Featured Article: Drug Court Interventions to Improve Family Wellbeing

March 12, 2020: 

Kate GuastaferroWhen people become involved in the justice system, it disrupts their families’ lives. When those people are caregivers for children, the disruption of children’s lives can be profound. Additionally, caregiver substance use is known to put the wellbeing of children in jeopardy. In a recent article in Substance Use & Misuse, Methodology Center Assistant Research Professor Kate Guastaferro and a team of researchers examine whether drug courts can be used as an intervention point to improve the lives of these families.

Guastaferro explained the goal of this research. “When an individual becomes involved in one system—for example the criminal justice system—it offers the potential to address other needs in their life. For example, child welfare or trauma services are not universally or even typically handled by the court system, but people’s involvement in the courts might be the only access they have to services. From a public health perspective, this offers a way to maximize both the impact of and engagement in interventions that these families need.”

Children whose parents use substances and/or are involved with the criminal justice system are at an increased risk for child maltreatment, specifically neglect. The research team examined two questions. First, they wanted to understand the needs of parents in drug court and their families. Second, they hoped to determine how to design court-based interventions that could meet the identified needs to maximize public health impact.

This paper is part of an ongoing collaboration between Kate, a graduate school mentor, and, as you may have noticed if you read the author list, an immediate family member. Kate explained how this unlikely-seeming research team came to address this topic.

For as long as I can remember, my parents took me to work with them. In college I would often visit my dad and Wendy over spring break in Atlanta, and I’d occasionally tag along with Wendy as she was evaluating a metro-Atlanta area adult drug court. I loved hearing stories about the complicated lives of drug court participants, as hard as they were to hear. Later, as a graduate student at Georgia State, I focused on intervention science and the prevention of child maltreatment, and the stories of the drug court participants were often on my mind.

Over dinner, Wendy and I would talk about how parents in the drug court had likely seldom been sober around their children. I introduced Wendy to Dan Whitaker, one of my mentors, and suggested that we collaborate around that issue. This ultimately led to a grant from the Administration for Children and Families [ACF] to introduce and evaluate parenting, adult trauma, and child trauma interventions in the adult drug court.

This research was a cornerstone of my dissertation. Now with the large, quasi-experimental trial complete, we are working on outcomes papers. Excitingly, in 2019, Wendy and Dan were awarded a second grant from ACF to expand this research into family drug courts.

The researchers found that drug court participants displayed many unmet mental health needs and were at higher risk for child maltreatment. When compared to their non-drug-court-involved caregiving counterparts, drug court participants were significantly different across all measured aspects of mental health. The researchers concluded that drug court could potentially be an effective place to intervene on parenting and mental health issues in addition to substance use.

Message From the Dean

 Craig J. Newschaffer

Craig J. Newschaffer Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Schultz Dean Professor of Biobehavioral Health

February 25 2020:

The Methodology Center has been a force for innovation and rigor in research methods for social, behavioral and health research for a quarter of a century, thriving under the inspired leadership of Dr. Linda Collins.  As many of you know, Linda will be leaving Penn State in the fall of 2020 to assume her new role as Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the School of Global Public Health at New York University in order to focus on her work in intervention optimization. We at Penn State thank Linda for her contributions and wish her well – her letter to the community announcing this change can be found here.  In the meantime, the College of Health and Human Development remains fully committed to the development of innovative study design and analysis methods that support cutting edge science on human health and development.  The Methodology Center will continue to be integral to this part of our mission.  Please stay tuned to this website for further announcements about the next chapter in the Methodology Center’s storied history.




The Potential of Mindfulness for Men Experiencing Sexual Racism

February 19, 2020:

Sexual racism is discrimination in a dating context based on a person’s ethnicity or race. Sadly, it is a common experience for men who have sex with men (MSM). Sixty-two percent of Latino MSM (Diaz et al., 2001) and 69% of African American MSM (Wong, et al., 2010) report experiencing sexual racism from a male partner. Sexual racism has been linked to mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and stress. In a recent article in the journal Mindfulness, Methodology Center Research Assistant Eric Layland and a team of researchers examined how often young MSM of color experience sexual racism and how mindfulness can be used to address the effects of sexual racism.

The authors worked with data from the Healthy Young Men’s (HYM) study which follows a cohort of 448 young MSM of color in Los Angeles. This study assessed experiences of discrimination, experiences of sexual racism, psychological symptoms, and stressful life events, among other items. Layland said HYM provides a unique opportunity to help a highly marginalized population. “This data set is unique because it includes only young men of color and is focused on unpacking their health and experiences, rather than setting them up for comparison to white young men. I work to identify modifiable targets for individual intervention to reduce mental health and substance use disparities impacting young MSM of color. The HYM study allows researchers to investigate factors that uniquely impact young sexual minority men of color during the transition to adulthood.

