CDBB Research Programs

The following information describes the branch's research programs and program areas.

Program Official: Tracy King

This research program generally focuses on relationships between behaviors and clinically important health outcomes, including establishing and maintaining healthy behaviors and identifying and reducing risky behaviors from childhood through early adulthood. 

The program supports pediatric health services research and innovations in pediatric primary care. This program encourages projects on the effects of preventive services offered via pediatric primary care settings, particularly screening and behavioral counseling, as well as health promotion and disease prevention interventions on clinically important health outcomes, including disease or health status, healthy and risky behaviors, adverse events, and healthcare utilization. 

Cross-cutting issues include understanding how clinically important health outcomes are affected by adherence to medical and therapeutic regimens, medical decision-making, health literacy, mobile health, health technology, and/or electronic media, as well as by safe medication use and/or behavioral interventions that decrease medication use for chronic conditions. Also of interest to the program are projects that explore the relationships between and among pain prevention and management, sleep (including sleep deprivation and deficiency), and health outcomes.

Program Official: Brett Miller

This program supports basic research on genetic and neurobiological mechanisms and their environmental mediators underlying individual differences in typical and atypical development of cognition (e.g., attention, perception, memory, learning, decision-making, problem-solving, executive function, intelligence, and social and emotional cognition), identity (e.g., personality, gender identity, and sexual orientation), and behavior (e.g., development of early motor milestones). Supported studies include those assessing genetic, molecular, cellular, or brain structural or functional mechanisms underlying infant-directed behavior and its impact on child cognitive, social, and emotional development, and basic psychosocial studies of cognitive development, including of environmental influences on cognitive development. Populations of interest include both human and animal models, but exclude populations with intellectual and developmental disabilities or head trauma-induced impairment.

The program also supports training in these areas, particularly interdisciplinary training that integrates experimental methods, quantitative methods (including theoretical, statistical, and computational training), behavioral methods, and developmental study design.

Areas of emphasis include:

  • Connecting developmental processes across scales. How and when do the components of a brain across the molecular, cellular, circuit, and network levels individually and in combination contribute to the development of complex cognition and behavior? Studies that integrate the real-time interaction of brain components across scales through interdisciplinary approaches examining developmental changes in brain structure and function, gene regulation and expression, and complex behavior and cognition, from infancy through adolescence are of interest. Studies employing infant neuroimaging measures are particularly encouraged.
  • Identifying sensitive periods in development. What critical windows during brain cellular, circuit, or network development underlie achievement of cognitive or behavioral milestones or impact the developmental trajectory of these complex processes, including basic psychosocial studies of cognitive development? Identifying sensitive developmental timeframes will help elucidate the developmental origins of adult health and functioning. Development of high-level theories and models of development that connect processes and timescales is a critical need resulting from this effort.
  • Bridging human and comparative animal models of cognition and behavior. Can we draw links across human and comparative animal models using genetic, epigenetic, neuroimaging, and other functional or anatomical brain measures? Use of comparative animal models is encouraged to provide more granular assessment of basic cellular or circuit functioning than currently available in human studies, and to highlight differences in development between species. For new or non-traditional animal models, the links to human translational potential must be clearly and strongly delineated.

Program Official: James A. Griffin

This program supports basic and translational developmental research that attempts to specify the experiences children need from birth to age 8 to prepare them for a successful transition to school entry and later achievement. It also supports long-term follow-up studies that quantify the long-term effect of early intervention programs. School readiness encompasses those capabilities of children, families, schools, and communities that will best foster student success in kindergarten and beyond. The components of school readiness include physical growth and well-being; motor, cognitive, social-emotional, and executive function/self-regulation skill development; and emergent language, literacy, numeracy, and mathematics learning.

Developmentally Informed Prevention and Early Intervention Studies. Studies of basic and translational genetic, epigenetic, and neurodevelopmental processes and mechanisms that underlie cognitive, executive function, language, social, emotional, motor, or physical development in the context of applying this knowledge to guide the development and testing of prevention and early intervention studies whose primary outcome is the promotion of early learning and the development of school readiness skills and abilities in at-risk populations.

Early Social Interactions. Basic and translational research is supported to identify the mechanisms through which early interactions with family members, adult caretakers, teachers, and peers in a variety of early care and education settings support learning and school readiness in children from diverse backgrounds and environments.

Environmental Impacts. Research that specifies the mechanisms by which environmental variables, such as exposure to high levels of stress, chaotic or otherwise, over- and under-stimulating environments, and inappropriate exposure to media negatively affect children's early learning and the development of school readiness skills and abilities.

