Institute of Human Development and Social Change Receives $6.4 Million to Study Stress in Middle Childhood

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health has awarded New York University a $6.4 million, five-year grant to study stress, self-regulation, and mental health in middle childhood.

The funding will allow researchers to continue to follow a sample of 1,292 children and their families. The researchers began the study when the children were born and will now be able to collect data as the children enter early adolescence.

Clancy Blair

“The aim of the study is to better understand family processes and the extent to which stress in families’ lives when children are young is related to behavior and stress physiology as the kids grow up,” said principal investigator Clancy Blair, professor of applied psychology at the Steinhardt School.

“Because this is a longitudinal study, we can look at how changes in family circumstances shape children’s development over time.”

The Family Life Project is a collaboration among NYU, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Pennsylvania State University. The project began following the large group of children and their families when the children were born in 2004. The families live in and around small towns in Pennsylvania and North Carolina in counties with high poverty rates.

The researchers have gathered a wealth of information at regular intervals since the children’s births, including school data, home visit questionnaires and interviews, and blood and saliva samples to look at immune function and other biological markers.

In the next phase, Blair and his colleagues will follow up with the children in 6th and 8th grades, along with their families.

“Middle childhood is an exciting time for our research, as the kids are entering adolescence and there’s a lot of change going on. It is also when we begin to see the first signs of later difficulties, such as substance use and mental illness. Hopefully what we learn will help us to identify these types of problems early and prevent them from becoming worse,” Blair said.

Drawing on earlier data, the researchers will look at the effects of early childhood stress on later behavior, including health and school outcomes, to better understand the extent to which the early stress shows up later in life.

“In previous studies, we saw that early stress – such as poverty, household chaos, and exposure to aggression – affects kids and families, especially the children’s ability to regulate their emotions, behavior, and thinking skills,” Blair said. “We have good measures of the children’s early experiences, and look forward to extending this research through middle childhood and into early adolescence.”

NYU will partner with UNC-Chapel Hill, Penn State, and Arizona State University on this research program. The grant (R01HD081252) will be administered by NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change.

(Photo:  Clancy Blair, professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt, is the principal investigator of a $6.4 million, five-year grant to study stress, self-regulation, and mental health in middle childhood.)