Numerous relations have been documented between parental and child psychopathology after trauma exposure, however, the cognitive processes that explain these associations are not well understood. Executive functions (e.g., working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility) are trainable cognitive processes that can be shaped by one?s environment and may significantly predict the ability to process memories, self-regulate, adapt, and problem solve in high-risk contexts. Examining the reciprocal effects of transmission of executive functioning in traumatized children and their parents inherently invokes a dyadic model; however, most studies examining executive functioning in trauma-exposed children rarely measure and analyze data using dyadic statistical modeling. My study seeks to rectify this issue in the current state of the science on the transmission of executive functioning in trauma-exposed parent-child dyads to determine how established associations and subsequent theory building in this domain might change when using dyadic modeling. The proposed study aims to elucidate intrafamilial processes associated with the moderating influence of executive functioning on psychosocial outcomes in a sample of trauma-exposed Arab refugee children and their parents. Global forced migration due to mass traumatic experiences is at a record high with over 70.8 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, over half of whom are children and adolescents. Refugee families are faced with life-threatening circumstances in which they are forced to flee their countries due to war, disaster, and persecution. Previous studies indicate refugee trauma may possess unique characteristics that place refugee children and their parents at risk for developing poor psychosocial outcomes over the life course. The objectives of this study are to: (1) precisely measure intergenerational factors of cognitive risk and resilience for psychosocial adjustment in high-risk contexts, and (2) identify cognitive intrafamilial factors that might affect parents? capacity to help their children overcome the effects of trauma exposure. The applicant will recruit 75 Arab refugee parent-child dyads resettled to the United States. The project is significant and innovative because it will address past empirical gaps by (a) examining three domains of refugee child and adult executive functioning using empirically supported objective measurement tools, (b) obtaining self-report data from refugee children, (c) translating all measures into Arabic and exploring possible cross-cultural comparisons in the sample (e.g., Syrian and Iraqi refugees), and (d) recruiting a sample of trauma- exposed children and their parents from a high-risk, understudied sample of resettled refugees. The project will include career development activities and the completion of a comprehensive training plan to prepare the applicant for a research career in trauma and cognitive psychology. The project goals will be accomplished with the support of a highly experienced team of sponsors. It is expected that the research project and training plan will significantly advance the applicant?s knowledge, skills, and abilities to become an independent clinical researcher.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed study will inform future prevention and intervention development targeting promotion of psychosocial outcomes after exposure to trauma using cognitive and family-based supports. This study is relevant as refugee health is considered to be a critical issue in public health as the numerous mental and physical health consequences that can result from forced migration and resettlement are costly and can pose significant psychiatric morbidity for trauma-exposed refugees over the life course. If the aims of the proposed project are achieved, novel data exploring refugee trauma, executive functioning, and internalizing and somatic symptoms will be obtained, a better understanding of how cognitive functions may serve as intergenerational protective factors after trauma exposure will be gained, and the applicant will receive specialized training necessary to pursue an independent research career in the intersection of trauma and cognitive science research.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Esposito, Layla E
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University of Kansas Lawrence
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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