The Stress and Development Lab is currently conducting a number of studies to understand the influence of stress on children's social, emotional, and brain development.  See below for more details about our current projects.  If you and your child are interested in participating, please click the Participate link at the top of the page.

Ongoing Studies

Brief Description

In this study we want to learn about how children and adolescents learn about safety and danger through their mother's experiences with the environment. We are also hoping to learn how emotional learning through social means changes across development.

Eligibility for Participation

We are recruiting children and teenagers (6-16 years) and their biological mothers.

Participation Details

Participation in this study involves one session of up to 3 hours at the University of Washington with both the mother and child/teen. During the campus visit, both the mother and child will complete tasks on a computer involving looking at pictures of different people and objects as well as listening to sounds and descriptions. In addition to the behavioral tasks, both the mother and child will fill out questionnaires that assess basic information about family background as well as common thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and experiences.

Full Description

Understanding safety and danger cues in the environment is critical for survival. Variation in the development of this ability to learn about safety and danger has only recently been studied in humans. Understanding the developmental patterns in emotional learning is important because patterns of emotional learning are thought to be an underlying cause of anxiety disorders and therefore have important implications for prevention, treatment and early identification of anxiety in children and adolescents Children and adolescents often acquire emotions through indirect observational or instructional experiences (i.e. seeing parent fearful of a dog or hearing that dogs are dangerous) rather than through direct experience (e.g. being attacked by a dog themselves). This study focuses on this social emotional learning mechanism and asks the question of how the ability to learn emotional responses develops from childhood into adolescence. We will acquire behavioral data from both the mother and child and will additionally acquire physiological information from the mother and child (i.e. skin conductance, heart rate, eye tracking), and questionnaires about mental health.
Research Contact
Email: UWEmotionalLearningStudy@gmail.com Phone: (206) 221-8030

Brief Description

In this study, we want to learn more about how exposure to violence impacts brain development in children and adolescents. Traumatic events, including violence exposure, are relatively common experiences for children and adolescents, but we have much to learn about how trauma impacts brain development. By understanding how trauma influences brain development in children, we hope to improve our ability to intervene effectively to help children and adolescents recover from adverse events.

Eligibility for Participation

We are recruiting children and teenagers, ages 8-16 years old. Because the study involves an MRI scan, children and adolescents who have braces, hair extensions, or certain types of metal implants may not be eligible to participate.

Participation Details

This study involves 3 visits. In the first visit, the child/adolescent and parent/guardian will complete several demographic questionnaires. Additionally, the child/teenager will complete behavioral tasks that examine emotion and learning. In the second visit, the child/adolescent and parent/guardian will complete several interviews that ask about stressful experiences, family dynamics, and patterns of thoughts and behaviors. The child/adolescent will also be trained on the tasks that they will complete during their third study session at the MRI scanner. In the third visit, the child/adolescent will complete an MRI scan at the University of Washington Medical Center. Participants will be in the scanner for 75-90 minutes and complete several emotion regulation tasks while in the scanner. Each session is fun, and participants receive rewards, snacks, and time for a break during each of the session. Free parking is provided for all sessions, and children/teenagers can earn up to $165 and parents can earn up to $85 for participation.

Full Description

Exposure to violence is associated with elevated risk for a wide range of mental health problems in children and adolescents, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite the consistency of evidence linking child trauma to the onset of mental health problems, the neurodevelopmental mechanisms that underlie these associations remain poorly understood. The development of effective and efficient preventive interventions requires a better understanding of the specific developmental processes that are disrupted as a result of child trauma exposure and how those disruptions ultimately lead to psychopathology. In the current study, we examine how exposure to violence influences brain regions involved in emotional learning and emotion regulation. We are interested in how violence exposure influences attention to emotional cues in the environment, emotional learning, discrimination of threat and safety cues, and the ability to modulate emotional reactions. To study these questions, children and adolescents along with a parent/guardian will first be invited to our lab at the University of Washington to complete interviews, surveys, and behavioral tasks. Some participants will also complete an MRI scan at the Diagnostic Imaging Sciences Center at the University of Washington Medical School. This study is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01-MH03291) to Dr. McLaughlin.

Collaborators

Margaret Sheridan, Ph.D.; Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School Natalia Kleinhans, Ph.D.; University of Washington
Research Contact
If your child is interested in participating, please e-mail Debbie Bitran at sdlab@uw.edu or call (206) 543-5183.

