Valerie Reyna's research focuses on the psychology of decision making and developmental differences in decision making, especially within medical contexts and in adolescence versus adulthood.

Current Research

2015 – 2018
Obesity Prevention and Decision Making in the Adolescent Brain
United States Department of Agriculture        PI: Valerie Reyna 

The major goal of this research is to understand the neural mechanisms of risky decision making, particularly those resulting in poor or impulsive food choices.

2017 – 2019
Testing a Decision Support Intervention to Enhance Genetic Risk Assessment in Underserved Blacks and Latinas at Risk of Hereditary Breast Cancer
National Institutes of Health                  Role: Co-Investigator (site-PI)

The major goal of this research is to increase the use of genetic counseling and testing services in ethnically diverse women at risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

2016 – 2020
Enhancing Patient Ability to Understand and Utilize Complex Information Concerning Medication Self-management 
Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute         PI: Susan Blalock & Valerie Reyna

The major goal of this project is to refine measures assessing informed decision-making within the context of therapeutic alternatives for the management of rheumatoid arthritis.
 

Past Research

2013 – 2016 
Health and the Brain: Supporting Research-Community Partnerships in Human Development and Neuroscience Outreach
United States Department of Agriculture    PI: Valerie Reyna

The proposed project integrated research and extension activities to develop a six-hour 4-H STEM curriculum on health and the brain that draws directly on research by faculty in the Department of Human Development. Three to six modules were be developed that use hands-on activities and inquiry-based learning methods to engage students in learning about the brain, health, and science.

2013 – 2016
Age Differences in Preferences for and Responses to Temporal Sequences
National Institutes of Health             Role: Collaborator

This proposal examines adult age differences in preferences for and responses to temporal sequences of events by adapting existing paradigms from the behavioral economics literature to implement sequence selection tasks with realistic and immediate consequences across a range of practically relevant domains.

2012 – 2015
The Gist of Hot and Cold Cognition in Adolescents’ Risky Decision Making
National Institutes of Health             PI: Valerie Reyna 

The major goal of this research is to distinguish conceptions of reward sensitivity and risk preference in economics, psychology, and neuroscience in order to better understand, predict, and reduce unhealthy risk taking in adolescents and young adults.

2012 – 2015
Promoting Health Decision Making in Adolescence Using Gist-Based Curricula
United States Department of Agriculture    PI: Valerie Reyna 

This research used a randomized control trial design to test and refine interventions that reduce obesity, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in childhood and adolescence. Data collected over the course of the study was used to confirm effectiveness of interventions and also test hypotheses concerning the mechanism underlying healthy decision making.

2011-2013          
A Web Tutor to Help Women Decide About Testing for Genetic Breast Cancer
National Cancer Institute            PI: Valerie Reyna

The goals of this project are to understand how women who have never had cancer themselves decide about whether to undergo predictive testing for genetic risk of breast cancer, and to develop and test a web-based computerized Intelligent Tutoring System (ITS) to help women make this decision using information already available on the National Cancer Institute website. The system we propose to create will use artificial intelligence technology developed at the University of Memphis called AutoTutor Lite. In AutoTutor, a computer-based animated talking agent facilitates communication with facial expressions and simulated facial movements, voice inflection, and conversational phrasing.AutoTutor also permits graphical displays include animation or video with sound.
Our research and development strategy is to first develop and test each aspect of the tutor with undergraduate student participants and then further refine the tutor after research with a more diverse set of disproportionately minority women recruited via the internet. All of the specific content of the tutor will be drawn from materials already professionally vetted and available on the National Cancer Institute (NCI) website. The NCI has already determined what kinds of information are best to provide to the general public. We will put that information in an interactive form such that people will comprehend, learn, and make good decisions. There are four dimensions of this research and development project; (1) developing the web-based AutoTutor; (2) developing new assessment instruments; (3) conducting randomized controlled experiments; and (4) conducting fine-grained cognitive analyses of participants' interactions with the tutor.

