Kathryn Humphreys is a clinical psychologist with expertise in infant mental health (i.e., birth to age 5). Early experience is foundational for all subsequent learning; the first years of life are critical for setting developmental trajectories. Her research (1) examines the consequences of early life experiences on brain and behavioral development, (2) tests interventions aimed to improve early experiences, and (3) attempts to identify novel targets for prevention and intervention efforts in order to improve outcomes for young children and their families.
My plans for the fellowship period
During my fellowship, I plan to comprehensively assess the ecology of early life using newly available measurement techniques that can quantify the daily experience of infants and young children. This approach includes auditory environmental assessment, as well as the assessment of proximity between infants and their caregivers providing continuous measurements of distance. By quantifying the infant’s early environment in terms of linguistic, cognitive, and physical stimulation, we will learn about the range of experiences that infants have, and identify targets for prevention and intervention efforts. I plan to link these measures to the prediction of infant outcomes, including brain development and subsequent language, cognitive, and emotional development in toddlerhood. Overall, my goal is to create a research-informed, culturally sensitive, and early implementable intervention focused on altering the ecology of young children’s experiences by making changes in those most important to each child’s life: their caregivers.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
For infants and young children, nothing is more influential for long-term functioning than the relationship with their caregiver(s). Caregivers are the primary source of learning from infants, as they provide cognitive and linguistic stimulation, as well as nurturance and stress-buffering that can protect the developing brain from the negative effects of stress exposure. My goal is to gain a more comprehensive understanding, through better characterization, of children’s early life. Ultimately this work aims to improving caregiving experiences. The information that we will gain in this project will help us make significant strides in our understanding of human development. In addition, this work aims to aid in providing specific recommendations to policy makers involved in fostering child health and long-term outcomes.