Alum Brings Health Behavior, Neurocognition Expertise as New Faculty

As he began work toward his doctorate in health promotion science at Claremont Graduate University, Christopher Cappelli became fascinated with the way biology intersects with public health—specifically how understanding the neurocognition underlying addictive behavior can help predict and prevent it.

“I really liked the biology connection with the public health field,” says Cappelli, assistant professor of health and human sciences. “It takes a little bit from biology, psychology and classic public health to learn how we can modify behavior by understanding the science behind it.”

In his first few months after joining the faculty at Loyola Marymount University, Cappelli is wrapping up a couple of research projects. One looks at drug use among teens at alternative high schools, examining factors that would predict or protect against drug use. He’s also helping to complete data analysis of a study started during post-doctoral work at the University of Southern California to learn how enhancing mindfulness in middle-school students can work to protect against negative behaviors like smoking and drug abuse.

One paper published from the USC study reported that children with lower executive functioning were more likely to eat junk food and be sedentary.

At LMU, Cappelli will continue his research to more fundamentally understand the neurocognitive basis of behavior, and in the long term, collaborate with other faculty involved in work on sports medicine, muscle health, bone health and kinesiology. He’s also keen to get his students involved in examinations of drug use and other areas branching out from there.

An expert in neurocognition, neurobiology, substance abuse, addiction and other health behaviors, Cappelli earned a Master of Public Health degree from USC before concentrating in neurocognitive sciences for his doctorate at Claremont.

In his first semester at LMU, he’s teaching an upper-division class in public health for majors and a freshman course for non-majors.

Joining LMU’s faculty is a return to the campus for Cappelli where he earned his bachelor’s degree in biology.

“It was my undergraduate experience that drew me back,” he says. “It is such a warm, welcoming environment. LMU is focused on educating and creating a better person and a more just world.”

A Los Angeles native, Cappelli enjoys surfing, hiking, and camping. His wife, Jessica, is a forensic scientist who volunteers with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and is working toward becoming a criminalist. The two have a son, Connor, who was born a few months ago.