Earlier this year, HCEO spoke with MIP network member Sara Jaffee about her work studying how adverse experiences shape development.

Jaffee and her students at the University of Pennsylvania are interested in how experiences across the life cycle become biologically embedded. 

"We're also interested in how what a child brings into the world shapes how they respond to the experiences that they encounter," she says.

One recent project, which studied a group of children and their families in the UK, looked at the effects of harsh or non-supportive parenting. Jaffee and her team found that children with a specific genotype were at particularly high risk for symptoms of depression and anxiety when they encounter frequent adverse experiences across early and middle childhood.

Though Jaffee conducts studies through her own lab on campus, the Risk and Resilience Lab, as a developmental psychopathologist, her work is inherently cross-disciplinary.  

"A lot of my research is collaborative because I'm interested in this interplay between social experiences and biology. I really have to collaborate with folks outside of my discipline," she says.

Her team frequently works with geneticists, and tries to import methods from that field into the social sciences. But such cross-disciplinary research is not without its challenges.

"There are real tensions between what is cutting edge in genomics and the kinds of questions we might want to answer in the social sciences," she says. "For those of us who are interested in representative sampling and taking a more epidemiological approach, trying to reconcile those methods and the methods we use in epidemiology is really difficult. But I enjoy the challenge of it."
Jaffee is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also directs the Undergraduate Honors Program and the Graduate Studies Program.