“Trait mindfulness is a person’s tendency to be aware of and attentive to their emotions and thoughts in a given moment. We expected mindfulness to moderate the association between sexual racism and mental health by reducing people’s tendency to fixate or dwell on past or future experiences of sexual racism.” Layland explained. “In this study, we examined whether mindfulness as an individual trait could modify the relationship between sexual racism and mental health or suicidality.”

The authors found that sexual racism was associated with greater odds of psychological symptoms, serious suicidal thoughts, and self-injury. Their results suggest that mindfulness protected against self-injury and potentially depression related to sexual racism, but mindfulness did not protect against suicide attempts. Severely stressful life events were also strongly related to psychological symptoms and suicidal thoughts suggesting a need to consider how severe stressful life events and sexual racism combined may contribute to negative health outcomes among MSM of color.

Layland was surprised by some of the findings. “We expected sexual racism to be associated with depression and anxiety, but we were surprised how consistently it was related not only to psychological outcomes but also to behaviors like non-suicidal self-injury.”

“This paper is the first of several HYM papers in process that underscores the complexity and severity of sexual racism as a correlate of health risk among young sexual minority men,” Layland continued. “I hope this research is combined with other studies that demonstrate the link between sexual racism and adverse health outcomes. While many people maintain that sexual and romantic exclusion is merely a preference, research demonstrates its correlation with other forms of racism and suggests sexual racism is associated with many health concerns. This study will inform future, community-level interventions to educate MSM in order to shift attitudes and actions related to sexual racism. Similar work has been successful with reducing HIV stigma among gay and bisexual men. Our research and future evidence-based intervention have the potential to support change by reducing racism among MSM and creating a safer, healthy community for MSM of color.”


Hidalgo, M. A., Layland, E., Kubicek, K., & Kipke, M. (2019). Sexual Racism, Psychological Symptoms, and Mindfulness Among Ethnically/Racially Diverse Young Men Who Have Sex with Men: a Moderation Analysis. Mindfulness, 11(2), 452-461.

Diaz, R. M., Ayala, G., Bein, E., Henne, J., & Marin, B. V. (2001). The impact of homophobia, poverty, and racism on the mental health of gay and bisexual Latino men: Findings from 3 US cities. American Journal of Public Health91(6), 927.

Wong, C. F., Weiss, G., Ayala, G., & Kipke, M. D. (2010). Harassment, discrimination, violence, and illicit drug use among young men who have sex with men. AIDS Education and Prevention22(4), 286-298.

Video: Webinar on Factorial Experiments

February 18, 2020:

Watch the video of our most recent 1 & 1 webinar on factorial experiments. In this 90+ minute video, Methodology Center Director Linda M. Collins introduces factorial experiments. The webinar was recorded on February 05, 2020.

In her work on optimizing interventions using the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST), Linda explains that factorial experiments can be very efficient in certain situations. Intervention designers should carefully consider which type of experimental design they will use (rather than defaulting to a randomized controlled trial without considering other designs).

Watch the video on YouTube.

Podcast: Preventing Child Maltreatment with Kate Guastaferro

Kate GuastaferroFebruary 3, 2020:

In this brief and inspiring podcast, Methodology Center Research Associate Kate Guastaferro talks about her research on preventing child maltreatment and on the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST) for optimizing interventions. Kate came to Penn State as a postdoctoral fellow in the Prevention and Methodology Training (PAMT) program. She discusses how her training has led her to work towards the elimination of sexual abuse.

Podcast timeline:

00:00—introductions and Kate’s background
01:43—Kate’s work at The Methodology Center
02:34—Defining the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST)
03:54—Kate’s work on preventing child maltreatment in Pennsylvania
07:50—Research and results so far from the child sexual abuse intervention
11:07—How MOST influences Kate’s work in child sexual abuse prevention
12:42—Resistance to research on sexual abuse
14:20—What everyone should know about sexual abuse
15:52—Future plans

Download podcast 36

Apply Now: Summer Institute on Just-in-Time Adaptive Interventions

Susan Murphy and Daniel AlmirallJanuary 23, 2020:

Apply now to attend this year’s Summer Institute on Innovative Methods, “Building effective just-in-time adaptive interventions using micro-randomized trial designs.” Susan Murphy, professor of statistics and computer science and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at Harvard University, and Daniel Almirall, research associate professor at The University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center, will introduce the just-in-time adaptive intervention (JITAI) and micro-randomized trial (MRT) for the development of adaptive mobile health interventions. The Institute will be held July 23 – 24 in Bethesda Maryland.

