Category Archives: Institute of Child Development

Natalie Low awarded Anne D. Pick Award for an Outstanding Child Psychology Major

Natalie Low receiving Anne D. Pick Award for an Outstanding Child Psychology Major

Every year, the Institute of Child Development (ICD) awards one undergraduate child psychology student with the Anne D. Pick Award for an Outstanding Child Psychology Major. The recipient demonstrates excellence in research and academics in the area of child development.

This year’s recipient is Natalie Low, who studies emotion regulation (ER) at ICD. Low currently conducts research in the Cognitive Development and Neuroimaging (CDN) Lab with ICD Professor Kathleen Thomas, Ph.D.,  on how children learn different strategies from the environment to help them regulate their emotions.

Along with an inscribed plaque, Low will receive a scholarship of $500 and up to $250 in travel/ research funds. Below, Low discusses how she developed an interest in child psychology and her post-graduation plans.

What made you want to study child psychology? 

I came across the child psychology major by chance. While applying to transfer to the University of Minnesota, I was unsure of what I wanted to major in and as I was filling out my application, I chanced upon the major. I knew that I wanted to continue pursuing something related to the field of psychology or the social sciences and that I wanted to work with children. Looking back, this decision has been one filled with great reward and tremendous challenge, but it is something that I don’t regret.

What kind of research are you involved in? 

As an undergraduate research assistant in the CDN Lab, I investigated the role of early experience in brain development. As part of an independent study, I have developed a coding scheme, with the assistance of Dr. Thomas, to examine attentional strategies used by preschool children to regulate their emotions. I also have worked with ICD Associate Professor Melissa Koenig, Ph.D., in the Early Language and Experience Lab (ELEL), where I examined how preschool children reason about the intentions and actions of people. Currently, I am assisting Dr. Thomas in a separate study examining social and emotional development in children who have had a hemipherectomy (half of their brain removed).

What do you find most interesting about child development? 

You can never have two children who are exactly alike. Child development is continuously affected by biological factors, environmental factors, and even an amalgamation and interaction of both. I find it interesting how even under similar conditions, two children will be different from one another, especially in the research area I am interested in, emotional development, whereby children may use similar strategies for regulation.

What are your plans after graduation? 

My coursework, clinical experience and research experiences have inspired me to attend graduate school in developmental psychology. I have received numerous opportunities to study cognitive development in children, but still continue to find it intriguing, especially in its relation to emotional development. Ultimately, I hope to attend graduate school to attain the skills necessary for a career as a qualified and inquisitive developmental researcher and to continue to contribute and create greater awareness and understanding of child development.

Sera contributes to national report on promoting educational success of English learners

Headshot of Professor Maria Sera
Maria D. Sera, Ph.D.

Maria D. Sera, Ph.D., professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Institute of Child Development, contributed to a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report on promoting the educational success of children and youth who are learning English.

Sera served on a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee that examined how research on the development of English learners could inform policy and improve educational outcomes. Sera’s research focuses on the relation between language and cognitive development and on the learning of second languages by children and adults.

The committee’s report, which was released on Feb. 28, highlighted key research, identified effective practices for educators, and made recommendations for how policymakers can support children and youth who are learning English. It looked at two groups of children and youth: dual language learners, or children ages birth to 5 who are learning two languages and are not enrolled in school, and English learners, who are enrolled in the pre-K-12 education system and are learning English as a second language. Most English learners are born in the U.S. and are U.S. citizens.

The report found that English learners, who account for more than 9 percent of K-12 enrollment in the U.S., face barriers to academic success, as schools often do not provide adequate instruction or resources to support acquiring English proficiency. According to the report, early care and education providers, teachers, and administrators do not receive appropriate training to foster desired educational outcomes for children and youth learning English.

The report also discussed capacities and influences on language development, including that children have the capacity to learn two languages from birth if they are given adequate input in each. It noted that speaking to children in a different language at home will not hurt a child’s ability to learn English and that having strong skills in a home language can help children learn a second language.

Overall, the report made 10 recommendations to government agencies at all levels to improve educational outcomes. For example, the report recommended that agencies that oversee early care and education programs provide specific evidence-based program guidance for serving dual language learners and their families. The report also recommended that agencies conduct marketing campaigns to provide information about the capacity of children to learn more than one language.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. departments of Education and Health and Human Services, the Foundation for Child Development, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the McKnight Foundation.

