Developmental psychologist and previous PACT Director (2007-2019) Dr. Kristin Buss dedicates her time to understanding anxiety through community engaged research in racially and economically diverse settings. Her research seeks to identify the different reasons children develop anxiety, with a growing interest in environmental influences. Historically, anxiety research has predominately focused on white middle-class families. Dr. Buss’ work with diverse populations helps provide a more authentic lens to anxiety research and a more inclusive picture of various community experiences.
With the help of Harrisburg community perspectives, Dr. Buss has been able to identify community trauma as one environmental risk factor of anxiety. From her PACT study examining anxiety symptoms during children’s entry to kindergarten, she found that parents reported their children having anxiety at rates three times higher than that found in other studies and often noted trauma in their communities. Similarly, in her study assessing infant and parent attention bias (a bias contributing to anxiety in which people are more likely to focus their attention on potential threats in their environment), she found a different pattern of bias for families in neighborhoods with violence and lower economic status, compared to families in lower risk environments. In efforts to combat these risk factors, Dr. Buss is continuing her study of environmental influences and is seeking funding to assess an intervention that can help prevent anxiety problems in preschool children living in high risk neighborhoods (BRAVE: Anxiety Prevention Preschoolers).
Notably, Dr. Buss credits her use of community engaged methods and environmental interests with her involvement in the development of PACT. After initially experiencing research recruitment barriers, Drs. Buss, Laureen Teti and Susan Woodhouse met with Harrisburg community members (including many past and current PACT CAB members) in 2007 to discuss ways research could be used for both researcher and community member benefit. Through this collaboration they worked together, along with other PSU faculty, to get initial funding to start PACT, with Dr. Buss serving as PACT Director. Dr. Buss notes some of the biggest highlights of her time with PACT include the relationships PACT has built with community members and the opportunities they have given her to reflect on the importance of community perspectives in research. Rather than taking previous research models and determining how they must fit across communities, she believes it is more important to reset hypotheses and learn what the data tells us about how community shapes development.
Recently, Dr. Buss transitioned out of her role as PACT Director; however, she still plans to be an active member of PACT and hopes the collaboration will continue expanding, disseminating findings, and providing community givebacks. She also has strong hopes that community-engaged approaches will grow both in university/donor support and practice.