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Posted on September 1, 2016 by childrenslearninginstitute

Timeline: 2014-2016

Principal Investigators:

Susan H. Landry, PhD, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)


Ursula Johnson, PhD (formerly UTHealth)

Description of the Project:

Parenting in early childhood shapes children’s cognitive and social-emotional development via neurobiological mechanisms about which little is known. Most of the research on this topic has focused on children exposed to severe forms of caregiving adversity, such as maltreatment. Studies show that maltreatment during early childhood disrupts development of stress-response systems as well as neural systems including frontal-limbic and frontal-striatal circuitry, which in turn may lead to poor cognitive and social development. However, little is known about parenting quality near the normative range and the influence of interventions aimed to improve parenting during early childhood on developing neurobiological systems.

Although parenting quality affects cognitive and social-emotional functioning, almost nothing is known about parenting interventions in relation to stress-response and neural systems. Understanding these connections can greatly benefit children who experience lower quality parenting during early childhood. The purpose of this pilot study is to examine these neurobiological systems as well as cognitive and social-emotional development of young children.

For this investigation structural and functional data are collected from children between the ages of 22 and 26 months. At UTHealth, parents complete a set of forms regarding their parenting, their child’s behavior, and demographic data. Then, their children will complete standard, age-appropriate tests that measure attention skills, working memory, mental flexibility, emotional knowledge and regulation, language skills, cognitive functioning, spatial memory, and stress response. One task will include parent and child interacting in a videotaped play activity. Also, parents will assist in collecting saliva samples from the child to detect child’s stress response to some of the attention and working memory tasks. At the Baylor College of Medicine, children will receive a functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain. Through this pilot study we hope to learn more about the role of parenting practices on brain development in toddlers.


This pilot study will recruit approximately 20 typically-developing 22- to 30-month-old children to complete cognitive and socio-emotional assessments at the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) and receive a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain at Baylor College of Medicine.


All imaging data are collected between the hours of 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. at Baylor College of Medicine. Behavioral data collection sessions occur at the Children’s Learning Institute during the daytime hours.