Assistant Professor of Psychology Irene Tung has been awarded a Visionary Grant from the American Psychological Foundation in the amount of $19,979. The grant, which seeks to support research that uses psychology to solve social problems, will fund Tung’s pilot study of emotional health and stress physiology during pregnancy for one year.
Tung, who joined the CSUDH faculty in January 2022, began researching the impacts of early life stress on children’s development while earning her doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. As she advanced throughout graduate school, she became interested in earlier developmental stages and how adverse experiences affect young children’s behaviors and perceptions.
“When you follow these kids earlier and earlier in development, you see that even from early childhood they may differ a lot from other kids in how they react to stress,” Tung said. “They may be more reactive to situations than other kids, and stressful events may contribute to vulnerability to risky behaviors later on in development.”
As Tung pursued her research, her findings suggested that some of those differences may originate even before birth. She began to see associations between prenatal exposures to stress and children’s early emotional outcomes – connections she wants to explore more through her Visionary Grant-funded research.
Her project, titled “Leveraging Mobile Health Technology to Monitor Daily Emotional Health and Stress Physiology During Pregnancy,” will assess pregnant women’s daily physiological responses to stress by tracking their heart rate variability and electrodermal activity with a wrist-worn device. The study will also examine daily positive emotional supports the women receive, and how these emotions can help regulate stress.
“Research in the general population has shown that emotions like joy, gratitude, and social connectedness can help with buffering stress and are linked to positive health outcomes,” Tung said. “But current interventions to support pregnant women tend to focus more on the physical or biological aspects of pregnancy. I’m hoping this study will emphasize the importance of psychological health and the way it interacts with physiology.”
A strong proponent of early prevention, Tung ultimately wants to pinpoint what factors help pregnant women build resilience, as she believes this will lead to better outcomes for both the women themselves and their children’s future development.
But for now, Tung is focused on rolling up her sleeves, setting up her new CSUDH research lab, and getting started on the project.
“I’m very excited to use this study as a training lab for undergraduate and graduate students,” she said. “I’m hoping it will provide opportunities for students interested in the prenatal and early childhood periods to start some of their own projects, as well.”