Dr. Gibb is Professor of Psychology & Director of Clinical Training. His research focuses on cognitive, genetic and environmental risk factors for the development of depression and anxiety in children, adolescents and adults.
By Jah Davis, MSAA ’18, Graduate Assistant, The Institute of Multigenerational Studies
JD: How long have you been in the Institution for Multigenerational Studies (IMS)?
BG: Since it started, I was there since day one.
JD: Which center are you currently involved in?
BG: The Children and Family Services Center
JD: Why did you decide to become a member of the IMS?
BG: I really liked the interdisciplinary nature of it and the idea of different departments on campus coming together and trying to do something more than you can do individually. I like the people and a lot of my research focuses on children and child development.
JD: What is your area of expertise?
BG: I look at vulnerability and depression in kids and adolescents and adults. We tend to go across the lifespan. Our biggest focus is on kids. What we look at is how different factors may interact to increase depression. So we know that depression is a pretty complicated disorder, we know that there are a lot of reasons why people get depressed, or why they are they are resilient to depression. So we look at genetics, we look at neuro-influences, physiology, family, peers, and just about everything.
JD: What sparked your interest in depression?
BG: I’ve always been interested in depression just because it’s so common. I’m interested in how the same thing can happen to two people and they respond really differently. And so I got really interested in the impact of people’s thoughts and how they interpret things. And then what I noticed in my early research was that a lot of these early vulnerabilities to depression start in childhood. And so we just started looking at childhood influences. Really what we’re trying do is find early markers of risk or resilience, see how those things develop and then set children on a developmental trajectory of either better or worse mental health.
JD: Can you share a piece of research that illustrates the majority of your work?
BG: A recent study of mine was two-linked studies. We know that depression runs in families, we don’t really know why yet and so one thing we looked at was kids’ neural and physiological reactivity to just emotional information. So what we did was brought kids into the lab and we showed them pictures of faces, just of people conveying different expressions. Some of the pictures were of happy people, some of sad people, angry people, and so while we showed them pictures, we measured how much their pupils dilated. Your pupil dilates in response to different things, whether you’re interested, you’re working hard or more emotionally reactive. What we found was that kids of depressed parents had increased pupil dilation specifically to seeing sad faces but not to the other faces. We then followed these kids over the next two years and the degree to which kids’ pupils dilated when they saw a sad face predicted which kids would develop a diagnosis of depression themselves in the next two years. What we like about this is that it’s an easy test. Most eye doctors could incorporate this, so it might be a way of screening large groups of kids to figure out which ones are most at risk for developing depression or other things. So that’s one we really like.
JD: What kind of disciplines, work experiences, or expertise (different from your own) could provide a diverse perspective on your topic of research?
BG: The research we do is super interdisciplinary, the reality of science now is that you can’t do anything by yourself and you need a lot of collaborators and colleagues and friends in other areas. So we collaborated with geneticists, we collaborated with people who specialize in understanding physiology, we also have collaborations with engineers to find out what do you do with this massive amount of data that you get from looking at brain activity or genetics. So we end up doing a lot.
JD: How can the IMS support you in your work?
BG: What I really like about the IMS is that they put a strong emphasis on collaborative relationships with the community and so it’s super important. What I like about this university is that instead of being separate from the community, it’s really integrated. A lot of the departments, researchers are embedded in the community, doing their research in a way that could help the community function better. Through this, you build really strong bonds with different community agencies like schools or other places and that’s the real strength. So when someone from the center contacts an agency, like a school district, those people are much more excited to collaborate on something because they have the track record of successfully working together.
JD: What would you like to see happen within the IMS?
BG: I think we can keep working more collaboratively. Within the centers of the institute we still have pockets of people who are collaborating. I’m hoping that with more time, you’ll see an increase of links with people working together, both with the Center for Family and Services and the Center on Aging.