Current Projects

Our lab is involved in numerous research projects. The below are examples of research studies that we are currently conducting.

Identifying Mechanisms to Prevent Dental Anxiety
Although dental fear is a leading reason for a lack of adequate oral health care, currently there are no effective evidence-based preventive programs for dental fear and phobia. Thus, the goal of this project is to identify causal mechanisms—through the use of virtual reality techniques—that can be targeted and measured in an interventional study to prevent dental phobia. This project will also identify strategies that can examine prognostic indicators of dental anxiety that are particularly relevant to high-risk, ethnic minority groups.


Dental Care Beliefs across Ethnic Groups
Dental fear often leads to dental phobia which often results in poor oral health. Over time, poor oral health can contribute to a multitude of health complications including heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, Crohn's Disease, pneumonia, and bronchitis. Given that different cultures may hold differing views about dental care and that these may influence frequency of care and susceptibility to dental fear, we are using mixed methods to examine dental care beliefs within and between ethnic groups including Caucasian, Latino/a, African American, and Asian Individuals.


Social Engagement and Cognitive Function among Older Adults of Mexican Descent
The goal of this study is to collect foundational data that addresses cognitive health in older Mexican adults who are at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). The data from this study will help us navigate towards our ultimate goal of developing and testing community-based approaches that mitigate the negative outcomes of ADRD.

A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Revised Fear Survey Schedule for Children: A Cross-Cultural Approach
The goal of this systematic review and meta-analysis is to synthesize the data on fears in youth collected using the Revised Fear Survey Schedule for Children, starting with its development and widespread use in 1983. In addition to describing our current knowledge of fears in youth across the globe, we will examine questions related to changes in reported fears over time and the relationships among culture, gender, and childhood fears.

A One-Session Treatment for Dental Phobia in Youth in an Underserved Population
The goal of this study is to develop an efficacious treatment option for dental phobia in children, a disorder that affects upwards of 730,000 youth in the United States. The proposed study will adapt a one-session treatment (OST) for youth with dental phobia, deliver the treatment in dental clinics, and evaluate its efficacy, acceptability, and feasibility.

Psychological Reactions to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Essential Workers in the United States
This project is longitudinally assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of frontline essential workers and other individuals in the United States. We are particularly interested in examining the functioning of individuals who had been diagnosed with a pre-pandemic anxiety disorder.

Latin American Trans-Ancestry Initiative for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Genomics (LATINO) Project
Our lab is part of a multi-site study that is examining genetic impacts on OCD in Latino/a individuals in North American and South America. We are giving structured interviews and questionnaires to diagnose individuals and we are collecting genetic material through salivary samples.

Obesity and Suicide Behavior
Although epidemiological studies have found that obesity is associated with suicide behavior, scant research has examined variables that explain this relationship. We are thus examining possible mediators in the relationship between obesity and suicide behavior in individuals in south Texas, a region which has one of the highest rates of obesity in the United States.

Influence of Traditional Cultural Values on Suicide Behaviors in Latina Adolescents
Data have long has indicated that Latina adolescents report greater suicide ideation and attempts compared to other adolescent groups. It has been suggested that these data may be explained by family stress and conflict due to intergenerational differences in traditional values. To examine this, in a sample of Mexican female adolescents, we are exploring how marianismo (traditional gender role expectations for Latina individuals) influences family conflict and, in turn, suicide behavior. As an additional explanatory factor, we are examining how emotion dysregulation enhances suicide risk.

Relationship of Cyberbullying through Social Media and Suicide Behavior
Although case examples of cyberbullying and suicide are often reported in the media, research on the topic is scant. We are thus examining present and past cyberbullying as it relates to social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, online gaming), text messaging and emails.

Religious Social Support and Self-Efficacy as Mediators between Religiosity and Suicide Behavior
Although research has long found that religiosity is related to positive mental health, scant research has examined explanatory factors in this relationship. We are thus assessing religious social support and self-efficacy as possible mediators in this relationship.

Development and Translation of Coping Instrument for Acculturating Individuals
Although research on acculturative has been steadily growing, there is a paucity of research that has examined coping in acculturating individuals. To better assess how individuals cope during the acculturative process, we have developed and are bilingually assessing a new coping tool, called the Coping Inventory, that measures the effectiveness of various coping styles used in reaction to acculturative and everyday stressors.

Using Machine Learning Techniques to Assess Suicide Behavior in Latino/a Individuals
In this project, we are utilizing machine learning techniques to precisely assess the relative influences of traditional risk factors and culturally-based factors on suicide behaviors in Latino/a adults.