Karen E. Smith, Ph.D.

Stress. Affective Neuroscience. Psychophysiology. Development.

Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Rutgers, Newark and Director of the Stress Psychophysiology and Affective Neuroscience (SPAN) Lab. I will be accepting applications for PhD students. Email me if interested!

Undergraduate students interested in working in the lab, can find more information here!


My research seeks to understand why people respond differently to stress. In this work, I take an integrative and multi-level approach, using methods and theories across fields including social neuroscience, developmental psychology, psychophysiology, neuroendocrinology, and genetics, to better understand the biological and psychological mechanisms underlying individual differences in stress responses. I examine these questions across the life-span but am especially interested in understanding variability in responses to stress in early childhood. Better understanding the mechanisms that contribute to differences in individuals’ outcomes after stress is key to informing more effective and targeted interventions.

A topological approach towards childhood stress

My research uses what I have termed a topological framework to elucidate the mechanisms through which stress influences children’s later outcomes. This framework integrates models of childhood stress with those from the broader adult and non-human animal literature, incorporating an important role for children’s perceptions and interpretations of their environment in their responses to stress. As a first step in addressing these questions, I am examining how perceptions of safety, with a focus on perceived social isolation, and predictability influence affective development.