Center on the Developing Adolescent

Center on the Developing Adolescent

The Center on the Developing Adolescence recognizes the onset of adolescence as the beginning of a complex maturational period — one with enormous risks and great opportunities. The Center aims to serve as a hub for the integration of cutting-edge developmental science from leading researchers and collaborators who are advancing understanding of adolescence. The Center seeks opportunities to promote intellectual exchanges that: a) help to integrate understanding across levels and disciplines; b) contribute to advancing and refining trans-disciplinary heuristic models; and c) contribute to designing and carrying out studies to test key features of these models. The Center also supports collaborative networking, promotes innovation in translational activities and interdisciplinary exchanges, and places a high priority on contributing to the training of students and young scholars who want to become part of trans-disciplinary team research focusing on adolescence. Through this combination of activities the Center advances understanding of adolescence — through innovative transdisciplinary developmental science.  The Center’s long-term goals are to identify policy-relevant opportunities for improving the developmental trajectories of health, education, and well-being among youth. The Center believes a deeper understanding of the developmental science of adolescence will provide new leverage points for early intervention and prevention efforts, and innovative approaches to education and positive youth development.

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Leadership Team

Ron Dahl is a pediatrician and developmental scientist with long history of commitment to interdisciplinary team research with the long-term goal of improving the lives of children and adolescents. His research has ranged from basic studies of neurobiological and psychological development, clinical studies in pediatrics and child psychiatry, to consideration of the social, family, and cultural contexts that shape neurobehavioral development. He has published more than 200 scientific articles in the areas of child and adolescent development, behavioral/emotional health in youth, sleep and its disorders in youth, adolescent brain development, and the public health/policy implications of this work. He also has been a dedicated mentor to many students, residents, fellows, post-docs, and junior faculty—spanning a wide range of disciplines, including: pediatrics, child psychiatry, developmental psychology, clinical psychology, neuroscience, and public health. He is currently serving as Director, Institute of Human Development UC Berkeley and Director, Center on the Developing Adolescent; Professor, Community Health and Human Development in the School of Public Health; and Professor, UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program. He is a Founding Editor of the Journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, and is currently serving as President of the Society for Research in Child Development.

Ahna Suleiman is a Research Scientist with the Center on the Developing Adolescent located at UC Berkeley. Ahna completed her DrPH and a post-doctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley. She is currently the Coordinating Director for the Center on the Developing Adolescent. Her research focuses on how adolescent social, emotional and adolescent development affect decision-making and the unique ways they influence sexual decision-making. She is interested in how neuroscience, behavioral economics, and health psychology can be integrated into improved public health interventions. Ahna is very interested in promoting transdisciplinary dialogue that promotes the translation of research into policy and practice. The ultimate goal of her research is to develop interventions that support healthy sexual development and improved sexual health outcomes for adolescents.

Linda Wilbrecht is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at UC Berkeley where her research lab focuses on lab how experience alters neural circuits that contribute to value and reward based decision making. Her research goals include understanding how early life experience with unstable environments, stress or drugs of abuse might alter or limit human potential. She is particularly interested in mechanisms that regulate sensitive periods for neural plasticity and how these map onto the maturation of frontal cortical-striatal circuits. Through better knowledge of neural plasticity and sensitive period regulation in frontal circuits, she hopes to identify strategies to facilitate change in neural circuits and promote healthy decision making. The Wilbrecht lab focuses largely on rodent models, but is also collecting their first data from human subjects. In these studies she is particularly interested in social and economic factors that impact future time perspective, risk taking, and decision making at puberty. Dr. Wilbrecht did her PhD research in the laboratory of Fernando Nottebohm at the Rockefeller University where she studied mechanisms that regulate the sensitive period for song learning in birds. In her postdoctoral training at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory with Karel Svoboda and UCSF with Michael Merzenich she studied mechanisms by which the neocortex can reorganize in response to changes in experience. She is recipient of the 2009 NIMH Biobehavioral Research Award for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS award) and the 2010 Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering (PECASE).

Andrew Fuligni is Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and the Department of Psychology at UCLA. He also is a Senior Scientist in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dr. Fuligni and his collaborators employ multiple methods to study the interaction between socio-cultural experience and biobehavioral development during adolescence and young adulthood, with particular attention to teenagers from Latin American, Asian, European, and immigrant backgrounds. Receiving his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Michigan, he was a recipient of the American Psychological Association’s Boyd McCandless Award for Early Career Contribution to Developmental Psychology, a William T. Grant Faculty Scholars Award, a FIRST award from NICHD, and he is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science. Dr. Fuligni recently completed a six-year term an Associate Editor of the journal Child Development.

Adriana Galván is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Developmental Neuroscience Laboratory at UCLA. Her research is aimed at characterizing ontogenetic neural changes that occur as individuals transition into and out of adolescence. Her work in this domain has particularly focused on neural systems implicated in affective, cognitive and social processing, all of which contribute to characteristic adolescent behavior. Dr. Galván is also committed to studying the developing brain within the family and peer context. She relies on a multi method approach, including neuroimaging, physiological assays, daily diary and family interview methods to conduct this research.

Nicholas Allen is the Ann Swindells Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oregon. Professor Allen is a leading researcher in the area of clinical depression, known especially for his work on the relationship between biological and interpersonal aspects of adolescent development and risk for the onset of depression. His recent work focuses on identifying potent, modifiable risk factors for poor mental health during adolescence, and developing and testing preventative interventions that target these risk factors. He uses a developmental psychopathology approach to understand how children and adolescents are affected by the environments in which they grow up, especially aspects of the child’s environment that have been shown to increase risk for mental health problems (e.g., family conflict, stress, abuse, socio-economic disadvantage) influence the adolescent’s emotional functioning and the development of the biological systems that undergird these emotions. The aim of this work is to not only shed light on the underlying causes of mental health and ill-health during these stages of life, but also to inform innovative approaches to early intervention and prevention by utilizing this knowledge to generate and test novel, developmentally-targeted clinical and public health interventions. He also currently serves as a commissioner on the Lancet Commission on Global Adolescent Health and Well-being.

Jennifer Pfeifer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Director of the Developmental Social Neuroscience Lab at the University of Oregon. Her research focuses on the transition from childhood through adolescence which is characterized by changing brains and bodies, affect and motivation, peer relationships and conceptions of self — many strands which combine to shape behavior during this critical period. Dr. Pfeifer is interested in how affect, motivation, regulation, self-evaluation, and social perception interact across contexts, are instantiated at the neural level, as well as influence adolescent choices and well-being. She studies the development of these related phenomena at multiple levels, with the goal of enabling healthy transitions from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. She is also interested in how functional brain development is affected by various endogenous and exogenous factors such as pubertal development and early adversity. Her work has been funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Science Foundation, and the Oregon Medical Research Foundation.