Current Environment:

Biobehavioral Research Laboratory Research | Overview

The research conducted in the Biobehavioral Research Laboratory (BRL) examines the diverse routes by which intergenerational effects influence mental health risk, integrating genetics and epigenetics, neuroscience, biological psychology, and socio-emotional processes. Studies include examination of the impact of maternal and child stress and trauma exposures and maternal mental health (such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD]) on child development in pregnancy, infancy, and childhood. Studies have also examined how various early developmental processes impact child mental and physical health and neurocognitive development. Another major focus of research in the BRL is the developmental psychopathology of anxiety, including various mechanisms (neural, physiological, cognitive, behavioral) that increase risk for or resilience to the development of anxiety from infancy through adolescence.

Currently, we are focusing on these broad areas:

The impact of parental and child stress and trauma on child developmental outcomes

We conduct research examining how parental and child exposures to stressful life events can impact child mental and physical health and neurodevelopment. We are interested in understanding the processes by which stress “gets under the skin” to impact developmental outcomes. We frequently focus on the earliest periods of life, from fetal development through middle childhood, as these may be particularly sensitive/critical developmental periods. We examine various mechanisms, including stress reactivity (HPA axis, autonomic nervous system), emotional and behavioral regulation, epigenetics, and caregiving quality.

The effects of environmental exposures on child health and development

We collaborate with investigators across the country to understand how various types of environmental exposures during critical periods of development influence child health outcomes, including neurodevelopment, mental health, and physical health. We incorporate various domains of study, including epidemiology, stress physiology, immunology, genetics, epigenetic, neuropsychology, and clinical psychology. We participate in NIH’s ECHO program, which assesses children across the United States in a standardized manner to investigate how environmental exposures (e.g., physical, chemical, biological, social, behavioral, natural and built environments) impact child health and development from pregnancy through adolescence.

Developmental psychopathology

Through collaborations with other laboratories within and outside Boston Children’s hospital, we conduct studies to understand the earliest risk factors for and manifestations of mental health difficulties. One of these studies, known as The Emotion Project, is an extensive longitudinal study that has collected data on children from infancy through age 7 years, including repeated assessments of neural responses to emotion (using EEG, ERP, and fNIRS), behavioral indicators of threat reactivity (e.g., attentional bias, temperament), autonomic nervous system reactivity, executive functioning, and environmental exposures (e.g., maternal mental health, family negative life events, COVID-19 stressors). Currently, we are following this sample at ages 11 and 13 to identify factors across development that influence anxiety risk and resilience during early adolescence.