The DAN Lab conducts research on emotional development and associated neurobiology, primarily with children and adolescents. Below are some topics studied by the lab.
We are longitudinally examining the normative development of the amygdala and its connections with the cortex from early childhood through the transition into adolescence.
In order to better understand how early experiences shape brain development, we study the neurodevelopment of children who experience various forms of early life stress (e.g., poor caregiving) in hopes to understand long-term effects of early adversity in humans.
Children learn a lot from their parents, including how to respond to emotional (e.g. scary) or frustrating events. To understand how this works, we examine how children learn about emotional information from their parents vs. other familiar adults. We are also studying how parents can influence the way a child learns about and reacts to frustrating events. Children tend to respond to ambiguity differently than adolescents and adults. In order to understand how parents can influence their child's emotional responding, we are examining how children change their appraisal of ambiguous emotional information when in proximity to their parents versus a stranger.
Cognitive flexibility is important for guiding goal-directed behavior, especially when the environment is uncertain. We are studying how children and adolescents make decisions under conditions of uncertainty in order to understand how cognitive flexibility changes as a function of the early environment.
Affective dynamics (affective reactivity, affective instability, affective inertia, etc.) are basic dimensions of emotional functioning that capture the ability to adjust and shift emotional states to changing contextual demands and are key indicators of emotion regulation. We are studying the interplay between caregiver and child affective dynamics and emotion regulation in the natural environment using ecological momentary assessment. We are also examining the developmental neurobiology of affective dynamics, as well as how early caregiving experiences shape interpersonal affective dynamics.
Interpersonal affective schemas are superordinate memory structures that are formed based on past experiences with caregivers and guide our expectations, experiences, and responses to emotionally evocative aspects of the environment, especially relationships. We are characterizing the content and function of interpersonal affective schemas across development. We are also interested in learning how early caregiving experiences impact interpersonal affective schemas at behavioral and neurobiological levels.