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.

Public Health Relevance

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.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Scientist Development Award - Research & Training (K01)
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Study Section
Human Development Research Subcommittee (NIDA)
Program Officer
Sirocco, Karen
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Johns Hopkins University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Li, Mengying; Riis, Jenna L; Ghazarian, Sharon R et al. (2017) Income, Family Context, and Self-Regulation in 5-Year-Old Children. J Dev Behav Pediatr 38:99-108
Michelson, Nicole; Riis, Jenna L; Johnson, Sara B (2016) Subjective Social Status and Psychological Distress in Mothers of Young Children. Matern Child Health J 20:2019-29
Riis, Jenna L; Granger, Douglas A; Minkovitz, Cynthia S et al. (2016) Maternal distress and child neuroendocrine and immune regulation. Soc Sci Med 151:206-14
Johnson, Sara B; Riis, Jenna L; Noble, Kimberly G (2016) State of the Art Review: Poverty and the Developing Brain. Pediatrics 137:
Bair-Merritt, Megan H; Voegtline, Kristin; Ghazarian, Sharon R et al. (2015) Maternal intimate partner violence exposure, child cortisol reactivity and child asthma. Child Abuse Negl 48:50-7
Riis, Jenna L; Granger, Douglas A; DiPietro, Janet A et al. (2015) Salivary cytokines as a minimally-invasive measure of immune functioning in young children: correlates of individual differences and sensitivity to laboratory stress. Dev Psychobiol 57:153-67
Johnson, Sara B; Gordon, Brian J; Jennings, Jacky M et al. (2014) Pediatric Pulmonologists' Perceptions of Family Socioeconomic Status in Asthma Care. Pediatr Allergy Immunol Pulmonol 27:120-125
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
Bair-Merritt, Megan H; Johnson, Sara B; Okelo, Sande et al. (2012) Intimate partner violence exposure, salivary cortisol, and childhood asthma. Child Abuse Negl 36:596-601
Johnson, Sara B; Dariotis, Jacinda K; Wang, Constance (2012) Adolescent risk taking under stressed and nonstressed conditions: conservative, calculating, and impulsive types. J Adolesc Health 51:S34-40

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