The main goal in our laboratory is to understand how the brain supports social and emotional development from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood.  In particular, we are interested in the neural mechanisms recruited during emotional reactions to fearful and distressing events and in how social learning alters behavior and brain function.  We use behavioral, neuroimaging (e.g. fMRI), and autonomic measures to address these questions.

Empathy and aggression

Antisocial and aggressive behavior in children and adolescents is one the most common reasons for referral to child mental health services. In the long term, these behaviors predict poor mental and physical health outcomes. We are interested in understanding how children with such behaviors perceive the people around them. Importantly, children who are antisocial and aggressive are not all the same. Some children have difficulty in resonating with other people’s emotions. They may understand what other people think, but they tend to feel less empathy for other people’s distress. In contrast, other children are over reactive to emotional stimuli and often have trouble regulating their emotions. We can also observe this at the brain level.  We are particularly interested in understanding antecedents of aggressive and antisocial behavior in young girls. During the past decade, crime rates have been increasing more rapidly among adolescent females than males. Little is known, however, about the precursors, etiological factors, as well as biological and contextual correlates of female delinquency.

Fear learning and anxiety

Neural correlates of empathy