Session sponsored by Columbia University Department of Psychiatry


Dr. Joscelin Rocha-Hidalgo – Pennsylvania State University, State College, USA


Dr. Natalie Brito – New York University, New York City, USA

Symposium Presenters:

  • Dr. Clíona Kelly, Yale University, New Haven, USA
  • Dr. Polaris Gonzalez-Barrios, University of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico
  • Dr. Irene Tung, California State University Dominguez Hills, USA

Full Description of the Symposium

Maternal morbidity and mortality rates are escalating in the United States (Alkema et al., 2016). Women of color face a disproportionate risk, being up to three times more likely to succumb to pregnancy-related complications (Creanga et al., 2017). These disparities stem partly from intergenerational adversity, barriers to high-quality, affordable healthcare, and environmental stress factors. These elements not only affect birthing individuals, but also influence their children throughout their lives. In the first DEI Committee-Sponsored Symposium, we will explore maternal health and child development, ranging from animal studies to digital health innovations. Dr. Clíona Kelly will open the discussion on racial disparities in maternal brain research, offering actionable approaches to enhance ethnic and racial diversity and tackle discriminatory equipment limitations. Following, Dr. Polaris Gonzalez-Barrios will elucidate the molecular pathways through which mothers pass adverse experiences to their offspring, employing translational animal studies to examine stress and inflammation biomarkers in maternal-offspring interactions. This research aims to develop behavioral assessments for studying long-term attachment and the effects of adversity on child neurocognitive growth. Dr. Irene Tung will present findings on mobile stress monitoring in pregnancy, demonstrating how wearable technology and smartphone-based assessments can help mitigate stress-induced health inequities in diverse populations. A discussion led by former ISDP DEI Committee Chair Dr. Natalie Brito will synthesize the talks and stimulate dialogue with attendees.

This symposium was designed in line with the ISDP DEI Committee’s goals to increase diversity across our society, in both our membership and in our science. This symposium features early-career scientists (two assistant professors and one postdoctoral associate) from Asian, Latina, and multiracial backgrounds. Their research, significantly focusing on women of African descent and Black women, employs neuroimaging, immunobiology, and digital health approaches in both human and animal models. The dialogue will revolve around the research showcased and strategies for organizations like ISDP, developmental psychobiology graduate programs, and individual laboratories to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion among their communities and scientific endeavors.

Abstract for Presentation 1


Author and Affiliation: Dr. Clíona Kelly, Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University

Co-Authors: Amorine Adodo, Rachel Shin, Ashley Groh, Helena Rutherford

Abstract: One of the major contributions of developmental psychology is the demonstration that early caregiving experiences within the normative range not only contribute to offspring’s mental and physical health disparities, but also that such associations are enduring over the life-span. A growing body of research has identified brain mechanisms important to early caregiving behavior. However, neuroscience research examining the brain during pregnancy and postpartum lacks diversity and has overlooked the importance of the race and ethnicity of participants. This in part reflects barriers to participation in research for minoritized racial and ethnic groups, as well as the hardware limitations of neuroscience methods. Our recent work has documented that maternal brain research is predominantly representative of White/European ancestry caregivers, and where diverse samples do exist, they are limited geographically (Penner et al., 2023). Of note, 98.2% of the Black mothers represented were recruited as part of studies that took place in the Northeastern United States (primarily Delaware and Connecticut), representing two research groups (a third group collecting data in New York also reported data from Black mothers, n = 5). Therefore, little is known about whether the identified brain mechanisms important to early caregiving are representative of diverse families and communities or if they are reflective of one subset of the population. In this presentation, racial and ethnic disparities in maternal brain research will be described and innovations to increase the racial and ethnic representation of participants presented. As an example of such efforts, we will draw on our current research aimed at addressing this pressing issue, particularly as it relates to the historical exclusion of women of African descent in the literature, in a large-sample longitudinal study of the maternal brain. Our approach serves as an urgent call to action to increase the diversity and representation of participants in maternal brain research.

