Research Projects

ARC_interview_2016

Current Research Funding

2017-2019

Dissatisfied, Preoccupied, and Distressed about Appearance:

Teasing and Victimisation as Toxic to Adolescents

Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Allison Waters
Haley Webb
Lara Farrell
Drew Nesdale
Geraldine Downey
Wyndol Furman

Australian Research Council Discovery Project

Rejection, teasing and victimisation can be extremely distressing for teens, and such experiences are expected to cause eating disorders, body and muscle distortion, social anxiety, and depression. Extending an existing ARC funded longitudinal study, this project investigates these associations and will determine the content and source of teasing that are most toxic for adolescents’ personal adjustment. Is the teasing more toxic depending on whether the content is about appearance or other characteristics, and does it result in more mental health problems when it comes from the opposite or the same-sex? In addition, coping, competence and support from others are examined as critical processes that protect against the toxicity of teasing.

2014-2017

Empowering and protecting children by enhancing knowledge, skills and well-being: A randomised trial of Learn to BE SAFE with Emmy™

Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Diane Shanley
Kerryann Walsh
Russell Hawkins
Katrina Lines
ACT for Kids

Australian Research Council, Linkage Grant

The purpose of the current research is to conduct a multi-site randomised controlled trial (RCT) of Learn to BE SAFE with Emmy™, a psychoeducational children’s protection program developed by specialist staff at ACT for Kids (AFK). AFK is an Australian not-for-profit organisation working to prevent and treat child abuse. Findings will identify whether the program: Increases children’s knowledge of interpersonal safety; Ensure quality standardisation of program delivery; Conduct a cost-benefit analysis; Isolate groups for which the intervention is most valuable; Identify which components of the intervention are necessary to see benefits.

2003-2019

The Family Interaction Program

Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck, Director

Queensland Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services

The Family Interaction Program (FIP) was established in 2002 at Griffith University, School of Psychology, Gold Coast. FIP was formed with the purpose of assisting families with children who have behavioural problems, such as rule-breaking, defiance, and aggression. FIP was also founded with the aim of reducing the risk of child maltreatment in families, receiving funding from the Department of Communities, Child Safety, and Disability Services since 2003. All of our services incorporate research to examine the acceptability and effectiveness of its programs.

See: FIP Report 2016 v4


Past Research Funding

2014-2016

Improving outcomes of evidence-based behaviour therapy for paediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder: a translational efficacy trial of d-cycloserine augmented intensive behaviour therapy

Lara Farrell
Allison Waters
Eric Storch
Brett McDermott
Harry McConnell
Jennifer Hudson
Daniel Geller
Thomas Ollendick
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Evelin Tiralongo

National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a chronic neuro-behavioural disorder; previously ranked within the top 10 most disabling conditions worldwide.1Affecting over half a million Australians (ABS), OCD has a lifetime prevalence of more than 3%, making it twice as prevalent as schizophrenia and bipolar, and the fourth most common psychiatric disorder.2 Unfortunately, only about 50% of children with OCD are diagnosis-free following our best evidence-based treatments. These currently include behavioural treatment (BT), which incorporates exposure and response-prevention (ERP), either alone or in combination with serotonergic medication. Recent experimental research has shown that ingesting small amounts of anti-tuberculosis drug, d-Cycloserine (DCS) can enhance extinction learning, the process hypothesized to underlie ERP. Clinical studies have shown DCS augments outcomes of ERP in anxious adults, over and above that achieved by ERP alone. Given that OCD typically onsets during childhood, and that early onset predicts later psychopathology and a poorer prognosis,3 the possibility that DCS could enhance outcomes could be a major breakthrough in treating this debilitating and costly disorder.

DCS arguably offers the most exciting novel pharmacological adjunct to exposure based treatment to date, with numerous preclinical and small clinical trials (four trials collectively by CIs) providing support for therapy enhancing effects. In order to understand the translational potential of DCS, large randomised controlled trials are now needed. 4 This research will be the first large multi-site, placebo-controlled, randomised trial (RCT) of DCS augmented ERP for childhood OCD, which will allow for robust efficacy data, as well as critically determine important therapeutic, clinical, and biological moderators of treatment response. Identifying moderators of response, will move the field forward in terms of highlighting clinical parameters for optimizing response to DCS, as well as identifying patient variables which will assist in the development of personalised approaches to prescribing appropriate evidence-based treatments. The trial brings together a strong team of national and international experts to conduct a RCT across two Australian University’s – Griffith University (GU – two campuses in QLD) and Macquarie University (MQ), cementing a strong collaboration among two of Australia’s pre-eminent “child anxiety” research teams.

2014-2016

Helping young Australians to “Look for Good”: A school-based trial of positive attention training to increase children’s emotional health and prevent anxiety and depression

Allison Waters
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Karin Mogg
Brendan Bradley
Michelle Craske

Australian Rotary Mental Health Grant Scheme

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health problems affecting Australian children, with 10-20% of school-aged children experiencing emotional disorders during their young lives (Mathews et al., 2011). These disorders cause life-long impairment (Bittner et al., 2007), and are costly to families (Bodden et al., 2008) and national health care systems (Andrews et al., 2004).

