MAMA: Maternal Affect, Mood and Attention
(funded by ISF 879/18)
This study examines the links between maternal depressive symptoms and the development of sustained attention and empathy through the first two years of life. We are particularly interested in uncovering mediating and moderating bio-behavioral mechanisms the underlie this link. Data for this study has been collected for six time points: second trimester of pregnancy, 3, 12, 18 and 24 months of infants’ age. Mother-child dyads participate in a series of home and laboratory visits in which maternal depressive symptoms are assessed through clinical interviews and self-report measures, mother-child interactions are observed in multiple contexts, mothers complete computerized tasks to assess attention skills and infants complete several computerized gaze-based tasks using eye-tracking methods to assess sustained attention and manifestations of empathy. During the different tasks electrocardiography (ECG) recordings are collected for both mothers and infants to assess physiological functioning and reactivity. We hope that findings from this study will encourage the development of unique interventions for infants at risk for deficits in sustained attention and empathy by pinpointing specific maternal behaviors that may contribute to these deficits, as well as mechanisms that can buffer these negative effects.
We will soon start data collection for the six-time point of the study
PMU (Parental Mobile Use): Behavioral and physiological implications for mother-child interactions
(In collaboration with Dr. Michael Davidovitch; funded by SRCD and the Maccabi Health Data Science Institute)
Recent research suggests that the use of mobile devices can cause abrupt disruptions in social interactions, particularly during parent-child interactions. In the current study we aim to experimentally explore the effects of parental mobile phone use (PMU) on infants’ joint attention (JA) behaviors and episodes, and physiological functioning (measured by ECG) while interacting with the parent. Identifying modifiable risk factors in the family context (such as PMU) can set the stage for the development of early prevention initiatives that can be delivered in community pediatric settings. Such initiatives have the potential to help promote healthy parent-child relationships and support the development of children’s social-communication skills.
An animal model of premature birth
(In collaboration with Dr. Ravid Doron)
Preterm birth (gestation < 37 weeks) represents a major challenge to public health. Individuals born preterm are at increased risk for various short-term and long-term disparities, including high risk for emotional and cognitive difficulties. However, the biochemical and environmental mechanisms that underlie this link are still mostly unknown. Following our findings from a human sample of premature infants (Gueron-Sela et al., 2015), here we propose to use a mouse model of preterm birth to understand the link between preterm birth and emotional and cognitive functioning in the offspring. We aim to assess whether preterm birth is associated with increased risk for behavioral biochemical manifestations of anxiety and executive function and to evaluate whether this risk can be reduced by nurturing maternal behaviors. In a preliminary study, we have recently found preterm born mice exhibited higher levels of anxiety-like behaviours and different profiles of BDNF in the brain compared to their full-term counterparts, providing initial evidence for the link between preterm birth and anxiety in an animal model. This study is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Ravid Doron from the Open University, where all the experiments are conducted.
Promoting Mentalization Abilities in Early Childcare Teachers: Evaluation of a Group-based Intervention
(In collaboration with Prof. Naama Atzaba-Poria)
Mentalization is the ability to recognize and understand the self and others' mental states and how these mental states may influence behavior (Fonagy, 1991). It is considered as one of the mechanisms by which caregivers can support children's socio-emotional development (Zeegers et al., 2017). Given the long hours children spend in early childcare educational centers, and their extended interaction with childcare teachers, it is imperative to cultivate teachers’ mentalizing skills. Nevertheless, there is a lack of evidence-based interventions for enhancing this ability among teachers. The current study aims to address this paucity by testing the efficiency of a novel group-based intervention, the DUET caregiving model intervention, adapted for use with early childhood teachers. The DUET caregiving model aims to train professional caregivers to recognize, understand, and regulate internal states in themselves and in children. The current study intends to investigate the effect of the DUET caregiving model intervention program on teachers’ mentalizing abilities; whether the gains in teachers’ mentalizing abilities improve classroom climate and reduce teachers' psychological distress; and the underlying mechanisms of change. Findings from this study can extend current understanding of the caregivers' mentalization abilities role in child-care settings and encourage implementation of intervention programs that may promote an in-depth change in the caregiver–child relationship and classroom climate as well as teachers' psychological well-being.