Brief Description

In this study, we want to learn more about how different experiences influence social processes in adolescents. In addition, we are hoping to learn about how different experiences impact health and emotions, as well as brain development and functioning.

Eligibility for Participation

We are currently recruiting right-handed boys between the ages of 13 and 19, as well as their parents. Teens who are 18 or 19 years old can participate without a parent or guardian. Because the study involves an MRI scan, adolescents who have braces, hair extensions, or certain types of metal implants may not be eligible to participate.

Participation Details

The study involves one 2.5-3-hour visit to Stress and Development Lab at UW, where we can provide a reimbursement for parking or other transportation. Following this visit is a second session that lasts 2-2.5 hours and involves completing a one-hour MRI at the Integrated Brain Imaging Center at UW. Free parking is provided for this session as well. Each session is fun, and participants receive snacks, and are free to take a break during each of the sessions. We pay a total of $145 for adolescents’ participation in both sessions, and $25 for parents’ participation in the first session.

Full Description

We believe that brain development, and the development of certain abilities, might be significantly impacted by experiences in childhood and adolescence. We are particularly interested in how the environment shapes the development of brain areas that are used to understand other people’s intentions and emotions. We expect that children who have experienced more stressful experiences in their lives will have different responses to the study tasks due to the way their brains have developed. We also expect that children who have these different responses will report more difficulties in social situations. We are therefore examining the relationship between different life experiences and the structure and function of certain regions of the brain in adolescents and determining whether disruptions in function are responsible for the onset of mental health and social difficulties in adolescence. In this study, adolescents and their parents will come to the lab and individually fill out some surveys that ask questions about their lives. In addition, we will ask the adolescents to perform some fun tasks. In the second session we will measure a variety of markers of neural structure and function using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) while the adolescent completes a series of tasks. This study is important because it helps us understand areas of the brain that allow us to understand the thoughts and feelings of other people, and to effectively relate to other people. As you might imagine, being able to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings is very important to our mental and physical health. It’s also important to understand how the environment can affect the way our brain develops so that we can create ways to intervene or prevent the harmful effects of stressful life experiences. This project is funded by the Royalty Research Fund of the University of Washington, The Doris Duke Foundation, and the National Institutes of Mental Health.
Research Contact
If your child is interested in participating, please e-mail us at SPStudy@uw.edu or call (206) 221-9276.

Brief Description

In this study we are interested in examining how stressful experiences influence the development of brain regions involved in emotional responses, emotion regulation, and memory. We are also interested in how stress influences social behavior, activity levels, and sleep to create increased risk for mental health problems in teenagers.

Eligibility for Participation

We are recruiting females aged 15-17, who have a cellphone.

Participation Details

The study involves 12 sessions equally spaced over a 1–year period. During the first session your daughter will come to the Stress and Development Lab to answer questions about her life experiences and emotions and complete emotion-related tasks on a computer. Several applications (apps) will be downloaded onto her smartphone to measure physical activity, sleep, and number of texts/calls on a daily basis for the duration of the study. These apps will also be used to ask your daughter some questions about how she is feeling in between the monthly visits. Your child will also be given a wearable device that measures physiological activity, such as sleep quality and heart rate. At this session you will be asked to complete some questionnaires. This part of the study will take approximately 5 hours, and can be split into two sessions. During Sessions 2-11, your teen will come to the Diagnostic Imaging Sciences Center at University of Washington to complete a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan on a monthly basis for 10 months. During each session your teen will also complete questionnaires and an interview about her life experiences. These sessions will take about 1.5 to 2 hours. The final session takes place back at our lab where your teen will complete the same activities as in Session 1. Parents will also complete some of the same questionnaires as in Session 1. Your teen can earn up to $1105 for completing all study procedures (for the first and final sessions they will be paid $50 and $100 respectively, $755 for the ten MRI scans, and $200 if all smartphone surveys are completed), as well as a chance to win up to an additional $150 on bonus tasks.

