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Center on Human Development and Disability
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Collaborative
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Collaborative Research Area on Ecological Factors

Coordinator: Susan Spieker, Ph.D.

The Collaborative Research Area on Ecological Factors encompasses the effects of context on developmental trajectories through the lifespan. Context includes the micro level involving the individual in various dyadic interactions, as well as the macro level of community organization and national culture and policy. Questions addressed are diverse and include how context influences the emergence of developmental delays and disabilities, as in the association of poverty and family disruption with mild developmental delay and behavioral problems in children. Also of interest is how context moderates the developmental and behavioral outcomes achieved by individuals with varying risks for delays or disability, such as how the quality of parent-child interaction affects the development of self-regulation in preterm infants or children with a chronic illness. Contexts may also be influenced by design, as in specific interventions.

Investigators in the ecological focus area are asking a range of questions using a variety of observational, rating scale, interview, and psychophysiological measures. At the micro level, ecological factors such as patterns of family interactions and parent-child relationships, parental alcohol and drug abuse and/or domestic violence, children's peer-related social interactions, and other child rearing contexts, such as childcare, school and after-school, and foster care settings are being examined to determine how they affect child cognitive, social, and emotional development. At the macro level, ecological factors such as economic opportunities, social policies, and neighborhoods are being investigated in connection with children's developmental outcomes.

Evaluating interventions to prevent mild intellectual disabilities and/or correlated psychopathology, including impulsivity, aggression, oppositional behavior, conduct problems, depression, and anxiety for children at risk because of psychosocial environmental factors is a central problem being addressed by a number of investigators focusing on both short- and long-term effects. Of special interest is the design and evaluation of interventions aimed at promoting resilience, social, emotional, and cognitive competence, and successful coping in children with chronic illness, disability, or prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, or early maltreatment and neglect. Finally, the relations between variations in early social environments and psychophysiology (including brain activity, autonomic measures, salivary cortisol, and sleep regulation) are being studied, as are the ecological conditions associated with psychophysiological measures that predict later adaptation.

Faculty Investigators


University of Washington • Center on Human Development and Disability Box 357920 • Seattle WA 98195-7920 USA • 206-543-7701 •chdd@uw.edu