Research & Publications
Our laboratory focuses on how young children and adolescents develop abilities to regulate their emotions especially under stressful or challenging circumstances. We are especially interested in how early adverse conditions such as severe poverty or parental substance use change developmental pathways and may render children more vulnerable to stress and later adversity. We use behavioral and neuroimaging methods to study these relationships and are especially focused on developing neural circuits for emotional regulation and stress reactivity which we assess using electroencephalography. Recently, we have also begun studies of how substance use impacts the development of those neural circuits that regulate parental care and sensitivity to the infant and at the same time, render substance using adults more vulnerable to the stress of parenting which in turn increases the stress in their children's environment. In addiction, individuals seek rewarding stimuli such as drugs to diminish negative emotional and stressful experiences. Social attachment is also a process based on the balance between reward and stress. It may be that the impaired function in these neural systems conveyed by addictive processes directly impact parenting such that stimuli salient for eliciting parenting behaviors such as an infant cry are sufficiently stressful to the addicted adult to elicit instead avoidant behavior toward the infant and increased craving for drugs. Our work in this area also directly informs treatment programs for addicted adults.
Specialized Terms: Early adversity; Stress regulation; Parental addiction; Risk for drug use in adolescence; Neural circuitry of social attachment and parental behavior; Developing reward systems; Electrophysiology
Extensive Research Description
Dr. Mayes’s research integrates perspectives from child development, behavioral neuroscience, psychophysiology and neurobiology, developmental psychopathology, and neurobehavioral teratology. She has published widely in the developmental psychology, pediatrics, and child psychiatry literature. Her work focuses on stress-response and regulatory mechanisms in young children at both biological and psychosocial risk. She has made contributions to understanding the mechanisms of effect of prenatal stimulant exposure on the ontogeny of arousal regulatory systems and the relation between dysfunctional emotional regulation and impaired prefrontal cortical function in young children. Her laboratory currently follows two longitudinal cohorts—one exposed to drugs prenatally and whose participants are now adolescents and another cohort of preschool aged children growing up in varying degrees of psychosocial adversity with the study focusing on the impact of economic deprivation on emerging executive control functions in preschool and early school-aged children.
Given the nature of her work with children at significantly high-risk for developmental impairments from both biological and psychosocial etiologies, Dr. Mayes also focuses on the impact of parenting on the development of arousal and attention regulatory mechanisms in their children. With other colleagues in the Center, she studies how adults transition to parenthood and the basic neural circuitry of early parent-infant attachment using both neuroimaging and electroencephalographic techniques. Most recently, she and her colleagues in the Center have developed a series of interventions for parents including an intensive home-based program called Minding the Baby and a group based intervention for parents called Parents First. Her research programs are multidisciplinary not only in their blending basic science with clinical interventions but also in the disciplines required including adult and child psychiatry, behavioral neuroscience, obstetrics, pediatrics, and neuropsychology. Indeed, in her work, Dr. Mayes’ collaborates across a number of departments—pediatrics, surgery and anesthesia, psychiatry, psychology—and has international (Israel, Great Britain, Canada, Italy) and national collaborators. She is a visiting professor at University College London where she participates regularly as a member of a research faculty training program and is also on the adjunct faculty of the University of Connecticut.
Dr. Mayes is also trained as an adult and child psychoanalyst and is the chairman of the directorial team of the Anna Freud Centre in London as well as the coordinator of the Anna Freud Centre program at the Yale Child Study Center. In this capacity, she focuses on developing research relevant to basic psychoanalytic theories of mental development as well as mentoring young scholars interested in the interface between psychoanalytic theory and developmental science. With her colleagues Peter Fonagy, Ph.D. and Mary Target, Ph.D. in London, she oversees a new masters program in psychodynamic developmental neuroscience offered collaboratively between University College London and the Yale School of Medicine.
Clinically, Dr. Mayes coordinates the Center’s programs on research and clinical services for infants and young children. The early childhood section of the Center’s Harris Child Development Unit offers a range of assessments and therapeutic services for families of infants and preschool children and also for parents.
- Impact of prenatal drug abuse on long term developmental outcome with a special focus on stress reactivity and emotional regulation
- Impact of economic adversity on children's developing inhibitory control systems
- Risk for substance abuse and other risk-taking behaviors in adolescence
- Substance use and the neural circuitry of attachment and parental care
Adolescent Psychiatry; Child Psychiatry; Chronic Disease; Electrophysiology; Epidemiology; Pediatrics; Stress, Psychological; Behavior, Addictive; Psychiatry and Psychology