Interview: Lisa Dierker discusses TVEM and smoking

March 29, 2016:lisad

Methodology Center Investigator and Professor of Psychology at Wesleyan University Lisa Dierker recently sat down to answer a few questions about her research on preventing the uptake of smoking and her interest in time-varying effect modeling.

Methodology Center: How did you become affiliated with the Methodology Center, and what sort of work did you do here?
Lisa Dierker: I was fortunate to meet Linda Collins through her role as a core member of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Tobacco Etiology Research Network in the early 2000s. At that time, I found myself becoming more and more interested in emerging methodologies and in the opportunities they provided for asking important behavioral health questions. Dr. Collins generously continued working with me as a mentor on my successful K01 award and then invited me to spend a year at the center.

It was an amazing year, arguably the most productive of my career. I was able to collaborate with Drs. Runzi Li and Xianming Tan in the early development of TVEM, learning about the methodology and helping to write substantive papers aimed at showcasing its various features. I also taught a mini course on group-based methods and drew inspiration and ideas from the many connections I was able to make with the center’s large group of talented researchers.

MC: What do you research currently?
LD: My work focuses on understanding the development of cigarette smoking and nicotine dependence. Despite widespread knowledge of the deadly effects of cigarette smoking and advances in prevention and treatment aimed at combating it, smoking continues to be the number one preventable cause of death in the U.S. As a model for understanding addictive behaviors more generally, smoking also represents a relatively common behavior that provides a particularly accessible window into addiction processes across development.

MC: Why is it important to have TVEM in your toolbox?
LD: I spent a good part of my career believing that simply including time-varying variables in my models was adequately addressing the question of time. With the advent of TVEM, I was newly able to consider and investigate questions of real change in the relationships between prominent risk factors and various addiction outcomes in the context of many measurement waves. With TVEM in one’s toolbox, it is possible to move beyond a consideration of effects based on “average change” and instead evaluate how risk may be time varying. In short, TVEM provides a fresh, dynamic look at patterns of change that have been previously inaccessible.

As an example, theories of nicotine addiction emphasize the initial role of positive reinforcement in the development of regular smoking behavior, and the role of negative reinforcement at later stages. We used TVEM on momentary assessment data to test these theories by examining the effects of smoking on mood changes, and how nicotine dependence may moderate this effect. Our work supported the role of positive reinforcement in early stages of dependent smoking, but not the role of negative reinforcement beyond the earliest smoking stages. We have followed this work with a more careful consideration of depression as risk factor for smoking from adolescence through young adulthood.

MC: Outside of your work in smoking, where do you see potential future applications of TVEM?
LD: TVEM holds particular promise for informing the development of both physical and mental health interventions: unlike more traditional regression techniques, it is particularly well positioned to elucidate not only the selection of intervention targets, but also the timing of delivery.

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