Infant/Toddler Interventions. Interest in the development and testing of targeted and comprehensive intervention programs for at-risk infants and toddlers ages 0-2 and their families that are delivered in the home and/or in-service settings such as pediatric primary care clinics, family- and center-based child care settings, and Early Head Start programs whose primary focus is the promotion of early learning and the development of school readiness skills and abilities.

Preschooler Interventions. Interest in the development and testing of integrative and comprehensive early childhood education interventions for at-risk children, ages 3-5, that are delivered in early care and education programs such as Head Start and state and local preschool programs and center-based child care providers whose primary focus is the promotion of early learning and the development of school readiness skills and abilities. Interventions may be designed to target specific subpopulations of children and their families, including children who are English-language learners.

Professional Development Linked to Child Outcomes. Knowledge about the preparation, training, and professional development of people involved in the care and education of young children, the effectiveness of training strategies in promoting the positive modes of interaction identified by the research previously described, and the causal linkages between adult behavior and school readiness outcomes for young children.

Measurement Development. New and innovative methods and assessments for measuring early learning and school readiness skills and abilities in diverse populations of children as well as measures of home, child care, and preschool environments and practices that are related to child learning and development.

Program Official: Virginia C. Salo

This program supports and encourages research in the following two closely related and often integrated areas:

  • Language development and psycholinguistics, from infancy through early adulthood
  • Bilingualism/multilingualism and/or second-language acquisition

Of particular interest are developmental studies that identify and make clear the cognitive, linguistic, social, cultural, socio-environmental, geographic, environmental, instructional, and neurobiological factors related to individual differences in language development and bilingualism/multilingualism. The program has a strong interest in historically underrepresented populations, including language-minority populations, as well as in speakers of dialects of English within the United States. This programmatic research focus is complemented by the Early Learning and School Readiness and Literacy and Related Learning Disabilities programs.

Language development. The program supports research on all aspects of normative language development, including gesture, phenotype, phonological, semantic, syntactic, pragmatic, and metalinguistic development, as well as understanding the relation between oral language development and language development in other modalities (e.g., sign language). Studies of the cognitive aspects of language development and language processing in children, youth, and adults are also relevant to the full understanding of language and its neurobiological substrate. This program also supports research on the range of neurobiological, genetic, cultural, social, and environmental factors supporting and predicting individual differences in normative language development.

Bilingualism and Multilingualism. The program supports research on the characterization and acquisition of languages beyond the first or native language, and on factors that promote or impede the development of bilingualism and multilingualism. Topics of study include the effects of home, community, and school language use on maintenance of bilingualism and multilingualism, skill transfer across languages, the cognitive aspects of bilingualism and multilingualism, and the underlying neurobiology of bilingual and multilingual language processes.

Program Official: Kathy Mann Koepke

This program supports projects in both basic and intervention research within all aspects of mathematical thinking and problem solving, as well as in scientific reasoning, learning, and discovery, across all ages from infancy into early adulthood. Of particular interest are studies that explore a variety of influences on atypical development in mathematics and science learning, reasoning, and cognition in both humans and animal models, including genetic and neurobiological substrates, and cognitive, linguistic, sociocultural, and instructional factors. Core areas of research focus include investigations of the individual differences that may moderate achievement in math and/or science; the delineation of skill sets needed to attain proficiency in these domains; the means to address the kinds of learning difficulties that frequently emerge in each of these areas; and the development of innovative and efficacious interventions for mitigating these difficulties. Preventive interventions for at-risk individuals, including non-educational or cognitive focused interventions (e.g., sleep or motor activities) that are evidence-grounded and that can contribute to the understanding of core capacities needed for mathematical and scientific learning and reasoning are also encouraged.

Mathematical Cognition, Reasoning, and Learning. Areas of focus within typical development of quantitative reasoning and mathematical proficiency include basic magnitude and numerical representations and processing, number- and time-line representations and processing, arithmetic comprehension and procedural skills, proficiency with fractions and other types of rational numbers, algebraic problem solving, geometric thinking, concepts of probability and chance, understanding and interpretation of graphical and statistical representations, and measurement concepts and skills. Although the program supports all methodologies, a great need remains for longitudinal studies on the development of mathematical proficiency from infancy through high school and early college. Community, home, classroom, and electronic/virtual intervention research is needed to improve mathematical learning and reasoning. The program supports neuroimaging research and animal models that enable researchers to reveal critical core cognitive capacities and brain patterns reflective of learning mathematics. Also of interest are studies that clarify the influences of other cognitive capacities (e.g., language, working memory) and chronic or recurring stressors (e.g., anxiety, sleep deprivation) on the development of numeracy and quantitative reasoning, as well as studies of mathematically gifted children that may shed light on factors that promote the development and learning of mathematical capacities.

