My research broadly examines the biological and behavioral mechanisms shaping brain and behavioral development. I strive to conduct translational research that is grounded in basic science with direct implications for clinical and intervention science aimed at supporting children and their families.
Development of attention, learning, & self regulation
A key focus of my research is understanding the psychobiological factors and neural systems that drive the development of learning, attention, and self-regulation in the first years of life. In addition, I examine how individual differences in children's neurodevelopmental trajectories shape future outcomes, including mental and physical health and school readiness. In doing so, my work aims to identify modifiable mechanisms that act as an interface between the brain and the environment to shape child outcomes in the presence of both risk and opportunity.
Caregiving and environmental shaping of brain and behavior
Caregiving has an important and prolonged role in early human development. I am interested in how variations in caregiving practices and the broader proximal environment influence child brain and cognitive development, with an emphasis on the embedded cultural contexts in which these processes emerge in the developing child. I approach these questions with a lens on viewing brain and cognitive developmental as a process of adaptation to the unique environment occupied by a child at each point in their development.
Perinatal health and early brain and neurobehavioral development
I also examine aspects of the prenatal and postnatal environment that promote healthy development in children. In particular, I am interested in how aspects of maternal mental and physical health may impact early neurodevelopmental outcomes even before birth. Importantly, my work also considers the systemic and societal factors that impact maternal health and wellbeing and contribute to developmental inequities. My aim is to inform strategies and policy interventions to better support pregnant and new mothers during this significant life transition.
Developmental change through an ecological perspective
Rather than approaching development through a maturational lens, my work considers developmental change as a process of adaptation to the unique ecological niche occupied by a child at each point in their development. We often impose our own constructs and cognitive biases on infants, conducting studies that are inherently designed to look for failures and limitations. In contrast, ecological approaches emphasize the importance of considering infants as different organisms with unique goals for learning and behavior.
I examine developmental processes across multiple levels of analysis, applying a multimodal approach that integrates behavioral paradigms, eye tracking, secondary data sets, quantitative modeling, and neuroimaging methods.
I use non-invasive infant-friendly brain imaging methods, such as functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), to examine brain-behavior relationships in developing infants and young children. These methods allow for examining functional brain activation in awake, moving infants.
Eye-tracking and behavioral tasks
I apply corneal-reflection eye tracking to examine infant attention, learning, and regulatory functioning during short behavioral tasks, or in combination with functional neuroimaging.
Statistical & computational approaches
I also use structural equation modeling and predictions from biologically-inspired neural network models to better understand the mechanisms driving developmental change.