Abstract for Presentation 2


Author and Affiliation: Dr. Polaris Gonzalez-Barrios, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus

Co-Authors: Elinette Albino (School of Health Professions, University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus); Christian Bravo (Department of Psychiatry, University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus); Jahleel Torres-Pérez (Department of Social Sciences, Psychology Department, University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus); Isel Figueroa (Department of Natural Sciences, University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus); Veronique Rosado-Abreu (Department of Natural Sciences, University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus); Luis Lastra (Department of Psychology, University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Campus; School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Ponce Health Sciences University); Sandra Rabat (Department of Psychiatry, University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus); Karen Martinez (Department of Psychiatry, University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus); Claudia Lugo (Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University)

Abstract: Mother-child dyads that have been exposed to many environmental stressors may have a sequeale of emotional, physiological, and developmental alterations that could potentially be part of generational transmission of adversity. Some mother-child dyads may be at greater risk of adverse exposures given their geopgraphical place of living. This can likely increase fear, anxiety and traumatic experiences; impacting the upcoming generation. Previous work from our team indicated that offspring of mice that underwent prenatal stress (chronic restraint) exhibited increased total distance traveled and average speed in the Open Field Test compared to Standard Rearing controls. Moreover, prenatal stress mice exhibited a trend towards increased time on open arms in the Elevated plus maze. These preliminary data suggest that prenatal stress results in hyperactivity and reduced anxiety in mice. New models will test if such findings differ with intergenerational exposure to stress.  We hypothesize that increased maternal adversities may affect the way mothers approach parenting behaviors thus affecting child’s neurocognitive development. Using a translational approach, our research aims to use an animal model of early adversity and repeated exposures during and after pregnancy and test behavioral and physiological transmission across generations. Consequently, we will incorporate self-report and behavioral assessments to evaluate stress, fear, and developmental outcomes in mother-child dyads. Lastly, biomarkers of stress and inflammation in mother-pup and mother-child dyads will be analyzed to understand potential transference mechanisms. Our findings aim to generate behavioral assessment paradigms to study long-term attachment security amid transmission of adversity and its impact on child neurocognitive development. Understanding biological and behavioral transference pathways within dyads and generations will likely assist in pinpointing origins of psychopathology. Intergenerational transmission of trauma likely relates to these transference pathways of adveristy. These long term goals will increase chances of prevention and intervention to better mental health and developmental outcomes of at-risk dyads living within adversity. 

Abstract for Presentation 3


Author and Affiliation: Dr. Irene Tung, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, California State University Dominguez Hills

Co-Authors (and Affiliations): Uma Balaji (University of Pittsburgh), Alison E. Hipwell (University of Pittsburgh), Carissa A. Low (University of Pittsburgh), Joshua M. Smyth (The Ohio State University)

Abstract: High levels of stress during pregnancy can have lasting effects on maternal and offspring health, which disproportionately impacts families facing financial strain, systemic racism, and other forms of social oppression. Developing ways to monitor daily life stress during pregnancy is important for reducing stress-related health disparities particularly among racially and socioeconomically diverse communities. We evaluated the feasibility and acceptability of using mobile health (mHealth) technology (i.e., wearable biosensors, smartphone-based ecological momentary assessment) to measure prenatal stress in daily life. Fifty pregnant women (67% receiving public assistance; 70% Black) completed 10 days of ambulatory assessment, in which they answered smartphone-based surveys six times a day and wore a chest-band biosensor to monitor their heart rate, heart rate variability, and activity level. Feasibility and acceptability were evaluated using behavioral meta-data and participant feedback. Findings supported the feasibility and acceptability of mHealth methods: Participants answered approximately 75% of the surveys per day and wore the device for approximately 10 hours per day. Perceived burden was low. Notably, participants with higher reported stressors and financial strain reported lower burden associated with the protocol than participants with fewer life stressors, highlighting the feasibility of mHealth technology for monitoring prenatal stress among pregnant populations living with higher levels of contextual stressors.  Findings support the use of mHealth technology to measure prenatal stress in real-world, daily life settings, which shows promise for informing scalable, technology-assisted interventions that may help to reduce health disparities by enabling more accessible and comprehensive care during pregnancy.