More than 100 psychologists and graduate students gathered this summer at four sites around the country to enhance their knowledge of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), meta-analysis, structural equation modeling and large-scale databases.

APA's Science Directorate offers these Advanced Training Institutes, or ATIs, each year to help graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and other psychologists keep up-to-date on the latest research methods and technologies. Many attendees said the training provided a crucial boost for their research.

"It was absolutely what I needed, when I needed it," says Barbara Ganzel, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University who attended the fMRI workshop at Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown, Mass., in early June. At the workshop, led by Robert Savoy, PhD, director of fMRI education at the hospital, participants learned about the physics of fMRI, as well as data collection and analysis methods. Ganzel will use the techniques she learned to study plasticity within the neural systems that underlie emotion.

This year's other ATI topics were:

  • Using large-scale databases. Held in mid-May at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this ATI introduced participants to the vast data set collected for the Study of Early Child Care by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Researchers have followed more than 1,000 families from their children's births in 1991 until the present.

The data--available to qualified researchers--include information on demographics; parents' characteristics; children's social, emotional and cognitive development; and more.

At the ATI, NICHD staff and researchers introduced the study's conceptual framework, methodological design, psychometric properties of the variables measured and raw data sets. The training was useful on two levels, says ATI attendee Karla Anhalt, PhD, an assistant professor at Kent State University.

"First, because I work in school psychology and I'm interested in developmental psychopathology, the database itself has a wealth of information in areas that are related to my interests," she explains.

Second, Anhalt says, the workshop offered a more general lesson in using large-scale databases and secondary data analysis. "I think that's important," she adds "because more and more existing databases are becoming available for research."

  • Meta-analytic procedures. This ATI, held in mid-June at the University of California at Riverside and led by Robert Rosenthal, PhD, a distinguished professor at the university, introduced participants to the history, methods, benefits, criticisms and publication of meta-analyses--quantitative reviews of previously published literature.

David Sbarra, PhD, who studies social connectedness and health at the University of Arizona, says he attended the ATI to prepare for a particular meta-analysis he plans on studies examining the link between partner bereavement and mortality. The training, he says, was even more useful than he expected.

"I found this ATI not only helped me think about what I was going to do with this particular project, but also made me think more broadly about how I use quantitative methods in my research," he says.

  • Structural equation modeling in longitudinal research. Participants at this ATI, held at the University of Hawaii in early August and led by John McArdle, PhD, of the University of Virginia, learned about recent advances in structural equation modeling (SEM), a statistical technique that allows researchers to test whether and how many different variables are interrelated. The ATI addressed both theoretical issues and practical applications like using computer programs for SEM.

Kathleen Insel, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Arizona College of Nursing, studies cognitive changes associated with aging and chronic illness. In one of her studies, she's examining the relationship between cognitive function and medication use in individuals with chronic bronchitis. For this long-term study and others like it, she said, longitudinal design using SEM can be a powerful tool--and the ATI helped her learn how to use it.

Further Reading

Information and application deadlines for the 2005 Advanced Training Institutes will be available at the APA Science ATI Web site in December.