Loyola University Chicago

Department of Psychology


Stephanie Brewer

Training Track: Clinical, child subspecialty
Lab: CASA Lab  
Advisor: Catherine DeCarlo Santiago, Ph.D. 
Office: N/A
Email: sbrewer@luc.edu   
Webpage: Research Gate


I am particularly interested in promoting equitable mental health services for historically underserved youth. To achieve this long-term goal, my program of research focuses on: (1) understanding the contextually relevant stressors and culturally salient strengths that impact psychosocial wellbeing, (2) identifying evidence-based, culturally responsive interventions for children and adolescents, and (3) improving the implementation of contextually relevant and culturally responsive evidence-based interventions.

Masters Thesis Title

The impacts of family environment and stress reactivity on daily mood for low-income Latino adolescents 

Masters Thesis Abstract

Low-income Latino adolescents are at an increased risk for developing psychopathology, as the chronic stressors faced by those who grow up in poverty have an adverse cumulative effect, and the relationship between exposure to poverty and negative mental health outcomes is intensified for ethnic minority youth. One of the most impactful ways in which poverty causes deteriorations in adolescent mental health is through heightened levels of parent-child conflict. Another harmful result of the multiple stressors faced by poor youth is the dysregulation of the stress reactivity system. For Latino adolescents, problems with mood are a particular concern, as Latino adolescents have higher rates of mood problems than any other ethnic group. Fortunately, these youth may be able to benefit from the buffering effect of the cultural value of familism. Higher levels of familism may buffer against the harmful effects of parent-child conflict and inflated stress reactivity on mood. The present study utilizes a daily diary methodology to examine these processes in a nuanced way for low-income Latino middle school students. This research examines whether greater dysregulation of the stress reactivity system exacerbates the impact of high parent-child conflict on mood problems, while greater levels of familism buffer against mood problems, using hierarchical linear models that incorporate all daily ratings for each adolescent.

Masters Thesis Committee

Catherine DeCarlo Santiago, PhD; Grayson N. Holmbeck, PhD

Dissertation Title

The roles of HPA axis activity and attentional bias in the development of anxiety symptoms in low-income Mexican-origin children

Dissertation Abstract

The overarching goal of this research is to increase understanding of the development of anxiety in children of low-income Mexican-origin immigrants. Mexican-origin children display disproportionately high rates of mental disorders such as anxiety, as they face many chronic stressors related to poverty and immigration. A likely mediator of this process is HPA axis activity, causing a buildup of cortisol in the body in response to chronic stress. There is a large amount of evidence indicating that HPA axis activity is a mechanism through which accumulated poverty-related stress causes mental illness, but this mediator has not been examined in relation to culturally relevant immigration-related stress. Although chronic stress related to poverty and immigration likely causes chronic HPA axis activity, which can lead to problems with anxiety, not all highly stressed children develop anxiety, so there may be a moderator implicated in anxiety development. Neurocognitive processes such as attentional bias to threat have been shown to determine the trajectory of children’s anxious behavior later in life. Attentional bias to threat is a key component of the development and maintenance of anxiety, yet it has not been examined as a potential moderator distinguishing the highly stressed children who develop anxiety from those who do not. The present research focuses on HPA axis activity and attentional bias to threat in order to explain why some low-income Mexican-origin children develop anxiety symptoms and some do not. This study uses a culturally relevant measure of immigration-related stress and examines chronic HPA axis activity as a causal mechanism in the development of anxiety. Further, this research examines attentional bias to threat as a moderator of the association between chronic HPA axis activity and anxiety symptoms. The present study addresses these questions with a longitudinal research design in a community sample of low-income Mexican-origin children.

Dissertation Committee

Catherine DeCarlo Santiago, PhD; Rebecca L. Silton, PhD; Grayson N. Holmbeck, PhD; Christine P. Li-Grining, PhD