College of Letters and Science Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Professor of Anthropology, Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin at Madison
I hold doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology and in Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and approach research on child development from both basic science and applied, public health perspectives. From the vantage point of basic science, my students and I explore the mechanisms of developmental change. Through our research, we address questions about the interpersonal, cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms that are responsible for the increasingly complex behaviors that children may acquire during infancy, early childhood, and into adolescence. My particular area of interest is in understanding how the quantity and quality of early experiences in children’s lives influences how children think about and process information. Members of our lab group hope to leverage an understanding of how developmental change occurs to develop effective prevention and intervention strategies for children most at risk for emotional, learning and behavior problems. Taken together, the goal of our research is to better understand the role that early experiences in children’s lives have on development of brain structure and function.
AWARD FOR DISTINGUISHED SCIENTIFIC EARLY CAREER CONTRIBUTIONS TO PSYCHOLOGY
In November 2006 Dr. Pollak received an award for Distinguished Scientific Early Career Contributions to Psychology. To read his biographical sketch, click here: Biographical Sketch
My background includes over ten years of teaching and research experience with families and young children in childcare, preschool, and the elementary school level. As a classroom teacher I became very interested in understanding how children’s emotional experiences affect learning, behavior, and socio-emotional development. I very much enjoy being involved with this research where I have the opportunity to work on projects examining the effects of early emotional experiences as well as interact with children and their families.
My research interests focus on the behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms through which acute psychosocial stress (i.e., social embarrassment or evaluation) and chronic psychosocial stress (i.e., poverty, neglect or maltreatment) impact self-regulation and learning skills in children and adolescents. By understanding such mechanisms, I hope to pinpoint factors that can promote positive coping and adaptation under adverse circumstances; and ultimately identify means to intervene at risk-populations for negative health and academic outcomes. Before coming to Madison, I completed an undergraduate degree in Sociology and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy at the Universidad de Chile. Furthermore, I spent two years working as research assistant in a cognitive neuroscience lab in Chile. I am currently supported by a Fulbright Fellowship and a Scholarship from the Chilean Government.
In my research, I explore developmental changes in reward processing and the influences of social feedback and social experience on the ways in which children, adolescents, and adults respond to potential risks and rewards. Another line of my research examines developmental and individual differences in neural responses to emotional facial expressions. I utlilize behavioral and neuroimaging methods to explore these questions. I obtained my Ph.D. from the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, and prior to that spent two years working in an autism lab at the National Institute of Mental Health.
Brian Leitzke, Graduate Student, Clinical Psychology
B.S., 2007, University of Wisconsin – Madison (Elementary Education)
M.S., 2012, University of Wisconsin – Madison (Psychology)
My research focuses on the development of emotion processing and perception throughout childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. I am particularly interested in how early life experiences influence emotion processing later in life and what role these changes play in the development of psychopathology. Of key importance to my research is how individuals perceive emotional facial expressions and how they integrate contextual information into their perception of emotional scenes. Utilizing eye tracking and analyzing psychophysiological correlates, I hope to elucidate the role of emotion perception in the trajectory from early experience to adult emotional functioning, and identify means of intervention for those at-risk for negative health and life outcomes.
Alyssa Lovely, Community Outreach Coordinator; Research Specialist
B.A., 2015, UW Madison (Psychology)
B.S., 2017, UW Madison (Studio Art)
After graduating with my first bachelor’s in psychology, I spent several years working with youth of varying needs and abilities. I quickly learned I wanted to continue working with youth, but I wanted to somehow incorporate my passion for art. After acquiring a degree in Studio Art and working in the Culture and Cognition Lab at UW Madison, I now find myself on the path to becoming an Art Therapist. I am interested in how art can be used as a tool for improving our mental health through self expression, creative exploration, and mindful meditation, and how we can apply psychological research methods to bettering our understanding of the benefits of doing art.
