Emotion regulation in the transition to adolescence
Shreya Lakhan-Pal, Graduate Student (Institute of Child Development)
Kathleen Thomas, PhD (Institute of Child Development)
The capacity to regulate one’s emotions is a critical skill that develops into adulthood. Adolescence is a period of emotional vulnerability and hypersensitivity, and is marked by a rise in the onset of affective disorders like depression and anxiety. Problems with emotion regulation (ER) are implicated in most forms of psychopathology and in decreased socioemotional health, suggesting that successful ER may be a key protective factor during adolescence. Despite its significance in psychopathology and emotional development, little is known about changes in ER in this time.
While social regulation plays an important role throughout the lifespan, evidence suggests that it becomes less effective during adolescence. Social structures and expectations are in dramatic flux, and emotions are more volatile. During stressful situations, neither parent nor friend presence effectively regulates stress hormones or emotion-related neural activity,and neural networks for self-regulation are still developing. Thus, it seems likely that there is a period of emotional vulnerability when social regulation wanes while self-regulation is still maturing. In the proposed study, I aim to address this gap by jointly examining social and self-regulation efficacy during the transition to adolescence, and by determining how the two are associated with caregiver emotional styles.
Alicia Kunin-Batson, PdD, LP (Department of Pediatrics), Mike Troy, PhD, LP (Children's MN - Behavioral Health)
Jerica Berge, PhD, MPH, LMFT, CRLE (Family Medicine and Community Health), Rachel Hardemann, PhD, MPH (Health Policy and Management)
The experience of discrimination and harassment due to race/ethnicity is a common and significant problem, with past studies suggesting 40-70% of people of color report such experiences. Evidence is accumulating that racism is a cause of health disparities and poor health outcomes in the United States. Most previous studies have focused on the direct experience of racism at the level of the individual and associations with adult health (e.g., hypertension, all-cause mortality). However, research also suggests that racism-related stress can also be experienced indirectly, through exposure to the prejudice and discrimination experienced by others (e.g., parent to child) and the persistence of social structures which maintain racial discrimination by fostering inequitable systems (e.g., housing, employment). Few studies have examined the impact of parent-reported discrimination and harassment on children’s health and development and even fewer of these have included measures of exposure to structural racism at the community level.
There is an urgent need to learn more about avenues to disrupt the relationship between racism-related stressors and poor health outcomes. This is particularly true in the context of the current sociopolitical climate which many have argued has created a less accepting environment for immigrants and people of color, contributing to further discrimination and harassment and compounding structural inequality already present in many social systems. Drawing from previous empirical and conceptual studies, we propose that racism-related stressors will be related to important health, mental health, and cognitive developmental outcomes, and that children’s HPA-axis regulation is impacted through exposure to racism-related stress and associated with children’s health and wellness. Parenting behaviors and skills may also be impacted by exposure to racism-related stressors and provide potentially malleable intervention targets to impact children’s stress physiology as well as children’s health and development.
Mapping the Human Connectome During Typical Development
Kathleen Thomas, PhD (Institute of Child Development), Essa Yacoub, PhD (Center for Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
The major technological and analytical advances in adult human brain imaging achieved as part of the Human Connectome Projects (HCP) have allowed unprecedented examination of structural and functional brain connectivity at previously impossible levels of spatial and temporal resolution. While this information has proven crucial to our understanding of normative variation in adult brain connectivity, little is known about the developmental processes through which this variation arises. In this project, we apply the tools and analytical approaches developed by the HCP to understand how structural and functional wiring of the brain develops. This work is conducted through a consortium of five sites (Harvard University, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Minnesota, University of Oxford, Washington University in St. Louis), with extensive complimentary expertise in human brain imaging and neural development and including many of the investigators from the original adult and pilot lifespan HCPs. This group will acquire, analyze, and publicly share approximately 1500 high quality neuroimaging and associated behavioral datasets on healthy children and adolescents from 5–21 years of age. This unique protocol is designed to provide rich, multimodal data on several biological and cognitive constructs that are of critical importance to health and well-being across this age range and allow a wide range of investigators in the community to test a host of crucial hypotheses about brain development and connectivity.
