Research Labs and Projects
This page provides information about the research labs supervised by developmental area faculty. Graduate study in Developmental Psychology at Penn State is laboratory-based. Graduate students have a home lab in which they conduct most of their work, but all students are expected to conduct research in at least one other lab during the course of their graduate training.
The Bilingualism and Language Development (BILD) Lab
The Bilingualism and Language Development (BiLD) Lab studies the cognitive and neurocognitive processes related to language development, second language learning, and bilinguals' use of two languages. We combine behavioral, neuropsychological (ERPs), and linguistic techniques to study patterns of cross-language interaction and transfer in second language learners at different levels of proficiency, as well as neural and cognitive mechanisms involved in language-switching. We also study sign-speech bilinguals who use spatial and oral languages from two different modalities. A second research theme in the BiLD Lab focuses on language development in school-aged children with typical or atypical development, including children with dyslexia or with specific language impairment, and children who are deaf.
The Brain Development Lab
Research in the Brain Development Lab takes a cognitive neuroscience approach to understanding the development of perception, action, and memory. Our goal is to understand patterns of brain and behavioral changes in infants, children, and young adults. We use behavioral, EEG, and MRI methods in our research. We have several foci. One is the development of motion processing, specifically optic flow patterns associated with self- and object motion. A second concerns perceptual and brain mechanisms associated with the detection of symmetry.
Challenge Zones and Children's Language Development
The Cognition, Affect, and Temperament Lab
At the Cognition, Affect & Temperament Laboratory, our research focuses on the ways in which emotion and attention interact to shape how individuals navigate through their social world. We do this through biological measures, self-report questionnaires, and observations of behavior in our laboratory. Our main focus is on the interaction between temperament, early appearing biases in emotion, and attention in children and adults.
The Cognitive and Social Development Lab
The Cognitive and Social Development Lab at Penn State, directed by Dr. Liben, houses research and teaching activities related to the way that individuals develop over their lifetimes. At the core, our projects are aimed at understanding how developmental progress comes about, whether that progress is in the cognitive arena (such as how people think about and represent their environments with maps), or in the social arena (such as how individuals develop identities and beliefs about social-group categories such as gender and race).
In addition, we conduct research that applies developmental psychology to education. We define "education" broadly, including not only education that goes on in school classrooms, but also education that goes on in families and in informal learning environments such as museums.
The Context and Development Lab
The Context and Development Lab (CDL) was established in 2010, under the direction of Dawn P. Witherspoon. The lab is affiliated with the Child Study Center at Penn State. Our research focuses on how adolescent social and emotional development as well as adolescent academic and risky behaviors are shaped by multiple settings (e.g., school, neighborhood, etc.). We are also interested in how these environments affect parenting. Our research seeks to elucidate the contextual supports available to families and adolescents in multiple geographies (i.e., rural and urban). Another area of interest for the lab is on cultural influences on youth outcomes. We examine how race/ethnicity and SES impact youth well-being.
Emotion Development Lab
EDL was established in 2001 under the direction of Dr. Kristin Buss at the University of Missouri. The lab is currently located at Penn State's University Park campus and is affiliated with the Department of Psychology's Developmental and Child Clinical training programs (see the department web page for more information).
Our research involves understanding the complex systems involved in the development of emotions, temperament, and personality in infants, toddlers, and young children. We are interested in understanding early emerging individual differences in social-emotional behaviors and the consequent developmental trajectories of different types of behavior.
Genes and Environment Interplay through the Lifespan
The Gene and Environment Interplay Across Development lab is currently engaged in three different studies. These include: (1) a prospective, longitudinal adoption study that follows adopted infants and their adoptive and birth parents through to the child's school entry (Early Growth and Development Study) ; (2) A study of twins who are parents of adolescents with data on the twin parents' and each twin's spouse and adolescent child (Twin and Offspring Study in Sweden); and (3) a longitudinal study of twins and siblings and their parents from nondivorced and stepfamilies followed from middle adolescence to young adulthood (Nonshared Environment in Adolescent Development). Each of these studies include extensive assessment of relationships among all family members (parent-child, sibling, spouse or romantic partner), normative development, temperament and personality and psychopathology. Currently, Dr. Neiderhiser is working to establish the The Pennsylvania Twin Registry (PAtwins), a database of multiple birth families that are interested in participating in research. DNA has been, or is currently being, collected participants in each of these studies. Work in Dr. Neiderhiser's lab will involve training in developmental behavior genetics and molecular genetics, family relationships and developmental psychopathology.
Laboratory of Developmental Neuroscience
The Laboratory of Developmental Neuroscience studies a variety of topics in human brain development using both fMRI imaging and behavioral techniques. We are particularly interested in the development of face processing. The lab is located in Chandlee Laboratory, home of the Social, Life, and Engineering Sciences Imaging Center (SLEIC).
The Parent-Child Dynamics Lab
In the Parent-Child Dynamics Lab, we study ways that parenting and parent-child interaction patterns influence child development. We use dynamic time series analysis to examine how parents and children coordinate their emotions, behaviors, and physiology, and how this coordination is related to the development of children's self-regulation and behavior problems in early childhood. We also examine how parent-child interaction patterns relate to risk for child maltreatment, and how a better understanding of these patterns can inform the development and improvement of preventive interventions for stressed and overburdened families.
Sex Hormones, Brain, and Behavior Lab
Research in our lab is focused on the ways in which psychological development is shaped by sex hormones acting on the brain during sensitive periods of development. Much of our work has focused on the ways that gender development is influenced by prenatal androgens. We are also now studying the effects of pubertal sex hormones on adolescent cognitive and affective development and psychological risk. Key questions concern the mechanisms by which sex hormones affect behavior: How do hormones change the developing brain? How do hormones influence social experiences? How do hormones and social experiences work together to affect behavior? Our studies are conducted in children, adolescents, and young adults with endocrine conditions resulting in atypical hormone levels, and in typical children, adolescents, and young adults (including college students). We use a variety of methods, including cognitive tests, behavioral observations, interviews, daily diaries, hormone assessments, and brain imaging; we are piloting procedures to collect data on smartphones.
Harrisburg Center for Healthy Child Development
Parents and Children Together (PACT) A community-university partnership
Funded by the Children, Youth, and Family Consortium, this is a collaborative research and community outreach effort involving three colleges and six departments at the University Park campus and African American community in Harrisburg, PA.