Young Investigator Symposium: 


Chairs & Presenters:

Lauren C. Shuffrey
Sonya Troller-Renfree, (Chair and Presenter)
Diana C. Lopera-Perez
Courtney Filippi
Natalie Brito (Moderator/Discussant)

Details of Research Subjects: Socio-emotional including attachment & temperament, Neurodevelopment and Plasticity including imaging work, Cognitive Processes, Stress, Adversity

Ages of Research Subjects: infancy

Topics: Socio-emotional including attachment & temperament, Neurodevelopment and Plasticity including imaging work, Cognitive Processes, Stress, Adversity


A growing body of research highlights the importance of individual differences in infant brain function for predicting later cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes.  In this symposium, we will explore the emergence of individual differences in infant brain function and how such differences may be predictive of developmental pathways of risk and resilience. To begin, Dr. Brito will offer opening remarks. Next, Dr. Shuffrey will present her work linking individual differences in neonatal EEG to neurodevelopmental outcomes in toddlerhood. Next, in a preregistered investigation, Dr. Troller-Renfree will examine links between maternal stress during pregnancy and perinatal resting EEG.  Building upon Dr. Troller-Renfree’s work, Diana Lopera-Pérez will present her research linking family’s household assets to infant EEG patterns in an older (7 months) and international sample of infants. Finally, Dr. Filippi will present her work linking individual differences in temperament to amygdala-cingulate connectivity, which may provide insights into the neural origins of anxiety. Presentations will be followed by a lively discussion moderated by Dr. Brito, where audience members will be invited to enter a dialogue with the speakers. The speakers will also discuss unifying theory and gaps in the research. This symposium, consisting of five female researchers from across the United States, showcases innovative work using a variety of assessment tools (behavior, cortisol, EEG, MRI) in both domestic and international investigations. In sum, we will demonstrate the importance of psychobiological assessment in infancy for identifying and understanding how differences in neurodevelopment may result in developmental trajectories of risk or resilience.




Lauren C. Shuffrey (Primary Presenter), Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York, NY United States, 

Additional Authors: Nicolò Pini, Natalie H. Brito, Maristella Lucchini, Joseph R. Isler, William P. Fifer

The overwhelming majority of studies examining prognostic markers of neurodevelopmental-risk during infancy focus on familial risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Few studies have attempted to identify markers of neurodevelopmental-risk in community samples or in infants with adverse in-utero exposures. The present study examined associations between neonatal EEG coherence, prenatal maternal depression, and developmental outcomes in toddlerhood. The final sample included 305 term-age infants (gestational age at birth 39.49 weeks ± 1.15) who had both neonatal EEG and later developmental assessments. EEG data were acquired during infant natural sleep 12 to 100 hours after birth (62.12 ± 22.35) and developmental assessments were collected between 31 and 41 months of age (38.33 ± 3.02). Increased short-range frontal delta, theta, and alpha intrahemispheric coherence and prenatal maternal depression scores on the Edinburgh Perinatal Depression Scale were associated with increased autism-risk scores on the Brief Infant-Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment (β= 1.53 – 1.98, t(298) = 1.98 – 2.71, p’s < .01). Additionally, increased long-range frontal-parietal and frontal-temporal alpha intrahemispheric coherence and lower prenatal maternal depression scores were associated with higher cognitive scores on the Bayley Scales of Early Learning (β= 0.57 – 1.68, t(298) = 2.15 – 2.37, p’s < .01). These data highlight the importance of addressing potentially modifiable risk factors during pregnancy, such as prenatal depression. Although prior studies have demonstrated alpha frontal hyperconnectivity and long-range hypoconnectivity in children with ASD, this is the first study to report that neonatal coherence is significantly associated with neurodevelopmental outcomes.


Sonya V. Troller-Renfree (Primary Presenter), Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY, United States

Additional Authors: Shanita E. Young, William P. Fifer, Jerrold S. Meyer, Kimberly G. Noble

