Adriene Beltz, Ph.D., Announced as U-M Depression Center 2018 Rachel Upjohn Scholar Award Winner

Beltz to study individualized nature of emotion using emojis to predict daily fluctuations in depressive symptomatology and better inform treatment

Adriene Beltz, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, has just been announced as the winner of the U-M Depression Center’s 2018 Rachel Upjohn Scholar award. Dr. Beltz will be examining the “person-specific structure of emotion and daily links to depressive symptomatology” in a pair of studies aimed at informing precision health and personalized treatments.beltz

The goal of Dr. Beltz’s project is to reveal how emotions are related to depression in individuals’ day-to-day lives. Instead of reporting on their feelings in standard questionnaires, participants will use digital emoji to describe their day for 100 days in a row. Each individual’s patterns of emoji endorsement will then be detected and associated with their symptoms of depression in statistical models specially designed for samples of size one. This personalized approach will give clinicians insight into treatments that are optimized for individuals.

“I wanted use emojis as a form of measurement because emojis reflect society’s current conceptualization of emotion, and they sidestep some cognitive confounds in language-based measures,” said Dr. Beltz. “But, validating emoji use in emotion measurement is just the first step of this project. The heart of the work lies in uncovering an individual’s emotional experiences and figuring out how those experiences are related to depression – daily and dimensionally. I hope this work will help open new avenues for individualized prevention and intervention in the treatment of mood disorders.”

Dr. Beltz’s project has three aims:
1) To create and validate an emoji version of a widely-used emotion rating scale, the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS);

2) To determine the person-specific structure of emotion using the new emoji-based scale and;

3) To link the emotion structures to daily depressive symptomatology in person-specific network models.

“This work has implications for precision health,” said John F. Greden, executive director of the U-M Depression Center. “The proposed methods will provide an individualized and modernized perspective on variations in depressive and mood disorder symptoms, the facets of emotion that predict them, and the timing of the prediction. This will inform downstream translational efforts that benefit individual practitioners and patients. We are thrilled to choose Dr. Beltz as the winner of this year’s Rachel Upjohn Scholar award.”

The U-M Depression Center’s Rachel Upjohn Scholar award, worth $50,000, is intended to train a new generation of clinical investigators focusing their research on depression, bipolar disorder, and related illnesses. The Rachel Upjohn Clinical Scholars program was established 20 years ago and offers support to those young researchers who have chosen to devote a major part of their research efforts toward the study of depression. The fund honors Rachel Mary Upjohn Meader. Mrs. Meader and her husband Edwin were among the most ardent supporters of the mission and work of the Depression Center during their lifetimes and the Rachel Upjohn Building is named in honor of their support.

Beltz, who earned her Ph.D. at The Pennsylvania State University, directs the “Methods, Sex Differences, and Development Lab” at U-M. The goal of the lab’s research is to develop and apply novel quantitative approaches in order to reveal the nature of and biosocial mechanisms underlying   the development of brain and behavioral sex differences, particularly those in depression and related mood disorders.

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Established in 2001, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center (UMDC) is the first of its kind devoted entirely to bringing depression into the mainstream of medical research, translational care, education, and public policy. The Center is at the forefront in changing the paradigm of how depression and bipolar illnesses are understood and treated. Learn more: http://www.depressioncenter.org.