Lab Members

Laboratory Director

Dr. Seth Pollak with toy monkey on shoulder

Seth Pollak, PhD

Vaughan Bascom 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.



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

Laboratory Members

Anna Bechner, Research Laboratory Manager
B.S. Ed., Marian College (Early Childhood Education)

My background includes teaching and research experience with families and young children in childcare, preschool, and the elementary school level. As a teacher I became very interested in understanding how children’s emotional experiences affect learning, behavior, and socio-emotional development. In my current role, I manage laboratory projects focused on examining early life stress and poverty, and the effects these emotional experiences have on child development, with the goal in mind of developing intervention strategies for at-risk children and families.

Saideeka Jones, Research Specialist
BA 2022, Rutgers University (Psychology)

I am interested in how children’s upbringing, socio-economic status, and culture play a part in their long-term outcomes in life. Most know that certain circumstances make it harder for some children to succeed than others, but what is less clear is what allows some to reach expected life markers versus others who seem to fail and/or develop mental disorders due to a lack of emotional wellness. I hope to work towards unearthing more information on this subject.

Abbie Klein, Research Specialist
BA 2020, University of Chicago (Psychology & Comparative Human Development)
M.A. 2021, Northwestern University (Clinical Psychology)

My goal is to bridge the gap between developmental-clinical research and policy application. I am interested in translating knowledge about the mechanisms and socio-contextual factors that influence adverse mental health outcomes and resiliency into trauma-informed interventions for at-risk youth. Specifically, I aim to engage in research that optimizes the way children and their families interact with welfare agencies and the justice system.

Karen Smith

Karen Smith, Postdoctoral Fellow
B.A., 2011, Univeristy of Chicago (Psychology)
Ph.D., 2018, University of Chicago (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.

Photo of Andrea Stein

Andrea Stein, Graduate Student
B.A., 2014, Yale University (Ethics, Politics & Economics)
M.A., 2015, Teachers College, Columbia University (Elementary Inclusive Education)

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.

Yuyan Xu

Yuyan Xu, Graduate Student
B.A., 2015, Jinan University (Applied Linguistics)
M.A., 2017, Teachers College, Columbia University (Developmental Psychology)

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.

Fall 2022 Undergraduate Students











Child Emotion Lab Alumni

Pablo Caceres Maldondo
B.A., 2014, University of Chile (Sociology)
M.P.P., 2016, University of Chile (Public Policy)

Erin Eatough, PhD
Assistant Professor
Baruch College/The Graduate Center
City University of New York

Joseph L. Flanders, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
McGill University

Jamie L. Hanson, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
University of Pittsburgh

Madeline Harms, PhD
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Psychological Science
Gustavus Adolphus College

Lori M. Hilt, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
Lawrence University

Jessica Jenness, PhD
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Stress and Development Lab
University of Washington

Brian Leitzke, PhD
Clinical Health Psychologist
UW Health

Alyssa Lovely
B.A., 2015, UW Madison (Psychology)
B.S., 2017, UW Madison (Studio Art)

Jennifer McDermott, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Susan Perlman, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Rista Plate, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Pennsylvania

Barb Roeber
M.S., 1988, St. Cloud State University (Child and Family Studies)
B.S., 1977, Michigan State University (Special Education)

Sarah E. Romens, PhD
Clinical Psychologist
The Psychology Center

Jessica Shackman, M.D., PhD
Emergency Medicine Physician
Howard County General Hospital

Katherine Shannon Bowen, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist
Seattle Children’s Hospital

Elizabeth Shirtcliff, PhD
Associate Professor
Human Development and Family Studies
Iowa State University

Nicole M. Strang, PhD
Research Scientist
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

Kristina Woodard
B.A., 2013, University of Pennsylvania (Psychology)