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Building a Strong Identity and Coping Skills (BaSICS) Program

This is a randomized control trial to study BaSICS, a program designed to teach low-income and racial/ethnic minority youth healthy ways of coping with stress, develop positive personal and cultural identities and engage in efforts to strengthen their communities.

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Martha Wadsworth, Ph.D., Department of Psychology (
  • Co-Investigators: Mark Feinberg, Ph.D. (PSU), Jarl Ahlkvist, Ph.D. (PSU), Gina Brelsford, Ph.D. (Penn State Harrisburg), and Damon Jones, Ph.D. (PSU)

About the Project

    • The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) awarded Penn State $2,800,000 to support this project for the period May 2016 – April 2018 and May 2018-April 2021 pending successful completion of the first two years’ goals.
    • Testing the efficacy of BaSICS for promoting adaptation among at-risk preadolescents.
    • Seed funding was provided by the Justice Center to support the development of the funding application.

    Research Questions

    • Does BaSICS lead to acquisition and use of adaptive individual and collective coping strategies?
    • Do children who complete BaSICS show improved physiologic stress regulation in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) in comparison to children who do not receive the intervention (control)?
    • Do children who complete BaSICS show lower levels of anxiety, PTSD, and depression than control children at post-test and follow-up?  Are improved coping skills and HPA regulation mechanisms of these differences?

    Project Details

    • Conduct pre- and post-intervention and follow-up assessments measuring proposed mechanisms that contribute to maladaptation in youth facing adversity, including regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and acquisition of adaptive ways to cope with chronic, uncontrollable stress (SAM).
    • Implement and evaluate BaSICS using a randomized control trial.


    • Findings will elucidate how psychosocial interventions can improve preadolescents’ physiologic regulation, how long-lasting such changes are, and the extent to which physiologic change is necessary and/or sufficient to prevent anxiety and depression in at-risk youths.
    • There are important implications of this work for eradication of income- and race-based health disparities.