Mathematical Learning Disabilities. The program funds studies exploring the nature and extent of specific mathematical learning disabilities, including diagnosis, classification, etiology, prevention, and treatment. Of interest are persons with idiopathic mathematical learning disabilities, including those iatrogenically introduced, those with co-morbid math and reading disabilities, and children with neurodevelopmental and/or neuropsychiatric disorders for whom deficient math performance represents one of the primary cognitive sequelae. The program encourages epidemiological longitudinal studies to estimate the prevalence of learning disabilities in mathematics. Of particular importance are studies of the effects of impoverished environments on the failure to develop mathematical proficiency and the identification of risk and protective factors within these contexts. Studies are encouraged that improve early identification and classification of children with or at risk for mathematical learning disabilities to improve targeted interventions. Exploration of the timing and dosing of interventions to most effectively enable mathematical learning and reasoning are also encouraged. Increased study is needed to better enable scaffolding of mathematical reasoning in adolescents and young adults with and without mathematical learning disability who are transitioning to employment and independence with inadequate math skills to succeed.

Science Cognition and Learning. This area of research emphasis includes studies to improve understanding of the cognitive and developmental bases of scientific thinking, reasoning, and learning, beginning in early infancy into early adulthood. The program encourages research on factors contributing to conceptual change, inductive and deductive reasoning, and the acquisition of scientific concepts, such as experimental control and falsifiability. Related topics of interest include causal thinking and inference, theory-evidence coordination, reasoning about data/evidence, and judgments of others' knowledge/credibility. Also important is the investigation of developmental changes in naïve or intuitive thinking about the biological and physical worlds and corrective interventions that modify mislearned knowledge and theories. The program supports studies that can inform the design of evidence-based interventions that improve scientific reasoning and scientific content acquisition, as well as the ability to use and apply both this content knowledge and the process of scientific inquiry. Specific topics of study include children's understanding of causal relevance, children's grasp of causal powers, the changes as children grow in their assumptions about the functions of unknown objects, and how best to present scientific concepts to enable learning, comprehension, and transfer of knowledge.

Program Official: Brett Miller

This program focuses on research and training initiatives to increase understanding of individual differences in the development of reading and written language skills throughout the life course, as well as on the development of prevention, remediation, and instructional approaches to promote development. The program includes both longitudinal and cross-sectional work on reading and writing development, from preschool into adulthood, and multidisciplinary studies that integrate genetic, neurobiological, cognitive/behavioral, and intervention studies. The program particularly encourages work on understudied research topics within these topical areas including writing development and interventions targeting writing skills, development of literacy skills in struggling adolescent and adult learners, and research that targets diverse, historically understudied communities of learners. This programmatic research focus is complemented by the Early Learning and School Readiness and Language Development and Multilingualism research programs.

Reading Development. The program supports research on the environmental, experiential, instructional, cognitive, linguistic, genetic, and neurobiological contributions to the developmental reading process. This area includes a focus on foundational science topics related to the acquisition and development of reading and related skills, including oral language and written language skills. The program also focuses on translational science and includes support for interventions to address diverse learners' needs from preschool into adulthood.

Writing Development. This programmatic focus seeks to understand the development of orthographic processing, spelling, written composition, written expression, knowledge transformation, meta-cognitive skills, and compositional fluency. Programmatic emphases include foundational and translational science investigating the cognitive, behavioral, instructional, and neurobiological contributions to the development of these skills and the relationships among oral language, reading, and written language skills. The program particularly encourages longitudinal and mixed-method approaches to these topics.

Learning Disabilities Impacting Reading and Writing. The program seeks to develop new knowledge about the causes or origins and developmental courses of learning disabilities that affect oral language abilities related to reading and writing, basic reading skills, reading fluency, reading comprehension, and written expression. Study topics include identification of and intervention programs for children at risk for reading or writing difficulties, investigations of the genetics of learning disabilities and co-morbid disorders, the possible causal roles of genetic and environmental factors in learning disabilities, and the neurobiology of learning disabilities.

The program emphasizes prevention, early intervention, and remediation of learning disabilities and co-morbid conditions. Additionally, the program encourages the development of reliable and valid quantitative and qualitative measurement instruments and measurement strategies to identify children at risk for failure in these academic domains, as well as measurement tools and approaches that can assess growth over time and in response to interventions.

