Self-regulatory abilities are a key determinant of risk-taking behavior. Competent regulatory functioning allows individuals to control impulses, manage arousal and uncertainty, and delay short-term gratification in favor of longer-term goals. Conversely, poor self-regulation is a risk factor for negative outcomes including substance abuse and mental health problems. Physiologically, self-regulation involves a complex interaction between the autonomic and central nervous systems, which govern physiological arousal and voluntary control of arousal, respectively. The interactive process underlying self-regulation is evident early in life, even before birth;further, it is highly sensitive to the developmental environment. The goal of the proposed research is to investigate how early life socioeconomic adversity affects the process of self-regulatory development. The candidate's prior research has focused on risky decision-making in adolescence. However, adolescent self-regulation reflects a lifetime of interaction between behavior, biology and social context. To understand individual differences in self-regulation, it is necessary to focus earlier in the life course. The proposed award will allow the candidate to examine the foundations of self-regulation in early life. Training objectives include gaining expertise in: 1) choosing and evaluating measures of socioeconomic status (SES);2) fetal neurobehavioral and child neurocognitive development and their assessment;3) the neurobiology of stress exposure;and 4) hierarchical and longitudinal data analysis. The proposed award is central to the candidate's long-term goal, which is to improve population health by identifying primary prevention strategies for negative health outcomes related to self-regulation, including mental health and substance abuse disorders. Training activities will include coursework, directed readings with mentors, hands-on instruction, and training in research ethics. The mentored research plan includes 3 studies and 3 research aims.
AIM 1 examines how maternal prenatal SES and chronic psychosocial stress shape trajectories of fetal self-regulatory development.
AIM 2 investigates whether SES at birth and chronic family stress predict central nervous system self-regulation in childhood;
and AIM 3 investigates whether measures of wear-and-tear due to stress help to elucidate the relationship between SES and self-regulation. These results will inform an R01 application to study self-regulatory development in a socioeconomically diverse birth cohort.
Self-regulatory functioning links early life experience to health across the lifespan. Poorer self-regulatory functioning is a risk factor for negative health outcomes including substance abuse, and internalizing and externalizing disorders. This project can inform interventions to improve self-regulatory functioning in vulnerable children;it can also shed light on biomarkers of risk and resilience that transcend socioeconomic status.
|Johnson, Sara B; Riley, Anne W; Granger, Douglas A et al. (2013) The science of early life toxic stress for pediatric practice and advocacy. Pediatrics 131:319-27|