We study how very young children develop adaptive and maladaptive emotional capabilities during the early years of their lives. We examine how emotion regulatory capacities develop prenatally and within close interpersonal relationships, in particular, parent-infant, parent-child, and marital relationships. A major focus of this work currently is parental sensitivity, which plays a critical role in shaping infants’ earliest development – both prenatally and neonatally. Within the context of sensitive versus neglectful or abusive parent-infant and parent-child relationships, we study how biological systems responsible for the regulation of emotions (autonomic nervous systems, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortex) are shaped through attunement with mother’s psychobiology and how distinct biobehavior systems become coordinated.

The following is a list of our current projects, funding sources, and representative papers.

Prenatal & Postnatal Stress Processes

The origins of adaptive and maladaptive emotion regulation can be traced back to developmental processes occurring both prenatally and neonatally. Factors such as poverty, maternal stress, and compromised early parent-child interactions all contribute to children’s emotion regulatory capacities at biological and behavioral levels. However, children may be born with particular susceptibilities to their environments, and it is the interaction between these susceptibilities and environmental conditions that will anticipate a range of developmental outcomes.


  • National Institutes of Mental Health (MH068692), “Prenatal Predictors of Infant Emotion Regulation”
  • Center for the Study of Women in Society (CSWS) Faculty Research Grant, University of Oregon.
  • Oregon Community Credit Union Fellowship
  • Lewis Endowment for Faculty Research, University of Oregon

Sample Papers
Conradt, E., Ablow, J.C., & Measelle, J. (2013). Poverty, problem behavior and promise: Differential susceptibility among infants reared in poverty. Psychological Science.

Laurent, H.K., Ablow, J.C., & Measelle, J.R. (2012). Taking stress response out of the box: Stability, discontinuity, and temperament effects on HPA and SNS across social stressors in mother-infant dyads. Developmental Psychology, 48, 35-45.

Functional Neuroimaging with Depressed Mothers

We are currently investigating maternal reactivity to infant cry signals into the realm of neurobiology using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). A parent’s ability to process and act on emotionally relevant information is important for sensitive interactions that, in turn, allow the infant to develop emotion-regulating capacities. Our work suggests, however, that some mothers appear unable to respond optimally to their infant’s emotional cues, perhaps because of their own potentially long-standing neurobiological characteristics, as in the case of cognitive processes shaped by attachment representations, or by the potentially transient effects of postpartum depression. Preliminary results from this study indicate that whereas non-depressed mothers respond to their infant’s cry in brain areas associated with reward-driven action, depressed mothers engage in mentalizing processes that could inhibit sensitive parenting.


  • National Institute of Mental Health (MH04009213), “Mapping Neural Response to Infant Distress in Depressed New Mothers.”
  • Brain Biology Machine Initiative Grant for Neuroimaging Pilot Research, Robert and Beverly Lewis Center for Neuroimaging, University of Oregon.

Sample Papers
Laurent, H. K., & Ablow, J.C. (2012). A cry in the dark: Depressed mothers show reduced neural activation to their own infant’s cry. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 7, 125-134

Laurent, H. K., & Ablow, J.C. (2012). The missing link: Mothers’ neural response to infant cry related to infant attachment behaviors. Infant Behavior & Development, 35, 761-772.

Pediatric Health Study, Luang Prabang, Laos

In collaboration with the NGO Friends Without A Border (FWAB) and the Laotian Health Ministry, we are conducting a baseline assessment of the pediatric health conditions in the Loas province of Luang Prabang in advance of FWAB’s planned construction of a new pediatric hospital (see descriptions of HEAL Laos: Healthcare, Education, and Advancement for Life in Laos at FWAB’s web site) in Luang Prang. We are collecting survey and biobehavioral data.


  • Friends Without A Border
  • University of Oregon

Infant Emotion Regulation

Although infants’ regulatory capacities during their first year of life are limited, we are finding that they already show purposeful self-regulatory strategies while interacting with caregivers as early as 5 months of age. For example, infants of more sensitive mothers exhibit greater attention-seeking behaviors, and fewer avoidance and resistance behaviors when upset whereas infants of mothers observed as less sensitive exhibit higher levels of avoidance and resistance behaviors. These data tell us something important about the origins of emotion regulation. Analyses of our data near the end of infants’ second, third,and fourth years of life will enable us to test the stability of individual regulatory trajectories. We are currently genotyping our sample of children to test whether common allelic variations in genes with known links to self-regulation (DRD4, MAOA) interact with parental insensitivity to predict the development of early psychopathology.


  • National Science Foundation (BCS-0643393), “Biobehavioral Coordination in Infants’ Response to Social Stress.”

Sample Papers
Conradt, E., & Ablow, J.C. (2010). Infant physiological response to the Still-Face Paradigm: Contributions of maternal sensitivity and infants’ early regulatory behavior. Infant Behavior and Development, 33, 251-265.

Graham, A.M., Ablow, J.C. & Measelle, J.R. (2010). Interparental relationship dynamics and cardiac vagal functioning in infancy. Infant Behavior and Development, 33, 530-544.

Berkeley Puppet Interview

Within our own and other’s work, the BPI has been an important means to investigate young children’s self-reports and their perceptions of familial processes parent-child, sibling, and marital relationships). Our efforts to further the BPI’s development as an empirically supported self-report method for young children continue, as do our efforts to support the BPI’s dissemination and multinational translations.


  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Faculty Awards (Research Network on Psychopathology and Development).
  • National Institute of Mental Health NRSA Award (5F31HD052490), “Emotion Processes in Ethnic Minority Children”.
  • National Science Foundation Award. “Can Children Provide Stable and Valid Self-Report on the Big Five Dimensions of Personality in Middle Childhood through Adolescence?”
  • National Institute of Child and Human Development (RR 031045). “Interactive Multimedia Training Program for the Berkeley Puppet Interview.”

Sample Papers
Ablow, J.C., Measelle, J.R., Cowan, P.A., & Cowan, C.P. (2009). Linking marital conflict and children’s adjustment: The role of young children’s perceptions. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 485-499.

Measelle, J.R., John, O.P., Ablow, J.C., Cowan, P.A., & Cowan, C. (2005). Can young children provide coherent, stable, and valid self-reports on the Big Five dimension? A longitudinal study from ages 5 to 7. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 90-106.