Brock University receives post-doc Banting and student Vanier awards

The teen years are a time when being accepted by peers is very important, which may result in more risk-taking and giving into peer pressure.

How do shy youth navigate opportunities for risk-taking when they are in the presence of peers?

Kristie Poole is aiming to find out with her research program, “Developmental Pathways of Shyness and Sensitivity to Peers Across Adolescence.”

Poole is Brock University’s newest Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, one of 70 named in institutions across Canada.

In the Monday, Nov. 28 announcement, Adam van Koeverden, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and to the Minister of Sport, also announced the recipients of 166 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships, with Brock University PhD students Sophie Hamstra and Nadia Ganesh receiving this award.

“These highly prestigious honours advance Brock University’s proven success in fostering the upcoming generation of researchers as they start out in their careers,” says Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon.

“I’m excited by the advances our post-doctoral fellow and students will make in the fields of health and psychology through this funding,” he says.

As part of a long-term study spanning childhood into late adolescence, Poole is investigating how and when shyness develops across childhood and adolescence and how shyness impacts sensitivity to peers over time.

Participants in Poole’s study complete a computer task where they can win and lose points in a game — a task that measures risk-taking behaviour and sensitivity to receiving negative and positive feedback.

The brain activity of participants will be measured during the task. Participants are randomly assigned to carry out this task alone or while being watched by someone their age to see how being observed by peers influences behaviour and brain responses.

This exercise and other research is meant to investigate whether shyness, which Poole defines as “nervousness and self-consciousness around new peers or when being the centre of attention,” may motivate some shy youth to take greater risks so that they can become more socially accepted to their age mates, while other shy youth may avoid taking risks so they don’t look like a “failure” in front of their peers, says Poole.

“With the onset of puberty, there is further brain and socio-emotional development and increases in self-consciousness, especially when among peers,” says Poole, noting that most of the shyness research focusses on younger children.

“This work will allow us to identify possible mechanisms that play a role in shaping social behaviour for shy youth while they are with peers,” says Poole.

Poole is conducing her research within the Brock Healthy Youth Project (BHYP), a long-term study examining the link between health-risk behaviours and adolescent brain development.

Leading that project is Poole’s supervisor, Professor of Psychology Teena Willoughby.

On the student research side, Hamstra and Ganesh are each awarded Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships.

Hamstra’s research, “Protecting SERCA function from cellular stress in heart muscle,” seeks to uncover the role of a protein called glycogen synthase kinase 3 in preserving or even improving how the heart contracts and relaxes under various conditions.

Supervising her research is Val Fajardo, Assistant Professor, Kinesiology and Canada Research Chair in Tissue Re-modelling and Plasticity throughout the Lifespan.

Ganesh’s research, “Sex Differences in Discrimination Against Black Women and Black Men,” examines the extent to which Black women, compared to Black, men are discriminated against.

Professor of Psychology Gordon Hodson is her supervisor.

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships program helps Canadian institutions attract highly qualified doctoral students in the fields of health, natural sciences and engineering, and social sciences and humanities. The award is valued at $50,000 per year for three years during doctoral studies.

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships program, valued at $70,000 per year for two years, provides funding to the very best Canadian and international postdoctoral applicants, who will positively contribute to Canada’s economic, social and research‑based growth.

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