Chronic family stress has deleterious effects on child neurodevelopment.  Recent research suggests that maternal perceived and physiological stress predict alterations in infant brain function before the end of the first year of life (e.g., Troller-Renfree et al., 2020; Pierce et al., 2019).  These alterations have been linked to later deficits in cognitive and emotional functioning, making their early identification paramount for intervention. One gap in this area of research is an understanding of the extent to which these maternal stress-related alterations in infant EEG are related to gestational stress and if they are present shortly after birth.  The present study is a preregistered investigation of whether gestational maternal stress (perceived and physiological) predicts alterations in infant brain function at 1 month of age. Perceived stress was measured using the Perceived Stress Scale (Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1994), physiological stress was measured using maternal hair cortisol concentration, and brain activity was measured using resting EEG (frequency bands: theta [3-5 Hz], alpha [6-9 Hz], beta [13-19 Hz], and two gamma frequency ranges [21-30, 31-45 Hz]). Preliminary results from a racially and socioeconomically diverse sample (N=94) suggest that neither perceived (βs = -.193.-.205, ps = .176-.931) nor physiological maternal stress (βs=-.188.-.102., ps=.378-.916) reported in the last month of pregnancy (gestational age 35-40 weeks) predict individual differences in infant EEG. Results will be discussed in a broader framework detailing the effects of environmental stress on trajectories of infant brain development during the first year of life and its implications for later functioning.


Diana C. Lopera-Perez, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States, [email protected]

Additional Authors:  Peter C. Rockers, Jukka Leppänen, Denise Evans, Lezanie Coetzee, Laurel Gabard-Durnam, Amanda R. Tarullo

Children in developing countries often present cognitive delays (McCoy et al., 2016), suggesting insults to brain development. However, we know little about how specific environmental risk factors shape neurocognitive development in these resource-poor settings. This study examines how prenatal and environmental risk factors relate to slow- and fast-wave electroencephalography (EEG) activity for 7-month-old infants in a resource-poor province in South Africa. We collected 6 minutes of baseline EEG from 228 infants (115 girls, M=7.6 months old, all born full term). Caregivers reported on the family’s financial situation by checking household assets they owned, such as gas stoves or radios. Using repeated measures ANOVAs, we examined the relation of infant’s sex, head circumference at time of birth, height-for-age z-score at 7 months, and household assets, to absolute EEG power in the Theta (4-6 Hz) and Gamma (30-48 Hz) bands. For the Theta band, we found a main effect of sex (F(1,219)=4.832, p=.029) and household assets (F(1,219)=5.134, p=.022), such that males and infants with more household assets had higher Theta power. For the Gamma band we found no main effects but an interaction of region by head circumference (F(3.267,715.398)=2.963, p=.041), such that infants with smaller head circumferences at birth had less Gamma power in the frontal, central, and parietal regions. Thus, slow-wave EEG activity is sensitive to the family’s financial situation, while fast-wave EEG activity is sensitive to intrauterine growth restriction. This study shows that even in widely resource-poor settings, brain development is sensitive to variations in environmental and prenatal risk factors.


Courtney Filippi (Primary Presenter) University of Maryland, College Park, MD, United States & National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD, United States, [email protected]

Additional Authors: Sanjana Ravi, Maya Bracy, Daniel Pine, Nathan Fox

While infant fearful temperament has been linked to the development of anxiety, the neurobiological origins of this association remain unclear. In part, because no studies link amygdala connectivity early in life to behavioral assessments of fear (only parental report). While parent report and behavioral assessments are modestly correlated, behavioral assessments of temperament are more robust predictors of later anxiety. Thus, it is critical to evaluate the link between behavioral assessments of temperament and amygdala connectivity. To do so, we assessed negative reactivity, an infant temperament characterized by distress to novelty at 4 months (Mage=4 months 5 days). Following the presentation of novel visual and auditory stimuli, coders scored infants positive affect, negative affect, and movement using a 7-point Likert scale. Negative reactivity was characterized by greater negative affect than positive affect. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was acquired during natural sleep to assess resting state functional connectivity (rs-fc; Mage=4 months 24 days). Associations between negative reactivity and amygdala rs-fc were investigated using a whole-brain voxel-wise approach. Results demonstrated that infants showing high negative reactivity exhibited greater amygdala-cingulate gyrus connectivity (pvoxel-wise<.001, pFWE-corrected<.05). To supplement these findings, we evaluated associations between amygdala connectivity and parent-reported distress to limitations (i.e., a subscale of the Infant Behavior Questionnaire that distinguished negative and positive reactivity in a large independent cohort; d=.45, t(137.6)=2.9, p<.004) and fear. Results were weaker, albeit comparable (pvoxel-wise<.05, pFWE-corrected<.05). Overall, these findings provide novel insight into the neural origins of anxiety and temperament and highlight the value of integrating behavioral and neural measures.