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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Researcher receives funding to study anxiety

UH psychology associate research professor Amie Grills-Taquechel received a $620,000 career development grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to carry out a five-year childhood anxiety study.

‘Anxiety is the most common problem in childhood,’ Grills-Taquechel said. ‘Could their anxiety really interfere with their ability to learn (to read)?’

‘ Grills-Taquechel’s anxiety study is part of a larger research project by UH psychology professors Jack Fletcher and David Francis that examines children with reading difficulties, which is an indictor of learning problems.

‘ ‘In our larger study, we have always looked at different kinds of cognitive skills as predictive,’ Fletcher said. ‘What doctor Grills’ study offers is a new dimension at things like anxiety that emerge because the kid’s struggling, or might be a problem the kid’s having as a barrier.’

Grills-Taquechel’s project explores the relationship between anxiety and learning.

‘We were getting a lot of kids coming in for assessments of their learning (ability),’ Grills-Taquechel said. ‘Yes, they may have learning difficulties, but a lot of these kids were anxious because they knew they were failing or because they were worried about failing.’ ‘

The goal of the study is to identify at-risk students in the first, second and third grades in the Houston and Austin Independent School Districts who have reading difficulties, and examine how they are affected by anxiety.

‘Could their anxiety really interfere with their ability to learn?’ Grills-Taquechel said. ‘If you’re getting ready for a test, it’s hard to focus on studying if all you’re doing is sitting at your desk thinking, ‘I’m never going to learn this, I’m going to fail.”

Grills-Taquechel hopes the result of the study would lead to positive application.’

‘My hope would be that we could start targeting and planning to add interventions in the schools that really get to socially-emotional issues (that cause anxiety),’ Grills-Taquechel said. ‘That’s the piece that’s not identified yet.’

Educational psychology associate professor David Liberman hopes that Grills-Taquechel’s research helps students in the future.

‘It’s a very important issue,’ Liberman said. ‘When you have enormous amounts of anxiety, then achievement goes way down.

‘A lot of past research has shown extreme anxiety has a major negative effect on achievement. School should be a place to come to learn, to enjoy.’

Liberman said high stakes tests, such as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, are major causes of stress for students.

‘All or nothing testing, it’s going to produce this kind of negative anxiety,’ Liberman said. ‘If you pass, you’re ok; if you don’t, you’re not.’

Researchers said this type of research might pave a better path for learning.

‘We have to find a way to keep school challenging without making the kids miserable ‘- that’s the key,’ Liberman said. ‘Nobody seems to care.’

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