Full Description

Adolescence is a period of heightened vulnerability for mental health problems, particularly for the onset of anxiety and depression. Adolescent-onset anxiety and depression can lead to a wide range of negative consequences across the life-course, including elevated risk of recurrent episodes of anxiety and depression in adulthood, and poorer overall functioning. Stressful life events are well-known risk factors for anxiety and depression during adolescence, though the mechanisms linking stressful life events to the onset of youth anxiety and depression are not well described. Understanding mechanisms of stress vulnerability in adolescence will provide valuable targets for preventing anxiety and depression during this key developmental window of risk. The current study involves regular monthly assessments, which allows us to intensively examine ‘real time’ changes in emotion, behavior, physiology, and brain networks underlying emotional processing following stressful life events. This study requires participants to complete monthly MRI scans, surveys and interviews that measure levels of stress and mental health, and install applications onto their phones to track physiological activity, social behavior and self-reported wellbeing.

Collaborators

Katie McLaughlin, Ph.D., Stress & Development Lab, Department of Psychology
Research Contact
If your child is interested in participating, please e-mail us at sdlabsea@uw.edu or call (206) 221-8505.

Brief Description

In this study, we want to learn more about the development of children’s bodies and skills during early childhood. More specifically, we are interested in how different aspects of children’s home environments influence children’s abilities to pay attention, remember and manipulate information, and follow rules.

Eligibility for Participation

We are recruiting children, aged 5-6 years old, as well as their parents.

Participation Details

The study involves one session lasting 2-2.5 hours, and will be conducted by two researchers in your home. During this visit we will ask your child to participate in several fun games designed to challenge memory and attention skills. We will also ask you to fill out a few questionnaires and participate in a brief interview about your home life. Parents will earn $40 and children will earn $35 for participation.

Full Description

Executive functioning comprises a set of cognitive processes that support the ability to learn new knowledge and skills, hold in mind goals and information, and create and execute complex, future-oriented plans. Executive functioning in early childhood is associated with initial school readiness, academic success, and risky behaviors in adolescence and adulthood. As early childhood is associated with rapid behavioral and neurological developmental changes related to executive functioning, determining how such skills develop in young children is critical to identifying strategies to nurture and support the development of these skills to promote adaptive outcomes throughout life. In this study, we aim to identify specific aspects of environmental experience that support or inhibit the development of executive functions in early childhood. In order to conduct this research, we will ask participants to complete interviews, surveys, and behavioral tasks within the home environment.

Collaborators

Katie McLaughlin, Ph.D., Stress & Development Lab, Department of Psychology; Andrew Meltzoff, Ph.D., Institute for Learning and Brain Science; Margaret Sheridan, Ph.D., University of North Carolina.
Research Contact
If your child is interested in participating, please e-mail Zoe Miles at sdlhome@uw.edu or call (206) 221-8505.

Brief Description

Dr. McLaughlin is a collaborator on the World Mental Health (WMH) Surveys, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WMH Survey Initiative aims to obtain accurate cross-national information about the prevalence and correlates of mental, substance, and behavioral disorders. The WMH Survey Consortium includes nationally or regionally representative surveys in 28 countries, representing all regions of the world, and with a total eventual sample size in excess of 154,000. Dr. McLaughlin is involved in workgroups examining the long-term impact of childhood adversities on mental and physical health and the prevalence and correlates of trauma exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) around the world. For more information on the WHO World Mental Health Sureys, visit http://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/wmh/

Brief Description

Dr. McLaughlin is a collaborator on the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP), a study examining the impact of early experience on brain and behavioral development. The study has followed a group of children who were raised in institutional settings in Bucharest, Romania from infancy through early adolescence. Half of the children raised in institutions were placed in a high-quality foster-care program developed by the study investigators. Dr. McLaughlin is involved in assessing a variety of measures of physiological reactivity to stress in a current assessment of the children at age 12 years and has collaborated with the BEIP group on a number of projects examining the neural mechanisms linking early adversity to mental disorders in this sample. The principal investigators of the BEIP are Charles Nelson, Nathan Fox, and Charles Zeanah. For more information about the BEIP, please visit http://www.childrenshospital.org/cfapps/research/data_admin/Site2205/mainpageS2205P38.html

