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Research Projects

Our research focuses on understanding the developmental mechanisms associated with youth suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STBs). We examine familial factors, neurocognitive functioning, and emotion regulation and reactivity in youth who are at risk for STBs. Currently, projects conducted in our lab are aimed at understanding these associations with the hope to create prevention methods to be used to decrease the likelihood of suicidal behavior in youth.

2 boys walking and talking outside their school

Suicidal Behaviors in Elementary School-Aged Youth: Assessment of Familial Factors and Neurocognitive Functioning  

Funded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. PI, Arielle Sheftall, PhD.

Two risk factors that are consistently associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors in youth are neurocognitive functioning (NF) deficits and negative familial factors. These variables are the main focus of this cross-sectional study. Study methods include computerized behavioral tasks assessing parent/legal guardian and child neurocognitive functioning (e.g., attention), observations evaluating familial factors (e.g., communication, parenting behaviors), and interviews/self-reports to assess early indicators of risk (e.g., hopelessness) for future SB.

Our specific aims are as follows: 

  • Examine the association between NF and SB in elementary school-aged children 
  • Investigate the association between familial factors and SB in elementary school-aged children 
  • Test racial contributions associated with SB in elementary school-aged children, NF, and familial factors.

extended family members standing together

Effects of Parental History of Suicidal Behavior on Middle/Late Childhood: Longitudinal Assessment of Early Markers of Suicide Risk  

Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. PI, Arielle Sheftall, PhD.

One risk factor associated with an early onset of suicidal behavior (SB) is a parental history of SB. Children with a parental history of SB, compared to children without, are at 4- to 6-times increased risk of SB with the earliest age of documented occurrence at around 10 years. However, recent evidence has suggested SB may occur even younger. Two mechanisms that may be associated with the familial transmission of SB are neurocognitive functioning (NF) and emotional reactivity/regulation (ERR), and they are the focus for this longitudinal study. For this study, we will follow an established sample of 200 youth with (PH+) and without (PH-) a parental history of suicide attempt (Cohort 1; enrolled in Columbus, OH), and an additional 300 youth (Cohort 2; 150 PH+ and 150 PH- to be enrolled in Rochester, NY) for four years from mid/late-childhood through early/mid-adolescence.

Our specific aims are as follows: 

  • Examine, longitudinally, how parental history of suicidal behavior (PH status) is associated with trajectories of NF and ERR measured during mid/late-childhood through early/mid-adolescence.
  • Investigate the potential mediating role of NF and ERR constructs on the association between PH status, youth non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), suicidal ideation (SI), and suicide attempt (SA)
  • Test sex and race as potential moderators of ERR and NF trajectories, and on the association between PH status and youth NSSI, SI, and SA