Using Developmental Approaches to Study Emerging Attention to Threat and Socio-Emotional Functioning


Recent work from Dr. Xiaoxue "Jessie" Fu and Dr. Koraly Pérez-Edgar examines important methodological considerations for conducting developmental work assessing emerging patterns of attention to threat and their relation to socio-emotional functioning. Much of the previous work examining attention to threat and its relation to anxiety has relied on single, stationary eye-tracking paradigms. While this work has provided researchers with valuable information regarding potential relations between attention to threat and anxiety, it is important that as a field we begin to improve upon our current methods to best assess how attention and socio-emotional development my simultaneously unfold. First, we need longitudinal studies that can examine how patterns of attention may change over time, shaping socio-emotional development. Second, studies must integrate multiple measures of attention to best capture the multifaceted nature of attention to threat and its relations to socio-emotional development. Finally, mobile eye-tracking may provide valuable information about how real-world attention impacts socio-emotional development in ways that less naturalistic paradigms, such as stationary eye-tracking tasks, are unable to capture. The full article appears in Developmental Review.

Novel method reveals spatio-temporal dynamics of face processing in children


Recent work from post-doctoral fellow Dr. Pan Liu and colleagues examined face processing using both fMRI activation data and high density ERP data. By integrating both measures, Dr. Liu showed that early ERP components mapped onto a core visual processing system (occipito-temporal and parietal regions), whereas later components mapped onto a socio-emotional processing system (paracentral, limbic and frontal regions). The current results reveal the spatio-temporal dynamics of face processing in children and suggest that the socio-emotional system processes information transferred by the core visual system.

Read the full report in NeuroImage.

CAT Lab Collaborating in Effort to Characterize Infant Development in 900 Mother-Infant Pairs


The NIH recently awarded Dr. Rick Gilmore (Penn State), Dr. Karen Adolph (NYU) and Dr. Catherine Tamis-LeMonda (NYU) a $6.3 million grant to study infant development between 12- and 24-months. The large scale project will recruit 900 mother-infant pairs who will provide an hour of video data in the home environment. Dr. Koraly Pérez-Edgar is a collaborator on the project providing expertise in socio-emotional development and behavior coding. Overall, the project will provide researchers with a wealth of data that will be stored in Databrary, supporting the call in developmental science for big data and open science.

Learn more on Penn State News.

CAT Lab Welcomes New Graduate Student


Welcome to Elizabeth Youatt who joins the lab as a graduate student!

Elizabeth is starting her first year in the developmental psychology program at Penn State. She graduated from Washington State University (WSU) in 2016 with a BS in Psychology and minor in Animal Science. After graduating, she worked at WSU as a lab manager and project coordinator on several studies in the WSU Temperament lab, Childhood Cognition Lab, and Biocultural Anthropology lab. Elizabeth is interested in studying temperament and executive function from a biological perspective. 

CAT Lab Welcomes New Research Assistant

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Welcome to Dara Tucker who joins the lab as a research assistant on the LANT project!

Dara graduated from Tulane University in 2018 with a B.S. in Neuroscience and Psychology. While at Tulane, she worked in the Learning and Brain Development Lab with Dr. Julie Markant, studying the interaction between attention and memory throughout development. Dara's future goals include attending graduate school in psychology.

Visiting Professor Awarded Prestigious VENI Grant


Congratulations to Dr. Evin Aktar, visiting professor in the CAT Lab, for receiving a VENI grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)! She is among 14% of applicants to receive this award. 

Dr. Aktar's research investigates the transmission of anxiety from parents to children. She uses multi-method designs that incorporate both behavioral and biological markers of anxiety in parents and children. With this new grant, Dr. Aktar will examine if a non-anxious parent may buffer children from fear transmission from an anxious parent to reduce generational transmission of anxiety. 

CAT Lab Researcher Named Strumpf Scholar


Congratulations to Alicia Vallorani who was named a 2018 Strumpf Scholar!

The Linda Brodsky Strumpf Liberal Arts Centennial Graduate Endowment recognizes outstanding performance and excellence in graduate studies in areas of research aligned with the mission of the Penn State Child Study Center. The award is designed to promote graduate research productivity and provides selected students with additional support to enhance their research and professional development.

As a Strumpf Scholar, Alicia will further her training in methods for longitudinal data analysis as well as methods for neuroimaging data collection, processing and analysis. She will use her training to examine relations between attention and social engagement in infants and adolescents as well as neural processes underlying social engagement in children at risk for social anxiety.

CAT Lab Researcher Xiaoxue Fu Defends Dissertation


Congratulations to CAT Lab graduate student Xiaoxue Fu who has successfully defended her dissertation!

Dr. Fu is a graduate student in the developmental program. Her program of research examines how visual attention to the environment relates to social behavior. To investigate her questions, she spearheaded the mobile eye-tracking project, which allowed her to examine how children of different temperaments attend to strangers in the environment.


In the fall, Jessie will start a 3-year post-doctoral position with Dr. Eric Nelson at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Additionally, she will have an appointment as a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University. 

Dr. Koraly Pérez-Edgar Named McCourtney Professor of Child Studies

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Congratulations to Dr. Pérez-Edgar who was among four faculty elevated to named professorships by the College of Liberal Arts at Penn State!

Dr. Pérez-Edgar has been a faculty member in the developmental area of the Psychology Department since Fall 2011. Over the past seven years, she has overseen three NIMH funded projects investigating relations between temperament, attention and anxiety from infancy through middle childhood. Additionally, she has mentored 8 graduate students and 3 post-doctoral fellows. She is also an Association for Psychological Science Fellow and a James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellow.

Read the full announcement here.

