Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Faculty • Research Colloquia • Early Childhood Center • Resources • Trainees 


Focus of Research

  • Infant Mental Health
  • Early Parent-Child Relationships
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Psychosocial Maturation in Adolescence

Current Projects

Visual Thinking Strategies Training: Anna Miller, M.E.d, is Principal Investigator on this project funded by the PNC Foundation to continue professional development, staff training and field trips to the Detroit Institute of Art to assess implementation of the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) adjunct curriculum for preschool children in WSU’s two Early Childhood Centers.  VTS uses guided discussions of select works of art to improve children’s verbal, cognitive, observational and critical thinking skills.

Strengthening Mental Health Service Utilization to Reduce Negative Consequences of Child Sexual Abuse: Valerie Simon leads an NIH-funded project to identify barriers to and increase utilization of no-cost mental health services among families with a newly discovered case of child sexual abuse.  At present, few families take advantage of currently available early intervention resources, putting children at greater long-term risk for poor mental health outcomes following the initial trauma.

Pregnancy MRI Study.  Moriah Thomason leads this project mapping the sequence and patterning of the development of functional connections within the brain of the human fetus. Participants include healthy expecting mothers as well as those experiencing complications with their pregnancies, such as Intrauterine Growth Restriction. The study explores the links between fetal brain development and both environmental and biological factors affecting health and growth. The approach uses functional (resting-state) and structural (DTI) neuroimaging methods in utero.

The Emergence of Sexual Risk among Sexually Abused Adolescent Females: Valerie Simon is studying the impact of child sexual abuse on the sexual development of girls. The aim of the study funded by two grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Development is to develop more effective risk-reduction programs for these adolescents. 

Coaching for Excellence in Early Childhood Education Practice in Detroit: Anna Miller, M.Ed., and Sharon Elliott (College of Education) lead this project, with collaborator John Hannigan, implementing on-site expert coaching/mentoring to assist early childhood educators in bringing high-quality teaching practices to their classrooms. This pilot project is funded by the PNC Foundation and is assessing the feasibility and impact of the coaching/mentoring.

Baby on Board! The Wayne State University Early Parenting Study:  Carolyn Dayton is the principle investigator of an early parenting study funded by the Silberman Foundation. This study examines the influence of bio-psycho-social risk and resilience factors on the parent-child relationship during pregnancy and across the first four postnatal months of development.  A central aim is to understand the dynamics of the emerging relationship to inform early intervention services for over-burdened families with an emphasis on engaging and providing infant mental health services to fathers. 

Development of Social and Romantic Relationships.  Julie Wargo Aikins leads a project examining child and adolescent interpersonal processes and their impact on developmental outcomes. The research focuses on social relationships, including those with parents, peers, and romantic partners, given their marked influence on youths' trajectories of development.  The work is guided by a developmental psychopathology framework and attachment theory, and has laid the ground-work for research that studies how these relationships exacerbate or buffer youth from developmental risk.

Teens at Risk: Prenatal Cocaine and Postnatal Challenges: John Hannigan is one of the Co-Investigators working with Virginia Delaney-Black, M.D. (Principal Investigator; Pediatrics) on a longitudinal and multidisciplinary project assessing the impact of prenatal cocaine and alcohol exposure, as well as family and community risk factors, on at-risk behaviors – including substance use/abuse and sexual behavior – in older adolescents and young adults. Wide-ranging measures of neurobehavioral outcome, physiological responses to stressors, and social-emotional regulation are integral to this project. The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded this project.

Attachment in Children in Military Families.  In this research Julie Wargo Aikins examines how an attachment disruption during early childhood, specifically separation from parents due to combat deployment, may influence children's achievement. This project examines how the remaining parent's psychological health, stress, and provision of support may mitigate the risks associated with separation. By viewing parental deployment through lenses of developmental challenge and socio-emotional buffers, the findings may inform our understanding of other developmental risks.

Parental Reactions During Pregnancy and Postnatal periods Linked to Early Outcomes (PuRPLE).  Ann Stacks and Marjorie Beeghly are following up families from Dr. Thomason’s fetal brain functional connectivity study to better understand how maternal reflective functioning, parent-infant interactions, mental health and demographic risk impact infant development.