Emotions are ubiquitous and impart meaning to everyday experiences and social interactions. Our lab focuses on studying the development of emotions from infancy through early childhood, employing neuro- and psychophysiological perspectives. We study the factors that precipitate both risk and resilience during development. We are particularly interested in individual differences in temperament that are associated with positive emotions, approach styles and pro-social behaviors which are likely to improve social relationships and developmental outcomes. We also study how maternal depression and mood influences infant and child development as well as how family support can attenuate those risk factors.
We currently are recruiting participants for the following important studies:
Early and Extended Touch Intervention on Mother-Infant Bonding
The objective of this study is to examine the effects of early touch (Kangaroo Care, KC) and extended touch through stable breastfeeding patterns on infant physiological and behavioral regulation in a group of depressed and non-depressed mothers and their infants. We are examining oxytocin levels in mothers during the prenatal and postnatal times as well as taking measures of mother-infant bonding and emotional interactive experiences. Infants are evaluated behaviorally and physiologically several times during the first months of life. Our ultimate goal is to uncover the factors that precipitate optimal dyadic interactions (bonding) and infant physiological functioning during early development in order to attenuate interactive problems that may occur in depressed mother-infant dyads. Click here for further information about this bonding study.
- Infant Feeding Research There are several research projects in the WAVES Emotion Lab that involve breastfeeding. Feeding method, breast versus bottle, has been shown to support neurodevelopmental trajectories in infancy (Jing, Gilchrist, Badger, & Pivik, 2010). Optimal neurodevelopment underlies healthy emotional patterns in early development.
- The present study examines the effect of different feeding patterns in relation to infant’s brain development through an examination of EEG coherence. EEG coherence is a measure of the connectivity between different regions of the brain; specifically, it is a measure of the relationship of two different electrode sites at a specific frequency band (Fox et al., 2004). Findings from the study indicate that infants who are breast fed show more mature brain development compared to infants who are fed milk formulas, with infants who are breast fed for longer durations receiving greater benefits over those who are breast fed for shorter durations.
- Previous research (Smith & Ellwood, 2011) that examined socio-emotional interaction for infants who are breastfed has demonstrated optimal developmental outcomes yet this has not been studied in infants of depressed mothers. Infants of depressed mothers show deficits in emotional processing as well as dysregulated interactive patterns with their mothers. The early postnatal period (Fox & Rutter, 2011) has been implicated as a sensitive period for infant brain and behavioral development. Therefore, deficits in processing and dyadic interactive patterns may be attenuated if interventions are implemented early in the postpartum months. Breastfeeding can facilitate the establishment of positive mother-infant interaction patterns, which is important for optimal infant development (Field, 1992). Furthermore, Smith and Ellwood (2011) suggest that breastfeeding increases maternal-infant contact resulting in enhanced psychological and physiological development as well as attachment. The purpose of this study is to determine if stable breastfeeding patterns can protect infants of depressed mothers from the negative socio-interactive patterns normally observed in depressed mother-infant dyads and ultimately lead to a healthier trajectory of socio-emotional development.
The infant jealousy project examines infant's emotional responses to the loss of their mothers’ exclusive attention in two conditions, when she attends to a social item and when she attends to a non-social item. Several studies are underway in the lab on this topic with the aim of examining behavioral and physiological (EEG) responses to the loss of maternal attention.
12-month study: The first study is designed to explore temperamental factors, including tonic EEG activity as it relates to the infant’s emotional responses in 12-month infants.
6-9-month study: The second study is an extension of the former one, designed to further evaluate the physiological responses of younger infants during the loss of their mother's exclusive attention to a social rival relative to a non-social rival.
- The third element of this research is to evaluate the longitudingal physiological patterns and behavioral stability of responses to the loss of maternal attention as infants approach their first birthday. We also hope to examine the effects of maternal mood on the development of the brain and infant emotions during these early developmental periods.
