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Projects

In our lab, we believe that you can't understand development without considering the complex environments (or "ecologies") in which development occurs. As such, we conduct our research both in the lab, as well as in children's homes, schools, and childcare arrangements.

Kids in the lab

One benefit of conducting research in the lab environment is that we have more control over extraneous factors that are difficult to control in children’s natural contexts.

Key themes from work in the lab include:

  1. Fine-tuning what we mean by self-regulation;
  2. Triangulating the skills that are supported—and sometimes undermined—by self-regulatory control;
  3. Clarifying the role of physiological arousal in these processes;
  4. Understanding the way children’s experiences can support and/or hinder these "real-time" micro-developmental phenomena.

Current Projects in the lab

Modes of Cognition and Arousal (MoCA)

For the MoCA Study, we invite 4- to 6-year-old children and their mothers to participate in our exploration of the body-mind connection in thinking and problem solving. The purpose of this study is to examine children’s learning and problem solving. Specifically, our main interest is to clarify the extent to which children’s bodily responses to problem solving—for instance, the way their heart rates change—can help us to better understand the connection between the body and mind. In this study, children will be asked to complete a series of interactive games with our research staff while mom watches on video from another room. Because we’re interested in the way the body reacts during both children’s successes and failures, the games will differ in their levels of difficulty. During the games, we will collect information about mom and child’s heart rate and other biological indicators thought to support thinking and learning.

Kids in their natural contexts

Conducting research in settings that are more natural to children contributes to our understanding of the intersection of children's experiences at home and school and how they function together to impact children's cognitive, behavioral, and physiological regulation.

Key themes of work in natural contexts include:

  1. Observing children as they navigate their natural social and physical environments in "real time";
  2. Collecting extensive longitudinal data from children and families in their natural environments at home, childcare, and school over long spans of time;
  3. Clarifying the biological mechanisms underlying these processes.

The role of kids’ bodies across contexts

Part of this work in the lab and in natural environments also entails trying to clarify the biological mechanisms underlying these processes. So, we typically use non-intrusive methods for collecting information about children's physiological arousal. For example, we use small wireless electrocardiograms (ECGs) to measure children’s heart rates and collect samples of children's saliva to obtain hormonal indicators of arousal (e.g., cortisol).

Interested in participating or learning more?

To learn more about what you can expect in a visit to the lab, please visit our Parent FAQ section. You are also welcome to email our lab coordinator Alyssa Varhol (arvarhol@umn.edu) for more information or to find out how to participate!