2010-2013          
Building Research-Community Partnerships to Reduce Risk Taking in Adolescence
United States Department of Agriculture          PI: Valerie Reyna

This project will focus on two critical areas of risk for NYS youth: unprotected sex and obesity. It is aligned with Cornell and CSREES research and extension priorities as well as NYS public health priorities. Our goal is to integrate research and extension to refine and test interventions for youth in NYS to reduce unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and the incidence of obesity. The project will tailor and target two evidence-based, gist-enhanced curricula using a technology-driven approach. We will employ DVD delivery of the curriculum and focus on rural youth.
The importance of using evidence-based programming is becoming more widely recognized. The NYS DOH now requires their pregnancy prevention providers to utilize approved evidence-based programs. Importantly, most of these programs have not been tested and proven effective for rural youth, a critical need this project aims to address.  Through collaboration with state and local partners, we will establish research-community partnerships in upstate NY to:
1) Pilot a new technology-driven approach for the Gist-Enhanced Reducing the Risk curriculum, a successful pregnancy/STD prevention curriculum based on Reyna's research. DVD delivery will be developed and refined to minimize staffing and training burdens while facilitating accurate, effective program delivery in rural areas. Our goal is to advance the curriculum to approved program status, with proven efficacy for rural youth.
2) Further refine and test the Gist-Enhanced EatFit obesity prevention curriculum currently being adapted by applying Reyna's research to increase the effectiveness of the intervention.
3) Develop an interactive web conference/webinar for educators/professionals to provide a research update and lessons learned from the project.
 
2009-2012
Reducing Risk Taking in Adolescence Using Gist-Based Curricula
United States Department of Agriculture          PI: Valerie Reyna

The goal of this project is to integrate recent research and extension activities to refine and test interventions to reduce unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and the incidence of obesity among youth in New York State.  (The refinements include developing a training guide for educators and a professional development online resource so that the curricula can be more widely and easily used.)
By integrating research and extension activities in the area of adolescent risky decision making, this project will meet several needs.  First, the application of recent advances in social-cognitive developmental research will enhance a curriculum-based program to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease to address high rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease among New York State youth.  Second, this same research will be applied to enhance a curriculum-based healthy lifestyles program to address high rates of overweight and obesity among New York State youth. 
This project will also provide professional development regarding adolescent risk taking for educators and other professionals who work with youth and families.  The project will benefit several groups of people.  Extension educators and others who are conducting programs for adolescents will benefit from the professional development opportunities and the development of new research-based curricula.  This project will benefit families in New York by leading to the development of enhanced, research-based programs for youth.  Finally, this project will benefit the research community by enhancing understanding of adolescent risky decision making, and the mediating factors that have the greatest impact on behavior.

2009-2012
Low Burden Tools for Improving Prediction and Diagnosis of Cognitive Impairment
National Institutes of Health          PI: Valerie Reyna & Charles Brainerd

Memory declines, especially in recall, are hallmarks of healthy aging and conversion to cognitive impairment. Our goal is to use highly sensitive mathematical modeling techniques to improve the ability of clinical recall tests to predict future cognitive impairment and to diagnose current impairment. Our research will focus on one of the most widely used clinical tests of such declines, the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT). Our specific aims are to apply mathematical models to RAVLT data in order to: (a) substantially improve the ability of the RAVLT and similar clinical recall tests to predict future impairment and to diagnose current impairment; (b) separate different clinically important components of memory from one  another in accordance with current theories of the memory processes that underlie performance on the RAVLT and similar tests; (c) identify the components of memory that differentiate cognitive changes that are associated with normal aging from changes that are associated with conversion to impairment; and (d) provide separate scores for different memory components of RAVLT data, which can be used to better predict behavioral and biological markers of future impairment and to identify current impairment.
This research will apply state-of-the-art mathematical models to clinical tests of memory to dramatically improve such tests’ ability to predict future cognitive impairment in older adults and to diagnose current impairment. Findings will be used to develop low-burden tools that remove the noise for such tests and provide scores for the component memory process that are associated with conversion to impairment.
 
2009-2011
De-stigmatizing Fruits and Vegetables in School Cafeterias
United States Department of Agriculture          PI: Valerie Reyna & David Just

The major goal is to investigate in a cafeteria setting to determine whether changing the way fruits and vegetables are named in school cafeterias can increase their consumption.

2009-2011
Improving Risk Communication and Decision Making in RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis)
American College of Rheumatology           Role: Expert Consultant          

The major goal of this project is to develop a decision support tool, based on fuzzy trace theory, for patients with rheumatoid arthritis who are candidates for biologic therapy.

