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Early Adversity, Neurodevelopment, and Risk for Psychopathology

The overarching goal of this line of work has been to investigate how early life stress shapes children’s neurodevelopment and contributes to maladjustment, with particular attention to identifying sensitive periods in development. To achieve this aim, I included a neuroimaging assessment (which included structural MRI, task-based fMRI, resting state functional connectivity, and diffusion tensor imaging) in a longitudinal study investigating the role of early life experiences and stress physiology on risk for future psychiatric problems in the high-risk offspring of depressed parents. This study assessed multiple aspects of the early rearing environment (e.g., observations

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observations of parenting, interview-based measures of exposure to parental depression and family and child stress) and child and parent stress physiology (salivary cortisol levels in response to stress and across the day); our multi-method approach aimed to characterize comprehensively the child’s environment and stress physiology across the early childhood and school-age periods. Our findings show important age-dependent effects in the relations between the early environment and brain development. 

Collaborators: Tracy Riggins, Devon Payne-Sturges

Relevant Publications

+Botdorf, M., Dunstan, J., +Sorcher, L., Dougherty, L.R., & Riggins, T.     (2022). Socioeconomic disadvantage and episodic memory ability in the ABCD sample: Contributions of hippocampal subregion and subfield volumes. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. [PDF].

+Morelli, N. M., +Liuzzi, M. T., +Duong, B. A., +Kryza-Lacombe, M., +Chad- Friedman, E., Villodas, M. T., Dougherty, L. R., & Wiggins, J. (in press). Reward- related neural correlates of early life stress in school-aged children. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. [PDF].


+Chad-Friedman, E. L., +Botdorf, M., Riggins, T., & Dougherty, L. R. (in press). Early childhood cumulative risk is associated with decreased global brain measures, cortical thickness, and cognitive functioning in school-age children. Developmental Psychobiology. PMID: 32052418; [PDF].


+Chad-Friedman, E., +Botdorf, M., Riggins, T., & Dougherty, L.R. (2021). Parental hostility predicts reduced cortical thickness in males. Developmental Science, 24(3), e13052. [PDF].


+Hubachek, S., +Botdorf, M., Riggins, T., Leong, H., Klein, D., & Dougherty, L. R. (2021). Hippocampal subregion volume in high-risk offspring is associated with increases in depressive symptoms across the transition to adolescence. Journal of Affective Disorders, 281, 358-366. [PDF].


+Blankenship, S., +Botdorf, M., Riggins, T., & Dougherty, L. R. (2019). Lasting effects of stress physiology on the brain:  Cortisol reactivity during preschool predicts hippocampal functional connectivity at school age. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 40, Article 100736. PMID: 31770714; PMCID: PMC6974891; [PDF].


+Botdorf, M., Riggins, T., & Dougherty, L. R. (2019). Early positive parenting and maternal depression history predict children’s relational binding ability at school-age. Developmental Psychology, 55(11), 2417–2427. PMID: 31414846;


+Blankenship, S. L., +Chad-Friedman, E., Riggins, T., & Dougherty, L. R. (2019). Early parenting predicts hippocampal subregion volume via stress reactivity in childhood. Developmental Psychobiology, 61(1), 125-140. PMID: 30288730; [PDF].

*Awarded Hennessy-Smotherman Wiley Best Student Paper Award for the journal Developmental Psychobiology


+Merwin, S. M., +Smith, V. C., +Barrios, C., Lemay, E., & Dougherty, L. R. (2018). Outcomes of early parent-child adrenocortical attunement in the high-risk offspring of depressed parents. Developmental Psychobiology, 60(4), 468-482. PMID: 29528109; [PDF].

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