In today's world, keeping healthy is not easy. On one hand, the challenges and uncertainties of our daily lives can take a toll, generating stress and susceptibilities to anxiety and depression that in turn contribute to chronic bodily ailments ranging from heart disease to diabetes. On the other hand, we are faced with opportunities for immediate gratification through eating tasty but unhealthy food, or consuming alcohol, cigarettes or controlled substances. Whether one acts in these ways as an antidote to feeling bad, or because they are pleasurable in their own right, a short-term gain can become a long-term pain when over time weight control, substance abuse or other related health problems develop. What can be done to change these unhealthy behaviors? To address this question, this application takes an interdisciplinary approach that combines the theories and methods of social, cognitive and affective neuroscience with the theories and methods of social and developmental psychology. The over-arching goal is to understand the development of the neural mechanisms that enable us to regulate the appetitive pull of potentially unhealthy substances (e.g. fattening foods or drugs) and the aversive push of unpleasant emotions that might motivate one to seek these substances in the first place. Our focus is on the development of these mechanisms from late childhood through adolescence - time periods critical for the development of these self-regulatory abilities and the maturation of the prefrontal-subcortical interactions underlying them. Our premise is that unless we understand the boundary conditions and underlying mechanisms for normal development of emotion regulatory abilities, it will not be possible to tailor future interventions appropriately - particularly for the age ranges and individuals for whom it could make the biggest difference. Towards this end, our application has two specific aims:
Aim 1 - To chart the developmental trajectory of emotion regulatory mechanisms that support behavior change through childhood and adolescence;
and Aim 2 - To relate the behavioral, physiological and neural measures collected under Aim 1 to measures of health and health behaviors, including BMI and substance use. To achieve these aims we will bridge two largely separate research literatures. The first uses an ecologically valid delay of gratification task for which childhood performance predicts adult health outcomes like BMI and substance use. The second uses brain imaging to identify the neural bases of the attentional control and reappraisal strategies used to delay gratification and regulate affective impulses more generally. Combining these methods with assessments of disordered eating, BMI, and substance use will allow us to test novel hypotheses about the basic mechanisms of behavior change, including how it may depend on a core set of prefrontal-subcortical interactions that mature during adolescence, and how patterns of individual and developmental variation in subcortically-driven affective reactivity and prefrontal control abilities may indicate which individuals are at greatest risk for maladaptive health behaviors.

Public Health Relevance

There is growing evidence that childhood and adolescence are critical times for development of the emotion regulatory abilities needed to adaptively balance affective impulses and the deleterious health behaviors they can promote. Using a combination of behavioral and functional imaging methods, this application aims to chart the development of the emotion regulatory mechanisms that enable us to rein in affective impulses and to relate these mechanisms to measures of the maladaptive health behaviors they can promote. The ultimate goal is to specify which individuals are at greatest risk for maladaptive health behaviors, at what age this risk is greatest, and which self-regulatory mechanisms could be targeted in future interventions (e.g. CBT) during particular points in the developmental course.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-R (50))
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Haverkos, Lynne
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Columbia University (N.Y.)
Other Domestic Higher Education
New York
United States
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Silvers, Jennifer A; Insel, Catherine; Powers, Alisa et al. (2014) Curbing craving: behavioral and brain evidence that children regulate craving when instructed to do so but have higher baseline craving than adults. Psychol Sci 25:1932-42
Lourenco, Frederico; Casey, B J (2013) Adjusting behavior to changing environmental demands with development. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 37:2233-42
Casey, B J; Somerville, Leah H; Gotlib, Ian H et al. (2011) Behavioral and neural correlates of delay of gratification 40 years later. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108:14998-5003