Katie McLaughlin’s research examines how environmental experience shapes emotional, cognitive, and neurobiological development throughout childhood and adolescence. Her goal is to understand how adverse environments alter developmental processes in ways that increase risk for psychopathology. Understanding these mechanisms is critical for the development of interventions to prevent the onset of psychopathology in children who experience adversity. She pursues these research objectives using interdisciplinary methods drawn from clinical and developmental psychology, psychiatric epidemiology, psychophysiology, and cognitive neuroscience. This interdisciplinary approach is critical to understanding the complex relationships between social context, trajectories of child development, and mental health.
My plans for the fellowship period
My research will focus on increasing knowledge of how and why early adversity influences risk for mental health and academic problems in children and adolescents. First, I will investigate how exposure to violence influences emotional development and brain networks that support emotional processing in children. I will determine whether disruptions in these processes following violence exposure confer risk for anxiety, depression, and aggression. Second, I will examine how early environmental deprivation influences cognitive development and brain networks that support memory, attention, and self-control. I will investigate deprivation associated with poverty in the U.S. in one study and deprivation related to prolonged institutional rearing in Eastern Europe in a separate study. I will evaluate whether deprivation-related deficits in memory, attention, and self-control increase risk for academic failure, aggression, and risky behavior. Third, I will identify factors that protect children from developing mental health problems after exposure to early adversity. My goal is to contribute to greater understanding of the role of adverse environmental experiences in shaping children’s development, so as to inform the creation of interventions, practices, and policies to promote adaptive development in society’s most vulnerable members.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Understanding the mechanisms linking adverse early environments to the onset of psychopathology is crucial for fostering the development of more effective approaches to prevention and intervention. Further, not all children exposed to adverse environments ultimately develop a mental disorder. What makes children more or less vulnerable to the mental health consequences of childhood adversity? Identifying factors that magnify or buffer children from these effects can inform intervention strategies that prevent the onset of psychopathology among the most vulnerable children exposed to adversity. Throughout my career, I have worked with clinical researchers to translate the findings of my research into interventions aimed at preventing the onset of mental health problems in children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The ultimate goal of my work is to inform the development and implementation of more effective and efficient interventions to foster healthy child development and reduce inequalities in mental health. Altogether my goal is to contribute to greater understanding of the role of environmental experience in shaping children’s development, so as to inform the creation of interventions, practices, and policies to promote adaptive development in society’s most vulnerable members.