JITAIs are a special type of adaptive intervention where—thanks to mobile technology like activity sensors and smartphones—an intervention can be delivered when and where it is needed. MRTs are a new trial design for addressing scientific questions concerning the construction of highly effective JITAIs. In this workshop, we will introduce JITAIs and provide examples of key scientific questions can be answered using MRTs. Useful primary aim data analysis methods for MRTs will also be discussed.

Day 1 and part of Day 2 of this workshop will focus on JITAI and MRT design considerations and applications. Much of Day 2 will be allotted to understanding primary aims in an MRT and conducting associated primary aim analyses.

The 2020 Summer Institute on Innovative Methods is hosted as a partnership between The Methodology Center at Penn State and the Center for Dissemination and Implementation Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Read more or apply to attend.

Upcoming Webinar on Factorial Experiments

Linda M. Collins, Ph.D.January 14 2020:

In our next 1 & 1 webinar,  Methodology Center Director Linda M. Collins will present an introduction to factorial experiments. Our 1 & 1 webinars consist of a one-hour live video presentation on a method followed by a one-hour question-and-answer session with the presenter. The webinar will be held on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Factorial experiments are sometimes used in research projects that follow the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST), an engineering-inspired framework for designing efficacious, effective, efficient, economical, and scalable behavioral and biobehavioral interventions. MOST relies heavily on efficient experimental design, and factorial experiments are often the most efficient design because they can provide the most statistical power with the fewest subjects (which may be counterintuitive to those who have been trained primarily in the randomized clinical trial). Factorial experiments with three or more factors, though not yet common in behavioral research, are a regular practice in the engineering design process. This webinar will be applicable for researchers from a broad array of disciplines.

To join, click https://psu.zoom.us/j/254048141 when the webinar is starting. Registration in advance is not necessary, but participation will be limited to 500 people.

Letter from Linda Collins About The Methodology Center’s Future

December 3, 2019:

Hello everyone,

Linda M. CollinsSome substantial changes lie ahead for The Methodology Center, and I wanted to inform you about them personally. I am excited to announce that I have accepted a position as Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the College of Global Public Health at New York University (NYU), starting in the fall of 2020. Due to this move and other changes, The Center’s Principal Investigators and I have decided not to request a renewal of our P50 Center grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. We have often mentioned that the P50 is and has been the cornerstone of Methodology Center funding for decades. As this grant winds down, The Methodology Center will continue to function normally — updating software, answering help desk emails, and updating the website — until next summer. Researchers then will focus on wrapping up the Center’s scientific projects. In actuality, though, the science will not be “wrapping up.” Each line of Methodology Center research will continue under the leadership of its Principal Investigator. So, though this is the end of an era at The Methodology Center, our scientists all will remain on the cutting edge of data analysis and experimental design research. More information about how to stay informed about our research will be described in the eNews next spring.

I came to Penn State in 1994 as professor of Health and Human Development and soon began directing The Methodology Center. Since that time, The Methodology Center has achieved and maintained its status as a National Institute on Drug Abuse P50 Center of Excellence, and Penn State has become an internationally recognized leader in methodology and prevention science. I would like to thank Penn State and the National Institutes of Health for their continuous support of our research, of which I am extremely proud.

I will always be grateful to Penn State for the collaborations and relationships I developed here, particularly those developed through the P50. I would especially like to thank the other P50 Principal Investigators: Stephanie Lanza, Runze Li, Bethany Bray (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Susan Murphy (Harvard University). Our stimulating, productive, and warm working relationship has endured for decades. I hope and trust we will collaborate on future projects.

Although leaving is undeniably hard, I am thrilled at the prospect of what the future will hold at NYU. My objective at NYU is to establish an intellectual hub for intervention optimization, in terms of both methodological advancement and innovative applications in health and education. There are literally hundreds of intervention scientists in the New York City area, so the possibilities are endless! My long-range goal is to establish intervention optimization as the norm by the year 2030.

Finally, I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to learn about and apply the methods we have worked on at The Methodology Center. I firmly believe that we can build a healthier society by improving experimental design and data analysis in the social, behavioral, and health sciences. In the coming months and years, I hope you will continue exploring the potential that methods have to enhance the impact of your research. Not sure where to begin? Try our website, and watch our newsletter for information about where our current website content will be migrating in 2020.

