Larissa G. Duncan, PhD

Elizabeth C. Davies Chair in Child & Family Well-Being
Associate Professor | Human Development and Family Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison

My research program is focused on investigating the ways in which mindfulness and mindful parenting may promote psychological well-being, the quality of family relationships, and adaptive coping with stress. I am engaged in a number of intervention research projects aimed at investigating the psychological, behavioral, and physical health effects of mindfulness-based interventions. My team also conducts basic research on the measurement of mindfulness and mindful parenting using 1st and 3rd-person report, observational, and physiological assessment paradigms. I developed a questionnaire measure of mindful parenting, the Interpersonal Mindfulness in Parenting (IM-P) scale that is now in use in parenting studies in five countries.

My clinical research is aimed at developing and testing scalable, integrative stress reduction programs for vulnerable and underserved populations with the long-term goal of reducing health disparities and promoting optimal individual and family development. A central focus of this work involves leveraging high quality, evidence-based interventions as a vehicle for the delivery of mindfulness and mindful parenting skills training. By testing mindfulness-based enhancements of high quality programs, we are able to test the additive benefit of mindfulness training over and above existing models of clinical care and psychosocial/ behavioral intervention. From a scientific perspective this approach allows us to isolate mechanisms of action. From a participant and practitioner perspective, these studies can answer questions about what added value might be expected from incorporating mindfulness practices into their lives and work.

A key developmental transition that can be stressful for families is the transition to the teenage years. My former mentors from Penn State University, Dr. Doug Coatsworth and Dr. Mark Greenberg, and I developed a conceptual model of mindful parenting and a mindfulness-based enhancement to an existing, widely used, evidence-based prevention program for families of young teens, the Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 (SFP). In a pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the mindfulness-enhanced SFP (MSFP), we found that families who participated in MSFP experienced greater improvements in the parent-child relationship compared to families who received the standard SFP. We are currently testing the efficacy of the mindfulness-enhanced SFP in a NIH/NIDA-funded R01 randomized controlled trial being conducted with 600 families of young teens.

The negative impact of stress on healthy development begins in utero. My primary research in this area involves testing the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction skills training for pregnant women and their partners. Nancy Bardacke and I conducted a pilot study of her Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) program. Our results suggest that pregnant women who take MBCP in their 3rd trimester experience reductions in pregnancy-related anxiety, depression, and negative affect, and increases in mindfulness and positive affect. With funding from NIH/NCCAM and the Mt. Zion Health Fund, we are collaborating with the Centering Healthcare Institute, and the Outpatient Midwifery Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) to develop and test a mindfulness enhancement to the CenteringPregnancy group-based model of prenatal healthcare delivery. We are investigating effects on birth and postpartum outcomes, as well as the potential psychological and physiological mechanisms of action.

Other projects on which I collaborate include clinical trials of positive affect and coping skills training, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and group care models of healthcare delivery. Populations for these trials include adolescents in school settings, people living with HIV, and women with chronic pelvic pain.


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