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My research interests are in how environmental, social, genetic, and biological factors interact to influence individual differences in socioemotional and behavioral development in children and adolescents. My work is greatly influenced by the Bioecological Model developed by Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner, whom I was privileged to work with after college. This model has guided my research examining influences on youth socioemotional and problem behaviors at multiple levels of analysis, including neighborhood, school, peer, family, and individual psychosocial, biological, and genetic factors.
My primary expertise is youth socioemotional development, substance use, and behavior problems. Through a combination of collaborative and independent studies I have begun to identify the underlying pathways through which social and environmental experiences “get under the skin” to affect behavior, which in turn can help us to better understand the nature of socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in health and health-related behaviors. As a behavioral scientist, I aim to bridge the gap between biological and social sciences. My research program is unique in that it is highly interdisciplinary, spanning fields of developmental psychology and psychiatry, behavioral genetics, sociology, anthrozoology, neuroscience, and endocrinology.
A behavioral geneticist by training, in the past decade, my work has moved away from studies of latent genetic and environmental influences to focus on the impact of measured environmental and social factors on brain, biology, and behavior. Most recently, I completed a pilot study examining the impact of exposure to community violence on the neural underpinnings of emotional and cognitive processes using fMRI in a sample of 9-11 year old children, and am currently starting a clinical trial testing the effects of a structured, goal-oriented, dog-training program on self-esteem, impulse control, and emotion regulation in two samples of youth with behavioral and emotional problems.
I am deeply committed to research education and mentorship. I have supervised several postdoctoral trainees, masters students, and undergraduate students. In our department, I teach basic statistical literacy and lead methodological journal clubs for adult psychiatry residents and child psychiatry fellows. I also direct the research program for psychiatry residents and fellows and help our clinical faculty develop and test research questions.