Gunnar elected to membership in the National Academy of Education

Dr. Megan Gunnar

Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Child Development, has been elected to membership in the National Academy of Education (NAEd).

The NAEd aims to advance high-quality education research and its use in policy and practice. The academy consists of 209 U.S. members and 11 foreign associates who are elected on the basis of outstanding scholarship related to education. Gunnar was one of 14 new members elected to membership this year.

As an NAEd member, Gunnar will play a role in NAEd’s professional development programs and serve on expert study panels that address pressing issues in education.

Gunnar will be inducted during a ceremony for new members at the 2017 NAEd Annual Meeting in November.

Gunnar to participate in UMN’s first annual Research Ethics Day on March 9

Dr. Megan Gunnar

Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Child Development, will participate in the University of Minnesota’s (UMN) first annual Research Ethics Day conference.

The conference, which will take place on Thursday, March 9, will consist of training sessions and workshops that aim to foster a dialogue about how the university can strengthen human research protections. The morning portion of the conference will focus on informed consent, with afternoon sessions covering a variety of topics, including partnering with community members and managing conflicts of interest.

As part of the morning portion of the program, Gunnar is scheduled to moderate a panel at 9:30 a.m. that will discuss frontier issues in seeking pediatric or adolescent assent and parent or guardian permission.

Learn more about the event.

CEED partners with Reflection Sciences to offer training on Minnesota Executive Function Scale

The Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) has partnered with tech start-up Reflection Sciences to conduct on-site trainings on the Minnesota Executive Function Scale (MEFS) in Minnesota.

The MEFS is a testing app that early educators can use to measure executive function (EF) and early learning readiness in children. It is the only early learning readiness assessment measuring executive function that can be used with children as young as two years old. The MEFS was developed by Institute of Child Development Professors Stephanie Carlson, Ph.D., and Philip Zelazo, Ph.D., who started Reflection Sciences.

“Executive function skills are vital for children’s school readiness and later achievement, and we now have a way to quickly and validly measure EF against national and local norms,” Carlson says. “We are delighted to be collaborating with CEED, the state’s premier training organization for public and private early education providers, to help others learn to use the MEFS in their organizations.”

“Early educators who are looking for new, effective ways to promote children’s learning and social skills will appreciate the ease of using the MEFS,” says Amy Susman-Stillman, Ph.D., a research associate at CEED. “It provides information about children’s development that no other assessment tool does and makes it simpler to understand a child’s individual needs.”

Click here to request a training on the MEFS.

DePasquale quoted in Huffington Post for undergraduate research

Carrie DePasquale, a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Child Development, was recently quoted in the Huffington Post regarding her undergraduate research on mirror-touch synesthesia.

Mirror- touch synesthesia (MTS) is a condition that allows individuals to experience the same sensation that another person feels.

For the research, conducted at the University of Delaware, DePasquale led a screening process involving 2,351 undergraduate students. Each student was shown videos of hands being touched and then asked if they could feel anything, where the touch was felt, and the strength of the sensation. Of the students screened, 45 were found to have MTS.

“When I would debrief them, many would tell me about sensations they felt while watching movies,” DePasquale says. “It was almost as if they were a part of the movie—feeling touch, pain and other physical sensations that the characters were experiencing.”

Click here to read the full Huffington Post story.

UMN researchers assist in identifying autism biomarkers in infancy

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in infants with older siblings with autism, researchers from around the country, including the University of Minnesota (UMN), were able to predict which infants would later meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at two years of age, with 80 percent accuracy.

Jed Elison, Ph.D. and Jason Wolff, Ph.D.

“The findings lay the foundation for the field to move toward attempting to implement interventions before the symptoms that define autism consolidate into a diagnosis,” said study co-author Jed Elison, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UMN Institute of Child Development.

“Typically, the earliest an autism diagnosis can be made is between ages two and three. But for babies with older autistic siblings, our imaging approach may help predict during the first year of life which babies are most likely to receive an autism diagnosis at 24 months,” said senior author Joseph Piven, M.D., the Thomas E. Castelloe Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

This research project included hundreds of children from across the country and was led by researchers at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) at the University of North Carolina (UNC). The project’s other clinical sites included the University of Washington, Washington University in St. Louis, and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In addition to the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development, other key collaborators are McGill University, the University of Alberta, the College of Charleston, and New York University (see for more information.)

