Lauren Kelley ’19 publishes Senior Study research

Lauren Kelley ’19 publishes Senior Study research

May 9, 2019

When Lauren Kelley ‘19 first began her Senior Study work, she hadn’t imagined that she’d soon be publishing her findings in a peer-reviewed neurological journal – but that’s exactly what happened.

Kelley, a psychology major interested in how substance abuse and addiction affect the brain, had her research published in NeuroRegulation, a peer-reviewed journal published by the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research with a focus on electroencephalogram (EEG) findings. The journal article is based on Kelley’s Senior Study research, which focuses on the physiological differences between children diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and those with intrauterine drug exposure (IUDE) due to similarities between the two groups.

“Often times the impulsive behavior, difficulty concentrating and social/emotional delays that are common with the IUDE population lead to an ADHD diagnosis, usually resulting in pharmaceutical measures to address it,” said Kelly, who is from Louisville, Tenn., and graduated from Maryville College May 4.

One of the distinctive features of a Maryville education, the Senior Study requirement calls for students to complete a two-semester research and writing project that is guided by a faculty supervisor. According to the College’s catalog, the Senior Study program “facilitates the scholarship of discovery within the major field and integrates those methods with the educational goals fostered through the Maryville Curriculum.”

Kelley was inspired by a TED Talk, titled “Changing Education Paradigms," which she watched in class during her sophomore year at MC and addresses how society can better approach children who struggle in class due to conditions like ADHD.

“It mentions how our culture addresses things like ADHD by essentially anesthetizing kids in order for them to behave, focus and calm down when really we should be reevaluating how we are helping them grow and learn,” Kelley said.

Since there are many resources for adults struggling with substance abuse, Kelley wanted to focus on how to better assist children who were unwillingly exposed to substances.

The Maryville College Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved her to use archival data without any identifying information from Knoxville Neurofeedback Group, the clinic where she worked at the time and where the majority of the clients were children with learning disabilities.

She analyzed performance scores from a computerized attention test called Conners Continuous Performance Test and also evaluated electroencephalograms (EEG), a test that records brain wave patterns. She compared these factors between children diagnosed with ADHD and those with IUDE.

Kelley’s findings suggest that there are, in fact, differences between the two groups, although they are often diagnosed and treated the same way.

“IUDE children in my study scored significantly higher than ADHD participants, but without diagnostic criteria for IUDE, they are often being diagnosed and treated for ADHD,” Kelley said. “However, it's possible they're actually battling a completely different disorder that might require a different treatment method.”

Dr. Chad Schrock, professor of psychology at Maryville College and Kelley’s Senior Study advisor, said that the use of both behavioral and neurological data was key to her study.

“By using both types of data, she was able to show that children who showed similar response patterns on measures of attention and executive function actually differed in patterns of activity at a physiological level, as measured by EEG,” Schrock said.

Kelley’s discovery sparked the interest of the researchers and supervisors at the Knoxville Neurofeedback Group. They then added to Kelley’s original research and collaborated with her to submit it for publication in NeuroRegulation. The article is titled “EEG source localization and attention differences between children exposed to drugs in utero and those with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A pilot study.”

“Lauren’s study really hit the sweet spot for this journal, because it focuses on both EEG findings and potential interventions for a clinical population,” Schrock said. “She and her co-authors also happened to hit the publication cycle at the right time, as the journal is a quarterly publication, and they got submitted and were able to get reviews and prep for final publication quickly. That speaks to the quality of Lauren’s Senior Study.”

Kelley said it’s still a shock to see her name cited in a published article, and she remembers crying the day she first saw it published.

“To say I'm overwhelmed with gratitude and super proud is an understatement,” Kelley said.

Schrock said this is the first time he’s had a student publish thesis findings while still an undergraduate student.

“Our department has a long history of students presenting Senior Studies at regional or national conferences, because that can normally be managed in a cycle that’s about six months,” Schrock said. “However, the typical timeline for submitting, peer-reviewing, editing and publishing in peer-reviewed science journals is going to be longer (sometimes a year or more), so it is impressive that she and her co-authors managed to get this turned around and published in such a short time.”

Kelley will continue her education in the fall at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she’ll pursue a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and continue working as a substance abuse counselor at Stepping Stone to Recovery.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.