These alarming figures emphasise the need to invest in fresh approaches to prevention research for childhood emotional problems if we are to have any impact on improving the quality of life for future generations of Australians. Yet, our best practice treatments such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), are effective for about 60% of children with emotional disorders (see Rapee et al., 2009), are time and resource intensive, and may not be accessible or appropriate for many children (Lyneham & Rapee, 2006; Farrell, Waters, & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2012). Most concerning, universal prevention programs based on CBT have had modest long-lasting benefits for young people, particularly with depression (Merry & Spence, 2007).

The present study builds on the latest evidence from developmental cognitive neuroscience that highlights biases in the way that children with emotional problems and those at risk for their development, attend to positive and negative stimuli (e.g., Waters, Bradley, & Mogg, 2013; Joormann, Talbot, & Gotlib, 2007). Based on this literature, we have found encouraging evidence from our published preliminary trial (Waters, Pittaway, Mogg, Bradley & Pine, 2013) and a randomised controlled trial currently underway with clinically anxious children to suggest that a short, computer-assisted program that encourages children to focus their attention on positive stimuli and to persist with this strategy even when circumstances become challenging, is effective in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms and increasing positive emotional well-being.

The aim of this initial prevention trial, conducted in partnership with Marymount Primary School, a coeducational Catholic school located in Burleigh Heads, Queensland, is to examine whether the “Positive Attention Program” is effective in offsetting emotional problems and increasing positive emotional well-being in children. In 2014, a cohort of approximately 400 children across Grades 3, 4 and 5 at Marymount Primary School will be assigned to either the Positive Attention Program or the Active Placebo condition. Children assigned to the Positive Attention Program will complete 30 minute sessions in computer labs during school hours 4 times per week for 3 weeks while the Active Placebo group will receive CBT sessions of the same duration and frequency. Both groups will be assessed using child-, parent- and teacher-report measures to assess change in negative emotional symptoms, positive emotional well-being, and cognitive and behavioural biases, before and after the assigned intervention and across a 24-month follow-up period.

2013-2015

Appearance-based Rejection Sensitivity from Childhood to Adolescence: Victimisation, Mental Health Consequences, and Rejection Resilience

Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Allison Waters
Drew Nesdale
Lara Farrell
Geraldine Downey

Australian Research Council Discovery Project

Teasing and victimisation about body shape and size or other aspects of appearance can cause children to chronically and anxiously expect rejection. Referred to as appearance-based rejection sensitivity(appearance-RS), this longitudinal study of Australian children will examine appearance-RS as a significant mechanism explaining how teasing and victimisation by peers, as well as media messages and parents, contribute to adolescents’ escalating mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders. An appearance-RS model and two psychoeducational programmes will be tested. One programme will be for the classroom and the other will be targeted at improving mental health problems related to adolescents’ appearance-RS.

2012-2014

The Future of Childhood Anxiety Treatment: Translating Cognitive-Neuroscience Insights into Clinical Practice

Allison Waters
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Daniel Pine
Michelle Craske
Karin Mogg
Brendan Bradley

Australian Research Council Discovery Project

One robust clinical correlate of anxiety disorders across the lifespan is hypervigilance, the tendency to inappropriately and chronically direct attention to threatening stimuli; this tendency is often referred to as threat attention bias. This project brings together an expert, international research team to test the hypothesis that a novel computer-based intervention for childhood anxiety disorders designed to reduce threat attention biases leads to greater reduction in children’s anxiety than a placebo intervention or a no-training waitlist group. This novel treatment is designed to alleviate anxiety disorders in childhood quickly and efficiently, stopping them before they have the opportunity to yield lifelong patterns of disability. Moreover, recent neuroscience work has begun to delineate the neural circuitry underlying abnormal attention to threat in anxiety. An additional aim is to test, in childhood anxiety disorders, abnormalities in the underlying brain systems mediating threat attention biases and the extent to which pre-treatment abnormalities in neural circuitry predict response to the novel intervention. Finally, dissemination and access to treatment are the major goals of all intervention work. We therefore test the feasibility and outcomes of the novel intervention when completed on PCs at home with just minimal therapist contact. In doing so, this project is at the forefront of international intervention and brain research, focused on accelerating the translation of cognitive neuroscience insights into clinical application.

