Child Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB)

Baby playing with toysOverview/Mission

CDBB supports basic and translational research and training that addresses the typical neurocognitive, psychological, behavioral, physical, and social-emotional development and health of infants, children, and adolescents. The branch explores how individual differences in development, as well as family and other social relationships, are affected by genetic and environmental influences including emerging societal trends (e.g., increased reliance on technology and digital media), as well as public health emergencies (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic). The branch also supports basic research to identify the mechanisms by which atypical development and related health outcomes in children and adolescents from diverse backgrounds (e.g., low socioeconomic status, racial/ethnic and language minorities) and subpopulations (e.g., individuals with Specific Learning Disorders) arise from or are differentially affected by genetic and environmental risk/protective factors. The branch uses these findings to inform translational prevention, intervention, and health promotion studies designed to enhance their lives.

We are interested in applications that align with the following research priorities. For more information about NICHD’s research themes, cross-cutting topics, and aspirational goals, visit the plan’s Scientific Research Themes and Objectives.

Effects of Technology and Digital Media Use on Child and Adolescent Development

Strategic Plan Theme 4: Improving Child and Adolescent Health and the Transition to Adulthood
Strategic Plan Aspirational Goal: Discover how technology exposure and media use affect developmental trajectories, health outcomes, and parent-child interactions in early childhood

Gap: Technology exposure and digital media use have become ubiquitous facets of modern childhood from an early age, resulting in an urgent need to understand how this usage affects multiple developmental domains and health outcomes, as well as changes in the very nature of neurocognitive development and social interactions between family members, peers, and society at large. Basic and translational research is needed to determine how variations in the use of technology and digital media affect the typical and atypical development and health outcomes of children and adolescents from diverse backgrounds and subpopulations.

Priority: Research to explore, from infancy through adolescence, the impact of the type, duration, and timing of exposure to and usage of technology and digital media on healthy development across multiple domains (e.g., neurocognitive, behavioral, linguistic, social-emotional, and physical) and individuals from diverse backgrounds and subpopulations. Research that examines how technology and digital media usage are related to typical and atypical neurocognitive and social-emotional developmental trajectories, as well as the immediate and long-term impact of episodic (e.g., cyberbullying and peer victimization) and systemic (e.g., virtual learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic) exposures and associated health outcomes (e.g., sleep and physical activity).

Neurodevelopment, Neuroplasticity, and Sensitive Periods

Strategic Plan Theme 1: Understanding the Molecular, Cellular, and Structural Basis of Development
Strategic Plan Theme 4: Improving Child and Adolescent Health and the Transition to Adulthood
Strategic Plan Cross-Cutting Topic: Disease Prevention

Gap: Recent technological advances have improved multi-level assessments of typical and atypical brain development from infancy through adolescence (e.g., neuroimaging, genomics, and neuro-assessment), but use of these methods from the perinatal period through early childhood has lagged due to technical and safety constraints. Research is needed on typical neurodevelopment and sensitive periods underlying complex cognitive and behavioral systems in infants, children and adolescents.

Priority: Interdisciplinary studies using multi-level assessments of neurodevelopment that examine interrelated developmental changes in brain structure and function, gene regulation and expression, and complex behavior and cognition, in both human and comparative neurobiology studies, from infancy through adolescence. Such studies will identify sensitive periods for neurodevelopmental milestones, which in turn will inform critical windows for more effective preventive, diagnostic, and intervention efforts across multiple developmental domains.

Use of Neurocognitive Sensitive Periods and Risk/Protective Factors to Inform Targeted Prevention and Treatment Strategies

Strategic Plan Theme 1: Understanding the Molecular, Cellular, and Structural Basis of Development
Strategic Plan Theme 4: Improving Child and Adolescent Health and the Transition to Adulthood
Strategic Plan Cross-Cutting Topics: Disease Prevention, Health Disparities

Gap: There is a significant need to better understand the timing of sensitive periods in typical human brain development from infancy through adolescence and related risk and protective factors associated with typical and atypical neurodevelopment. Such knowledge is needed to inform the targeting of prevention and intervention strategies during these sensitive periods to maximize their impact across multiple developmental domains (e.g., neurocognitive, behavioral, linguistic, social-emotional, and physical), leading to optimal health outcomes in children and adolescents from diverse backgrounds and subpopulations.

Priority: Research using converging methodologies to assess the relationship between sensitive periods in brain development from infancy through adolescence and the pathways by which risk and protective factors affect both developmental trajectories and health outcomes. Research that helps differentiate typical developmental trajectory variations during sensitive periods from potential delays or impairments. Use of these findings to create or enhance mechanistic, developmentally sensitive interventions to improve outcomes for infants, children, and adolescents at risk for poor health outcomes, including those from diverse backgrounds and subpopulations with other co-occurring conditions.

Understanding Social Determinants of Health and Developmentally Informed Strategies to Mitigate Health Disparities

Strategic Plan Theme 4: Improving Child and Adolescent Health and the Transition to Adulthood
Strategic Plan Cross-Cutting Topics: Disease Prevention, Health Disparities

Gap: Basic and translational research is needed to test integrated models of the social determinants of health that take into account the timing of exposure to specific social and environmental influences and their differential impact on heightened risk for atypical development and poor health outcomes (e.g., the heightened negative economic, academic, social and health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and families from disadvantaged socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, and language minority groups). Research is needed to inform both the content and timing of interventions designed to ameliorate early adverse environmental effects, as well as optimize healthy growth and development from infancy through adolescence.

Priority: Observational and preventive intervention research to identify the mechanisms by which exposures to social and environmental risk factors in infancy through adolescence negatively impact trajectories across multiple developmental domains (e.g., neurocognitive, behavioral, linguistic, social-emotional, and physical) and health outcomes in children and adolescents from diverse backgrounds and subpopulations. Research on the timing of these exposures and the opportunity to either prevent or mitigate poor outcomes in early childhood through adolescence and the transition into adulthood is needed to optimize the timing of interventions for maximal positive psychosocial and health outcomes in these populations.

  • James A. Griffin, Branch Chief
    Main Research Areas: Executive function; typical development, atypical development, measurement, and interventions; school readiness (includes short- and long-term outcome studies and economic studies of lifespan cost savings); and primary care and child care parent and child interventions
  • Layla Esposito, Program Director
    Main Research Areas: Social and emotional development and child and family processes, human-animal interaction
  • Karen C. Lee, Program Director
    Main Research Areas: Health promotion, pediatric primary care, behavioral and developmental pediatrics, sleep, pain, risky behaviors, health literacy, decision-making, adherence
  • Kathy Mann Koepke, Program Director
    Main Research Areas: Mathematics cognition, reasoning, learning, development, and disorders; reasoning, including animal models and human learning, transfer, typical development, and dysfunction; science learning, including animal models and human cognition, reasoning, learning, typical development, interventions, and disorders
  • Brett Miller, Program Director
    Main Research Areas: Reading, writing, and related learning disabilities; dyslexia/reading disability
  • Amanda J. Price, Program Director
    Main Research Areas: Cognitive development, behavioral neuroscience, brain development, developmental behavioral genomics, functional genomics

Highlights

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