Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
Ever notice that people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) seem to be worried all the time, whether there’s an anxiety trigger or not?
Assistant professor Sandra Llera did.
That’s why she and Penn State professor Michelle Newman developed the emotional contrast avoidance model, a new way to conceptualize how worry works, taking into account the tendency for GAD sufferers to maintain a chronic worry state as a defense mechanism.
The clinical psychologist’s research could have a profound impact on the treatment of anxiety disorders, and Towson University students are contributing to this important work.
Undergraduate and graduate students in Llera’s lab are exposed to all the steps involved with conducting the research — developing study protocols; collecting, recording and interpreting data; and analyzing results. Research assistants even get to run trials on subjects using a Biopac — a psychophysiological recording device with strap-on sensors that capture arousal data, such as heart and breathing rates.
“I think it is important for students to get the full experience of what research is,” says Llera. “They are learning the process of how to solve problems.”
And not just problems their professor poses.
Many of Llera’s students have developed their own research projects, widening the net of contrast avoidance theory investigations.
According to Llera, who teaches courses in abnormal psychology and personality assessment, these types of close collaborations with faculty are possible because Towson University possesses a rare combination of large university resources and small school advantages.
“Students get great proximity to faculty who are doing really interesting research here,” says Llera. “At Towson University, they are taught directly from the source.”