Project Development and Experimental Design

The Behavioral Phenotyping Core faculty and staff provide proactive consultation focused on planning or modifying experimental designs and methods with respect to valid, reliable measurements of target behavior, cognition, and motor function. Core faculty and staff also provide consultation to clarify measurement needs and “best practice” options for reliable and appropriate measures tailored to study specifics. The process can require investigators to modify existing measures or develop and validate new measures for the specific needs of the project.

Behavioral Measurement and Training

A little girl completes an activity using a highlighter and a piece of paper.

The Behavioral Phenotyping Core is able to provide state-of-the-art methods for quantifying behavioral phenomena ranging from a micro (up to twenty different behavioral responses on a second-by-second basis) to a macro (occurrence per week, month, year, etc.) level of analysis. Behavioral Phenotyping Core faculty are international leaders in the fields of applied behavior analysis, neuropsychology, and human motion analysis. The Behavioral Psychology Department has pioneered novel methods for conducting systematic functional analyses of antecedent-behavior-consequence relationships in a host of settings, and all of the measurement methods used in the field of behavior analysis are within the current capabilities of the core. Behavior can be assessed quantitatively in hospital, educational, home, and community settings. Custom designed software and laptop computers allow for highly portable and versatile direct observation methods (rate, interval, duration, cumulative frequency, conditional probability, etc.). The software also allows for automated and rapid data conversion from direct observation to graphic presentation, as well as automated calculation of descriptive statistics.

Neurophysiology Lab

The Neurophysiology Laboratory is comprised both of clinical and research units. The Research Neurophysiology Laboratory uses a high-density Brain Vision EEG system, with a variety of stimulus presentation hardware and software capabilities. The engineers and research assistants have expertise in advanced EEG signal processing as well as behavioral methods for encouraging patient participation and for recording psychophysical data. Faculty associated with the laboratory have expertise in neurology, cognitive neuroscience, experimental psychology, neuropsychology, digital signal processing and statistics.

The Clinical Neurophysiology Laboratory primarily performs neurophysiological studies for the assessment of epilepsy and sleep disorders. However, we also support research intended to help patients with a variety of clinical diagnoses. The technologists are experienced in EEG and polysomnography, and are experienced in testing children with a wide range of cognitive, communicative and behavioral abilities (often in collaboration with Behavioral Psychology). Faculty associated with the laboratory have expertise in neurology, neurodevelopmental disabilities, clinical neurophysiology, epilepsy and sleep medicine. Digital signal processing on data collected within the clinical laboratory can be performed by the research laboratory.

Development of Behavioral Training Procedures to Increase Participant Cooperation

Behavioral Phenotyping Core faculty and staff have developed extensive expertise over the past 25 years in training research participants to cooperate with assessment procedures. These include neuroimaging protocols focused on both structural and functional measures, studies employing electrophysiological measures, and compliance with more routine assessments and evaluations. Behavioral Phenotyping Core resources have been used effectively to train the most behaviorally challenging individuals and children as young as four years old with ADHD or a history of traumatic brain injury.

Facilitating Participant Adherence with Physiological Assessments and Medical or Rehabilitation Regimens

The Behavioral Phenotyping Core also has extensive experience in extending behavior analysis and therapy expertise to train adherence with physiological assessments (e.g., ERPs, EMG, skin temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, polysomnography, pulmonary function testing, echocardiography, etc.). The training methods used are highly versatile and can be easily modified to address novel behavioral challenges. The core has experience in providing consultation and services focused on pediatric patients undergoing protocol-based medical regimens (parent-administered injections, insulin pump needle changes, IV indwelling port access, etc.).  Methods include the use of exposure therapy, counterconditioning, distraction, and parent training in behavior management to reduce behavioral disturbance and ensure compliance with medical protocols, and positive experiences have included samples with intellectual and developmental disabilities and brain and/or spinal cord injury.

Relationships Between Phenotype and Genetic, Epigenetic, and Environmental Variables

The Behavioral Phenotyping Core provides investigators with consultation on the design and implementation of studies of the relationships between behavioral characteristics (phenotype) and genetic, epigenetic, and environmental variables influencing behavior and performance in individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These studies aim to develop better assessment procedures for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and can also address strategies for intervention. All components of the Behavioral Phenotyping Core can be involved in these activities, depending upon the specifics of supported project goals.

Neuropsychology Consultation and Services

Consultation and recommendations are provided for studies of individuals with a wide range of cognitive and behavioral impairments, ranging from profound to mild, using methods adapted to the unique needs of each study and each participant group. Consultation and assistance may include the following

  • Design and conceptualization of investigations
  • Selection and administration of standardized tests of intelligence, functional skills, emotional functioning, academic achievement, language, visual spatial skills, memory, praxis, and sensory motor skills
  • Data analysis
  • Presentation of data for publication
  • Development of behavioral, neuropsychological, fMRI, or electrophysiological protocols
  • Training of study personnel in test administration procedures
  • Development of new instruments and validation of existing instruments
  • Developing unique tasks that capture specific cognitive capabilities of interest (e.g., delayed matching to sample or mental rotation paradigms)

In addition, novel methods can be developed for assessing brain function in relation to specific genotypes, syndromes, or disorders in relation to neurological, neurophysiological, motor function, and neuroimaging data. Both conventional neuropsychological tasks and computer-based performance tasks can be recommended, pilot-tested, and ultimately provided as a service to investigators.

Procedures for Quantitative Study of Movement and Motor Learning

The Motion Analysis Laboratory is a specialized center for consultation and assistance in quantitative studies of human movement and motor learning. It provides expert consultation, access to laboratory facilities, and services to assist investigators with the study of movement in adults and children with impairments affecting the central nervous system. It employs several techniques to quantify movement, including 3-dimensional (3-D) motion measurement, 3-D tracking and reconstruction of movement kinematics, recordings of muscle activity, force plate recordings, calculation of joint forces and torques, surface electromyography (EMG), quantitative strength, tone, and sensory testing, split-belt treadmill testing, and clinical rating scales. These techniques provide very precise measurements of many different types of movements, including walking, reaching, leg movements, hand movements, and standing balance.

These measurements can be useful for:

  • Tracking disease progression
  • Understanding motor pathophysiology
  • Measuring movement during other procedures (e.g., fMRI)
  • Assessing childhood development
  • Studying groups with disorders that affect motor functioning and development (e.g., cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome, ataxia telangiectasia, ADHD, autism, Rett syndrome, hemispherectomy, and acquired brain or spinal cord injury)