All of the work conducted in our lab is grounded in attachment theory, which posits that early caregiving experiences produce a template for social relationships that guides social behavior across the lifespan. The work of many attachment researchers, as well as our own work, has shown that when repeated caregiving experiences allow children to develop a view of themselves as worthy of love and others as reliable caregivers (called secure attachment), their risk for a wide range of mental health problems is reduced. In our lab, we are particularly interested in how attachment between parents and children relates to risk and resilience during adolescence. Students in the lab study a variety of important outcomes (e.g., psychiatric disorder, self-harm, crime) in teens. Each of these outcomes is examined in the context of social relationships, with the greatest emphasis placed on adolescent-parent attachment.
We also focus on how attachment relationships relate to psychological processes underlying social relationships and mental health. For example, much of our work shows that adolescents with secure parental attachments are better at detecting other peoples' mental states and understanding behavior as being driven by underlying mental states. These abilities-- called mentalizing abilities-- then act on an adolescent's daily life, allowing them to navigate difficult social situations and make use of therapeutic relationships when struggling with mental illness. Our lab has linked these constructs to a wide range of outcome variables, with all work grounded in attachment theory and the social abilities that stem from attachment relationships.
Current research projects focus on examining the biological correlates of attachment security and wellbeing, including inflammatory function and the gut microbiome. We also focus on risk and resilience in vulnerable populations of youth and families including adolescents who have recently immigrated and therefore face separation from their attachment figures; children who have been exposed to chronic trauma and present with insecure styles of attachment; mothers and young children who have recently migrated from Central America to the US; young adults on college campuses in Texas and Latin America; and adolescents who have been detained for breaking the law.
The Youth & Family Studies Lab also provides specialty clinical services to recently immigrated adolescents who are awaiting immigration proceedings in and around Houston. This specialty sub-focus provides clinical training to bilingual graduate students as well as trauma-informed, culturally-sensitive services to vulnerable youth in Texas.
The lab is run by Dr. Amanda Venta. Funding sources have included the National Institutes of Mental Health, the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, the American Psychological Foundation, the Texas Psychological Foundation, the American Psychology-Law Society, and the American Psychological Association.
Interested in getting involved?
- Dr. Venta will be reviewing graduate student applications for the 2022-2023 academic year. Please see Student Admissions, Outcomes, and Other Data for details.
- To volunteer as a research assistant, please contact Dr. Venta.
- Jesse Walker has received an F31 fellowship from the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities to study relational and biological risk factors for suicide in Latino and Black young adults. Congratulations, Jesse!
- The lab has just received a three-year grant from the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities to examine the protective effects of attachment among Latino youth exposed to trauma.
- Anna just received a prestigious F31 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health! She will have three years of funding to complete her dissertation research and a comprehensive training plan.