Comparative Cognitive Developmental Science
Understanding how and why the human mind is unique requires not only developmental and neuroscientific perspectives, but also an evolutionary perspective. By comparing how the development of our minds and/or brains is similar or different to other species – especially our closest living relatives such as chimpanzees and monkeys – we can ultimately understand (i) when certain psychological abilities first evolved (e.g., perhaps an ability originated after humans split from their last common ancestor with chimpanzees about 5 million years ago), and (ii) why they have evolved; that is, how and under what conditions these abilities have allowed us to survive and reproduce. These questions are of interest to our lab, because by answering them, we will be better able to either facilitate positive developmental outcomes, or reducing negative ones.
The Development of Parental Function and Its Underlying Mechanisms
Understanding the influence of parenting is necessary for explaining how children develop; after all, children develop both physically and mentally in the relationship with their parents.Our lab focuses on mothers in regards to two main issues: 1) using methods such as EEG (electroencephalogram), NIRS (near-infrared spectroscopy), and ECG (electrocardiogram), we investigate changes in mother’s nervous systems during the postpartum period; and 2) we investigate psychological factors related to mother’s parenting stress and self-efficacy. Using these approaches, we try to investigate individual differences of parental function and design interventions for issues relating to stress, for example. Ultimately, we want to use this information to better understand and improve nurturing behavior and mother-infant interactions.
Following Social-Cognitive Development in Preterm Children
Our lab focuses on understanding the effects of preterm birth (i.e., born before 37 weeks of gestation) on social-cognitive development. Recent cohort studies have reported that these children have high risks for experiencing problems with their motor, emotional, cognitive and language development, along with some developmental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Specifically, our team focuses on how neurophysiological function in the perinatal period relates to social-cognitive development in these preterm children. For example, we investigate things like stress responses and social interactions during the perinatal period and infancy in terms of (i) brain function, using methods such as EEG (electroencephalogram), NIRS (near-infrared spectroscopy), and (ii) autonomic function, by using ECG (electrocardiogram) and endocrine measures. We also investigate visual attention to social stimuli by using eye-tracking machines. Finally, we use these methods in conjunction with standardized behavioral procedures to test children’s development of motor, emotional, cognitive and language abilities. The end goal of our research is to create early biomarkers for preterm children’s problematic development and ultimately, offer more effective intervention and/or treatment options.