The Brain-Behavior Connection: An Exploration of Functional Brain Connectivity, Early Experience, and Behavioral Outcomes During the First Six Years

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Chajes, Johanna, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Grossmann, Tobias, AS-Psychology (PSYC), University of Virginia

One of the overwhelming challenges that behavioral neuroscientists are facing is understanding how brain activity, from the cellular level to the coordinated multi-network structure of the whole brain, relates to our behavior. Studying the link during early development affords researchers the opportunity to ask these questions during a unique time of rapid brain and behavioral development, providing critical insights into the ways our brain activity and behavior are connected. The goal of my dissertation is to contribute to our understanding of how differences in functional brain connectivity relate to differences in early experiences and behavioral outcomes, focusing primarily on self-regulation and prosocial behavior, during the first six years of life. In my first paper (Chajes et al., 2022), I investigate how proximal and distal environmental factors, specifically sensitive parenting and socioeconomic status, relate to developing functional connectivity networks in 5-month-old infants. In my second paper (Chajes, Kelsey, & Grossmann, in prep), I examine functional connectivity levels in this same sample of infants at 5 months and 7 months of age and assess how differences in functional connectivity relate to infants’ self-regulation as an aspect of temperament. Finally, in my third paper (Chajes & Grossmann, in prep), I recruit a new sample of 4- to 6-year-olds and use a large battery of behavioral measures to examine how individual differences in children’s self-regulation and prosocial behaviors align with variability in functional connectivity at this age. Together, this work helps to illuminate the foundational associations between brain connectivity, early life experiences, and important cognitive and social behaviors during infancy and early childhood.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
functional connectivity, self-regulation, prosocial behavior, infancy, early childhood
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