News Archive

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.

Donna Coffman

April 3, 2014

When parents know more about their teenage children’s activities, those children are less likely to engage in risky behavior (e.g., delinquency, substance use initiation). Though this connection is widely acknowledged, it is not clear whether the knowledge is the determining factor in the reduced risk, because many other factors are involved in the parent-child relationship. In a recent article in Prevention Science, the authors use propensity scores to examine the causal nature of this relationship. The research team includes former Penn State graduate student Melissa Lippold, Methodology Center Principal Investigator Donna Coffman, and Edna Peterson Bennett Endowed Chair in Prevention Research Mark Greenberg. 

LCA Stata Plugin

April 2, 2014

The Methodology Center is pleased to release the latest version (1.1) of the LCA Stata plugin for conducting latent class analysis (LCA). The software is available for download free of charge. For an overview of the functionality of the LCA Stata plugin, please visit the download page. The new version includes functionality requested in our recent software survey, including

  • the ability to assess identification of models with covariates via multiple random starts,
  • an indication of which latent class is the best match for each individual, and
  • the option to generate 20 random draws for each individual’s class membership based on posterior probabilities.

The users’ guide has also been updated and revised based on user feedback. Please email with any questions.


Read more or download the software

Daniel Almirall and Billie Nahum-Shani

March 24, 2014

The application deadline for this year's Summer Institute on Innovative Methods, "Experimental Design and Analysis Methods for Developing Adaptive Interventions: Getting SMART" has been extended by one week. The new deadline is Monday, April 7.  


The institute will be presented by Daniel Almirall and Inbal Nahum-Shani, Methodology Center researchers at the University of Michigan. 

The workshop will focus on the sequential, multiple assignment, randomized trial (SMART) and its application for developing interventions that adapt to patient need. A limited number of scholarships are available.


The institute will be held June 19-20, 2014, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.    


Read more or apply.

Constantino LagoaMarch 5, 2014

In control engineering, devices continually monitor the performance of a system and then operate to control that system. Common examples include automobile thermostats and autopilot systems on commercial airliners. These same principles can be used to design behavioral interventions that adapt over time to help patients alter behaviors that affect their health. Potential applications include maintaining an exercise regimen, maintaining a healthy diet, or abstaining from tobacco or illicit drug use.


In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Methodology Center Investigators Constantino Lagoa, Stephanie Lanza, Susan Murphy, and their colleague Korkut Bekiroglu describe this new approach to building adaptive, intensive interventions. The authors show how data, in this case simulated smoking-cessation data, can be used to inform the design of an adaptive, intensive intervention by applying control-engineering techniques. This intervention, which is designed to provide treatment only when needed, is shown to improve effectiveness while decreasing patient burden. This approach holds great promise for informing clinical decisions and for informing the development of smartphone-based adaptive interventions. 

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