How do we develop the skills needed to navigate our specific social environment? How do cognitive capacities interact with social cognitive processes to facilitate the completion of developmental tasks? What aspects of brain maturation are impacted by the social environment, and can this inform our understanding of mental health disorders?

Our lab applies longitudinal research methods to investigate the intertwined social, biological, and cognitive processes that underlie the development of skills needed to navigate the social environment. We broadly examine how brain development and social environmental influences interact and impact on social cognitive development during the transition into adolescence.

Research overview

Brain development

A fundamental task in neuroscience is to characterize the brain’s developmental course. It is only with this knowledge that we can begin to identify individuals who deviate in neurotypical development and tailor intervention efforts to impact processes when they are most malleable. The lab is engaged in several projects characterizing typical brain development trajectories in longitudinal samples of MRI data. Further, the pace of brain development differs between individuals. We examine how individual differences in structural brain changes and functional brain orgnaization relate to behavior, cognition, and well-being in children and adolescence.

Social navigation

Changes in brain structure reflect developmental tasks, and the prolonged development of certain neural systems reflects a level of plasticity in adolescence. Indeed, the areas of the brain undergoing the most structural change in adolescence are involved in higher-order processes such as complex social cognition. In our lab, we incorporate the particularly protracted development of complex social cognition in neurodevelopmental models of learning, decision making, and behavior.

Current projects

International collaboration for replicable brain development

Beginning in 2014, several junior researchers from sites around the world began a project together with the goal of creating replicable trajectories of brain development. We continue this work, focused now on understanding variability and individual differences in brain development across adolescence.

ABCD study secondary analyses & workshops

We actively use the ABCD dataset in investigations of how digital technology use relates to brain function, cognition, and behavior. In August 2019, we hosted an NIMH-funded workshop on using the ABCD dataset to relate brain development to mental health, We hosted another NIMH-funded workshop on longitudinal modeling of the ABCD dataset in summer 2021.

The Navigating Networks study focuses on adolescent social and cognitive development during the transition to middle school using longitudinal social network, brain, and cognitive assessments.

Social and digital adaptation to “social” distancing

This 10-week longitudinal study examined how the use of digital technology impacts feelings of social connectedness and well-being in adolescents during a period of increased physical distancing.

MoM Study

As part of the Center on Parenting and Opioids, this study is focused on examining mentalizing in mothers who use opioids, and how intervention treatments may change the way that the mothers think and interact with their children.

Tablet Study

Co-created study with local middle school to examine how the use of in-class tablets and digital technology relate to cognition, risky decision making, and anxiety. We collected our baseline measure of data (300 students) shortly before schools switched to remote learning in the United States due to COVID-19.

Peer influences study

We collaborate with researchers at the Oregon Research Institute on projects using data collected from the Peer Influences study.

Individual Differences in Functional Mentalizing

The goal of this project is to gain a better understanding of altercentric interference (the tendency to automatically compute the visual perspective of other people) and its relationship to inhibitory control and functional perspective-taking. The project utilizes a variety of questionnaires and behavioral tasks, and is conducted on an adult population.