Karina Villalba

Project Title: Effects of childhood abuse on emotion and cognition and health-risk behaviors among alcohol using women of color at risk for HIV

Emotional regulation and executive function are central for the regulation of emotion, which include selecting and modifying situations that have emotional significance and selecting behavioral responses. Emotional dysregulation is defined as the impaired ability to regulate and/or tolerate negative emotional states. Women with emotional dysregulation may rely on maladaptive strategies including alcohol abuse and sexual risk behaviors for regulating negative emotions. Emotional dysregulation has been described as a mediating factor for sexual risk behaviors and a predictor for higher lifetime number of sexual partners. The purpose of the proposed study is to investigate whether childhood abuse is indirectly associated with health-risk behaviors (sexual risk and alcohol abuse) through the mediating effects of emotional dysregulation and/or executive function. The study will focus on African American and Latina women who are among the most vulnerable to HIV and associated psychosocial risk factors. In Phase 1 (quantitative) we will enroll 150 women to complete, in one visit, psychosocial measures and a neurocognitive battery of tests; In Phase 2 (qualitative) a sample of women with a history of childhood abuse (N=20) will participate in semi-structured in-depth interviews to explore perceptions of childhood trauma and emotional dysregulation and the effects on risk behaviors. This mixed-methods approach will permit an in-depth understanding of the factors affecting emotional dysregulation, including type of childhood trauma and severity, impulse control, emotional awareness, and perceived risks. The results from this pilot will be used to inform a future intervention designed for women with a history of childhood abuse.

Research Interests

Alcohol Use Disorders, HIV, Childhood Abuse, Emotional Regulation, Cognition

Post-Doctoral Associate
Department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention

Dr. Karina Villalba has a master’s in environmental health and a doctorate in health promotion and disease prevention. Dr. Villalba’s research has focused primarily on HIV, substance use disorders, neurocognition, and genomics. Her interests include the contribution of gene-environment interaction in the etiology of substance use disorders, the adaptation and evaluation of theoretically-based interventions for HIV/AIDS and substance use disorders and the understanding of the effects of traumatic events during childhood and/or adulthood in HIV+ individuals with alcohol use disorders. Her research integrates basic and behavioral sciences with the aim to translate to population-based interventions. Recently she has been involved in a study to determine the extent to which achieving short-term abstinence or markedly reduce drinking improves cognition and brain function using contingency management and whether these improvements reverse after discontinuing this strategy. As well as in a community-based participatory research approach to identify intervention strategies to improve uptake of PrEP among minority women in South Florida. She is presently the Principal Investigator (PI) of this pilot study funded by the National Institutes of Health which focuses on investigating whether childhood abuse is indirectly associated with health-risk behaviors (sexual risk and alcohol abuse) through the mediating effects of emotional dysregulation and/or executive function among women with a history of childhood abuse.

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