Oakland University
Friday, December 5, 2014

President George Hynd explains his research in child neuropsychology

Dr. Hynd enjoys talking about research with students and faculty at Oakland University. He is published extensively on theoretical and clinical issues in child neuropsychology. 
President George Hynd comes to Oakland University with outstanding credentials as a leader at nationally recognized colleges and universities, including senior vice provost and dean at Arizona State University and dean at Purdue University. He was most recently provost and executive vice president of academic affairs at the College of Charleston. Prior to his administrative roles, Dr. Hynd was a distinguished research professor at the University of Georgia.

The innovative research he conducted on the neurobiological origins of reading disabilities, ADHD and childhood behavioral disorders set a foundation for genetic research and further investigations in brain-behavior relationships in children and adolescents.

All good research, Dr. Hynd says, is based on curiosity that can never be sated.

“That’s what draws people into academia – being curious about a question they basically spend a career trying to answer.”

His curiosity was first piqued while Dr. Hynd was studying toward a master’s degree in general-clinical psychology at Pepperdine University. He was teaching fifth and sixth grades at a Los Angeles elementary school and was curious about why his students, of obvious ability and with the best efforts of talented teachers, were unable to sound out words and grasp the relationship between sounds and symbols necessary to master reading.

At the time, Dr. Hynd recalls, researchers like renowned neurologist Macdonald Critchley were saying that the cause of reading disabilities would never be found — and the idea that they could be understood in the context of variation in early brain development was unfathomable.

However, the research of an Oakland University professor would later help Dr. Hynd answer some questions about brain development in children with reading disabilities. Early on in his research, he read the work of psychologist Keith Stanovich, then of OU’s School of Education.

“Keith Stanovich and the research he did with his colleagues helped identify the problems these children experienced in learning to read. This allowed me as a neuropsychologist to image the brain to find out where those processes took place and subsequently allowed geneticists to look at some genes that specifically code during fetal development for those regions of the brain,” Dr. Hynd says. Dr. Stanovich today is emeritus professor of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto.

Upon earning his master’s degree, Dr. Hynd was offered a job as a school psychologist in a small village in the Territorial Government of Guam. While testing a young girl with autism, he experienced what he calls “a genuine epiphany” that he needed to learn a great deal more to better serve children like her.

Dr. Hynd earned a doctorate in psychology from the University of North Colorado, concentrating his research on attributes of memory (acoustic, associative and orthographic) that help children develop the cognitive structures necessary to learn to read.

When magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans became available in the late 1980s, Dr. Hynd focused his research on brain structures that might be implicated in reading disabilities.

The planum temporale, a structure located on the left and right sides of the brain, serves as the foundation for perceiving sounds and establishing sound-symbol associations so necessary for fluent reading. This structure develops most dramatically during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Read this article and more in the fall 2014 OU Magazine.

The asymmetry of this structure seems to be associated with the development of fluent reading and language skills. Perhaps most intriguing — and reassuring to parents and educators — was research that later revealed educational intervention has an effect on altering brain metabolic processes that are associated with fluent reading abilities.

Citing the work of some of his colleagues, it appears that this effect is visible using functional MRI that measures blood oxygen levels, Dr. Hynd says. When children were put through rigorous training, their language cortex — the structure that children employ to read words — showed altered brain metabolic processes associated with improved reading.

“Not only could they read better,” he says, “but their brain was now responding a little bit more like normal. Kids who have reading disabilities typically do not have brain damage. They are born with variation in brain structures necessary for fluent reading. Typically, it’s not poor mothering or poor teaching.” The prevailing view is that they are born with a genetic predisposition that impacts brain development in ways that may be associated with difficulty in learning to read.

Dr. Hynd’s work encouraged research that identified certain genes related to how the planum temporale develops. “This explains why reading disabilities might run through some families,” he says.

He was also interested in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and hypothesized that a structure governing motor control in children with ADHD differed from those who did not have ADHD.

Further MRI research and studies confirmed his hypothesis that the caudate nucleus was implicated in children with ADHD. At least 15 subsequent studies have followed this line of investigation.

Doctoral students who were engaged in Dr. Hynd’s NIH-funded research pursued related research in clinical child neuropsychology. He chaired 69 dissertations and published extensively on theoretical and clinical issues in child neuropsychology, authoring, co-authoring and editing 11 books; authoring or co-authoring 57 book chapters and publishing 153 refereed journal articles.

In addition to serving as OU’s president, Dr. Hynd holds the title of full professor of psychology at Oakland University. Doubtful he will have time to teach, Dr. Hynd says he would welcome the opportunity to discuss research. “I guess you can tell I get pretty excited about talking about research.”
Early work with MRI changes treatment of reading disabilities in children

Created by Colleen Campbell (cjcampbell@oakland.edu) on Friday, December 5, 2014
Modified by Colleen Campbell (cjcampbell@oakland.edu) on Friday, December 5, 2014
Article Start Date: Friday, December 5, 2014