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Personal profile

Research Interests

Dr. Wakschlag's research is focused on translational approaches to elucidating mechanisms and phenomenology of early emerging disruptive behavior. The Developmental Mechanisms Program emphasizes developmentally-based measurement science including novel observational methodologies for use at varying developmental periods. The centerpiece of this work is NIMH-funded measurement development of tools for characterizing the phenotype of disruptive behavior in preschoolers in a manner distinct from the normative misbehavior of early childhood. This includes a completed study to validate the Disruptive Behavior Diagnostic Observation Schedule (DB-DOS), a standardized laboratory observation method for assessing clinically salient behavior in preschoolers; and the study designed to validate the Multidimensional Assessment of Preschool Disruptive Behavior (MAP-DB)- a paper-and pencil measure of four dimensions of disruptive behavior theorized to comprise its defining features: i.e., Temper Loss, Noncompliance, Aggression and Low Concern for Others. Dr. Wakschlag’s work on mechanisms of psychopathology has a central focus on prenatal origins of health and disease. This is exemplified by her NIDA-funded work on prenatal smoking as a putative mechanism in pathways to disruptive behavior. This program of research has focused on elucidating exposure-related phenotypes across developmental periods and identifying how exposure interacts with biologic and social risk in these pathways. She and her colleagues discovered an interaction of exposure and the MAOA genotype with varying patterns by sex, and modification of exposure effects by early responsive parenting.

Research Interests

As a developmental/clinical psychologist, Dr. Wakschlag's scientific focus is on how early development (from the prenatal-preschool period) shapes mental health pathways. One major line of inquiry is characterizing the phenotype of emergent mental health problems in early childhood. She and her collaborators have generated the first “developmentally-sensitive toolkit” specifically designed to enhance early identification of mental health problems, via by empirically-based differentiation of the normative misbehavior of early childhood from the onset of disruptive behavior at preschool age. Currently, these tools are being used to pinpoint corollary neurodevelopmental atypicalities, with work underway to ready the tools for clinical use. Most recently, this work has focused on the neurodevelopment of irritability as a shared substrate of common childhood-onset mental disorders. The second major focus of her research is elucidating prenatal origins of disease pathways. In particular, this work focuses on causal modeling of prenatal smoking “effects” on disruptive behavior. This includes the development of novel methods for multi-level characterization of adverse prenatal environments, investigating prenatal environment x gene interactions, and pinpointing the developmental sequence of exposure-related neurobehavioral vulnerabilities from infancy-adolescence. Examination of prenatal smoking effects “within psychosocial context,” has led her to a burgeoning emphasis on the role of early life stress in these pathways. Increasingly her work in this area aims to discover the patterns of brain:behavior atypicality associated with adverse prenatal exposures. The long term goal of these efforts is to serve as an impetus for moving the “dial” of mental health prevention much earlier in the disease sequence, by providing well characterized neurodevelopmental phenotypes of disease susceptibility to serve as core prevention targets.

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of Chicago

… → 1992

Social Work, MA, The University of Chicago

… → 1983

Psychology, BA, Barnard College

… → 1980


  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Developmental Alterations
  • Developmental Methods
  • Developmental Origins of Disease
  • Developmental Psychopathology
  • Disruptive/Antisocial Behavior
  • Gene-Environment Interactions
  • Prenatal Environment and Developmental Outcomes

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Grants 2010 2023

Research Output 1991 2019

Irritability uniquely predicts prefrontal cortex activation during preschool inhibitory control among all temperament domains: A LASSO approach

Fishburn, F. A., Hlutkowsky, C. O., Bemis, L. M., Huppert, T. J., Wakschlag, L. S. & Perlman, S. B., Jan 1 2019, In : Neuroimage. 184, p. 68-77 10 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Prefrontal Cortex
Near-Infrared Spectroscopy
Executive Function

Differentiating typical from atypical perpetration of sibling-directed aggression during the preschool years

Dirks, M. A., Recchia, H. E., Estabrook, C. R., Howe, N., Petitclerc, A., Burns, J. L., Briggs-Gowan, M. J. & Wakschlag, L. S., Jan 1 2018, (Accepted/In press) In : Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Hispanic Americans

Does early maternal responsiveness buffer prenatal tobacco exposure effects on young children's behavioral disinhibition?

Clark, C. A. C., Massey, S., Wiebe, S. A., Espy, K. A. & Wakschlag, L. S., Jan 1 2018, (Accepted/In press) In : Development and Psychopathology.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Disease Susceptibility
Child Development
7 Citations

Evidence of Non-Linear Associations between Frustration-Related Prefrontal Cortex Activation and the Normal:Abnormal Spectrum of Irritability in Young Children

Grabell, A. S., Li, Y., Barker, J. W., Wakschlag, L. S., Huppert, T. J. & Perlman, S. B., Jan 1 2018, In : Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 46, 1, p. 137-147 11 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Prefrontal Cortex
Linear Models
5 Citations

Explicating the role of empathic processes in substance use disorders: A conceptual framework and research agenda

Massey, S., Newmark, R. L. & Wakschlag, L. S., Mar 1 2018, In : Drug and Alcohol Review. 37, 3, p. 316-332 17 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Substance-Related Disorders
Impulsive Behavior
Social Sciences