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Dr. Fitzpatrick’s research interest is in the development of fine motor skill, the relationship between motor coordination and social skills, and the contribution of social coordination to social deficits in atypical populations. Her current research investigates patterns of social coordination in young children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and the development of movement control strategies in learning to use tools (such as spoons and hammers). Dr. Fitzpatrick is an experimental psychologist.
My research program focuses on the development of fine motor skill, the relationship between motor coordination and social skills, and the contribution of social coordination to social deficits in atypical populations. I record time-series records of movements and investigate patterns of coordination in young children, adolescents, and families. These movement patterns allow me to model the important dimensions of behavior with the promise that the models can be applied to create treatments and interventions to help remediate problems. I also conduct research on teaching and learning psychology.
For my research, I have collaborated with colleagues at national and international colleges and universities as well hospitals and medical schools. My collaborators include colleagues at Assumption College, College of the Holy Cross, Illinois State University, University of Cincinnati, University of Groningen, University of Crete, Worcester State University, University of Massachusetts Medical School Department of Psychiatry, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
My research program is basic science research. My research is important for translating new knowledge about social and fine motor deficits into treatments and interventions to help children and families struggling with social and motor problems. My research has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Assumption College Collaborative Pilot Research Program.
Here are descriptions of my current research collaborations and programs.
Social Interactions in Children with Autism
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have numerous impairments in social interactions that can severely impede mental and physical development, learning, and behavioral functioning and also make successful treatment difficult. This research is designed to gain a better understanding of the etiology of the social deficits in ASD. We are exploring the role of an overlooked dimension of social interaction, social movement coordination (e.g. body language), in ASD.
Our research suggests that social movement coordination may provide a fertile new ground for exploring potential avenues for intervention and may provide a pathway for improving social skills in children with ASD.
My collaborators for this project are:
Somer Bishop, Ph.D., Center for Autism and the Developing Brain (CADB)
, Weill Cornell Medical College
Amie Duncan, Ph.D., Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Michael Richardson, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Cincinnati
Richard Schmidt, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, College of the Holy Cross
Fitzpatrick, P., Diorio, R. Richardson, M. J., & Schmidt, R. C. (2013). Dynamical methods for evaluating the time-dependent unfolding of social coordination in children with autism. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7 (21), 1-13. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2013.00021
Schmidt, R. C., Morr, S., Fitzpatrick, P., & Richardson, M. J. (2012). Measuring the dynamics of interactional synchrony. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 36, 263-279.
Fitzpatrick, P. A., Diorio, R., Richardson, M. J., & Schmidt, R. C. (2012). Exploring the role of interpersonal motor coordination in the breakdown of shared representations in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 34 (supplement), S21-22.
Schmidt, R. C., Fitzpatrick, P., Caron, R., & Mergeche, J. (2011). Understanding social motor coordination. Human Movement Science, 30(5), 834-845.
Social Synchrony in Adolescents with Autism
We know that children with ASD have deficits in coordinating thoughts and ideas with others (social mental coordination), but the specific processes underlying such impairments are not yet understood. The research I have been doing with my collaborators suggests that an important key for increasing our understanding of ASD-specific social deficits may lie within the movement coordination that takes place within a social context. When human beings interact, we implicitly coordinate our bodies in synchrony with each other.
This project explores social synchrony in ASD. Our initial results suggest there may be an autism-specific social synchrony movement signature. We are currently designing studies to evaluate the neural circuitry involved in social synchrony using both EEG and fMRI technologies.
Jean Frazier, M. D., University of Massachusetts Medical School, Department of Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Neurodevelopment Initiative (CANDI)
David Kennedy, Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Medical School, Department of Psychiatry, Division of Neuroinformatics
Ludovic Marin, Ph.D.,
Teresa V. Mitchell, Ph. D., University of Massachusetts Medical School, Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center
Schmidt, R. C., Fitzpatrick, P. & Marin, L. What do autism and schizophrenia tell us about modeling behavioral dynamics? Invited paper presented at The Guy Van Orden UConn Workshop on Cognition and Dynamics VIII, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, August 2013.
Learning to Use Tools during Preschool
Learning to use hand-held tools during childhood is an important accomplishment and involves two complementary functions of the hands—using the hands to perceive tool properties and using the hands to perform a goal-directed action with a tool. The approach the current research takes is to analyze the structure of the movements of children using tools to see how it changes based on task, age, and the relation between perception and action.
This is an innovative approach to the study of tool use development and lays the foundation for exploring how new forms of behavior emerge and understanding what drives the process of developmental change. This research has important implications creating assessments for early detection of motor control problems in children and developing more effective interventions, evidence-based educational curriculum recommendations, and guidelines for parents.
