Developmental Psychopathology

The faculty in the Developmental Psychopathology Research Group conduct basic and translational research that encompasses diverse questions, is informed by various theoretical perspectives, and deploys a broad range of methodologies. They share a common goal of elucidating origins, course, and mechanisms of adaptive and maladaptive developmental trajectories and pathways. Our interests span a wide range of processes, including language, cognition, social-emotional development, self-regulation, temperament, and parent-child relationships. These transdiagnostic processes are highly relevant to a range of clinical and developmental disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, specific language impairment, dyslexia, and substance use disorders. Such processes are also relevant to broad developmental phenomena associated with risk and resilience, as well as pathways of positive adaptation, growth, and competence.

Specialized graduate training in developmental psychopathology can be pursued through any of our broad graduate training areas (Behavioral & Cognitive Neuroscience, Cognition, or Clinical Science). We invite applications from interested candidates with a strong commitment to research. Graduate student applicants with interests in developmental psychopathology should first identify one or more potential mentors. Potential applicants are then encouraged to contact these specific faculty for further information on how to apply. Once accepted into the graduate program, students and their mentors will design individualized, student-centered programs of study that best fit their interests and their future career objectives. Graduate training in Developmental Psychopathology can be pursued both with and without training as a licensed clinical psychologist.  

The Developmental Psychopathology Research Group is closely aligned with the Developmental Science Research Group, which focuses on understanding the basic processes and mechanisms of developmental change in language, cognitive, and perceptual-motor skills. Students with interests in these areas should contact potential faculty mentors for further information about opportunities for graduate study.

Participating Developmental Psychopathology Research Group faculty and their interests are described below: 

  • Grazyna Kochanska studies young children’s adaptive and maladaptive socio-emotional   developmental trajectories. She emphasizes the interplay of child temperament and multiple aspects of the parent-child relationship, including early attachment, control and discipline, and internal representations. Her laboratory deploys a broad range of observational methods, complemented by interviews, questionnaires, and biological measures, typically using longitudinal designs. 
  • Bob McMurray studies development and learning in language and reading in children and adults. A great deal of his work examines children with atypical trajectories, such as children with developmental language disability, children with reading disability, and adults and children who face hearing loss and use cochlear implants. His work combines behavioral techniques like eye-tracking and cognitive neuroscientific techniques (electrophysiology) to study a range of developmental outcomes.
  • Molly Nikolas studies mechanisms that underlie the development of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, with a focus on the interplay between genetic, neurocognitive, and contextual factors. Her work employs multiple analytic methods across genetic, cognitive, and behavioral levels of analyses to understand the onset and maintenance of ADHD and comorbid externalizing psychopathology across development. 
  • Michael O’Hara studies pregnant and postpartum women and their offspring.  His work addresses the development of depressive and anxiety disorders in the perinatal period and the impact of these disorders for the long-term health of women and their children.  He also conducts psychotherapy trials aimed and preventing and treating perinatal mental illness.
  • Isaac Petersen studies how children develop externalizing behavior problems with a particular focus on underlying self-regulation deficits. His work uses longitudinal designs to examine bio-psycho-social mechanisms and multiple levels of analysis, including brain functioning (EEG/ERP), stress, temperament, parenting, and language skills.
  • Jodie Plumert studies how deficits in children’s attention and self-regulation affect risky decision-making, and the role that parent-child conversations play in the development of self-regulation. Her research uses immersive virtual reality technology to create simulated high-risk situations (e.g., crossing roads with traffic) to study these processes in vivo.

Faculty within the Developmental Psychopathology Research Group conduct their interdisciplinary research with collaborators in departments across the university, including Computer Science, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, College of Nursing, and Public Health. For example, recent interdisciplinary student projects have involved:

  • Examination of associations between chromosomal telomere length and ADHD symptomatology and impairment.
  • Use of virtual environment technology to examine the impact of parent-child conversations about safety on children’s risky behavior when crossing roads.
  • Genetic and neurocognitive factors that link risk associated with preterm birth to ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood.

Potential collaborators outside the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences include:

College of Liberal Arts:
Joseph Kearney, Ph.D., Department of Computer Science

College of Nursing:
Lisa Segre, Ph.D.

Carver College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry:
Hanna Stevens, M.D., Ph.D.
Jacob Michaelson, Ph.D.
Peggy Nopoulos, M.D.
Jatin Vaidya, Ph.D.

Carver College of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics:
Kelli Ryckman, Ph.D.
John Dagle, M.D., Ph.D.

In addition to their primary involvement in their mentors’ laboratories, students will engage in interdisciplinary coursework, participate in broader scientific communities (e.g., DeLTA Center), and have access to settings that offer clinical training and/or clinical-research opportunities. 

Available courses include:

  • Developmental Psychopathology (or Childhood Psychopathology)
  • Applied Development and Individual Differences
  • Psychopathology
  • Longitudinal Data Analysis
  • Mechanisms of Development

Examples of settings that offer clinical training and/or clinical-research opportunities in child and adolescent psychopathology:

For more information about clinical training settings, please visit the Clinical Science area page or contact Dr. Molly Nikolas or Dr. Isaac Petersen.