Current Projects:




How do the brain and body prepare for parenting?

We are planning the HATCH (Hormones, ATtachment, and CHildbirth) study to explore how couples' cortisol and oxytocin levels change over pregnancy, how social support affects subjective birth experiences and perinatal medical interventions, and what neural and hormonal factors are associated with postpartum attachment.


How do adolescents view themselves and their parents?

In an ongoing study, we are using fMRI scanning to see how adolescents respond to video clips and trait adjective representing themselves and people in their social worlds. We recruited participants from the USC Family Studies Project who had already reported on their family environments and participated in a videotaped family conflict discussion task with both parents. We created stimuli for each participant using clips from this conflict discussion, allowing us to explore differential activation to self and parents in regions of the brain associated with theory of mind, mentalizing, and social perception. We are looking at how adolescents' exposure to aggressive family conflict moderates their activation in these areas, and also plan to explore associations between adolescents' cortisol levels and their neural activation.

Collaborators: Gayla Margolin, Larissa Borofsky, USC Department of Psychology; Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Jonas Kaplan, Xiao-Fei Yang, USC Brain and Creativity Institute


Past Projects:




Does everyday family life affect stress hormones?

Among married couples in the UCLA Center for the Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) study, we have found daily patterns of cortisol to be linked with marital satisfaction, the division of household labor, and the way people describe their homes. For example, unhappily married women in our sample have flatter slopes of cortisol, considered a marker of poor adaptation to stress. Women whose self-guided home tours included more "clutter" words, more home renovation language, and fewer nature words showed flatter cortisol slopes and more of a rise in depressed mood across the day. Finally, husbands and wives who do more housework have compromised recovery in cortisol levels after the workday; at the couple level, wives show better recovery when they do less housework and their partners do more, while husbands show better recovery when they have more leisure time and their wives have less leisure time.

Collaborators: Rena Repetti, UCLA; Anthony Graesch, University of Connecticut


Do families "sync up" their stress hormones?

Do family members show synchrony in their fluctuations of the stress hormone cortisol? We have explored this question in both daily stress studies and laboratory studies. Married couples sampling cortisol over several days showed positively correlated levels of momentary cortisol and negative mood, with stronger linkages seen in more distressed couples. In parents and adolescents engaged in a laboratory-based conflict discussion, we found that momentary cortisol levels are linked across the family triad, and time-lagged analyses suggest that fathers drive changes in youths' cortisol, youths drive mothers' cortisol changes, and mothers drive fathers' cortisol changes.

Collaborators: Rena Repetti, UCLA; Gayla Margolin, Brian Baucom, Lauren Shapiro, Aubrey Rodriguez, Esti Iturralde, USC