Recent and Ongoing Research Projects


(1) Everyday Emotions and Behaviors in Young Children:

This project investigates the emotions and behaviors of preschool-aged children from low-income families with the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR; Mehl, Pennebaker, Crow, Dabbs, & Price, 2001). The current version of the EAR is an “app” for the iPhone or iPod that captures words and sounds from the individual’s natural environment that can be coded and/or transcribed for linguistic, emotional, behavioral, and social content. Studying the emotions and behaviors of preschool-aged children from low-income families with the EAR will deepen the appreciation of young children’s resilience during daily life and would also inform efforts to prevent early social and behavioral difficulties.   

 Aims of this project include: (1) Assess emotional and behavioral indicators of resilience among low-income preschoolers and their parents during daily life; (2) Examine the roles of family-level risk and protective factors in resilience during daily life; and (3) Explore the role of oxytocin in young chldren's resilience during daily life. Co-Investigators are Dr. Erika Bocknek and Dr. Francesca Luca


(2) SAFE-Learning:

This project is led by Principal Investigator, Dr. Douglas Barnett, and it is being conducted in collaboration with the Detroit Public Schools. The overall goal of the project is to promote children's academic achievement. The study is a pilot evaluation of a brief intervention that will provide information to parents about their child's academic strengths and needs. The overall goals of the intervention are to provide families with feedback on areas that may help improve learning and school achievement and to help the familiy set goals related to promoting academic success. 


(3) Parents’ and Toddlers' Emotions and Behaviors:

This project focuses on emotions and behaviors among low-income adolescent and young adult mothers and their toddler-aged children. Young mothers are the focus of the research project because they face many challenges that heighten their risk for engaging in negative parenting practices. Examining the challenges of young parents in Detroit is especially important because Detroit had the highest percentage of births that were to teenage females among the 50 largest cities in the United States (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2009). For this project, mothers must have been age 21 or younger when their child was born. Although this study focuses on adolescent and young adult mothers, related research in our lab (see below) is incorporating fathers and the broader support network (e.g., grandparents). 

When a mother agreed to participate in the study, we asked her to be involved in two visits. The first visit was at the lab at WSU when her child was approximately 18 months of age. The second visit was at the family’s home when the child was approximately 24 months of age. Each visit lasted about 90 minutes. During the laboratory visit on Wayne State’s campus, the mother participated in an interview, completed questionnaires, and participated in a series of laboratory-based tasks that assessed processes related to emotion regulation.  The mother and child also participated in a video-taped toy clean-up task. The home visit involved questionnaires, free play with a variety of age-appropriate toys, a toy clean-up task, and an assortment of age-appropriate games and problem-solving tasks.

This project was funded by an ongoing Career Development Award from NIMH to Dr. Trentacosta (K01 MH082926; Mentor: Marjorie Beeghly; Co-Mentors: Jenae Neiderhiser and Daniel Shaw). We recently completed a follow-up assessment with these families when the child was approximately 36 months of age. The follow-up study focused on parent-child interaction, child self-regulation, and school readiness.


(4) Predictors of Children's School Adjustment:

This project focused on kindergarten children's self-regulation skills and the family context as predictors of success in school. Kindergarten children from three charter schools in Detroit were assessed in the fall of the 2010-2011 school year, and a follow-up assessment was completed at the end of kindergarten. We also interviewed children's parents to learn about the family context and parents' perceptions of relationships. We conducted a follow-up assessment in 2012 when the children were in first grade. Data analysis of this project is ongoing. This project is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Joanne Smith-Darden of WSU's School of Social Work.


(5) Gene-Environment Interplay and Young Children's Executive Functioning:

This pilot project was funded by the University Research Corridor's Bloodspot Environmental Epidemiology Project (BLEEP). In collaboration with the Michigan Department of Community Health and Michigan State University, we recruited a sample of twins from the Michigan State University Twin Registry who reside in southeastern Michigan communities with above average levels of poverty or crime based on 2010 Census figures. Aims were to establish the feasibility of recruiting a sample of at-risk twins and to obtain data on DNA methylation of candidate genes linked to executive functioning (EF) difficulties from newborn blood spots from the Michigan Neonatal Biobank. Twins completed a battery of EF tasks assessing working memory, inhibitory control, and attention shifting that was validated with an ethnically diverse, low-income sample of three-year-olds. 


(6) Other Projects:

Dr. Trentacosta and/or his graduate student mentees collaborate on several projects that utilize existing datasets or ongoing longitudinal studies to examine predictors of child self-regulation, behavioral functioning, and school readiness. For example, a graduate student examined father involvement as a predictor of school readiness in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) dataset. Another graduate student served as a research assistant on a project evaluating predictors of quality of life among children undergoing treatment for pediatric cancer (R01 CA138981; PI: L. Penner). In addition, Dr. Trentacosta is investigating the role of genotype, environment, and genotype-environment interplay in the development of children's self-regulation and externalizing behavior problems using data from the Early Growth and Development Study (EGDS), an ongoing study of adoptive children and their adoptive and birth parents (R01 HD042608; PI: L. Leve & R01 DA020585; PI: J. Neiderhiser).


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