CAT Lab Researcher Eran Auday Graduates

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Congratulations to Dr. Eran Auday who graduated from Penn State on May 5th!

Eran was a graduate student in the Child Clinical program. During his time in the CAT Lab, Eran completed projects assessing how parenting behaviors during childhood and adolescence are associated with individuals’ self-perceptions and social information processing. Additionally, he used neuroimaging techniques to examine structural and functional differences in children at risk for social anxiety disorder. Over the past year, he completed his internship at Wellspan Health. This summer he will start a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA.

CAT Lab Researcher Awarded Funding to Attend Workshop on Mixture Models


Congratulations to Berenice Anaya who received a travel award from the Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology to attend a Latent Class/Cluster Analysis Mixture Modeling Workshop from Curran-Bauer Analytics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill!

Berenice is a second-year student in the developmental program interested in how parenting and temperament influence developmental links between maternal anxiety and infant socio-emotional development. The workshop will provide Berenice with tools to examine if interactions between infant temperament and parenting behaviors can help characterize specific subgroups of infants and if these subgroups may change over time. 

When Viewing Threat, Behaviorally Inhibited Children Exhibit Neural Responses Similar to Anxious Individuals


Recent research from graduate student Eran Auday and collaborators examined neural responses to threat for Behaviorally Inhibited (BI) and Non-Behaviorally Inhibited (BN) children between the ages of 9 and 12. Children were presented with threatening faces subliminally while fMRI data were collected. When BN children viewed the subliminal threat, they exhibited responses in prefrontal brain regions thought to regulate “alarms” triggered by emotion brain regions. Conversely, when BI children viewed the subliminal threat, they exhibited responses in the cerebellum, a brain region linked to the coordination of emotional information processing. The findings suggest that brain-based differences can be seen in children even when minimal information is present. Additionally, the current findings are similar to previous work in anxious teens and young adults, suggesting BI children may exhibit functional neurocircuitry similar to anxious individuals, particularly when viewing threat. 

These findings are to be published in NeuroImage: Clinical

CAT Lab Researcher Receives International Travel Grant


Congratulations to Alicia Vallorani who received a Penn State Global Programs Graduate Student Travel Grant to present her research at the 2018 FLUX Congress in Berlin, Germany!

Alicia is a second-year student in the Developmental Psychology program interested in how temperament and attention relate to social engagement. Her project for FLUX will look at how affect-biased attention relates to neural sensitivity to rejection in children between the ages of 5 and 7.

CAT Lab Welcomes New Research Assistant


Welcome to Briana Ermanni who joins the lab as a research assistant on the iTRAC project!

Briana graduated from Michigan State University in 2017 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Bioethics. Previously, she was a research assistant for Dr. Emily Durbin working on projects assessing emotion development. Briana's future goals include pursuing a PhD in Developmental Psychology.

CAT Lab Researcher Earns Grant to Investigate Influences of Parenting on Social Development


Congratulations to CAT Lab Graduate student Berenice Anaya who received funding from the NIMH Diversity Research Supplement! This grant provides 2-years of support enhancing the current goals of our 5-year longitudinal study. The larger study examines how interactions between temperament and attention impact socio-emotional development during infancy. Berenice's supplement will examine how both parenting and temperament influence developmental links between maternal anxiety and socio-emotional development.

CAT Lab Research on Infant Brain Development and Behavior Highlighted in Penn State News


Research conducted by CAT Lab graduate student Leigha MacNeill in collaboration with Drs. Pérez-Edgar, Ram, Bell and Fox was recently highlighted in the Penn State News. The work examined how the brain prepares infants to develop new skills. Through new modeling techniques, they showed that even when behavioral changes appear sudden, there may be slower, more linear brain development underlying those changes.

Read the full story here.

Behaviorally Inhibited Children Exhibit Changes in Neural Activation and Reductions in Separation Anxiety After Attention Bias Modification


Recent research from the CAT Lab to be published in Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry investigated how a novel attention training protocol, Attention Bias Modification (ABM), alters neural and behavioral symptoms of anxiety. Children between the ages of 9 and 12 identified as behaviorally inhibited were randomly assigned to complete four sessions of ABM training or a placebo protocol. Children who completed the ABM training exhibited reduced levels of separation anxiety as well as reduced amygdala and insula activation and greater ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activation than did children who completed the placebo protocol. The current results indicate that for behavioral inhibited children ABM may be useful for preventing the emergence of anxiety symptoms.

Nonlinear Change in Infant Cognition Related to Linear Changes in Brain Activity Over Time


Recent research from graduate student Leigha MacNeill and collaborators Drs. Nilam Ram, Martha Ann Bell, Nathan Fox, and Koraly Pérez-Edgar examined infants' cognitive performance and brain activity monthly from 6 to 12 months of age. They found that infants with faster rates of increases in cognitive skill (i.e., performance on the A-not-B task) had lower occipital EEG power at 6 months and greater linear increases in occipital power. This study used contemporary analytic techniques to assess a classic developmental phenomenon, suggesting that aspects of infants' cognitive skill develop nonlinearly and relate to changes in linear brain activity over time. These data were collected in Dr. Fox's lab at the University of Maryland. The article is to be published in Child Development.

CAT Lab Research on Precursors to Anxiety Highlighted in Penn State News


Research conducted by CAT Lab graduate Dr. Santiago Morales in collaboration with Drs. Pérez-Edgar, Buss and LoBue was recently highlighted in the Penn State News. The work examined how maternal anxiety predicts affect biased attention in infants ages 4 - 24 months, regardless of age. Now, Drs. Pérez-Edgar, Buss and LoBue are conducting a longitudinal study with infants to determine mechanisms underlying anxiety development, including maternal affect biased attention and anxiety. 

Read the full story here.