My research interests focus broadly on understanding the etiology of depression and anxiety disorders across childhood and adolescence, and on translating such developmental models into prevention and intervention programs for at-risk youth. I adopt a multi-method approach to research related to depression that includes attempts to integrate psychosocial and neurobiological risk and protective factors.
Much of my work incorporates both observations of children and families, and measures of psychophysiological and neurobiological functioning. At present, my lab is set up to examine both autonomic nervous system functioning in parents and children (e.g. heart-rate/heart-rate variability, respiration, skin conductance, and startle-reflexes), as well as central nervous system processes via EEG and Event Related Potential recordings. Families should be aware that all of these recordings are safe and comfortable for both parents and youth. I hope that by examining multiple levels of functioning, studies will yield a richer and more detailed understanding of emotional processes related to the development and treatment of depression and anxiety in youth.
Although my central interests focus on the development and prevention of internalizing disorders in youth, I am also interested in the development and treatment of conduct problems and substance use in youth (particularly as these problems often co-occur with depression), and more broadly on the development and application of quantitative methods for developmental research (including latent growth and growth mixture modeling techniques). I am also involved in collaborations focused on depression in adults, geared towards an examination of mindfulness based approaches to intervention and the effects of such intervention practices on changes in neural functioning related to emotional processes.
We have a number of ongoing research projects, focused on refining our understanding of family relationships and affective processes related to depression in children, adolescents, and young adults. Examples of current projects include the following:
- Family Relationships and Emotions in Youth (FREY) Study. The broad goals of the FREY study are to refine our understanding of children’s emotional-regulatory abilities as a protective factor for the emergence of depression and other psychosocial outcomes in late adolescence. Ultimately, such developmental studies should help refine prevention and intervention efforts by highlighting specific child, family, and peer processes related to the elevated risk for the development of depression and related problems, which may be targets for future intervention studies. This study features a multi-method approach to examining youth and family functioning that includes:
- measurements of youth brain response to emotional stimuli and tasks.
- observations of parents and youth discussing different aspects of family life, during which we assess autonomic functioning as an index of emotion arousal and regulation.
- multi-informant reports of youth emotional and behavioral problems and coping skills, as well as family functioning, and exposure to stressful events.
- short-term longitudinal follow-up assessments to give us information about youth emotions over time.
- Neutral Evaluation of Faces (NEF) Study. This study compares undergraduates’ brain responses to various types of facial stimuli, using electroencephalography (EEG) and an event-related potential (ERP) paradigm. This study will explore possible brain response differences among participants with various mood and stress ratings.
- Quantitative methods for developmental and intervention research. Finally, I am pursuing quantitatively-oriented research related to the refinement and application of advanced data-analytic methods for developmental research. This work focuses on investigation and application of analytic approaches to longitudinal data, including latent growth modeling approaches, and finite mixture modeling approaches (such as latent class and profile analysis, latent trajectory analysis, and latent growth mixture modeling techniques). The use of these techniques has proliferated in the developmental literature in recent years, although substantial methodological questions regarding the performance of these models under different conditions remain unanswered (and potentially highly problematic). I am fortunate to collaborate with a number of excellent researchers on studies related to intervention and prevention science, including Tom Dishion, Elizabeth Stormshak, Danny Shaw, Melvin Wilson, and Frances Gardner.
Past Projects/Ongoing Analyses
- Emotional Responses and Reactivity (ERR) Study. This study adopts EEG/ERP methods to examine the neural underpinnings of emotion dysregulation in the context of depression. Event Related Potential (ERP) techniques hold great promise for addressing emotion regulation processes due to their extremely fine temporal resolution (on the millisecond level), which permits researchers to examine cognitive processes underlying emotional regulation efforts with extremely fine detail.The current study is focused primarily upon two ERP components thought to be related to emotional processing, including Error Related Negativity (ERN), and the Late Positive Potential (LPP). The ERN is thought to reflect the activity of a conflict or error monitoring system localized in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, and is sensitive to emotional and motivational influences. The LPP is thought to index higher order cognitive processes related to emotional reactions and regulation, including attentional orientation, interpretation, and memory encoding processes, and is also sensitive to emotional and motivational influences. It is hoped that a fine-grained examination of these cognitive and emotional processing markers will shed new and important light on the cognitive and affective symptoms often observed in depression, including diminished experience of pleasure, rumination, and attentional and cognitive biases.
- Emotions, Attention, and Reactivity (EAR) Study. The goal of this study is to examine the relations between emotion regulation skills, attentional biases for emotional expressions, and symptoms of emotional distress in young adults experiencing symptoms of depression. The study focuses primarily upon autonomic nervous system functioning and attentional orienting responses related to emotional regulation skills.