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American Psychological Association recognizes NIU professor Angela Grippo for her research

June 26, 2012
Angela Grippo

Angela Grippo

Angela Grippo, an assistant professor of psychology at NIU, has won a major national award for her research into the association between depression and cardiovascular disease in animal models.

The American Psychological Association (APA) will present Grippo with one of its prestigious 2012 APA Distinguished Scientific Awards during the organization’s convention, scheduled from Aug. 2 through Aug. 5 in Orlando, Fla. The association classifies the awards “among the highest honors for scientific achievement by psychologists.”

Grippo is one of six researchers who will receive the Award for Distinguished Early Career Scientific Contribution to Psychology.

It recognizes excellent psychologists who are at early stages of their research careers. The five other recipients in the category are from the University of Vienna, Yale University, University of Iowa, University of Virginia and University of California, Berkeley.

Grippo is the first NIU faculty member to ever receive the APA honor, said Greg Waas, chair of the NIU Department of Psychology.

“Dr. Grippo’s award for early career contributions identifies her as an emerging leader in the field who is establishing an international reputation for her work on the linkage between depression and cardiovascular disease,” Waas said. “As a recipient of this award, Dr. Grippo joins a group of past winners who have gone on to define the field of scientific psychology.”

The APA’s Committee on Scientific Awards selects award recipients on the basis of nominations submitted by a wide range of scientists and institutions. Reviewers with expertise in particular research areas provide further advice to the committee.

Logo of the American Psychological AssociationGrippo’s research uses “sophisticated behavioral and neuroscience methods” and “illustrates how animal models of physiology and behavior advance understanding of the connections among depression, stress and physical disease in humans,” according to the APA award citation.

The NIU psychologist credits her research team, which over the past four years has included NIU undergraduates and graduate students in psychology, biology and sociology.

“All of the students work very hard,” Grippo said. “I’m proud that this award recognizes the important research that we’re doing to help people understand how psychology can influence health.”

Her research program investigates how negative social experiences and stress are linked to anxiety and depression, impacting brain activity and cardiovascular health.

Rodents known as prairie voles are used as animal models because they exhibit human-like social behaviors, often mating with the same partner for life, raising offspring together and forming strong family bonds.

“We use animal models to investigate how psychological states overlap with biological functioning,” Grippo said. “We strive to conduct our studies using methods that will allow us to translate the results to humans.”

The research has shed new light on such important topics as how mood influences changes in the autonomic nervous system and leads to cardiovascular disease, and how negative social experiences such as isolation affect the development of depression and anxiety.

“Our hope now,” Grippo said, “is to find ways to treat these conditions and improve the quality of life for people experiencing mood disorders, loneliness or cardiovascular disease.”