Current work in our group focuses on two primary areas.
The first seeks to identify sensitive periods, or the “high-risk/high-reward” stages of human development when deleterious exposures are most harmful and when enriching exposures and interventions can offer greatest benefit. We use data from large-scale epidemiological surveys to identify these periods of heightened plasticity. Ongoing research is studying sensitive periods corresponding to domains of cognitive (e.g., memory, attention, and other aspects of executive functioning) and social-emotional development (e.g., emotion recognition skills; social cognition). We are also examining the extent to which timing of exposure to childhood adversity and variation in sensitive period-relevant genes predicts these “intermediate domains” and subsequent depressive symptoms. With collaborators in neurology, recent extensions of our work on sensitive periods have been centered on examining predictors of incident depression in the period following a stroke event.
The second area of our research focuses on disentangling the role of schools and neighborhoods on adolescent risk for depression and related health concerns. With our close collaborator Tracy Richmond at Boston Children’s Hospital, we have been applying novel statistical methods, including cross-classified multilevel modeling, to study the unique contribution of each context after controlling for the other. The main questions that drive our work are:
• How different are schools from neighborhoods in the risks and protections they confer?
• Are schools or neighborhoods more salient for certain types of youth?
• What are the mental health outcomes of youth embedded in disparate settings (i.e. youth who learn in a “healthy” school, but live in an “unhealthy” neighborhood)?
Currently, our emphasis is on testing these questions using large epidemiological samples and conducting a qualitative study to develop a working theoretical model to describe the unique role of schools and neighborhoods on adolescents.