UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE
COLLEGE OF SOCIAL WORK
SW 593 Neurophysiologic Development in Social Work
Online Self-Study Course
(1 credit hour)
Instructor: Rebecca (Becky) Bolen, Ph.D.
203 Henson Hall
Office Hours: By appointment.
Code of Conduct
It is the student's responsibility to have read the College of Social Work Ethical Academic and
Professional Conduct Code that is in the College of Social Work MSSW Handbook
The Honor Statement
An essential feature of The University of Tennessee is a commitment to maintaining an
atmosphere of intellectual integrity and academic honesty. As a student of the University, I
pledge that I will neither knowingly give nor receive any inappropriate assistance in academic
work, thus affirming my own personal commitment to honor and integrity. (Hilltopics, 2008).
If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a documented disability or if you
have emergency information to share, please contact The University of Tennessee Office of
Disability Services at 191 Hoskins Library (865-974-6087). This will ensure that you are properly
registered for services.
This course will examine neurophysiologic development. Neurophysiologic development
provides a foundation for understanding the processes of human development and how these
processes are influenced by culture and the environment. The course examines the effects of
risk and protective factors at various ecological levels, such as attachment, poverty, and culture.
This course also covers genetics and how genes express themselves as well as genetic
potentials. Typical development will be covered as well as atypical developmental patterns that
are consistent with neurodevelopmental disorders. Processes critical to human behavior and
risk and resilience for vulnerable populations are emphasized to understand individual or family
Content in this course will be illustrated and centered around a case study approach in which
students read case studies that are paired with theoretical and research material. Class
discussion about the theoretical and research material will be linked to case studies, and
students will use theory and research to construct hypotheses about individual or family
adaptation to the environment. In addition, students will practice forming research questions and
going to the literature to assess what is known about their questions
To practice accountably and effectively, social workers must be able to understand their clients
and their presenting issues within their clients’ developmental contexts. In supportive
environments, individuals flourish as they progress through developmental stages and stage-
salient tasks. Other environments, because of risk factors associated with them, are less
supportive of wellbeing. Even so, brain plasticity provides humans with an amazing capacity to
adapt to these less supportive and sometimes frankly maladaptive environments, although
sometimes at great cost to themselves. Especially for young children, the costs to the
developing brain of less adaptive environments are profound because their brains actually
become organized around repeated experiences within these less adaptive environments. Also,
genetics play a role in terms of gene expression and potential in regards to these less adaptive
environments. Neurophysiological changes and behaviors resulting from these earlier less
adaptive environments are often conceptualized by clinicians as psychopathology or presenting
problems of clients. Understanding human development as a series of processes mediated by
the brain within an environment-dependent context profoundly reframes not only our
understanding of our clients and their presenting problems, but also how to intervene
appropriately with clients and their environments. This different understanding of human
development also suggests the critical importance of effective prevention programs and social
policies that promote wellbeing, as well as interventions directed at changing the larger
environments of individuals. Thus, knowledge gained in this course will allow social workers not
only to better understand, contextualize, and assess clients and their presenting problems, but
also to develop more appropriate interventions, prevention programs, or policies for working
with or for the benefit of clients and for the necessary environments to support human wellbeing.
1. Explain the roles of neurophysiology, adaptive and maladaptive environments, and
experiences, including the effects of trauma and chronic stress, on brain development and
the role of genetics and epigenesis in development during the sensitive period of the first
three years of life and across the life span. (content: basic introduction to Mendelian
genetics and the Human Genome Project; gene expression; effects of stress and trauma on
hormones, brain development, and gene expression; effects of parenting on brain
development and gene expression; Hobfoll’s conservation of resources theory).
2. Explain the interaction between nature (genetic potential of an individual) and nurture (effect
of the environment on the individual) as it relates to cultural differences and disparities by
race/ethnicity, class, sex, and sexual orientation. (content: traits, phenotypes, health
disparities in race; kindling hypothesis; mundane extreme environmental stress; tend and
befriend hypothesis; epigenesis; effects of early deprivation on brain development)
3. Explain how neurophysiological processes may place individuals at risk or, conversely, how
environments of at-risk individuals contribute to neurophysiological processes that increase
their levels of vulnerability. (Content: epigenesis, allostasis, attachment, stress, trauma,
kindling; HPA axis; amygdala; pruning; synaptogenesis; windows of opportunity)
There is no required text for this course. All readings and course materials are on the
BlackBoard site for this class and can be downloaded or read from there.
ORGANIZATION OF COURSE AND BLACKBOARD
This is an online course that is in a primarily self-study format. Everything that you need for the
course is online at the BlackBoard site for this course. You can gain access to the course site
To orient you to the course, the first class will be an online interactive format in which I will meet
with the class online. During this time I will introduce you to the course materials on BlackBoard,
assignments, and tools you can use on BlackBoard to make the class successful for you. It is
hoped that by providing this online, self-study format you will be able to fit it to your schedule
more easily. I will also be available online for one hour each week, during which time I can
answer questions and discuss content further. Instructions for preparing for the online
interactive format will be sent prior to the first week of class.