Best wishes,

Linda M. Collins

Video: Webinar on Configural Frequency Analysis

November 14, 2019:

Watch the video of our most recent webinar, “Person-Centered Methods: An Alternative Statistical Approach.” In this 90+ minute video, Mark Stemmler, professor of psychological assessment at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, and author of the book Person centered methods: Configural frequency analysis (CFA), introduces CFA. The webinar took place on October 31, 2019.

CFA is a data analysis method that can detect patterns that occur more or less often than would be expected to occur according to a prespecified null hypothesis. CFA is applicable across many fields, but in human development, researchers apply it to examine multiple behaviors and determine which patterns correlate to healthy or unhealthy development. This statistical tool can be applied to categorical variables, and continuous variables can be used as covariates.

Watch the video on YouTube.

Article: Does Collegiate Drinking Affect Graduate School?

Hannah Allen, Ph.D.October 10, 2019:

The high prevalence of heavy drinking among college students is widely known. Less clearly understood is how problematic alcohol use during college might be linked to post-college educational goals and attainment. In a recent article in the Journal of American College Health, Prevention and Methodology Training (PAMT) Postdoctoral Fellow Hannah Allen and a team of researchers from the University of Maryland examined the prospective relationship between alcohol abuse and dependence during college and graduate school plans and subsequent enrollment. They found that heavy drinking during college might impact graduate school enrollment and concluded that early intervention efforts could potentially help students achieve their educational goals.

The authors examined a sample of 980 students who participated in the College Life Study and graduated college within five years. Alcohol use was assessed throughout college, and participants indicated in their final year of college whether they had plans to attend graduate school. Enrollment in graduate school was assessed after college graduation, and all analyses controlled for demographic characteristics and college grade point average.

The authors found that college students meeting criteria for alcohol dependence were less likely to have plans to attend graduate school. Additionally, among those with plans to attend graduate school, both alcohol abuse and dependence during college were associated with decreased likelihood of actually following through on these plans and enrolling in graduate school after college. These findings support prior research studies that have found a negative association between problematic drinking in college and academic achievement.

Hannah, who performed the analyses in the study, explained the importance of studying graduate school enrollment as an academic outcome. “More and more young adults are choosing graduate school as a next step after college graduation. With an increasing number of career paths requiring a graduate degree, it is vital that we understand how substance use during college might interfere with students’ ability to meet their educational and career goals.”

Hannah continued, “Universities have a unique opportunity to intervene with students who are engaging in problematic alcohol use during college. Through a joint effort between academic advisors, career counselors, and campus health professionals, college students with graduate school aspirations should be made aware of the potential link between their current alcohol use and their health and success both during and after college graduation.”

Read the article. (Journal access required.)


Arria, A. M., Allen, H. K., Caldeira, K. M., Vincent, K. B., & O’Grady, K. E. (2019). Excessive drinking and drug use during college: Prospective associations with graduate school plans and attendance. Journal of American College Health, 1-7. doi: 10.1080/07448481.2018.1535494


Interest Group for Optimizing Interventions at SBM

Linda M. CollinsSeptember 27, 2019:
If you are interested in Linda M. Collins‘ research on the optimization of interventions and the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST), then you might be interested in the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s Optimization of Behavioral and Biobehavioral Interventions (OBBI) special interest group. The Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) is dedicated to to “providing new perspectives and progress on human behavior, health, and illness.” The OBBI special interest group provides opportunities for behavioral scientists and methodologists to network and discuss the optimization of behavioral and biobehavioral interventions. Questions? Contact OBBI Chair Sara St. George.

Lear more about SBM.

Article: Parental Monitoring and Adolescent Weight

September 16, 2019: John FeltDifferent researchers bring a diverse set of research backgrounds and interests to The Methodology Center. Prevention and Methodology Training (PAMT) Postdoctoral Fellow John Felt has applied his expertise in methods to a broad array of social and health problems. Recently, he worked with a team of researchers from California and Massachusetts to examine whether parental monitoring was related to obesity in adolescence. Their work was published in a recent issue of the journal, Obesity.

Adolescent obesity has been on the rise for decades in The United States. Higher levels of parental monitoring (that is, a parent’s level of awareness about where their children are and what they are doing) has been associated with many positive outcomes. In this study, the authors analyzed data from 4,773 participants of the Healthy Passages cohort study of emerging adolescents in Alabama, Texas, and California to understand the relationship between monitoring and health among adolescents.

The authors found that parental monitoring corresponded with a number of positive factors for adolescents. Regardless of race, higher parental monitoring was associated with higher consumption of healthy foods, lower consumption of unhealthy foods, and lower levels of screen time. Parental monitoring also correlated to lower weight overall. The research suggests that parenting-skills instruction could be a useful addition to youth-obesity interventions.