Facial Emotion Recognition Autism Study
The facial Emotion Recognition Autism Study is designed to assess the emotion recognition ability of 4- to -8 year-old children with an autism spectrum disorder compared to typically developing individuals. The secondary goal is to compare the resting-state brain activity (EEG) of the two groups and determine how this measure relates to recognition ability. This is a two part-study and requires the participation of a child and their mother. In part 1, we record the resting-state brain activity of the participant and capture images of the participant's mother generating facial expressions to serve as the familiar stimuli in the FER task. In part two, the child completes a short tutorial on the emotion words featured in this study (happy, mad, sad, scared). Once the child shows a proficienct understanding, we move onto the FER task which includes expressions of both unfamiliar individuals and the participant's mother (familiar). This way, we can observe how FER processing differs in ASD and, whether or not children with ASD show a preference for the social processing of familiar individuals.
The following studies are being prepared for future theses or publications:
The victimization research is designed to investigating factors that contribute to aggression in children. Specifically, we are interested in physiological correlates of aggression and victimization via autonomic reactivity during baseline and mild stress related events. Three main questions are being examined in this study. The first goal of this study is to determine if there are physiological differences in highly aggressive versus highly victimized children. Next, we are evaluating if any differences in these temperaments affect feelings about empathy. The final focus of the victimization research is on whether or not there are specific types of aggression associated with lower levels of arousal. The overarching aim of this line of research is to create a psychophysiological profile of aggressive and victimized children as a means of better assessing the etiology of these behaviors, with the ultimate goal of developing optimal intervention strategies to prevent violence in schools.
Newborn Empathy Research
Humans may be predisposed, both physiologically and behaviorally, to respond to others who are in distress (Eisenberg et al., 2001; Hoffman, 2000). Mirror neurons fire both when an individual experiences an event and when they witnesses the event occurring to another individual (Preston & deWaal, 2002). Therefore, mirror neurons may serve as a mechanism for a biological preparedness for empathic responding. In fact, Jones (2012) has shown that even newborns respond to another’s distress and that this is related to individual differences in temperamental reactivity.Heart rate (HR), Heart period (HP), and heart rate variability (HRV) are related to the behavioral dimensions of reactivity and self-regulation (Bar-Haim, Marshall & Fox, 2000; Porges 1974) and have been shown to be dependable and stable measures of autonomic nervous system response. Maternal depression has been associated with dysregulated emotional reactivity and regulation during infancy and potentially affects the physiological and behavioral responses of a neonate (i.e., Field et al., 2007). The present research examines the relationship between neonates’physiological and behavioral responses to real and digitally modulated distress sounds of other neonates as a function of maternal depression.
Meditation and Physiology The primary objective of this research is to evaluate the effects of meditation on children’s emotional well-being and physiological development using a pre- and post-manipulation research design. Several projects are in progress based on this study. Currently, the EEG and cortisol data for our ongoing meditation research is under analysis. Additionally, we have a new meditation study involving pre-adolescent children begining in fall 2012. The goal of this new study is to extend on our previous protocol by exploring heart rate recovery as a function of engaging in 10-weeks of meditation practice.
Preschool Moral/Empathy Development Research
The preschool moral/empathy development research is a two-part, short-term longitudinal study investigating the effects of maternal and paternal mood and depression status on the development of empathy in children. We are investigating whether child temperament and parental mood and emotionally-valenced interactive style influence the development of prosocial/helping responses, like empathy.
Part 1- ECG and emotional interaction
This portion of the study takes place in the home of the participant. Parents are asked to complete several questionnaires, including an assessment of family emotional interaction, a depression inventory, and a demographic form. They then participate in a happy and sad story-reading task with their child while we monitor the child’s heart rate (using portable ECG equipment). Both mothers and fathers participate!
The emotion socialization study grew out of the preschool study. This study extends these research efforts to examine familial influences on the child’s understanding of emotions which are based on parental practices and interactive style. Emotion socialization has been a hot topic in the study of emotions in early childhood. Parental expressivity, responsiveness, emotion coaching, the quality of parent-child interaction, and their relationship with young children’s emotion regulation and affect-based cognitive understanding are the factors examined in this research
Part 2- EEG and prosocial behaviors
This portion of the study takes place in our laboratory located on the FAU campus in Jupiter, FL. The mother is asked to complete several self- and child-report surveys, including an assessment of maternal mood and child expressive vocabulary. The child’s brain activity is monitored using non-invasive EEG equipment while participating in an emotion-inducing movie-watching task. We also evaluate the child’s responses to two helping/prosocial tasks.