Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Kathryn Humphreys

Vanderbilt University

Research focus
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.

What have I achieved during my fellowship?
I have been fortunate to be able to make progress in four distinct tasks during the fellowship period. First, I have been able to publish several theoretical and empirical papers focused on early experience. This work has advanced our understanding of the link between variations in early experience and outcomes in children. Second, I have engaged in new data collection, largely centered on the transition to parenthood and experiences of young children. We are nearly finished with data collection for a study examining infant location in the home and their language exposure, which was pre-registered, and our analyses indicate a robust association both within and between infants in language exposure as a function of infant use of equipment (e.g., exersaucer). Third, I have developed collaborations (Team Science) with those outside of my discipline to develop tools to allow us to capture parent–child relationships in an ecologically valid manner, which we plan to use to assess in relation to child cognitive, language, and socioemotional outcomes. Last, I have taken an active role in disseminating the science of learning and early childhood beyond journal articles, namely through an active social media presence (over 2000 Twitter followers), interviews on background and as a cited expert to journalists from multiple news agencies, and invitations to address multidisciplinary audiences.

My plans for the future
I will continue my role as a tenure-track faculty member where I teach, conduct research, and mentor trainees in infant mental health, clinical psychology, child development, and neuroscience. I intend to conduct high-quality research with direct applications to our fundamental understanding of the environments children need to thrive, as well as how best to go about making changes in the adults that care for children in order to improve child outcomes. I have multiple lines of research that work towards meeting this goal, and I have funding proposals under review to support this work. I have also joined several research task forces, and through these joint efforts I hope to make larger structural changes in the practice of research and its application to policy. Last, I look forward to using my platform to increase awareness of the importance of early experiences and their influence on long-term outcomes, and advance tools to promote positive child development.