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Fordham Psychologist Leads Students in Interdisciplinary Study of the Brain

by Joanna Klimaski

Amy RoyTemper tantrums seem like an inevitable—perhaps expected—part of early childhood. But, what if they become severe? And last until age seven or eight?

Amy K. Roy, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Fordham, researches emotion regulation in children and adolescents, with particular attention to brain mechanisms that underlie anxiety and behavioral disorders. Hypothesizing that the connectivity between the anger-controlling regions of the brain is impaired for children with severe temper outbursts, Roy uses a technology called Functional MRI (fMRI) to detect the interaction between these regions.

“Severe temper tantrums go beyond typical tantrums in that they’re longer in duration and happen more frequently than they should,” said Roy, who joined the Fordham faculty in 2011 after nearly a decade with New York University’s Child Study Center.

“Tantrums are pretty common in toddlers and preschoolers, but by the time kids are 5 or 6, they should be able to pull it together. So even if they get upset, it should last a minute or two. If tantrums typically last longer, like 15, 20, or 30 minutes, then we become concerned that the neural circuitry needed to regulate emotions has not fully developed.”

Roy’s research is one of many practical applications of neuroscience, a field that is growing quickly with new advances in technology. Beginning this fall, Fordham is offering a new major in integrative neuroscience, and has tapped Roy to direct the program.

Students earning the interdisciplinary degree can take classes in a number of departments at Fordham, including Computer Science, Biology, and Psychology. The program combines foundational training in biology and chemistry, followed by several courses in one of three tracks: cognitive, systems and computational, and cellular and molecular neuroscience. All students must complete a two-semester research project. Fordham’s partners in the Bronx Science Consortium, such as Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, Roy says, will likely provide student research opportunities as the program grows.

For Roy, the major provides a well-rounded experience for a cohort of motivated students, all of whom must apply to the competitive program. Attendance at recent information sessions on both campuses was quite high, she says; she’s expecting a lot of applications for coming semesters. She expects that graduates will apply to medical school or doctoral programs in neuropsychology.

“There’s so much we still don’t really know” about the brain, Roy says, calling it a “new space” waiting to be explored by bright, creative scientists.

Michael Rametta

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