2012-2013

Enhancing outcomes for children with anxiety disorders: An interdisciplinary approach to innovative treatments

Allison Waters
Lara Farrell
Laetitia Hattingh
Harry McConnell
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Caroline Donovan
Thomas Ollendick

Funded by Areas of Strategic Investment, Griffith Health Institute, Griffith University

The psychotherapeutic intervention – cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) – is considered a first line treatment for childhood anxiety disorders (Pine et al., 2008), with approximately 60% of children likely to be free of diagnoses after treatment (James et al., 2006; Seligman & Ollendick, 2011). CBT has its theoretical foundations in cognitive, learning-based models of anxiety, whereby threat-based dysfunctional thinking processes are targeted through cognitive restructuring, while gradual exposure to feared stimuli is utilised to address behavioural avoidance (e.g., Waters & Craske, 2005). However, approximately 10-15% of treated children will relapse after successful CBT, and as noted, approximately 40% of children do not respond initially (James et al., 2006). Moreover, the vast majority of anxious children do not receive treatment at all (Essau et al., 2002), and combined with the significant public health burden of current treatments (Bodden et al., 2008), advancements in treatment options, accessibility and outcomes are critical.

Accordingly, latest international developments in enhancing treatments for childhood anxiety disorders are focusing on two major areas, which relate directly to the major aims of this project: (1) augmenting CBT with novel interventions that improve treatment outcomes, and (2) improving accessibility to treatment for a greater number of anxious children. Our group is at the forefront of international research in both respects and this project synthesises our work to examine innovative ways to augment CBT outcomes in a manner that can also enhance access to effective treatments.

2010-2012

Rejection Sensitivity in Children and Adolescents: Antecedents, Consequences, and the Promotion of Rejection Resilience

Professor Drew Nesdale
Professor Melanie J Zimmer-Gembeck
Professor Geraldine Downey

Australian Research Council Discovery Project

Human beings are an exceptionally social with a strong need to belong and an even stronger aversion to rejection (or ostracism or exclusion). Rejection is experienced by almost everyone, and when it does occur, the experience is typically quite distressing with potentially serious implications (Leary, 2001). Importantly, Downey and colleagues argue that early, prolonged or acute experiences of rejection by valued others, such as parents or peers, can give rise to rejection sensitivity (RS) — a tendency for an individual to anxiously expect rejection, readily perceive it and overreact (Downey & Feldman, 1996; Feldman & Downey, 1994). Research has now identified RS in older children, adolescents and adults, and that it occurs in the same proportions across genders and ages (Downey & Feldman, 1996; Zimmer-Gembeck & Vickers, 2007). Of critical importance are findings indicating that RS has negative cognitive, emotional and behavioural consequences over and above the impact of actual rejection experiences (e.g., Sandstrom et al, 2003), including anger and hostility, despondency, social withdrawal, loneliness, depression, aggression, dating violence, and relationship breakdown (Levy et al., 2001; Watson & Nesdale, 2008; Zimmer-Gembeck & Wright, 2007). Further, Australian (Zimmer-Gembeck & Vickers, 2007) and USA (Downey & Feldman, 1996) research indicates that RS can occur in 20% or more of the population.

The aims of the present project were to:

  1. determine whether children in middle childhood through early adolescence develop RS and to identify the critical social experiences and individual factors contributing to its development.
  2. isolate the major effects of RS on children and early adolescents, including cognitive, emotional and behavioural responses and mental health outcomes.
  3. shed light on the nature of the mechanism(s) underpinning the development of RS in children and adolescents.
  4. develop and test an intervention that will enhance children’s and adolescents’ coping and resilience when confronted with social rejection, thus promoting a healthier start to life, and extending their capacity to form stronger and more stable relationships.

2010

Integrating Knowledge and Service for Queensland Children: Needs, Evidence, and Collaborative Dissemination

Dr. Rae Thomas
Professor Melanie J Zimmer-Gembeck
Professor Ross Homel
Dr. Michael Hurlburt
Dr. Mark Chaffin

Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth

2007-2008

Parent-Child Connection: A Trial of an Early Intervention to Increase Caregiver Sensitivity and Improve Caregiver-Child Attachment

Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Doug Shelton

Australian Rotary Health Research Fund

2006-2007

Using Multiple Methods to Develop A Gender-Balanced Assessment of Relational Aggression among Adolescents

Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Rhiarne Pronk

2007-2008

Motivating Young People Towards Success: Evaluation of Motivational Interviewing-Integrated Treatment Program for Clients in a Residential Therapeutic Community

Frances O’Callaghan
Amelia Callaghan
Peter Creed
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Stefanie Klag

Australian Rotary Health Research Fund

This research project involved young people with mental health and substance use problems receiving treatment in a residential therapeutic community

2004-2006

Adolescent Peer Relations and Aggression

Drew Nesdale
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck

Griffith University Research Grant

2004-2006

An Integrated Model of Neurological, Cognitive, Psychosocial and Environmental Influences on the Development of Reading and Other Achievements

Elizabeth Conlon
Melanie J Zimmer-Gembeck
Peter Creed

Griffith University Research Grant

2001-2002

Preventing Violence and Health Risking Social Behaviors in Adolescents
Youth Violence Final Statement

Nancy Carney
Hugo de Coudray
Melanie Zimmer-Gembeck
Carolyn DiGuissepi
Mark Helfand

U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Contract Number: 290-97-0018
Task Order No. 7