Reaching Others University at Buffalo - The State University of New York
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Rebecca J. Houston, PhD

Rebecca J. Houston, PhD

Senior Research Scientist

Applied Biopsychology

Research Assistant Professor, Psychology

Contact Information

1021 Main Street
Buffalo, NY  14203-1016
Phone: (716) 887-2579
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Primary Research Areas

Biological substrates of impulsivity and aggression; neurophysiological (EEG, ERPs) and neuropsychological correlates of substance use disorders, antisocial behavior and impulse control disorders; assessment and treatment of aggressive behavior.

Heart Rate Variability and Impulse Control During Alcohol Dependence Treatment

Houston | Dearing | Connors | Homish
This study examined the association between impulse control and heart rate variability in people with alcohol use disorders and the feasibility of implementing heart rate variability training (breathing exercises) in these patients as a potential way to reduce the impulse to drink.

Impulse control may serve as an important mechanism of change in the treatment of alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Prior studies have also suggested a link between impulse control and heart rate variability (HRV), a physiological index of self-regulation. This study is designed to examine whether a direct association exists between impulse control and HRV in AUD individuals. In addition, the study will provide preliminary data regarding feasibility of implementing a breathing training to enhance HRV in this population. Results of this study should provide a foundation for future studies examining the effects of HRV training on impulse control and drinking in relation to AUDs. 

Principal Investigator
Rebecca Houston, PhD
Research Institute on Addictions

Ronda Dearing, PhD
Research Institute on Addictions

Gerard Connors, PhD
Research Institute on Addictions

Gregory Homish, PhD
Department of Community Health and Health Behavior
University at Buffalo

Funding Agency
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)


Study of Health and Adult Relationship Experiences

Leonard | Testa | Quigley | Houston | Homish
Researchers examined the relationship between heavy drinking, impulsivity and aggression in married couples.

In this study, Dr. Leonard examined heavy drinking, cognitive functioning, and marital satisfaction and conflict in 300 couples over a three-year time period. Couples in which the husband, wife, both, or neither are frequent heavy drinkers were recruited. Researchers tested whether self-regulation skills, in conjunction with heavy drinking, smoking, and other health issues, influence marital satisfaction, marital stability, and marital conflict. Funded by an award of $2,635,812 from NIAAA, 2007-2012.

Etiology of Suicidal Behavior During Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood

Conner | Houston | Bossarte | Wyman | Tu | Hesselbrock

In this study, Principal Investigator Kenneth Conner of the University of Rochester investigated variables that decrease risk for suicide attempts in young people ages 12 to 25. Three types of variables that decrease risk will be examined: 1) “promotive” factors that decrease risk directly, that is they show a direct, inverse relationship to substance abuse; 2) “protective” factors that serve as a buffer against risk by moderating (lowering) the potency of risk factors; 3) variables that are both promotive and protective. Informed by a social connectedness framework, Dr. Conner and colleagues focused on promotive and protective effects of connectedness to peers, school, parents, and family. In addition, they examined promotive and protective effects of social capital, a measure of the connectedness within a community. Finally, the investigation included whether or not the promotive and/or protective effects of connectedness to parents, etc. assessed during adolescence endure into emerging adulthood. The project was conducted by an experienced multi-disciplinary research team which included Dr. Rebecca Houston of RIA; Drs. Robert Bossarte, Peter Wyman and Xin Tu of the University of Rochester Medical School; and Dr. Victor Hesselbrock of the University of Connecticut Health Center. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Dr. Conner with a subaward to Dr. Houston from the University of Rochester, 2010-2013.

Attempted Suicide and Alcohol Dependence

Conner | Houston

Using a case-control study design, this study examined the roles of reactive aggression and social isolation in suicide attempts and the level of planning preceding attempts in treated alcoholics. This study was funded by NIAAA to Dr. Kenneth Conner, principal investigator on the study and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Co-investigators in Rochester include Yeates Conwell, M. D., Paul Duberstein, PhD and Sean Meldrum, M. A. RIA Research Scientist Dr. Rebecca Houston was co-investigator on the study, managed data collection at two Buffalo sites, and supervised the Buffalo-based staff. Subaward to Dr. Houston from the University of Rochester, 2006-2011.

Impulse Control as a Mechanism of Change in the Treatment of Alcohol Dependence

Houston | Dearing | Connors | Homish

This project used a multi-modal measurement approach to the assessment of impulse control before, during, and after a cognitive behavioral treatment for alcohol dependence. Since it is likely that the decision to initiate drinking is indicative of a momentary lapse in impulse control for individuals with an alcohol disorder, this study 1) investigated whether changes in impulse control during treatment are related to alcohol use during treatment, as compared to pre-treatment and 2) whether changes in impulse control during treatment result in changes in post-treatment alcohol use, as compared to pre-treatment. A two-group design consisting of a Standard Assessment Group and a Frequent Assessment Group was used with men and women who met DSM-IV criteria for alcohol dependence to examine the multi-dimensional nature of the impulsivity construct. Results yet to be published will better define the role of impulse control as a potential mechanism of behavioral change and inform the development of subsequent avenues of investigation on this mechanism in the treatment of alcohol use disorders. Results will also provide information about refining existing treatments as well as developing new treatment methods. Dr. Houston’s co-investigators are Drs. Ronda L. Dearing and Gerard J. Connors of RIA, and Dr. Gregory G. Homish of UB’s Department of Health Behavior. Funded by a grant of $416,063 from NIAAA, 2007-2010.

Neurophysiological and Behavioral Characteristics of Heavy Drinkers & Aggressive Drivers (funded by UB Interdisciplinary Research Development Fund). Examination of the potentially interactive effects of aggressive driving and heavy drinking history on neurophysiological (event-related brain potentials; ERPs) and behavioral measures during a driving simulation task. (Award made to Changxu Wu, PhD, UB Industrial and Systems Engineering, subaccount to Rebecca Houston).

Transitional Mechanisms in the Relapse Process: A Pilot Study (funded by RIA Research Development Program). This pilot study is investigating the role of implicit responses (behavioral and neurophysiological) to alcohol cues as they relate to relapse.