Class content is divided into three groups—Genetics and Human Development/Behavior; Brain
and Behavior; and Stress, Trauma, and Hormones. Course content may include readings,
online lectures, PowerPoint presentations, videos, and web sites. At the end of each of these
content groups you will have an assignment, with a further summary assignment for the course.
I attempt to remain readily available to students during the semester. If for any reason you
are struggling, have questions about an assignment, need to let me know what is going on
with you, or just want to talk, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am easily contacted
by email and will reply as soon as possible. During the semester I monitor my email
closely unless out of town. We can set up a phone conversation, meeting, or converse by
It is assumed that all of your work is original and that you are aware of appropriate citation
rules. If you are not completely familiar with citation rules, please review them at the UT
Library web site: http://www.lib.utk.edu/instruction/learnhow/. This web site has other
tutorials as well on how to use the library effectively, search strategies, etc., that may be of
help. Please be aware that copying material verbatim from the web is considered
plagiarism unless it is appropriately cited as verbatim material. BlackBoard now provides
the means for submitted papers to be automatically scanned to determine if they include
plagiarized material. Please assume that your paper will be automatically scanned when it
is submitted. If a significant portion of your paper will be or has been submitted verbatim or
close to verbatim to other classes, please let me know.
Discussion Board 1 25 points
Discussion Board 2 25 points
Discussion Board 3 25 points
Final paper 25 points
The University of Tennessee does not award minus grades at the graduate level. Therefore, the
following grading scale will be used for the final grade:
93 – 100 A
88 – 92 B+
83 – 87 B
78 – 82 C+
73 – 77 C
68 – 72 D+
63 – 67 D
At the end of each of Units A, B, and C, you will engage with a small group (to be assigned) in
an online discussion.
The questions for Discussion Board 1 are related to genetic processes and the ethical
considerations related to these; and the nature/nurture interaction and its implications for
understanding social problems (CC 1, 2, 3)
The questions for Discussion Board 2 are related to attachment and its neurophysiological
processes and implications; brain plasticity; experience-expectant and experience-dependent;
the aging brain; and kindling. (CC 1, 2, 3)
The questions for Discussion Board 3 are related to the nature/nurture interaction; mundane
extreme environmental stress; allostasis; and stress and trauma, their neurophysiological
processes, and implications. (CC 1, 2, 3)
The content for each discussion is provided on BlackBoard.
The grading criteria for the discussion boards are as follows.
0 – 12.5 points inadequate participation & inadequate content in responses to
12.51 – 20.0 points adequate participation & adequate content in responses to discussions
20.10 – 25.0 points adequate participation & adequate content in response to discussions
+ evidence of critical analysis and critical thinking in response to
You will be presented with a vignette. Applying what you have learned in this course, you will
then write a 5- to 6-page paper that applies a neurophysiological framework to the person in the
vignette. Using this framework, you will attempt to make sense of the various dynamics and
issues of that person. It is important not to force this framework upon the person, using it
indiscriminately, but to apply it thoughtfully and in a manner that helps to make sense of the
individual. The vignette, however, provides ample opportunities to explain current or previous
issues within a neurophysiological framework. More instructions are provided within the
vignette. (CC 1, 2, 3)
Grading criteria for the paper are as follows:
24 – 25 points The paper does an exceptional job of understanding symptoms, issues,
dynamics, and other mechanisms of the individual that could be explained
neurophysiologically given the person’s history and development. The paper is
insightful throughout, draws upon needed references, is well-organized with a
high level of writing quality, and uses APA referencing style for sources. This
grade is reserved for only those very few papers that demonstrate the highest
23 – 23.9 The paper does a very good job of applying the neurophysiological framework
while drawing upon needed references, demonstrates insight, is well-organized
with a high level of writing quality, and uses APA referencing style for sources.
This paper is considered to be of excellent quality.
21 – 22.9 The paper does a good job of applying the neurophysiological framework while
drawing upon needed references but exhibits less insight and may not
adequately draw upon needed references. It may suffer from a lesser quality of
writing and organization. This paper is considered to be of average quality.
19 – 20.9 The paper doe not adequately apply the neurophysiological framework. It may
be poorly written, may exhibit poor insight, and may fail to draw upon needed
18.9 & lower Papers with a grade lower than a 19 have significant problems throughout.
Content Assignments Due Due Date
A. Genetics & Human Development Discussion Board 1 June 9
B. Brain & Behavior Discussion Board 2 June 18
C. Stress, trauma, & hormones Discussion Board 3 June 26
Final Paper July 2
A. GENETICS AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT/BEHAVIOR
Part I. The Basics
Optional papers and tutorials, based on previous knowledge of DNA, genes, chromosomes,
protein, Mendellian genetics
A guide to your genome. (2008). National Human Genome Research Institute (pp. 1-16)
Learn.Genetics (2009). Tour of the basics. A web-based tutorial.
