Look Out for an Upcoming Publication in the Annual Review of Psychology!

by Megan Zhang

NEL’s principal investigators Drs. Clancy Blair and Cybele Raver’s paper, titled “School readiness and self-regulation: A developmental psychobiological approach” is soon to be published in the Annual Review of Psychology.

The article focuses on the concept of self-regulation, as it is the underlying foundation for school readiness. Self-regulation allows children to transition smoothly to school life and to stay focused and engaged during learning. The article also discusses research indicating that self-regulatory abilities often set the stage for school readiness and that self-regulation is shaped by biological and behavioral developmental processes.

Furthermore, the article sheds light on research that indicates the correlation between poverty and gaps in school readiness, and discusses effective ways to address the negative effects that poverty has on childhood development. The article also highlights advancements in neurobiology that have enhanced research on self-regulation and school readiness.

Look out for Dr. Blair and Dr. Raver’s paper in an upcoming issue of the Annual Review of Psychology!

Early Head Start and the ABC Project

by Megan Zhang

Toxic stress can significantly affect young children and can be harmful for healthy development of their cognitive functions. Evidence shows that exposure to toxic stress at a young age can disrupt the proper development of children’s brain functions and can increase the likelihood of being diagnosed with stress-related diseases later in life. But despite this, there are ways to buffer children from the consequences of toxic stress. NEL’s ABC Project, in partnership with Early Head Start, aims to study how.

What is Early Head Start?

Early Head Start is a federally funded program designed to help low-income families with infants and toddlers. The program aims to promote normal development in children and healthy functioning in families and to ensure school readiness for toddlers. To achieve this aim, Early Head Start provides comprehensive developmental services in the realms of education, health, social learning, and nutrition. Parents play an important role in the program, as both educators and participants.

What is the ABC Project?

Together with Early Head Start, NEL’s ABC Project aims to evaluate the beneficial role that Early Head Start can play in protecting children from the negative effects of toxic stress. Researchers from NEL visit the home of participants a few times a year to measure children’s executive functions and cognitive abilities through games and other activities. Heart rate measurements and saliva samples are collected, and parents fill out questionnaires about their children’s lives. Using this data, NEL can evaluate children’s development and track improvements in their cognitive and physiological functioning.

For more information on the ongoing project, click here.

Dr. Clancy Blair To Give Speech at Stanford University on April 30th

by Megan Zhang

NEL’s principal investigator Dr. Clancy Blair will be speaking at the colloquium series of the Department of Psychology at Stanford University on April 30th, this coming Wednesday, at 3:30pm EDT. His talk is titled “Psychobiology of Self‐Regulation: Stress Physiology and the Development of Executive Functions In Early Childhood.”

The main purpose of Dr. Blair’s talk is to discuss the consequences that early stress may pose for children’s executive functions, which are a set of cognitive processes that include working memory, problem solving, and reasoning. Dr. Blair will introduce a psychobiological model of self-regulation development which evaluates children’s executive functions on attentional, emotional, physiological, and genetic levels of analysis. Data supporting the model was collected from a prospective longitudinal sample of 1,292 children from predominantly low-income and non-urban communities in two highly impoverished regions of the U.S. In further support of the model, Dr. Blair will also present findings from two recently completed randomized controlled trials of an innovative early education curriculum called “Tools of the Mind.”

Check back after April 30th   for more information on Dr. Blair’s talk!

Take Part in Our Community Outreach!

by Megan Zhang

As part of the Neuroscience and Education Lab’s community outreach efforts, we want to share with schools, childcare centers, teachers, and parents what we have learned about executive function through our research initiatives. One of the ways in which we aim to disseminate our findings and aid the community is by visiting schools to give brief presentations about children’s executive function.

What Is Executive Function?

Executive function is a set of skills that children use when they follow directions, plan ahead, and keep their emotions under control. Such skills include working memory, ability to shift attention, and ability to remain focused, and executive function goes hand-in-hand with self-regulation. These skills develop during early childhood and have been shown to be extremely critical for future academic success.

What Is the Presentation About?