For this study, published today in Nature, the team of researchers conducted MRI scans of infants at six, 12 and 24 months of age. They found that the babies who developed autism experienced a hyper-expansion of brain surface area from six to 12 months, as compared to babies who had an older sibling with autism but did not themselves show evidence of the condition at 24 months of age. Increased growth rate of surface area in the first year of life was linked to increased growth rate of overall brain volume in the second year of life. Brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year.

The researchers then took these data – MRIs of brain volume, surface area, cortical thickness at 6 and 12 months of age, and sex of the infants – and used a computer program to identify a way to classify babies most likely to meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age. The computer program developed the best algorithm to accomplish this, and the researchers applied the algorithm to a separate set of study participants.

The researchers found that brain differences at 6 and 12 months of age in infants with older siblings with autism correctly predicted eight out of 10 infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age in comparison to those infants with older ASD siblings who did not meet criteria for autism at 24 months.

According to the researchers, the findings may have implications for early detection and intervention in children who have older siblings with autism before a diagnosis is typically established. Diagnosis of ASD typically occurs after 24 months of age, the earliest time when behavioral characteristics of ASD can be observed. Intervening early could lead to improved outcomes, as the brain is more malleable in the first years of life compared with later in childhood.

“This area of research is incredibly exciting because it provides an opportunity to understand how autism unfolds early in life,” said Jason Wolff, Ph.D., an assistant professor in educational psychology at UMN and a study co-author. “It provides new clues about the timing and specific mechanisms of brain development that precede a diagnosis. It also offers the unprecedented possibility of predicting whether or not a child will develop autism based on neurobiological data.”

“These findings not only are significant for the field of autism, but they also could inform the broader field of psychiatry and prevention science as it relates to various psychiatric conditions,” Elison said. “This research highlights the best of contemporary science. It’s collaborative, and informed by technology and multiple areas of expertise, with the common goal of helping families.”

The National Institutes of Health funded this study.

See media coverage of this story in the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, KARE TV, WCCO TV, and KMSP TV.

Roisman mentioned in New York Times opinion piece on opportunity gap

Headshot of Glenn Roisman, Ph.D.
Glenn Roisman, Ph.D.

A recent New York Times opinion piece highlighted research by Institute of Child Development Professor Glenn Roisman, Ph.D.

The piece discussed empirical evidence around the issues of race, poverty, intergenerational mobility, and the opportunity and achievement gaps. For a 2015 study, Roisman and colleagues examined “racially disparate conditions,” such as family income, maternal education, and learning materials in the home, as well as child birth order and child birth weight. They found that such conditions “can account for the relation between race and cognitive test scores.”

Click here to read the full New York Times opinion piece.

Berry discusses self-regulation in CEHD Vision 2020 blog

Daniel Berry, Ed.D.

Daniel Berry, Ed.D., assistant professor in the Institute of Child Development, has a featured post in the CEHD Vision 2020 blog. Berry’s post, “Supporting Self-Regulation in Children: Tips for Parents,” explores how parents, teachers and peers can support children as they learn to regulate their thoughts and emotions.

Masten Lab RA Position: Positive Emotion Coding During a Motivation Task

The Masten Lab at the Institute of Child Development is seeking a Research Assistant to help with a positive emotion coding project. The position is available immediately and open to students in any major. While this is an unpaid position, we can definitely work with you to get research credit or Honors experience for this position.
Research Activities: The project investigates how expressions of joy, pride, happiness and pleasure during a self-motivated magnetic fishing game is related to positive outcomes.
The RA will be asked to watch the videos of young children engaging in a life-size magnetic fishing game on their own.  Every 15 seconds, they will code the child’s face, voice, and body on intensity of positive emotion using a detailed coding manual.  This is an advanced coding system, and you will receive training on the coding process in order to achieve reliability with the anchor coder, as well as ongoing support throughout the project.  Your input into how the coding process can be modified and improved will also be encouraged. 
This position may be of particular interest to individuals interested in going to graduate school in the field of psychology and seeking to gain research experience.
Previous research experience is a plus. However, we are primarily seeking individuals who are interested to learn about this topic area and have a strong attention to detail.
We are flexible about hours per week (usually RAs choose to work anywhere from 3 to 10 hours per week) and anticipate there will be a total of around 35 to 50 hours of coding and work overall from start to finish.
To apply:
Please send the following:
a. Resume
b. Unofficial Transcript (can be downloaded for free at Onestop)
c. 1-2 paragraphs explaining why you are interested in this position
In the e-mail Subject Line, please write “Application for Positive Emotion Project.”
Send this material to Jyothi Ramakrishnan at Also, feel free to e-mail me any questions you might have prior to applying!

