Our lab seeks to understand what causes depression by exploring how social, biological, prenatal, emotional and environmental factors predict changes and processes that influence adolescent depression. Learn more about our wide-ranging research studies below.
BEAMS Research Projects
Biology & Adolescent Social Experiences Study
The Biology and Adolescent Social Experiences Study (BASE) seeks to understand how changes in social relationships relate to biological cascades, including gene transcription and circulating inflammatory markers, and how those processes predict changes in depressive symptoms.
As part of this study, we will be examining differences between types of relationship (e.g., parents, friends, romantic partners), aspects of relationships (e.g., emotional versus structural support) and ways of measuring relationships (e.g., observation, self-report, digital phenotyping). Importantly, this study will also consider how adolescent children affect their parents.
This project has the potential to identify new biological processes implicated in depression and determine which features of relationships matter most in contributing to risk or for protecting children and their parents.
Biomarkers in Umbilical Cord Blood and Future Depression Risk
Scientists are increasingly recognizing the importance of the prenatal period for future risk for mental health problems. This study is examining a cohort recruited in England to explore whether biological markers in blood collected from the umbilical cord during birth predict children's future mental health symptoms.
Previous work in this sample has identified that profiles of cholesterol and triglycerides at birth predict how children's kindergarten teachers rated their emotional and social development approximately 5 years later.
Current projects include examining whether epigenetic modifications to DNA—specifically, methylation in these cord blood samples—are shaped by psychological experiences of mothers during pregnancy and if these markers, in turn, predict children's mental health symptoms during early childhood.
The BEAMS lab has a particular interest in understanding the effects of empathy on parents and children. As part of this interest, we are continuing to develop novel ways of assessing empathy in individuals and dyads (groups of two people).
This project seeks to develop a new behavioral task and coding paradigm to examine empathy in dyads. As part of this project, we will be testing convergent and discriminant validity, as well as the relative predictive strength of this paradigm over traditional self-report measures.
Pollution & Mental Health
While scientists have long recognized the dangers of pollutant exposures for physical health (such as to chemicals in drinking water, ozone in air quality or pesticides in soil), less work has considered whether similar exposures may affect mental health processes as well.
An emerging area of interest is to examine how specific pollution indices correlate to mental health symptoms in adolescents and their parents. Projects in the BEAMS lab include linking EPA data and person-level samples to psychopathology symptoms and other risk processes.
Adolescent Early Life Stress and Depression Study
In collaboration with the Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect, and Psychopathology (SNAP) Lab , this project is examining how features of relationships with parents:
- contribute to cellular processes, such as cellular aging and inflammation,
- moderate the effects of exposure to physical pollutants on risk for depressive symptoms and
- interact with other features of children's lives to promote resilience in the face of early life stress exposure.