Mindful breathing and neuromodulation for depression in young people
Kathryn Cullen, MD (Department of Psychiatry)
Bonnie Klimes-Dougan, PhD (Department of Psychology), Kelvin Lim, MD (Department of Psychiatry)
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive neuromodulation technique that can modulate neural activity. If paired with Mindful breating training (MBT), tDCS may be able to enhance learning and neural changes associated with MBT. This study will test the efficacy of a novel treatment comprised of MBT and tDCS in adolescent depression. We propose that for patients with depression, where the core feature is persistent negative mood, a training task that engages the DLPFC’s role in regulating emotion may optimally reduce symptoms of depression. Mindful breathing training may be a suitable task to down-regulate negative affect and prime the fronto-limbic circuit. Further, this work will advance our understanding the synergistic effects of combining MBT with tDCS to target the connections between the DLPFC with the default mode network (DMN) and limbic regions. If successful, this study will aid in the development of novel treatments for adolescent depression and improve the ability of neuromodulation to treat depression.
Neurobehavioral functioning in youth
Christine Conelea, PhD (Department of Psychiatry)
Suma Jacob, MD, PhD (Department of Psychiatry)
Despite the recognition of high comorbidity rates and overlapping features among neurodevelopmental disorders, studies assessing neurocognitive functioning have typically only included youth within one diagnostic category (e.g., compare ASD vs. healthy controls). The current study will use a transdiagnostic approach to examine patterns of neurocognitive functioning in a sample of youth with a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders (ASD, OCD, ADHD, and tic disorders (TDs)). Identifying patterns of neurobehavioral functioning in a diagnostically heterogeneous sample has the potential to improve our ability to match youth to appropriate treatments and to inform development of new treatments.
Social Buffering over the Pubertal Transition
Megan Gunnar, PhD (Institute of Child Development), Kathleen Thomas, PhD (Institute of Child Development)
The effectiveness of social buffering in regulating stress appears to wane for a period with puberty at the same time that stress-reactivity increases and young adolescents become more vulnerable to stress-related affective pathology. However, there is a dearth of knowledge regarding the neural underpinnings of social buffering in children and the changes in neural responses to potential social buffers with puberty. In addition, to date, the loss of social buffering effectiveness with puberty has primarily been examined using activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis as the stress measure. Our proposed experiments will examine the pervasiveness of the effect by examining sympathetic and parasympathetic responses, in addition to salivary cortisol. They will determine whether the loss of social buffering also extends to threat stimuli as it does in adults and to situations in which two friends are both experiencing the stressful event together. Finally, they will explore whether puberty is associated with an emergence of sex differences in social buffering by parents and friends. Our prior research uncovered the waning of the effectiveness of parents to serve as social buffers of the HPA axis over the pubertal transition and the concomitant failure of friends to “step in” as stress buffers. The proposed experiments are the logical extension of this work. The results will have the potential to drive significant attention to the role of developmental disruptions in social stress buffering as possible contributing factors in the rise of affective problems in the early teen years.
Toddler and Parent Play Study
Megan Gunnar, PhD (Institute of Child Development)
Emily Reilly, PhD candidate (Institute of Child Development)
Sensitive caregiving in the first years of life helps children manage their own emotions and arousal, promoting healthy development and a decreased risk of psychopathology-related symptoms later in childhood. This sensitive care can be derailed by parent trauma histories and depression, which is why sensitivity has become a target of many parenting interventions. Still, these interventions are not successful with some parents, challenging researchers to instead focus on the capacities necessary for sensitive responding. Compassion, we argue, is a principal capacity for sensitivity.
Compassion involves both an understanding of another’s distress and the motivation to act on this understanding to help alleviate their distress — abilities necessary to enact a sensitive response to a child. Encouragingly, compassion is malleable and can be induced with loving kindness meditations, which involve sending thoughts of loving kindness to yourself and a series of people. Biological measures, such as respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), can be used to capture compassionate responding because another’s distress activates our physiological arousal. Employing heart rate variability methods provides an opportunity to measure effects of an LKM intervention at the biological level. Intervening to improve sensitivity by targeting compassion with an LKM could provide a cost-effective, efficient, and possibly more successful method for empowering parents to respond sensitively to their child, thereby preventing the development of mental illness in the next generation. However, it is first necessary to ensure the association between compassion and sensitivity.