During the presentation, at least two members of our lab will visit your school and give a 15-20 minute presentation discussing executive function and self-regulation, the effects these skills have on future academic performance, and some ways to improve them during early childhood. We will also discuss our lab’s current study, which uses new computer games designed to measure executive function in 3-to-5 year olds from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. If the children at your center or school would like to get involved, we’d love to bring you onboard.

How Can I Sign Up?

If you’d like us to pay a visit to your school for a brief presentation, contact Diana Andrade at 212-998-5198 or da841@nyu.edu. We’d love to hear from you!

ACF’s Mark Greenberg Visits NEL

by Megan Zhang

On March 21st, the Neuroscience and Education Lab had the honor of hosting Mark Greenberg, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), for a lab visit.

During Mr. Greenberg’s visit, we discussed the progress we have made in the ABC Project and presented preliminary findings on the correlation between caregivers’ self-reported experience with partner conflict and their performance on a task called Dot Probe. Dot Probe is a test designed to assess selective attention to threatening versus non-threatening stimuli. We hoped the test would help determine the strength of participants’ “executive functions,” such as working memory, attention, and problem-solving.

We also had an in-depth discussion with Mr. Greenberg regarding the role of research in Early Head Start, an ACF initiative that aims to provide support in the realm of child development and family services to low-income families. We then visited the Children’s Aid Society site in East Harlem, where supervising staff discussed their experiences with implementing the PALS (a parenting intervention that is a component of the ABC Project) curriculum for treatment families.

We are grateful for the opportunity to have hosted Mark Greenberg at our lab and look forward to hosting him again.

Non-Cognitive Factors Affect Children’s Success


by Megan Zhang

The American Educational Research Association recently held a panel for prestigious scholars in developmental research to discuss non-cognitive factors that may affect students’ success in school, and the implications of these factors for school improvement.

In recent years, the concept that non-IQ factors play a critical role in student learning and persistence has taken off, igniting research projects and experiments all over the country. Interventions to improve children’s self-regulation, for example, have proven to have lasting, beneficial effects in multiple areas of childhood development. The AERA panel focused its discussion on how research findings can be used to improve students’ learning and overall success in school.

The panel, chaired by Dr. David Yeager of Stanford University, included NEL’s Dr. Cybele Raver, along with Dr. Angela Duckworth from UPenn, Drs. Carol Dweck, Geoffrey Cohen, and Gregory Walton from Stanford, and Anthony S. Bryk from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

At the panel, Dr. Raver shared an approach to educational intervention which centers around improving children’s self-regulatory skills that provide the foundation for early academic learning. Children’s learning relies heavily on higher-order cognitive processes known as executive functions, which include attention, working memory, and inhibitory control. To provide a sense of just how critical executive functions are, studies have shown that children’s prowess in executive functions during early childhood are a better predictor of future academic performance than even IQ is. Exposure to high negative arousal causes a build-up of “toxic stress” in children and is disruptive to their executive functions, thus resulting in such things as test anxiety. This toxic stress in turn disrupts the neuroendocrine system, which plays a crucial role in emotional regulation. Studies have shown that the strength of children’s executive functions decreases as children’s emotional regulation worsens. Lack of ability to self-regulate can also be detrimental for children’s futures; low emotional self-regulation is associated with twice the likelihood of criminal conviction later in life.

However, Dr. Raver pointed out during the panel that executive function and emotional regulation are malleable–in other words, they can be repaired and improved with intervention. The Chicago School Readiness Project, which Dr. Raver leads, aims to buffer children from the negative effects of toxic stress by intervening with both the children and their parents. Interventions include such things as training teachers to better support children’s self-regulation in the classroom, coaching teachers to improve classroom management, and applying curriculum designed specifically to improve children’s executive functions. These interventions can yield significant effects, as measured by improved academic performance and more positive behavioral assessments, as well as lower risk of negative health outcomes. Such findings are highly promising for helping children overcome poverty-related obstacles and adversity.

The correlation between emotional self-regulation and executive function does bring to light the academic and behavioral risks brought about by poverty, but interventions in early childhood and adolescence are bringing hope to children faced with such difficulties. Read more about the Chicago School Readiness Project here.

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