Biliteracy. The program supports research that addresses bilingual reading development. The portfolio includes studies of topics such as whether reading in the first language promotes or impedes English-language reading abilities for English-language learning (ELL) students; the effects of oral language ability on biliteracy development; the identification of optimal methods for intervention for struggling ELL students; and the neurobiology and genetics of reading and reading disabilities in bilingual individuals and across languages with differing internal language structures and/or orthographies or across sensory modalities (bimodal bilingualism—signing plus oral language). This portfolio includes studies of factors that promote or impede the acquisition of English-language reading and writing abilities among children for whom English is a second language. Work on measurement/assessment of reading and related areas in bilingual and ELL individuals is encouraged.

An additional major goal of this program is obtaining converging scientific evidence to inform the development and application of assessment and instructional approaches and strategies to develop robust literacy skills. Such strategies and approaches will also help to prevent or remediate reading and writing difficulties and disabilities among children whose first language is not English and among bilingual or multilingual children.

Program Official: Layla Esposito

This program supports research and research training relevant to normative social, emotional, and personality development in children from the newborn period through adolescence. Within this context, investigations of sociocultural, familial, individual, and biological influences on social and emotional development are also of interest. The program also supports studies of child developmental and family processes in high-risk settings (e.g., violent or abusive environments, child protective environments, juvenile justice environments) or in family environments where stressors such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness, father absence, military family structure, deployment, or parental depression are present. In addition, the program supports studies that examine protective factors that mitigate the risks of poor outcomes, including parenting, social, and cultural support mechanisms, and biological influences that shape development and developmental outcomes.

Social Development. Interest areas include interpersonal processes, forming and maintaining relationships (including parent–child, caregiver, peer, friend, and sibling), attachment models, and moral development. Also encouraged are studies of social competence, social withdrawal, social role formation and maintenance, and asocial and prosocial behavior. The program encourages translational research to understand the uses of media and empirical research that addresses the psychological, social, and behavioral effects of media.

Emotional Development. The program supports basic and translational research on the processes and mechanisms involved in the experience, expression, and regulation of emotion. Such research can shed light on whether child-by-environment models are effective guides for investigating processes that promote psychosocial adjustment. Studies of personality, temperament, and motivation and the relations among these domains are of interest, as are self-processes (self-esteem, self-evaluation, self-concept, self-control, self-efficacy, and social identity).

Child and Family Processes. The program supports studies of child developmental and family processes in both low- and high-risk settings, to understand family dynamics, co-regulation, parenting practices, parent-child relationships; and in family environments where stressors such as violence, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, father absence, or parental depression are present. In addition, the program supports studies that examine resilience or protective factors that mitigate the risks of poor outcomes, including parenting, social and cultural support mechanisms, and biological influences that shape development and developmental outcomes.

Child Maltreatment.  Studies of child maltreatment are a focus when they address familial risk factors or antecedents, negative parent-child interactions, and the psychosocial or other developmental impacts of abuse or neglect on the child.  Studies that aim to develop, test, and/or disseminate parenting interventions to reduce the risk of maltreatment or ameliorate its effects on development are of particular interest. 

Violence and Childhood Exposure to Violence. The program aims to develop new knowledge about the definition, identification, epidemiology, prevention, etiology, early intervention, and mechanisms of violence and violence exposure and their impact on development. Studies examining the trajectories of social development that may lead to antisocial behavior, conduct problems, and aggression are encouraged. Research topics of interest include:

  • Long-term psychological sequelae of childhood exposure to various forms of violence
  • Development of aggressive and violent behavior in childhood and adolescence (including individual, peer, family, neighborhood, and sociocultural influences)
  • Effects of domestic, intimate partner, bullying, teen dating, or community violence on individual development during infancy, childhood, or adolescence
  • Factors within family, social, neighborhood, and school contexts that mitigate the consequences of violence on the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of children

Human-Animal Interaction (HAI). HAI research—defined as studies of the association between pet ownership/caregiving and physical and mental health, as well as the use of animals in both physical and psychological therapeutic treatments—is also part of CDBB's portfolio. To encourage HAI research, CDBB entered into a formal public-private partnership with WALTHAM® Petcare Science Institute, a division of Mars, Inc., in support of a competitive research grant program. Through this program, NICHD aims to increase understanding of the impact of animals on the lives of children, specifically exploring:

  • Effect of HAI on typical and atypical development and health
  • Involvement of animals in physical and psychological therapeutic treatments
  • Effects of animals on public health, including the cost-effectiveness of involving animals in reducing and preventing disease
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