Ben Hinnant Ph.D.

Ben Hinnant Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2008
(334) 844-4151 | 288 Spidle Hall

Research Projects:

Ongoing Research

El-Sheikh, M., Buckhalt, J.A., Erath, S.A., & Keiley, M.
Role: Statistical Consultant
Family aggression and trajectories of adolescent adaptation: Bioregulatory effects as moderators and mediators.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Grant No. R01-HD046795-06.
(August, 2012 – 2017)

I’ve been helping with the statistical modeling for this really interesting project on child and adolescent development for a number of years. Stated briefly, the main goals are to understand how physiological regulation, like how the body regulates and adapts to stress, may have risk enhancing or protective effects in the context of family aggression. This project involves measuring how kids and teens change over time in specific areas of development, like depressive symptoms or aggressive behaviors, and trying to better explain why kids change over time in the ways that they do.

Future/Pending Research

El-Sheikh, M., Buckhalt, J.A., Erath, S.A., Keiley, M., & Hinnant, J.B.
Role: Co-Investigator
Sleep and child developmental outcomes: Physiological and contextual influences.
National Institutes of Health.

This is a really interesting proposal for a continuation of a prior project that was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Why are people who study hearts, lungs, and blood interested in child development? Good question! It turns out that family stress can affect how our hearts, lungs, and bloods function (ok, well maybe not blood as much). Family stress affects how kids sleep, as well as how developing bodies are able to respond to stress, which affects physical and mental health. Fingers crossed that this gets funded! If so, it will be one of the first studies to measure the effects of chronic sleep problems on teenagers’ brain function using Auburn’s new 7T MRI scanner.

Hinnant, J.B., Adleman, N.E., & Rich, B.A.
Role: Primary Investigator
Context effects on adolescent decision making: Mechanisms and relations to risky behavior.
National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Summary: Over the summer of 2015 we submitted a really cool study idea to NIH and NSF. Both behavioral and brain imaging research have shown that teens are especially sensitive to rewards. The reward areas of teenage brains light up like Christmas trees when they get a cue that a reward is coming, or even when they have an opportunity to take a risk in order to get a reward. This reward sensitivity is a pretty good (but partial) explanation for why teenagers are more likely to do dangerous or dumb things that could end up in a trip to the hospital or worse. Caveat: I’m not saying this applies to all teens but, on average, yeah. Our cool idea was to see if this heightened reward sensitivity could be manipulated so that it actually protects against risky decision making. How you ask? By rewarding safe decision making in conditions where teens tend to take more risks. Our plan is to collect images of teens’ brain in an MRI scanner while they’re playing a decision making game, sometimes under conditions that promote risky decision making and sometimes under conditions that reward safe decision making. The study won’t be funded (we really just were hoping for the best and wanted to get feedback from NIH and NSF). We’ll need to collect some pilot data first, which leads to the project below:

Hinnant, J.B., Erath, S.A., Pfeifer, J.H., & Adleman, N.E.
Role: Primary Investigator
Context effects on adolescent decision making: Neuroimaging pilot studies.
Auburn University Internal Grant Proposal.

We’re submitting a proposal to pay for two (!!) pilot studies. Pilot studies are small scale studies to collect data from a few people so that we can show federal and private funding agencies that our ideas work, and that they should give us money to conduct the actual study. The first pilot study will address the project above, manipulating contexts so that teens’ heightened reward sensitivity might actually be used to protect against risky decision making. The second pilot study will address another really interesting question about teens and risk-taking in the presence of peers. Compared to adults, when teens take risks they’re much more likely to be with their friends and peers. We still don’t have a very good handle on why teens take more risks around peers. By that, I mean the mechanisms of peer effects aren’t well understood, especially in terms of brain activity. Our plan is to delve into these peer mechanisms more to understand, for example, how being excluded from peer interactions affects teens’ brain activity and decision making. Say, if you’d been left out of a conversation, game, or just about any social interaction by some people you just met, would that make it more likely, less likely, or have no effect on your behavior when you had a chance to take a risk or show off when those same people who’d left you out were watching?