WATCH: Gunnar delivers EDTalk on healthy child development

Dr. Megan Gunnar

Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Child Development, is featured on the AchieveMPLS website after delivering an EDTalk on early childhood and brain development.

AchieveMPLS is a non-profit partner of Minneapolis Public Schools that focuses on career and college readiness for students in Minneapolis. Their EDTalks aim to call attention to a wide range of issues impacting public education.

During her EDTalk, Gunnar emphasized the importance of fostering healthy child development and discussed ways to ensure that children grow and live in healthy environments.

“If we work together, we can think of a comprehensive set of plans across the community to work on over the years to create the kind of context we want for our communities, for the families and children there, so that we will all have a bright future,” Gunnar said.

Watch the Early Childhood and Brain Development EDTalk. 

Apply today: 2016-17 Tri-Psych Graduate Student Diversity Fund

Application deadline: March 20, 2017.

The Tri-Psychology Programs—Institute of Child Development, Psychology, and Educational Psychology—at the University of Minnesota are deeply committed to supporting underrepresented students in the psychological sciences. Together, we strive to create welcoming, affirming, and inclusive spaces and seek to foster respectful exchanges of ideas that allow us to embrace the power of diversity of perspectives and backgrounds to enrich us all.

Toward this end, we invite applications for the 2016-17 Tri-Psych Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Student Fund. The goal of this award is to build community and facilitate cross-departmental collaborations among tri-psych students from traditionally underrepresented groups. For this award, underrepresentation is defined as groups who have been traditionally underrepresented in postsecondary education through their race, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, disability, religious affiliation, and socioeconomic status.

We seek innovative proposals that build community for underrepresented students, provide opportunities to encourage and support your fellow students, and build stronger collaborations across departments.

View more details about the award and how to apply.

ICD unveils new online M.A. in applied child and adolescent development

The Institute of Child Development (ICD) has launched an online master’s degree program that will help prepare a new generation of professionals to meet the developmental needs of children in practice and through policy.

The Master’s of Arts (M.A.) in Applied Child and Adolescent Development program aims to equip students with a foundation in development science that can be applied in advocacy, community, and health care settings. Through the program, students will gain knowledge in cognitive and biological development, social and emotional development, research methods and ethics. The program is entirely online, allowing students to learn from where they are.

Students can apply to one of three specialized tracks: infant and early childhood mental health, child life, and individualized studies. Each track incorporates coursework specific to the specialization and requires a field experience internship or fellowship for graduation.  

“Children are our future — the nation’s future. At this critical time, we must ensure that children and adolescents receive the support they need to develop and grow into healthy, thriving adults,” says Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., director of ICD. “Our new master’s degree seeks to do just that by helping students build a foundation in development science that they can use in real-world situations.”

The M.A. is intended for individuals who would like to build a career working with children or adolescents or creating and implementing practices and policies that support their well-being and development. The M.A. also is ideal for professionals working in fields that serve children who are seeking to advance their career. The program currently is accepting applications for Fall 2017.

Sullivan and Susman-Stillman share research on how subsidy system impacts children with special needs

Amy Susman-Stillman
Amy Susman-Stillman
Amanda Sullivan

Amanda Sullivan, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and Amy Susman-Stillman, Ph.D., research associate at the Center for Early Education and Development, recently hosted a research-to-policy briefing to discuss whether the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) equally benefits children with and without special needs.

The CCDBG is a $5.3 billion block grant program that provides funding to states, territories, and tribes in an effort to increase access to quality care for low-income families with young children. In 2014, Congress reauthorized the CCDBG and identified low-income children with special needs as a priority target population.

The briefing shared findings from a research project funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research, Planning and Evaluation. For the project, Sullivan and Susman-Stillman analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of young children with and without special needs to determine whether children with special needs equally access child care subsidies and how child care subsidies affect use of various care types and quality.