O’Neil, D. (2008). Mendel’s genetics. http://anthro.palomar.edu/mendel/mendel_1.htm
The brain: A roadmap to the mind. MSNBC. (This is a web site that demonstrates
the different parts of the brain and their roles.)
NASW (2003). NASW standards for integrating genetics into social work practice (pp. 1
– 20). Washington, DC: NASW Press.
Hall, M. T., Scheyett, A., & Strom-Gottfried, K. (2008). No gain, no pain: Ethics in the
genomic revolution. Families in Society, 89(4), 562-570.
Strohman, R. C. (2003). Genetic determinism as a failing paradigm in biology and
medicine: Implications for health and wellness. Journal of Social Work Education, 39(2),
Rothbart, M. K. (2007). Temperament, development, and personality. Current Directions
in Psychological Science, 16(4), 207-212.
Science Daily (Nov. 8, 2007). Genetics has a role in determining sexual orientation in
men, further evidence.
ScienceDaily (June 30, 2008). Homosexual behavior largely shaped by genetics and
random environmental factors.
Genetics Lecture by Dr. Terri Combs-Orme.
Learn.Genetics (2009). Genetic disorders library.
Part II. The Human Genome Project
Human Genome Project.
http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/home.shtml This is the primary
web site for the Human Genome Project. Please explore it to get a sense of what
information is on it.
U.S. Department of Energy Genome Programs. Genomics and Its Impact on Science
and Society: The Human Genome Project and Beyond. (PowerPoint slides).
U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (2006). The gene gateway workbook.
Part III. Epigenesis
Epigenesis Lecture by Dr. Terri Combs-Orme
Learn.Genetics (2009). The epigenome at a glance. (video)
PBS Nova (2007). Ghost in your genes (video)
Watters, E. (November, 2006). DNA is not destiny. Discover, 33-37, 75.
Harper, L. V. (2005). Epigenetic inheritance and the intergenerational transfer of
experience. Psychological Bulletin, 131(3), 340-360.
David, R., & Collins, J. (2007). Disparities in infant mortality: What’s genetics got to do
with it? American Journal of Public Health, 97(7), 1191-1197.
B. BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR
Part I. Brain Development and Attachment Theory
Lecture by Dr. Rebecca Bolen.
DiPietro, J.A. (2000). Baby and the brain: Advances in child development. Annual
Review of Public Health, 21, 455–471.
Schore, A.N. (2000). Attachment and the regulation of the right brain. Attachment &
Human Development, 2(1), 23–47.
PBS (2002). The babies brain: Wider than the sky. (Video)
Part II. Social Work Practice and the Brain
Siegel, D.L. (2001). Toward an interpersonal neurobiology of the developing mind:
Attachment relationships, “mindsight,” and neural integration. Infant Mental Health
Journal, 22(1-2), 67-94.
Cicchetti, D. & Cannon, T.D. (1999). Neurodevelopmental processes in the ontogenesis
and epigenesis of psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 375-393.
Waller, R.J. (2003). Application of the kindling hypothesis to the long-term effects of
racism. Social Work in Mental Health, 3(3), 81-89.
Part III. The Adult Brain
Science Daily (June 18, 2008). Symmetry of homosexual brain resembles that of
opposite sex, Swedish study finds.
Park, D., & Gutchess, A. (2006). The cognitive neuroscience of aging and culture.
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(3), 105-108.
PBS (2002). The aging brain: Through many lives. (Video)
C. STRESS, TRAUMA, AND HORMONES
Part I. Stress & Trauma Responses
Champagne, F.A. & Curley, J.P. (2005). How social experiences influence the brain.
Current Opinion in Neurobiology 15, 704–709.
Carroll, G. (1998). Mundane extreme environmental stress and African American
families: A case for recognizing different realities. Journal of Comparative Family
Studies, 29(2), 271-284.
Science Daily (June 18, 2008). Male homosexuality can be explained through a specific
model of Darwinian evolution, study shows.
Lecture by Dr. Rebecca Bolen
Part II. Effects of Stress & Trauma
Perry, B. D. (2002). Childhood experience and the expression of genetic potential:
What childhood neglect tells us about nature and nurture. Brain and Mind, 3, 79-
McEwen BS. & Wingfield, J.C. (2003). The concept of allostasis in biology and
biomedicine. Hormones & Behavior, 43, 2-15.
Taylor, S. E. (2006). Tend & befriend: Biobehavioral bases of affiliation under stress.
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(6), 273-277.
Part III. Long-term Effects of Stress & Trauma
Engel, S.M. et al. (2005). Psychological trauma associated with the World Trade Center
attacks and its effect on pregnancy outcome. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 19,
Skillingstad, C. (2006). Adverse childhood experiences: ACE study. PowerPoint
presentation for videoconference at Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota.
Felitti, V. J., & Anda, R. F. (2003). The relationship of adverse childhood experiences to
adult health status: A collaborative effort of Kaiser Permanente and The Centers for
Disease Control. PowerPoint presentation at Symposium Strafrecht en Forensische
Psychiatrie, of the Amsterdams Centrum voor Kinderstudies, ACK Vrije Universiteit