News Archive

August 27, 2014

Kari and AngieEach year, we hold regular meetings of special interest groups open to all researchers and graduate students working with and developing cutting edge research methods. The groups provide a forum for individuals to discuss their own research and to learn from others. Topics include analyzing complex data, mixture modeling, optimizing behavioral interventions, and causal analysis. 


The schedule for this fall and contact information is now available. For specific dates, please see The Methodology Center’s calendar.


August 26, 2014

Danny AlmirallWe are pleased to announce this semester’s Taste of Methodology workshop on the sequential, multiple assignment, randomized trial (SMART) for constructing adaptive interventions. The December 16 workshop will be presented by Methodology Center Investigator Daniel Almirall, research assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.


Interventions that adapt at the right times can improve participant outcomes while decreasing the cost and burden of the intervention. SMART designs provide the data needed to construct high-quality adaptive interventions.


Taste of Methodology is a series of brief workshops for Penn State faculty that offers an overview of innovative methods along with lunch. This semester’s workshop will present the concepts and applications of SMART in order to give faculty an efficient way to assess SMART’s potential for their research. 


August 19, 2014

Susan Murphy: photo credit to MacArthur FoundationWe are pleased to announce that the University of Michigan has named Susan A. Murphy distinguished university professor for her research, leadership, and service. Susan is a Methodology Center principal investigator, Herbert E. Robbins Distinguished University Professor of statistics, research professor at the Institute for Social Research, and professor of psychiatry.


Susan's research focuses on development of innovative research approaches to improve the personalization of treatment. She developed the sequential, multiple assignment, randomized trial (SMART), which led to her being named a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellow in 2013. SMART is an experimental design tool that allows scientists to build empirically based interventions that adapt according to patient characteristics and response to treatment. While development of SMART continues, Susan is also investigating the construction of just-in-time adaptive interventions (JITAIs), which use real-time data from mobile technologies to deliver personalized behavioral interventions exactly when interventions are needed.


August 1, 2014
Aleksandra Slavkovic
Every year, The Methodology Center offers three, one-credit courses in research methodology for Penn State graduate students. We have a late addition to this year’s schedule. Aleksandra Slavkovic, associate professor of statistics, will teach STAT 597B, “Data Privacy Methods for the Social and Behavioral Sciences.” This course will provide an overview of the data privacy problem and statistical and computational techniques needed to understand the risks and benefits inherit in data sharing. 
Register for STAT 597B on the Registrar’s website

July 23, 2014

Linda Collins TEDx Talk on Behavioral Interventions

Behaviors such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, and risky sex lead to illnesses that cost millions of lives and billions of dollars worldwide every year. Interventions designed to reduce these behaviors have tremendous potential to reduce morbidity and mortality and improve public health, but currently they are not reaching their full potential.

Methodology Center Director Linda Collins believes we can do better. In an eleven-minute talk at TEDxPSU in March, “Reducing smoking deaths: Is it rocket science?” Linda proposes using engineering methods to build more potent, efficient, and scalable behavioral interventions. She illustrates how this can be done by comparing our national effort to reduce smoking to our national effort to put a person on the moon. Though the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST), an engineering-inspired approach to development, optimization, and evaluation of behavioral interventions developed by Dr. Collins and other Center scientists, is not explicitly discussed, the talk lays out its rationale.

June 2, 2014

David Conroy

In our latest podcast, host Aaron Wagner interviews David Conroy, professor of kinesiology and human development and family studies at Penn State, and investigator at The Methodology Center. The discussion focuses on David’s research on physical activity and sedentary behavior, how physical activity impacts our lives, and the technological opportunities and methodological challenges of this research. David’s multiple, fascinating projects with other Methodology Center investigators are also discussed.

Download Podcast 18

May 22, 2014

Stephanie LanzaMegan PiperSaul ShiffmanA recently published special issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research explores the use of ecological momentary assessments (EMA) in smoking research. The issue, “New Methods for Advancing Research on Tobacco Dependence Using Ecological Momentary Assessments,” was edited by Stephanie Lanza, scientific director of The Methodology Center, Megan Piper, assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin department of  medicine and lead researcher at the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, and Saul Shiffman, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.


In their editorial, Elizabeth Ginexi, William Riley, Audie Atienza, and Patricia L. Mabry of the National Institutes of Health discuss the promise that these methods hold for behavioral health research outside of smoking research. The specific methods featured in the issue include time-varying effect models (TVEMs), multilevel models and their extension to predict intra-individual variability, and dynamical systems models. The special issue also includes studies that rely on data integration, specifically to integrate functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI) data and global positioning system (GPS) data with EMA. If you work with or want to learn more about EMA data, this issue has something to offer.


The issue was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. The article was generated due to the strong response to a preconference workshop at the 2012 Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco Annual Meeting. Presentations from the workshop can be found on The Methodology Center website.  A link to the table of contents of the special issue can be found below. 


Open the special issue.

Stephanie LanzaDonna CoffmanLinda Collins

April 23, 2014

Several Methodology Center principal investigators are being recognized this spring.  At the 2014 Society for Behavioral Medicine (SBM) Annual Meeting, Methodology Center Director Linda Collins was named a Fellow of SBM for her contributions to behavioral medicine. The Society for Prevention Research (SPR) has awarded Donna Coffman the Early Career Award for her outstanding research contributions to prevention science. SPR also recognized Scientific Director Stephanie Lanza with the Friend of Early Career Prevention Network (ECPN) award, which is presented for “promoting training, funding, or early career involvement in prevention efforts; or encouraging early career preventionists in their work”. Congratulations to all three!


Read more about Linda’s work on optimizing behavioral interventions, Donna’s work on causal inference, or Stephanie’s work on latent class analysis.

Linda CollinsApril 23, 2014

In May 1994, Linda Collins, a promising young professor who had recently come to Penn State from the University of Southern California, was asked to lead a unit in the College of Health and Human Development called The Methodology Center. Linda immediately began work to make her vision – establishing a preeminent research center focused on the development of new methods for social, behavioral, and health science research – a reality. 


Just two years later, The Methodology Center received a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) P50 Center of Excellence award that, through 18 continuous years of funding, has allowed Linda to build the center she envisioned. During that time, Methodology Center researchers have published hundreds of articles on a broad array of methodological topic, including optimization of behavioral interventions, construction of adaptive interventions, and analysis of intensive longitudinal data.

Linda Collins, Daniel Rivera, Kevin Timms, Megan PiperApril 17, 2014

Dynamical systems models were developed in engineering to describe complex systems using differential equations. Methodology Center Director Linda Collins and Daniel Rivera, professor of chemical engineering at Arizona State University, recently completed a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Roadmap grant (R21 DA024266) in which they applied dynamical systems models to improve behavioral interventions. These models can be used to understand the psychological processes that contribute to the outcomes of behavioral treatments.


In a new publication, the authors applied dynamical systems models to better understand what contributes to relapse during the smoking cessation process. The article, “A dynamical systems approach to understanding self-regulation in smoking cessation behavior change,” appears in the May 2014 special issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research. The research team included Daniel’s graduate student Kevin Timms, Daniel, Linda, and Megan Piper, assistant professor at the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

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