Adolescent Stress and Coping

Brief Description:

In this study, we are collaborating with Margaret Sheridan (Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School) to investigate the role that stress plays in the lives of teenagers. In particular, we are interested in how individual experiences shape stress reactivity and how this reactivity shapes emotional development.

Eligibility for Participation:

We are currently recruiting 13-17 year-olds.  Due to the physiological recordings involved in this study, adolescents who have a heart murmur or a pacemaker, who are taking medication that affects their cardiovascular system (e.g., beta-blockers), or who may be pregnant are not eligible to participate.

Participation Details:

The study involves one 3-hour visit to Boston Children’s Hospital, 21 Autumn Street, where we can provide a free parking spot. A parent or guardian needs to accompany the teen to the visit. During the visit we will ask questions of both the participating adolescent and his or her parent/guardian, and the adolescent will be asked to perform a challenging task while we monitor his or her heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiac activity. We pay a total of $50 for participation.

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 will come to the lab and individually fill out some surveys that ask questions about the challenges they have faced as children. In addition, we will ask them about events that may have happened to them and their reactions to those events. We will then measure stress reactivity markers like heart rate while they do 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.

Research Contact: 

If you are interested in participating with your child, please e-mail Sonia Alves at or call 857-218-3234.