STEP (Study of Teen Emotion Processing)

This is a multi-method investigation aimed at understanding how to enhance teenagers' ability to regulate their emotions when confronted with stress. In collaboration with Dr. Wendy Heller and Dr. Sepideh Sadaghiani at the University of Illinois, we are recruiting adolescent girls from local middle and high schools to participate in fMRI scans and computer-based performance tasks. We will examine patterns of attention to emotional cues and connectivity among brain networks involved in processing emotions. We are also investigating the effects of lifetime adversity on emotion regulation and brain function. Through this research, we hope to develop prevention programs aimed at optimizing adolescent emotional health and preventing the development of emotional disorders across the teenage years.

Funding source: Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technology


The Girl's Health Study

The Girl's Health Study is multi-wave longitudinal study examining how adolescent girls' acute stress responses interact with exposure to interpersonal stress to increase risk for nonsuicidal self-injury, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. In collaboration with Dr. Mitchell Prinstein at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, we followed 200 adolescent girls across a one-year period. Girls visited Dr. Prinstein's lab to complete an initial assessment that measures mental health history, lifetime adversity, suicidal ideation and behavior, and acute stress responses in multiple domains: psychophysiological, hormonal, genomic, cognitive, and behavioral. They then completed several follow-ups assessing exposure to interpersonal stressors, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation and behavior over the following year. This research will help us to identify how early experiences shape subsequent responses to stress as well as how patterns of stress responses play a role in risk for suicide.

Funding source: National Institute of Mental Health

SNAP (Social Networks in Adolescence Project)

The SNAP Project aims to understand the long-term impact of temperament and exposure to peer and family adversity on emotion regulation and stress reactivity. In collaboration with Dr. Eva Telzer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, adolescent girls with a well-characterized history of social stress were recruited from an 8-year longitudinal study that began when the girls were in second grade. In high school, the study uses computer-based performance tasks and fMRI scans to examine neural and behavioral processing of social cues in order to determine whether social sensitivity serves as a pathway from temperament and lifetime adversity to subsequent depression. Intensive life stress interviews also are conducted to understand how individual differences in social sensitivity interact with ongoing interpersonal stress to predict depression and anxiety in adolescent girls.

Funding sources: National Institute of Mental Health, Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (NARSAD), University of Illinois Research Board

SHARE (Social Health and Relationship Experiences) Project

The SHARE Project is a long-term longitudinal study aimed at understanding why some children have trouble developing positive relationships with their peers during the school years, and how peer stressors such as victimization affect later biological, social, and mental health. In collaboration with several local school districts, over 600 youth were followed from second grade through ninth grade. Youth, teachers, and parents completed annual surveys. Youth also completed semi-structured interviews assessing mental health and participated in a half-day visit to the University of Illinois during which we examined behavioral and biological (i.e., cortisol and salivary alpha amylase) responses to social stress. This study will provide insight into how psychologists, educators, and parents can create positive social environments and help prevent some of the negative emotional effects of bullying.

Funding sources: National Institute of Mental Health, University of Illinois Research Board

Youth Development Project

The goal of this project is to identify risks underlying the development of depression across the transition through adolescence. In particular, this study seeks to understand why adolescent girls are especially sensitive to the challenges of puberty and how individual differences (e.g., interpersonal styles, coping skills) and social contexts (e.g., family and peer stressors and supports) can amplify or dampen risk for developing depression during adolescence. Over 160 youth and their parents from Central Illinois participated in annual surveys and interviews at the University of Illinois over the course of four years. This study provides an opportunity to understand how to optimize youth development and emotional health across the adolescent years.

Funding sources: National Institute of Mental Health, William T. Grant Foundation, University of Illinois Research Board


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Champaign, IL 61820


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