Raoul Bongers, Ph.D., Center for Human Movement Science, University of Groningen
Michael Riley, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Center for Cognition, Action, & Perception, University of Cincinnati
Jeffrey Wagman, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Illinois State University
Fitzpatrick, P., Wagman, J. B., & Schmidt, R. C. (2012). The role of haptic variables in altering movement dynamics in a preschool hammering task. Special Issue of Journal of Psychology (Zeitschrift für Psychologie), Using Tools: From Movements to Environmental Effects, 220 (1), 23-28.
Fitzpatrick, P., & Flynn, N.* (2010). Dynamic touch perception in preschool children. Ecological Psychology, 22 (2), 89-118.
Developing Handwriting during Elementary School
An emerging body of research suggests that there is an important link between handwriting skill and emerging literacy in young children. Children who struggle with handwriting tend to have more difficulty recognizing letters and write shorter and less complex compositions. Once handwriting becomes automatic, it frees up attention to be able to focus on other cognitive tasks. As a result, effective handwriting instruction should be targeted at promoting handwriting efficiency and automaticity.
This research is designed to assess what types of handwriting instructional methods are currently used in school systems and compare the effectiveness of different instructional methods at increasing handwriting efficiency and automaticity. We are currently in the process of finishing up a three-year longitudinal project analyzing thousands of writing samples from children in kindergarten through grade 4.
My collaborator for this project is:
Nanho Vander Hart, Ph.D., Department of Education, Assumption College
Fitzpatrick, P., Vander Hart, N., & Cortesa, C.* (2013). The influence of instructional variables and task constraints on handwriting development. The Journal of Educational Research, 106 (3), 216-234.
Vander Hart, N., Fitzpatrick, P., & Cortesa, C. * (2010). Evaluation of handwriting instruction practices in four kindergarten classrooms. Reading and Writing, 23 (6), 673-699.
Parent-Child Interactions and Developmental Outcomes
During infancy and early childhood children’s motor, cognitive, social and emotional behavior is continually changing as they learn, grow, and develop. Whether these changes result in optimal child outcomes depends on a variety of factors that can interact with each other in complex ways. For example, children learn by exploring and interacting with their environment, observing and imitating adults and other children, and interacting with their parents and caregivers. Family dynamics—marital quality, co-parenting behavior, and family expressiveness—provide another important set of influences on child outcomes.
This research adopts a unique approach in tracking family and child outcomes across a wide variety of domains using longitudinal assessments from the prenatal period through the first year of the child’s life. This research adopts a clinical-developmental perspective that can provide important insights for developing comprehensive prevention and intervention programs to promote optimal child development.
Maria Kalpidou, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Assumption College
Regina Kuersten-Hogan, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Assumption College
Maria Markodimitraki, Department of Psychology, University of Crete
Kalpidou, M., Markodimitraki, M., Fitzpatrick, P., Pateraki, M., & Kuersten-Hogan, R. (2013). A Cross-Cultural Study of Imitation and Emotional Climate in Mother-Infant Interactions the First Year of Life. Poster presented at 16th European Conference on Developmental Psychology, Lausanne, Switzerland, September, 2013.
Fitzpatrick, P., Januszewski, J.*, Tocco, K.* & Kalpidou, M. (2013). Relationship between spontaneous imitation during 12-month free-play and prenatal marital quality and coparenting perceptions. Poster symposium presented at the Society of Research in Child Development 2013 Biennial Meeting, Seattle, Washington, April 2013.
Teaching and Learning Psychology
Creating learning environments and curriculums to promote student success is an important underlying goal of higher education. This requires understanding how to most effectively design academic programs as well as which educational techniques, practices, and assignments promote long-term learning in individual courses. One line of research evaluates the outcomes of Assumption’s curriculum on Psychology student outcomes. In another line of research I explore the impact of specific educational practices within psychology courses on student learning. This type of research is important for making informed decisions in revising the curriculum at both the departmental and course level.
Champika K. Soysa, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Worcester State University
Keith Lahikainen, Psy. D., Department of Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies, Assumption College
Soysa, C.K., Lapoint, S., Lahikainen, K., Fitzpatrick, P., & McKenna, C. Psycho-educational outcomes in underprivileged students: Cultural-capital and self-esteem. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Honolulu, HI, August, 2013.
Soysa, C.K. & Fitzpatrick, P. Writing in Introductory Psychology: Teaching text, Technology, and transdisciplinarity. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Honolulu, HI, August, 2013.
Fitzpatrick, P. Bodies and behavior: Linking biology and psychology in a first-year program. Paper presented at the Society for the Teaching of Psychology: Best Practices: Teaching Introductory Psychology Conference. Atlanta, Georgia, October, 2011.
Fitzpatrick, P., & Kalpidou, M. Assessing academic programs and using the findings for curriculum revision and strategic planning: Examples from a Psychology department. New England Educational Assessment Network Fall Forum 2006, Closing the loop: Using findings for improvement, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA, November, 2006.
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