Dr. Bolt Helps UW-CTRI Measure How Treatments Work

Installment four of our series on BREATHE 2 collaborators

Dr. Dan Bolt remembers the time, early in his career at UW, when he was teaching statistics and UW-CTRI Research Director Dr. Tim Baker sat in on his class.

Did Baker pass?

Bolt quipped: Baker passed, all right… on showing up to his class again! But it did lead to Bolt, Baker, and colleagues at UW-CTRI collaborating on what became the Wisconsin Inventory of Smoking Dependence Motives, an innovative and often cited 68-question survey designed to assess smoking dependence based on 13 sets of motives.

Dr. Dan Bolt
Dr. Dan Bolt

That, in turn, led to Bolt (left) leading the analysis team on recent UW-CTRI grants like UW-PASS and BREATHE 1 and now on the new BREATHE 2 study. “My main area of expertise is in measurement of psychological constructs,” Bolt said.

Bolt is the Nancy C. Hoefs-Bascom Professor of Educational Psychology at UW and the Quantitative Methods Area Chair. His wife, Jee-Seon Kim, is also a professor in the Quantitative Methods Area of the UW Department of Educational Psychology, and has related methodological interests.

Not that their 12-year-old daughter, Jeana Kim-Bolt, is fazed by her parents’ success.

“She likes to mention, as a joke, the statistical methods and terms we use—even though she doesn’t know what they mean,” Bolt said. “She’ll send me emails where the subject line is an obscure psychometrics term to get my attention and be funny.”

Terms like “multidimensional IRT” and “proximal effect” may be grist for Jeana’s comedy mill, but they also have helped UW-CTRI decode tobacco dependence and addiction. For example, in a new paper he co-wrote and published in British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, Bolt analyzed UW-CTRI data to evaluate the different stylistic ways participants respond to questions on surveys.

“UW-CTRI was generous in allowing me to use their data to explore a methodological issue related to self-report rating scale measurement,” Bolt said. Baker, Dr. Daniel Adams (now at Educational Testing Service), Dr. Sien Deng (now at ACT, Inc), and UW-CTRI Director of Biostatistical Operations Dr. Stevens Smith were the other co-authors.

“The paper involves examining a measurement issue that has been the focus of much recent attention in the psychometrics literature,” said Bolt. When people fill out self-report surveys involving rating scales, they often display stylistic differences in how they respond, for example some tend to respond with extreme answers while others avoid the extremes. “Understanding and measuring these differences can contribute to how we interpret scores and to efforts to further improve item and test development.”

Bolt is deft at taking complicated statistical terms and explaining them in plain English. Take the concept of a “proximal effect,” for instance.

“Ultimately, what people care about is smoking status a year from now,” Bolt said. “Are they able to maintain a quit attempt? But in developing and understanding how interventions work, it can be useful to attend to proximal effects. Proximal effects might include things we measure at early stages in the intervention that demonstrate effects the intervention is anticipated to have on the person. Even though they are not the outcomes people care the most about, they can tell us whether an intervention is working. They can also help us understand the mechanisms by which these interventions are ultimately successful.

“Attending to such effects also presents interesting measurement questions. Take cravings, for example. How do we best study the trajectory of the changes in craving in response to an intervention? Or how do we best evaluate whether an intervention is breaking the link between things like a stressful event and the desire to smoke?”

Bolt has led the analysis of these effects in several UW-CTRI studies.

“Dan makes key contributions to all facets of our work,” Baker said. “He helps us generate new research directions, shows us how to model targeted theoretical mechanisms with sophisticated and highly sensitive analyses, and serves as a great teacher for our entire research group.”

Years ago, one of Professor Bolt’s pupils was Megan Piper, who would go on to earn her doctorate and eventually assume her current role as UW-CTRI associate director of research and president-elect of the Society for Research on Nicotine & Tobacco.

“Dan Bolt is an excellent teacher and a generous colleague,” said Piper. “He has a way of explaining things that is incredibly clear and he has insight into measurement issues that is extremely valuable. His sense of humor combined with his intellect make him an amazing collaborator. We are very lucky to have him as a UW-CTRI collaborator.”

“I love the way UW-CTRI has mentored so many young investigators,” Bolt said. “It has been a positive aspect of my collaboration there. I get connected to a variety of types of research and people. It’s a remarkable network that has been an unanticipated benefit of collaborating there.”

Bolt has contributed to more than 25 UW-CTRI papers.

“The people at UW-CTRI are extraordinarily collaborative and generous,” he said. “I have nothing but great things to say about everyone at UW-CTRI. As a new faculty member when I first joined Wisconsin, having those collaborations was instrumental in helping me consider what to address in my methodological research, and it was also psychologically beneficial to feel like I was assisting people.”BREATHE 2

For BREATHE 2, Bolt said he’ll partner to implement experimental designs to yield data that will help researchers understand and evaluate whether the interventions are working as intended, and how. His work is appreciated by UW-CTRI researchers.

“Dan embodies all the qualities of an ideal colleague,” said Smith. “He is extremely knowledgeable about his areas of expertise, consultations with him are always helpful and valuable, he has been a very effective leader of the data analysis support core for our center grants, and he approaches the work with a positive attitude and open mind. Add to all that his warm, personable, easy-going manner and you have an ideal colleague!”

“Indeed, a good deal of credit for our success as a research group must go to Dan for enhancing the quality of our research efforts,” Baker said. “He is also a very clear and compelling writer—and the best part is that he knows what he is talking about.”