The pair will distribute flyers in the community to recruit the “never arrested” participants, and will directly contact potential participants who were involved in the juvenile justice system.
The students will conduct two-hour structured interviews and administer behavioral tasks with the participants as well as conduct phone interviews with the participants’ parents. This will generate the parents’ perspectives on how their child’s justice-system involvement affected their lives and their relationships with their child.
The UTEP professor said she believes that incarceration during adolescence, which has been deemed a sensitive period of development, may have implications for adolescents’ long-term mental health and well-being.
“Our goal is to identify specific mechanisms that contribute to disruption in sleep or social relationships, so that targeted interventions or prevention approaches may be designed to alleviate future disturbances in these domains,” said Thomas, the project’s principal investigator. “We plan to work closely with the local juvenile justice agencies to recommend changes in procedures or interventions based on the results from this research.”
Thomas said the students would gain valuable hands-on research experience at numerous levels to include participant recruitment, data collection, statistical analyses and presentations.
The NSF grant also will provide Solis and Romero with travel funds so they can present their research at the national conferences of the American Psychological Association, the Society for Research on Adolescence, and the Association for Psychological Science during spring and summer of 2020.