Predicting & Preventing Violence

ALBANY, N.Y. (Oct. 31, 2018) – An interdisciplinary UAlbany team has received almost a half million dollars from the National Institute of Health (NIH) for a comprehensive study on violence, and the project is among the small number nationwide to receive a perfect score from the Institute.

Led by principal investigator Melissa Tracy, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health, the team will study the processes that contribute to violence within social networks and test strategies that could potentially prevent it.

Melissa Tracy

With funding from the NIH, Melissa Tracy will lead an interdisciplinary team including Elana Gordis, associate professor of psychology, and Kate Strully, associate professor of sociology, to better understand violence and how to prevent it.

According to Tracy, violence, particularly committed by an intimate partner or family member of the victim, is on the rise in the United States and often spreads through generations and within social networks. Exposure to family violence often begins in childhood and, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, nearly one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner such as being punched, slammed against something or intentionally burned.

“Because research has long told us that violence within families is cyclical, it’s critically important that we not only understand more about what causes violence but also what could disrupt that cycle,” said Tracy.

Tracy’s team includes Elana Gordis, associate professor of Psychology, Kate Strully, associate professor of Sociology, and researchers from New York University and Brown University. Additionally, the team will include one graduate student and two undergraduate students for each year of the three-year project.

The project will use agent-based modeling, a computational systems science method, to create a representation of the New York City population and environment. Often used for infectious disease modeling, this method explicitly accounts for interactions and relationships through which exposures, including violence, can be transmitted. The model will be informed by data from several studies conducted over the past several decades and will simulate interactions between individuals in the population as they age and have children, including representing different processes that give rise to violence between individuals.

Once the team feels the model adequately reflects violence transmission in an urban area, they will use it to gain insight into which processes matter most for violent incidents at different ages and within different types of relationships (ex. parent to child versus between peers). In an effort to inform real intervention strategies, they will also use the model as a virtual laboratory to test hypothetical actions that could prevent violence at different ages. Additionally, the group will estimate the reduction in non-fatal and fatal violent assaults that would result from these interventions among specific subgroups. Simulated interventions will include home visitation programs for parents of young children, school-based violence prevention programs, and increased access to behavioral health services.

“Preventing violence is key to protecting the physical health of abused partners and also of children and adolescents when they are present,” said James A. Dias, Vice President for Research at UAlbany. “The proposed work will lead to best practices and policies, and intervention practices informed by evidence. We are deeply honored and inspired by the work of Dr. Tracy and colleagues and hope that this work will lead to rapid implementation.”

The proposal for funding received a “Perfect 10” from the NIH, a perfectly scored project that lands in the top 1 percentile of all applications, according to Satyendra Kumar, Associate Vice President for Research at UAlbany. “The scoring system is peer reviewed and highly competitive, and the team’s perfect score is a testimony to the highest caliber of research and Melissa’s standing in the field of scholarship,” Kumar said.

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