Jelena Obradović’s research focuses on understanding how experiences of adversity influence children’s adaptation across various domains of functioning, ranging from school engagement and academic competence to positive relationships and prosocial behaviors. She strives to identify how biological, behavioral, and environmental processes promote resilience in some children, while placing others at risk for maladaptive outcomes. Specifically, her work examines how the dynamic interplay between children’s physiological arousal, self-regulatory skills, and the quality of caregiving environments shapes children’s health, learning, and well-being over time. In addition, her studies involve the development of novel, pragmatic, scalable assessments of executive functions, emotion regulation, and motivation.
My plans for the fellowship period
Physiological stress response is considered an underlying mechanism by which adverse childhood experiences become biologically embedded, undermining the development of cognitive and self-regulatory skills in young children. Research shows that optimal cognitive performance occurs at moderate levels of physiological arousal and that dysregulated stress physiology is linked to various maladaptive behaviors.
During my fellowship period, I plan to examine young children’s physiological reactivity to and recovery from common emotionally stressful experiences that can impede their learning and test whether children’s self-regulation skills explain differences in their physiological response trajectories. Additionally, I will investigate whether brief, scalable, and affordable interventions can change young children’s physiological and behavioral responses to emotional and cognitive challenges routinely encountered in an educational setting.
I also plan to develop innovative and scalable methods (e.g., wearable sensors, tablet-based assessments) and metrics (e.g., eye gaze, decision making response times) that can be employed in ecologically valid educational settings (e.g., classrooms) to assess children’s stress arousal, learning, and emotion regulation. My goal is to collaborate with other fellows to adapt these assessment approaches for diverse global settings.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
This work will help us understand the role that young children’s stress physiology plays in disparities in everyday learning opportunities, which can have implications for long-term achievement and adaptation. To be able to learn, children need to be alert, focused, and prepared to bounce back from various setbacks. However, many children around the globe come to school with heightened or diminished physiological arousal due to chronic poverty-related risks.
My work will identify strategies that can have an immediate effect on children’s stress arousal, frustration tolerance, persistence on repetitive tasks, and perseverance in face of a challenge. These strategies will not require the adoption of a complex intervention program or extensive training; rather, they are conceived as simple and brief exercises that can easily precede everyday learning activities to help young children momentarily achieve a physiological state that supports, rather than undermines, learning objectives.
By finding ways to help young children achieve and maintain well-regulated physiology and behavior that promote learning, I hope to reduce educational disparities within and between countries.