The study of behavioral genetics is a complex subject that has often excluded racial ethnic minority groups. In spite of this, psychology students at ASU, like Belal Jamil, have been working to fill these gaps in research.
Jamil is a psychology graduate student and a member of assistant professor Jinni Su's Genes, Environment and Youth Development Lab. The goal of the lab is to explain the ways genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of substance use disorders and other mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, later in life.
“Racial ethnic minority populations are heavily impacted but underserved, and so we need to better study them and understand them to inform intervention-prevention efforts,” Su said.
“One of the papers I wrote was with the Pathways to College Health Study, and that is essentially looking at a longitudinal study following first years (students) up until they graduate. The first years (started) in the fall of 2020, so the peak of COVID,” Jamil said.
This study analyzed the differences between Hispanic and Latinx populations and white populations when it came to COVID-19 experiences and related depression and anxiety.
“We found that Hispanic and Latinx college students experienced more COVID stress on average than our white participants did. We also found differences in the effects of social support in buffering that risk of COVID stress,” Jamil said.
In the study, they found that in white communities, romantic relationships were significant social supports, while friends played a larger role in Hispanic or Latinx communities.
Angel Trevino, a psychology graduate student, is one of Jamil's partners in Su's lab. The two worked on the Pathways to College Health Study.
Trevino said understanding the way genetics can be used to predict possible mental health issues could lead to early intervention in childhood.
“What we are finding now is that the way families structure themselves and the way youth structure themselves around their peers varies across racial ethnic groups. So it is very important to get to the nuances of how those things differ across groups,” Trevino said.