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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.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Devlopment Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of Chicago

… → 1992

Social Work, MA, The University of Chicago

… → 1983

Psychology, BA, Barnard College

… → 1980

Research interests

  • 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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