Katie McLaughlin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychology
Director, Stress and Development Lab
University of Washington
Dr. Katie McLaughlin is a clinical psychologist with interests in how environmental experience influences brain and behavioral development in children and adolescents. She has a joint Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and in Chronic Disease Epidemiology from Yale University and is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington. Her research examines how adverse environmental experiences shape emotional, cognitive, and neurobiological development throughout childhood and adolescence. Specifically, Dr. McLaughlin’s work seeks to understand how experiences of stress, trauma, and social disadvantage alter developmental processes in ways that increase risk for psychopathology. Her research uncovers specific developmental processes that are disrupted by adverse environmental experiences early in life and determines how those disruptions increase risk for mental health problems. Understanding these mechanisms is critical for the development of interventions to prevent the onset of psychopathology in children who experience adversity. Dr. McLaughlin’s overarching goal is to contribute to greater understanding of the role of environmental experience in shaping children’s development, so as to inform the creation of interventions, practices, and policies to promote adaptive development in society’s most vulnerable members.
Dr. McLaughlin’s research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Jacobs Foundation, the Charles H. Hood Foundation, the Brain and Behavior Foundation, and the IMHRO One Mind Institute. She has received early career awards from the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the Jacobs Foundation as well as the Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology from the American Psychological Association.
Dr. McLaughlin has also been fortunate to be awarded the Rising Star Research Award from AIM for Mental Health. Her project uses innovative new tools to understand how and why exposure to stress is such a powerful predictor of mental health problems during adolescence. Although stress is involved in the onset of most commonly occurring mental disorders, the mechanisms underlying this elevated risk are poorly understood. The goal of this research is to identify how exposure to stress influences emotion, social behavior, cognition, and brain function in ways that might place teenagers at risk for developing anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. The project uses novel methods to study these pathways, including longitudinal MRI scans and information about emotions, physical activity, and social behavior gathered from mobile phones and wearable devices. Identifying mechanisms underlying stress vulnerability is critical for developing novel intervention approaches to prevent the onset of mental health problems and to treat these conditions once they emerge.
To date, the study has made tremendous progress toward these goals. Each participant enrolled in the study is followed for one year, with intensive monthly assessments of stressful life events, brain structure and function, and mental health. We have enrolled our target sample into the study and have had excellent retention. Nearly half of participants have completed the study, we will be done with data collection in May 2018. We have collected over 200 monthly assessments, including MRI scans. We have also developed technology for analyzing longitudinal MRI scans using techniques that have never previously been possible. We are excited to be able to share this technology with other researchers.
Overall, the study has been progressing with great success. We are making excellent progress in our recruitment and data collection and are eager to share our results when data collection is complete.
"More than one in three Americans will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. AIM is focused on youth because most of these mental health problems have their origins in childhood and adolescence. The vast majority of people who experience anxiety, depression, and problems with substance use first exhibited symptoms of a mental health problem in childhood. Given that mental health problems are often chronic and are associated with substantial individual and societal burden, these sobering figures highlight the critical need for research on the origins, prevention, and treatment of mental health problems in children and adolescents. Greater investment in clinical research on youth mental health is an urgent priority in the effort to reduce the societal burden of mental disorders."Kate McLaughlin, Ph.D.