Carolyn Zahn-Waxler:  Developmental Psychopathology Research Program

My research program focuses on the role of emotions in the development of psychopathology and patterns of adjustment in childhood and adolescence. Scientific questions addressed are based on three biobehavioral, multivariate, longitudinal investigations. Disturbances in the experience, expression and regulation of emotions characterize both anxiety/depressed mood (internalizing problems) and antisocial, disruptive behaviors (externalizing problems).

Little is known, however, about the actual links between emotional functioning and specific manifestations of psychopathology, particularly from a developmental perspective. We have followed children and youth with comorbid externalizing and internalizing problems on a continuum of severity (normal, subclinical, and clinical) at different points in development. One NIMH study follows 220 youths from early to late adolescence. A second NIMH study follows 80 preschool children into early adolescence. A third study, collaborative with the Institute for Behavior Genetics in Boulder, CO, consists of 800 MZ and DZ same-sex twins seen from infancy to seven years.

These investigations are designed to identify key biological and environmental processes that contribute to continuities and changes in problems over time, focusing on mediating and moderating roles of emotions in predicting developmental outcomes.  Several parallel research methods are used across the studies. These include naturalistic observation, experimental mood inductions and emotional challenges, structured interviews, questionnaires, and physiological measures (ANS and HPA activity).

The range of psychopathology studied permits simultaneous investigation of normative and maladaptive development of negative emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness, and their links to different levels of symptomatology. All three studies include dimensional assessments of psychopathology, and two include structured psychiatric interviews administered at different time points. This research program thus fits within two of the three broad themes of the training grant, (1) emotional development and (2) affect and psychopathology.