Sullivan and Susman-Stillman’s analysis found that throughout early childhood, children with special needs are less likely to access subsidized child care and that subsidy use increased the likelihood that a family would use home- or center-based care. The analysis also found that subsidized children with special needs spend more hours in care than non-subsidized children with special needs, and that subsidy use does not ensure access to quality care.

According to Sullivan and Susman-Stillman, based on the study’s findings, stakeholders should address inequities in accessing subsidized care for children with special needs and reduce barriers parents and providers face in finding and supplying high-quality care.

Masten featured in CE+HD Connect Magazine

Dr. Ann Masten
Dr. Ann Masten

Ann Masten,  Ph.D., Regents Professor and Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Development in the Institute of Child Development, is featured in the College of Education and Human Development’s CE+HD Connect Magazine. 

The story profiles Masten’s academic career and highlights her research, which focuses on how to help children and their families overcome trauma so they can succeed in life.

For more information, read the full story, “Building Resilience”.

Roisman quoted in New York Times article on attachment theory

Headshot of Glenn Roisman, Ph.D.
Glenn Roisman, Ph.D.

Glenn I. Roisman, Ph.D., a professor in the Institute of Child Development, was quoted in a recent New York Times article that discussed attachment theory.

The article examined how attachment theory can be used to explain and improve how individuals function in relationships. The article also discussed the four classic categories of attachment styles: secure, insecure anxious, insecure avoidant, and insecure disorganized.

“It can also be possible that people should be viewed as along a continuum in all categories,” Roisman said.

Read the full article.

DePasquale helps Crisis Nursery measure success

Carrie DePasquale

Carrie DePasquale, a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Child Development, was featured in the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery Fall 2016 newsletterCribnotes

The Crisis Nursery works to end child neglect and abuse and help build healthier families. At the nursery, DePasquale is working to develop a behavioral measure that will help staff evaluate program offerings. 

“My goal is to help identify opportunities for improvement,” DePasquale says. “Whether that means adding programs, or potentially just finding different ways to help the kids deal with transitions. They’re not used to getting up and going about a normal day.”

Read more about DePasquale and her work with the Crisis Nursery.


ICD alumna examines how parental incarceration impacts children

headshot of Rebecca Shlafer
Rebecca Shlafer

Rebecca Shlafer, Ph.D., MPH, a professor and child psychologist at the University of Minnesota Medical School and an alumna of the Institute of Child Development, is leading a unique team of researchers that aims to determine how parental incarceration impacts children.

“In Minnesota alone, 76 percent of all incarcerated women are mothers with minor children,” Shlafer says. “And 66 percent of all incarcerated men are fathers with minor children.”

Data show that parental incarceration can increase a child’s risk for mental health problems, substance abuse, and delinquency. To examine the issue, Shlafer’s lab, which partners College of Liberal Arts undergraduates with medical school faculty, allows students to pursue many different research projects. For example, student projects have analyzed drawings by the children of incarcerated parents and the impact of developmentally-appropriate materials on conversations about incarceration between children and their caregivers.

“The fact that this is an understudied problem means that we can really have an impact,” Shlafer says. “I tell my students, ‘Pick any part of this problem and we can make a difference.'”

Learn more about Shlafer’s lab and research

ICD alumna receives faculty excellence award

Jessica Pleuss headshot
Jessica Pleuss

Jessica Pleuss, Ph.D., an alumna of the Institute of Child Development, recently received the Sharon Walker Faculty Excellence award from Morningside College. Pleuss is an assistant professor of psychology at the Sioux City, Iowa-based institution. The award is based on the educator’s accomplishments and academic excellence over the course of the previous academic year. The recipients of the Walker award are granted $10,000 honorarium and $2,000 to use for faculty development. 

Read more.

Elison is ‘charting the growing brain’: Here’s how

Dr. Jed Elison
Dr. Jed Elison

Jed Elison, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Institute of Child Development, was featured in the University of Minnesota’s Driven to Discover campaign for his research on brain development.

Elison, who specializes in developmental social neuroscience, structural brain development, and autism, recently won a $2.45 million grant from the National Institutes of Health called BRAINS (Biobehavioral Research Award for Innovative New Scientists). Through the project, he aims to chart brain development in children between the ages of three and 24 months.

According to Elison, “understanding this developmental period in greater detail may ultimately allow us to improve the health and wellbeing of children.”

Learn more about Elison’s research.