American Psychological Foundation

The American Psychological Foundation's Visionary Grants program has an ambitious goal: to support psychological research aimed at solving major societal problems, such as prejudice, violence and psychological distress in the aftermath of disasters. With grants up to $20,000, the program supports research, education and intervention projects.

In 2014, seven researchers received APF Visionary Grants:

  • Nadav Antebi, a doctoral student in psychology and sociomedical sciences at Columbia University, will focus on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer (LGBTQ) identity. "If you search the literature, you realize that 99.9 percent of the research and discourse on LGBTQ issues and people is purely negative," says Antebi. Yet, he says, being part of a stigmatized group may also have positive consequences. In his study, LGBTQ participants will receive text messages with positive, negative and neutral facts about LGBTQ individuals, then write essays about LGBTQ people's strengths. Antebi will then mine those essays for positive themes that could form the basis of strengths-based interventions.
  • Laura Kate Corlew, PhD, a researcher at the East-West Center in Honolulu, will examine how psychological recovery from natural disasters — including tsunami and drought — affects people's perceptions of and preparedness for climate change-related risk in Hawaii and American Samoa. The three-part study will consist of a survey of post-disaster psychological recovery, more in-depth interviews with some participants and eventually a discussion of the results with environmental, disaster and climate change professionals in the Pacific. "The ultimate goal is to have place-based, culturally responsive research that people making decisions about climate change can use right now," says Corlew.
  • Farrah Jacquez, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati, and a multidisciplinary team at the university will partner with the local community to uncover why some vulnerable young people stay resilient despite intense stressors. In addition to measuring these participants' physiological stress, psychosocial stress and resilience, the study will also include having the young people involved in the study telling their own stories in videotaped narratives about stress and resilience. "By triangulating biological markers, self-report data and kids' own perspectives, we hope to create a method for understanding kids better," says Jacquez. "The exciting thing for us is not just the content but also the process."
  • Bernhard Leidner, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will focus on the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. "We're interested in how attitudes toward either retributive justice — usually unilateral punishment — or restorative justice — a more bilateral approach using apologies, reparations and things like that — affect conflict resolution and reconciliation," says Leidner. He will present Israelis and Palestinians with newspaper articles depicting each group as both perpetrators and victims, then examine participants' reactions to each other's proposals for justice. "We want to look at the interaction dynamically," he says.
  • Timothy D. Nelson, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, will examine the bidirectional relationship of sleep and behavioral and emotional problems in troubled children. "We expect to find, for example, that poor sleep one night will affect behavioral and emotional symptoms the next day and that those in turn will affect sleep the next night and on and on," says Nelson. Based on what he finds, Nelson hopes to develop an intervention module focusing on sleep that could be used as part of treatment for children with significant behavioral or emotional problems.
  • Kymberlee M. O'Brien, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, will explore one possible factor behind widening racial and ethnic health disparities: discrimination-related stress transmitted from mothers to infants. "We want to understand the way certain social stressors might be transmitted intergenerationally," says O'Brien, who will use physiological, psychological and behavioral measures to assess stress in moms and infants after the mothers are led to believe that they will soon interact with a racist. Ultimately, O'Brien hopes to offer emotional regulation strategies mothers can use to buffer their infants from this stress.
  • Jodi Anne Quas, PhD, a professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, plans to examine the impact chronic exposure to adversity has on children's development in two regions affected by different kinds of problems: Sierra Leone, which is still suffering the aftermath of a decade-long civil war, and Swaziland, which has very high HIV/AIDS prevalence and low life expectancy. In both contexts, says Quas, children not only face adversity but also lack role models. "The ultimate goal is to better understand how different environments play out over time in the development of core emotional processes that enable us to function with one another," says Quas.

Rebecca A. Clay is a journalist in Washington, D.C.

Learn more about the American Psychological Foundation's Visionary Grants.