Recently Completed Studies

Full Description

The ability to regulate our emotional response to everyday challenges is critical to living successfully as an adult. Research suggests that these abilities have a long developmental trajectory over the course of childhood and into adolescence. Because of this long trajectory we believe that these abilities might be significantly impacted by the experiences that children and adolescents have. What parts of an adolescent’s experiences influence his or her emotional response? Could the experience of difficult and stressful experiences be part of what affects an individual’s emotional development? And could stress reactivity predict differences in emotional sensitivity? In this study, adolescents came to the lab and individually filled out some surveys that asked questions about the challenges they have faced as children. In addition, we asked them about events that may have happened to them and their reactions to those events. We also measured stress reactivity markers like heart rate while they did a challenging task. The way children respond to stressful experiences when they are young may shape the way they react to experiences as adults and adolescents. This has major implications for their emotional and psychological health. By better identifying the biological substrates relating stressful experiences to emotional health during adolescence we aim to better identify how to help children cope with emotional challenges. This project is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Career Development Award to Dr McLaughlin.

Collaborators

Margaret Sheridan, Ph.D.

Brief Description

Dr. McLaughlin is a collaborator on the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). The NCS-A is the first nationally representative survey of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents. The survey includes a sample of over 10,000 13-17 year olds and assessed a variety of mental disorders and potential correlates, including childhood adversities, trauma exposure, family structure and socioeconomic status, peer relationships, and academic achievement. Dr. McLaughlin has been involved in numerous projects in the NCS-A and has taken the lead on examining the impact of childhood adversities on mental disorders and estimating the prevalence of trauma exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in U.S. adolescents. For more information on the NCS-A, visit http://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs/

Full Description

Adolescence is a critical period for the development of a broad range of mental health problems as well as for risky behaviors. In part, the susceptibility to emotional and behavioral problems observed during adolescence may be explained by a contrast between the maturity of reward, motivational and emotional systems in the brain relative to the immaturity of brain systems underlying the ability to engage in inhibit short-term desirable behaviors in the service of long-term goals. The brain systems underlying these types of cognitive and behavioral regulation undergo substantial development during adolescence and appear to lag behind the development of systems involved in reward seeking. While this neural development is occurring, adolescents’ primary social context is their peer group. Research has shown that the presence of peers can diminish adolescent’s capacity to engage in behavioral regulation and increase the likelihood of risk-taking behaviors. Thus it may be that the adolescents who are most at risk for the development of emotional and behavioral problems are those who are most sensitive to the positive and negative aspects of peers. To understand this, we are studying how peer acceptance and rejection influence adolescent’s impulse control, decision-making, and responses to emotional situations. We are also investigating whether adolescent sensitivity to peer influences is related to the mental health problems and engagement in risky behaviors. By understanding the influence of peers on adolescent decision-making, risk-taking, and impulse control, we hope to develop better strategies for preventing the onset of mental health problems and risky behaviors in adolescents. This project is funded by the Jacobs Foundation.

Collaborators

Margaret Sheridan, Ph.D., Kevin King, Ph. D., Kathryn Monahan, Ph. D.

Full Description

Terrorist attacks are associated with a variety of adverse reactions in children and adolescents because they increase perceptions of unpredictable and uncontrollable threats to safety. We conducted a study that investigated children’s reactions to the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks that occurred in April 2013. The attacks killed three spectators and critically injured hundreds of other bystanders. Four days after the attack, a manhunt for the perpetrators caused additional casualties and resulted in a lockdown that required residents of Boston and surrounding communities to remain indoors. The public transportation system, educational institutions, local government offices, and most businesses were closed. Although direct exposure to the attack was limited to spectators at the finish line of the marathon, hundreds of thousands of Boston residents watched the manhunt unfold on television. This kind of indirect exposure to terrorist attacks has been shown to increase risk for posttraumatic stress symptoms in children and adolescents. We were interested in identifying factors that placed children at greater risk for developing posttraumatic stress symptoms. Prior to the attack, we had collected information about emotional and physiological reactivity to stressors as well as brain structure and function from adolescents who had previously participated in research studies conducted by our lab. We asked these individuals to complete a survey that included questions about exposure to the attacks, posttraumatic stress, psychological distress, and coping following the attacks. We are now examining a wide variety of characteristics that might place adolescents at risk for posttraumatic stress symptoms and psychological distress following terrorist attacks. We hope that this research will inform the development and targeting of interventions to help children and families adaptively cope with future terrorist attacks.

Collaborators

Daniel Busso, M.A., Andrea Duys, B.A., Jennifer Green, PhD, Sonia Alves, B.A., Marcus Way, B.A., Margaret Sheridan, Phd