During my time at UNC-Chapel Hill, I worked as a research assistant in the Anxiety and Stress Lab and the African American Youth Wellness Lab where I became interested in cultural differences in internalizing disorders in youth. I then worked at the University of Michigan as a research study coordinator for a brain-imaging study examining how cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) affects the brain in adolescents and adults with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). My ultimate career goal is to become a child psychologist who seeks to understand how social stressors influence internalizing symptom presentation in children and adolescents from underserved communities.
Rista Plate, Graduate Student, Clinical Psychology
B.A., 2010, University of Wisconsin, Madison (Psychology)
As individuals act and interact in social environments, they must sort through complex evidence to make everyday decisions. Such choices might include whom to trust; how to make and maintain friendships; how to interact with a teacher versus a peer; when to mask versus express their feelings; or how to determine if a current behavior is likely to result in reward or punishment. I seek to understand how children make sense of social information, with a particular focus on how statistical learning unfolds in dynamic socio-emotional contexts. In doing so, I draw across areas of psychology, using cognitive methods to explore questions about social development.
I am interested in how emotion concepts develop throughout the lifespan, particularly in infancy and early childhood. My current research examines (a) what infants and young children understand about others’ emotions, and (b) how language-dependent and language-independent learning processes influence emotion concept development. Overall, my research aims to bridge gaps between affective science and developmental psychology.
I am interested in understanding individual differences in psychophysiological responses to stress, especially experiences of early life stress. Specifically, my research centers on elucidating the role of reciprocal interactions between physiological processes and affective states in children’s responses to stress, with a focus on how children’s perceptions of environmental demands shape their responses to stress. This work aims to identify protective factors that can aid in the development of targeted, effective interventions for at risk children and families, through enabling a more comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms contributing to individual differences in responses to stress.
We all experience and encounter emotions in diverse, complicated ways. Sometimes we smile in happiness, while other times we might cry; in some contexts, a frown suggests anger, while in others it merely suggests concentration. Yet even in the face of this complexity, we somehow develop distinct understandings of a number of emotion concepts, which we use to construe our own and others’ emotions. My interests are in the social, cognitive, and linguistic mechanisms by which children learn such emotion concepts from a complex environment, as well as how representations of these concepts change across the lifespan.
I am interested in better understanding how children learn about components of emotion such as facial expressions, body posture, and nonverbal auditory cues. In particular, I’m interested in how statistical learning may aid children’s development in these areas, and how knowledge about these cues may change across development.
After graduating from Jinan University in 2015 with a BA in Applied Linguistics, I altered my path to pursue a master’s degree in Developmental Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. I then worked as a research coordinator in Dr. Katie McLaughlin’s Stress and Development Lab testing a hippocampus-dependent associative learning model of PTSD in adolescents. There, I developed a research interest in how different dimensions of early life adversity might shape children’s environmental expectations and influence their associative learning, decision-making, and emotion processing, which in turn underlies various forms of psychopathology. I am eager to learn more about the behavioral and neuroimaging methods so as to explore these questions in graduate school.
Spring 2019 Undergraduate Students
Child Emotion Lab Alumni
Erin Eatough, PhD
Baruch College/The Graduate Center
City University of New York
Joseph L. Flanders, PhD
Department of Psychology
Jamie L. Hanson, PhD
Department of Psychology
University of Pittsburgh
Lori M. Hilt, PhD
Department of Psychology
Jessica Jenness, PhD
Stress and Development Lab
University of Washington
Jennifer McDermott, PhD
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Susan Perlman, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
M.S., 1988, St. Cloud State University (Child and Family Studies)
B.S., 1977, Michigan State University (Special Education)
Sarah E. Romens, PhD
The Psychology Center
Jessica Shackman, M.D., PhD
Emergency Medicine Physician
Howard County General Hospital
Katherine Shannon Bowen, PhD
Seattle Children’s Hospital
Elizabeth Shirtcliff, PhD
Human Development and Family Studies
Iowa State University
Nicole M. Strang, PhD
Center for Addiction and Mental Health
University of Toronto
Alison B. Wismer Fries, PhD
Infant, Early Childhood, and Family Mental Health Consultant
Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services