John performed the analysis on this project. His interest in measurement invariance has enabled him to research many important issues in public health, including racial and ethnic differences in health behaviors related to obesity, the experience of traumatic events, and quality of life. John explained why he thinks measurement invariance is important. “Measurement invariance is a latent variable method that allows us to test whether a given construct is interpreted similarly by different groups. If we do not establish measurement invariance in the groups we are comparing, we cannot rule out differences in measurement from actual meaningful group differences in what we are measuring.”


Read the article. (Journal access required.)



Kim, K. W., Wallander, J. L., Felt, J. M., Elliott, M. N., & Schuster, M. A. (2019). Associations of parental general monitoring with adolescent weight‐related behaviors and weight status. Obesity, 27(2), 280-287.

R Interest Group for Penn State

John DziakAugust 30, 2019:

This fall, Methodology Center Investigator and Programmer John Dziak will be hosting a special interest group for researchers who are interested in R software for statistical computing. The group is open to all, but it is geared toward teaching the basics of R to interested faculty and students.

This semester’s meetings will cover the basics of R. Pending interest, during spring semester the group will cover more advanced topics and take the form of a learning collaborative. Experience with R is not at all required, but it is recommended that people download R and R studio ( https://www.rstudio.com/) before attending. If you are interested in a specific R-related topic, please contact John directly. We hope to see you there!

R Special Interest Group
Dates: Wednesdays 9/18, 10/23, 11/13, and 12/04
1 – 2 p.m.
401 Health and Human Development Building
Contact: John Dziak (jjd264@psu.edu)

Podcast: Getting Started in Grant Writing With Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker

August 28,2019:

In the current research landscape, researchers need to develop grant writing skills. In this podcast, Methodology Center Investigator and Professor of Psychology at Wesleyan University Lisa Dierker discusses topics including how to learn what works in grant writing, the best funding mechanisms, and how to approach grant writing as a methodologist or applied researcher. This podcast is intended for graduate students and junior investigators, but there are tips for more senior researchers as well.

Download Podcast 35

00:00 – Introductions
00:54 – Lisa’s background in research and grant writing
03:15 – The value of rejected grants
09:26 – Lisa’s favorite funding mechanisms
16:08 – How to get started in grant writing
19:45 – Whom to contact while preparing a grant
25:16 – How applied scientists can incorporate innovative methods into grant writing
28:48 – How methodologists can successfully get their work funded
31:15 – Pursuing grants in a difficult funding environment
34:15 – Top 3 pieces of advice on grant writing

Time-Varying Effect Modeling Interest Group for Penn State

Ashley Linden-CarmichaelAugust 5, 2019:

This fall, Methodology Center Investigator Ashley Linden-Carmichael will be hosting a special interest group for researchers who are interested in time-varying effect modeling (TVEM). TVEM is a data-analysis method that extends linear regression to allow the association between two variables to be modeled without making assumptions about the nature of the association.

The group will provide a forum for researchers to discuss their own research and to learn from others. Students, post-doctoral researchers and faculty are all invited.

Want to learn more about TVEM before the first meeting? Use the TVEM Learning Path to learn what questions TVEM can answer, how to prepare your data, how to run the macro, and more.

TVEM Special Interest Group
Dates: Tuesdays 9/24, 10/22, 11/19, and 12/10
noon – 1 p.m.
401 Health and Human Development Building
Contact: Ashley Linden-Carmichael (axc547@psu.edu)

To learn more, look for details about the TVEM course that Ashley will teach in spring semester of 2020.

Free Webinar on Configural Frequency Analysis

Mark Stemmler holding his bookJuly 10, 2019:

Configural frequency analysis (CFA) is a data analysis method that can detect patterns that occur more or less often than would be expected to occur according to a prespecified null hypothesis. CFA is applicable across many fields, but in human development, researchers apply it to examine multiple behaviors and determine which patterns correlate to healthy or unhealthy development. This statistical tool can be applied to categorical variables; in addition also continuous variables can be used as covariates.

Mark Stemmler, professor of psychological assessment at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, and author of the book Person centered methods: Configural frequency analysis (CFA), will be visiting The Methodology Center this fall. On Thursday, October 31, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. ET, Mark will present a 1 & 1 webinar on CFA. 1 & 1 webinars consist of a one-hour live video presentation on a method followed by a one-hour question-and-answer session with the presenter. CFA is easily performed through an R-package called confreq. The use of confreq will be demonstrated. To join the webinar, click psu.zoom.us/j/896104435 when the webinar is starting. Registration in advance is not necessary.

Questions? Email: MChelpdesk@psu.edu