Lindsey Cohen recognized with GSU Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award
Story by Jeremy Craig, GSU University Relations, 404-413-1357
It’s no secret that the insertion of IV needles, the puncture of
immunizations or other necessary but invasive medical procedures can
cause some children to react by screaming or sometimes by flailing.
to Lindsey Cohen, an associate professor of psychology and recipient of
the Georgia State’s Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award in 2009,
medical staff and parent behavior can help but might also exacerbate
the situation. For example, excessive reassurance (“don’t worry,
everything’s going to be all right, don’t worry!”), giving too much
control (“tell me when you are ready”) and criticism (“you are acting
like a baby”) might prompt, encourage or reinforce child distress.
videotaped children in these stressful medical situations and performed
behavioral analyses, examining the interactions among discrete parent,
nurse, and child behavior,” Cohen said. “Some of the findings have lead
to recommendations of how adults can best coach upset children.”
on Cohen’s assessments, behavioral interventions to help children cope
with the stress have been developed. These include deep breathing and
relaxation, or distractions during a stressful procedure.
pediatric pain research also incorporates technology. Recently, Cohen
completed work on a project funded by the National Institutes of Health
(NIH) where his team developed an interactive parent training program,
“Bear Essentials,” involving animated bears that teach and demonstrate
for parents those behaviors that might minimize children’s distress as
well as behaviors to avoid during children’s immunizations.
also received a new grant from the NIH to develop a virtual reality
biofeedback computer game that will immerse children in a distracting
computer game where they guide a space ship and earn points by relaxing
their body and breathing deeply. This will be evaluated with children
undergoing broken limb evaluation and casting.
Cohen’s interest in the field started in the 1990s before he entered
graduate school, when he worked at the former Egleston Children’s
Hospital in Atlanta on a medical psychiatric unit. The unit was aimed
toward children who had psychological issues in the midst of medical
Sometimes, children were brought onto his unit
because they were having severe psychological reactions to medical
procedures, such as lumbar punctures, bone marrow aspirations or
“The only instructions we had were to help
hold them down,” Cohen said. “In the early 1990s, the literature was
sparse regarding how to best help children during brief, painful
medical procedures. It was awful to have to hold down scared kids who
pleaded to be allowed up. Although it was not quite traumatic for me, I
imagine it was for a child to have several large adults pin them down
while another adult inserts a needle into the child’s spine. When I
learned that there was research in the area, I became fascinated with
In 2008-2009, Cohen spent a professional leave
sabbatical at the University of Bath in England examining chronic pain.
Cohen is now working on a project with assistant professor of
psychology Akihiko Masuda, in search of approaches for acute and
chronic pain and other symptoms in adolescents who have sickle cell
He also has students working in subjects related to his
main focus, including infant pain and how it affects people later in
life. Other pediatric psychology research in Cohen’s lab examines
behavioral and psychosocial aspects of medical care related to obesity,
HIV and other medical conditions.
Student research, including undergraduate research, is a critical part of his students’ learning experiences.
vital that students develop critical thinking skills, which challenges
students to avoid simple acceptance and memorization of ‘facts,’” Cohen
said. “It is important that students learn to critically evaluate
information and research helps instill a scientific approach to
“Such a way of thinking is a great way to approach
life, and it can be applied anywhere, from interpreting news reports to
even purchasing items at a grocery store. It’s a different way of
thinking and understanding the world,” he said.