Director of Prevention Research Center to present at national brain forum

Diana Fishbein and Emma Rose to present research on adolescents, substance abuse and targeted interventions

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Diana Fishbein and Emma Rose, both of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State, will present an overview of their research on substance abuse at the sixth annual Aspen Brain Forum, to be held May 18-20 at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City.

The topic of this year’s forum is “The Addicted Brain and New Treatment Frontiers.”

Fishbein and Rose will present their research on adolescents at risk for behavioral problems and findings suggesting there are neurobiological differences that, in interaction with environmental conditions, explain pathways to eventual substance abuse. The implications of these findings for the development and refinement of preventive and treatment interventions will be discussed. 

“This presentation is an opportunity to showcase ways in which neuroscience can inform prevention research and practices,” Fishbein said.

Fishbein is director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, C. Eugene Bennett Chair in Prevention Research, and professor of human development and family studies. Rose is a research associate and research assistant professor, also at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center.Their research suggests that substance abuse and related behavioral problems, such as aggression, risky sexual behavior and impulsivity, are often linked to deficits or delays in the brain’s ability to regulate mental and emotional functions.

“There are many reasons why these functions may not be entirely on board, including negative influences in the social environment,” Fishbein said. “In fact, the development of the brain and the way it functions is very sensitive to the experiences of the individual, for better or for worse.”

If environmental conditions are harmful, in such cases as child abuse or poverty, the brain may not be able to exert cognitive control over emotional responses, leading to risky behaviors.

Conversely, if caregivers and social systems provide a nurturing environment to children and adolescents, they will be better positioned to meet key developmental milestones, thereby increasing chances for productive lives, Fishbein said.

“The take home message is that we can build and strengthen these skills — and potentially improve the way the brain functions — with psychosocial programs that are appropriately targeted,” Fishbein said.

Fishbein’s and Rose’s research aims to address a key question: What works best for whom, why, and under what circumstances? Tailored, targeted interventions are likely most effective when psychosocial programs are “mapped” to an individual’s unique combination of social, psychological and biological attributes, according to Fishbein.

In effect, more adaptive and normative outcomes for children and adolescents are reinforced.

“When this occurs, we expect to also see measurable change in brain function, having the potential for positive behavioral change, such as avoidance of substance abuse, to be longstanding,” Fishbein said.

Their research plan going forward is to further identify the mechanisms that explain good versus poor outcomes for those who receive any given intervention. 

“This work will inform program developers and intervention scientists with the information needed to tailor preventive and treatment approaches to specific needs of different subgroups, thereby spreading the net wider and benefitting more recipients,” Fishbein said. “And equally important is to disseminate this information to public and private sectors to garner support for the notion that pathways to addiction can be altered.”

The annual Aspen Brain Forum brings together a multidisciplinary group of researchers, clinicians, government and industry representatives, and nonprofit leaders to explore the latest scientific advances in the field of addiction, with the end goal of improving treatment.

It is presented by the Aspen Brain Forum Foundation, the journal Science Translational Medicine, and the New York Academy of Sciences, and includes sessions and presentations focused on the neural circuitry of addiction, neuroplasticity, the susceptibility of the developing adolescent brain, and new horizons for treatment strategies.

For more information on the conference visit

Diana H. Fishbein, director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, C. Eugene Bennett Chair in Prevention Research, and professor of human development and family studies in the College of Health and Human Development.  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated June 08, 2021