2008-2011
Assessing Risk Communication Educational Practices in Genetic Counseling Programs
National Institutes of Health          Role: Expert Consultant          

The major goal of this project is to create a risk communication education curriculum that can be used across genetic counseling programs. The curriculum will be developed through extensive discussions with experts in risk communication and interviews with directors of genetic counseling programs and their students.

2008-2009
Development of Higher Order Cognitive Processes in Adolescence and Young Adulthood: Social, Behavioral, and Biological Influences on Learning
National Science Foundation    PI: Valerie Reyna         

The major goal of this project is to integrate approaches to neuroscience, cognition, and learning in research on adolescence.

2006-2008
Better Decisions, Better Care: Theories of Medical Decision Making and Health
National Cancer Institute    PI: Valerie Reyna         

The major goals of this project are to support the annual conference of the Society for Medical Decision Making, in particular, a Symposium on Theories of Medical Decision Making and Health, in order to encourage a greater emphasis on evidence-based, theoretically motivated research; and to publish the talks in a special issue of Medical Decision Making.  Leading proponents of three of the top theories in medical decision making and health, joined by a member of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, will speak.

2001-2008
Interventions for Risk Reduction and Avoidance in Youth
National Institutes of Health    PI: Valerie Reyna          

The major goals of this project are to investigate risky decision-making in adolescents and evaluate (using randomized assignment) a theoretically driven intervention to reduce risk of infectious disease

2003-2007
Processes that Control Children’s False Memory Reports
National Science Foundation    PI: Valerie Reyna          

The proposed experiments will implement a new paradigm, conjoint recognition, that provides a reliable behavioral method of measuring recollection rejection and phantom recollection in children. Children respond to memory tests under three types of instructions (accept only experienced events, accept only nonexperienced events that are consistent with the gist of experience, and accept experienced events + nonexperienced events that are consistent with the gist of experience). Recollection rejection and phantom recollection are identified with distinct patterns of responses across these different types of instructions.  Implementation of this paradigm will generate detailed findings on how recollection rejection and phantom recollection affect false-memory reports, on how these operations change with age, and how they react to forensically-significant task variables.
 
1999-2004
Interventions to Improve Clinical Decision Making and Outcomes for Unstable Angina
Academic Medicine and Managed Care Forum; Schering Plough    PI: Valerie Reyna

The aims of the proposed research are to assess deviations from current practice from recommended guidelines for acute cardiac ischemia, characterize the nature of those deviations, relate the deviations to medical outcomes and costs, and design interventions that will improve adherence to recommendations.  We will develop Web-based tools and software to bridge the gap between guideline recommendations and clinical implementation. The effectiveness of these tools will be evaluated using a randomized control trial design in which physicians will be randomized to either a tools-intervention or a control group. Interventions will be judged on the basis of physicians’ ability to classify and manage patients so as to maximize therapeutic benefits for patients with symptoms suggestive of acute cardiac ischemia.
 
1998-2003
Placebo and Suggestibility in Memory for Medical Outcomes
National Institutes of Health; Pediatrics Research Center Biopsychosocial Core 
Role: Core Director           

The objective of this research is to understand patients' memory for the effectiveness of treatments, and the influence that prior belief and suggestibility might have on the accuracy of memory for medical outcomes. Subjects' responses will be verified with medical records previously obtained from the NIH Otitis Media Study.

1998-2002
Children's Spontaneous False Memories for Traumatic Medical Events
National Science Foundation    PI: Valerie Reyna           

This project advanced forensic theory and practice by resolving two types of uncertainties in current scientific knowledge about children's false memories. The first uncertainty is that prior studies have produced inconsistent findings on the following key questions: Do spontaneous false memories become more or less frequent with age? Do children's spontaneous false memories increase with delays between exposure to events and memory tests? Do children's spontaneous false memories increase as the semantic overlap between nonexperienced events and experienced events increases? The other uncertainty is that recent studies have produced two new findings with potentially broad implications for children's testimony that have not yet been obtained with forensically-relevant procedures. Those findings are that mere memory tests can create false memories and that children's spontaneous false memories can be more stable over time than their true memories.