Kathryn Paige Harden

The University of Texas at Austin

Research focus
Paige Harden is a clinical psychologist and behavioral geneticist who studies adolescent development. The goal of this research is to understand how social environments combine with biological vulnerabilities, including genetic variants and hormonal changes, to shape the emergence and course of mental disorders and risk-taking behaviors during adolescence. Key outcomes include delinquency and aggression; risky sexual behavior; eating problems and mood disorders; and alcohol and drug use. Paige Harden is also invested in understanding positive youth development, particularly in the areas of prosocial risk-taking and positive sexual development.

What have I achieved during my fellowship?
In the past four years, I published 45 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, with increasing opportunities recently to publish in high-impact generalist journals like Nature Genetics, Nature Human Behavior, and Annual Review of Psychology. I expanded my platform as a public thought leader, publishing articles in outlets like the New York Times, Vox, Boston Globe, and The Spectator, and participating in widely disseminated debates (Intelligence Squared, Sam Harris podcast). I developed, sold, and wrote a book on genetics and human equality to be published by Princeton University Press. An early review of the book called it a “sensational” “tour de force”. I secured a 5-year R01 grant (~2.5 million USD) for my lab group, plus an additional 400,000 USD in funding from the University of Texas. I expanded my group’s methodological toolbox beyond twin studies to include statistical genetic methods (genome-wide association studies, polygenic scores), hormonal measurement, and DNA methylation biomarkers. I was promoted to Full Professor and received competitive offers for positions at the Max Planck Institute and the University of Wisconsin. I co-developed and co-taught an innovative synchronous massive online course for Introduction to Psychology and taught over 5,000 undergraduate students.

My plans for the future
My research in the next 3-5 years will focus on (1) using polygenic scores of externalizing behavior to understand environmental and biological pathways to the development of risk-taking behavior and its health consequences across the lifespan, (2) seeking novel collaborations with to explore how combining genetic data with experimental or quasi-experimental data on intervention/policy changes can identify social mechanisms of genetic effects, (3) develop and validate DNA methylation biomarkers that are sensitive to social inequality and can be used to illuminate mechanisms of environmental disadvantage on child development, (4) developing a new book project on genetics and crime.