Safety, predictability, and stress in early childhood

In collaboration with a non-profit organization in Elkhart, Indiana, I have conducted research aimed at assessing a wide range of environmental factors linked to perceptions of safety and predictability in families with preschoolers at high-risk for chronic or extreme stress. In this research, I have collected repeated measures of children’s self-regulatory behaviors, their home environment, continuous monitoring of autonomic activity, and standardized laboratory tasks. Together this has allowed me to examine what aspects of the early environment contribute to variability in children’s experiences of stress.

Stress and emotional learning

Another line of my research is aimed at examining how stress and stress-related perceptions influence how individuals learn about and use emotional information in their environment. In this research, I am finding that stress affects how children use emotional information but not how they learn this information. Additionally, this is most pronounced in children who have been exposed to high levels of stressful events and report high levels of perceived social isolation and perceived unpredictability.

Stress and emotion perception

My third line of research examines how stress influences emotion perceptions. This is a question I have assessed in both adults and children, with a focus on how perceptions of social isolation influence how individuals perceive emotions in others. Of particular interest, I am finding that perceptions of social isolation are associated with changes in how both adults and children recognize negative emotions in facial expressions.