Early experiences can have profound and lasting influences on a child’s development and long-term health. Dylan Gee’s research examines how early experiences shape neurodevelopment in ways that alter risk for mental health disorders. Her primary goals are to 1) characterize typical developmental trajectories across childhood and adolescence; 2) examine how early adversity alters development and identify key factors that promote risk versus resilience; and 3) translate this knowledge to optimize interventions for youth. Leveraging her interdisciplinary background in clinical, developmental, and neuroscience approaches, she employs multiple methods (e.g., behavioral experiments, neuroimaging, psychophysiology, experience sampling) to advance knowledge of child development.
My plans for the fellowship period
During the fellowship period, I will examine the development of emotional learning and regulation with a particular focus on how early experiences shape brain development and mental health. One line of research in my lab examines the development of basic mechanisms of emotional learning. Distinguishing between environments characterized by threat versus safety is critical for navigating the world, and this process is often altered among trauma-exposed youth and those with anxiety disorders. In this work we aim to characterize the typical development of threat and safety learning as well as alterations in this development following early adversity. A second line of research examines the role of caregivers in shaping emotional learning and regulation. Using multimodal assessment, we aim to better understand how caregivers guide emotional learning and buffer against emotional reactivity during childhood. This work has direct implications for intervention, which we are examining in the context of a novel caregiver-based intervention for anxious youth.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Despite dynamic changes across brain development, the majority of interventions for children and adolescents are based on knowledge about the adult brain. Delineating the developmental neurobiology of emotional learning and regulation and how they are modulated by environmental factors is essential for understanding risk for mental health disorders and optimizing interventions for youth. Research in the lab has the potential to identify sensitive periods of neurodevelopment and dynamic changes in emotional learning and regulation. The knowledge gained from these studies can be directly translated to tailor the type and timing of interventions to reflect the biological state of the developing brain, with a primary goal to promote resilience among children exposed to adversity. Taken together, the research conducted in my lab aims to inform the ways in which we foster children’s learning and emotional well-being to best meet the needs of individual children and unique developmental stages.