Koraly Pérez-Edgar, Penn State University

Personal Spotlight
We asked scholars to describe some of the following questions: What drew you to do work on Latino youth and families, or another topic that is important to you now? Who was an important mentor to you in this work, or was there a particularly influential study in the field or in a related field?

I started undergrad convinced that I wanted to be a pediatrician. However, my first psychology class had me hooked and I slowly moved from being a bio major to a psychology major. My school had a really good program—with no developmental psychologists. As a result, I had to construct for myself research experiences that would broadly help me in grad school and then convince grad schools that I would do well in a developmental program, even though I had no developmental experience. I think the important component is to show that you are a critical thinker, that you have foundational skills in writing and methods, and that you can articulate what (broad) questions you are interested in and that you understand the gaps you have to fill in  your training.

My work since grad school has primarily focused on temperament, especially behavioral inhibition and the associated increased risk for anxiety. In this work I focus on attention and biobehavioral markers of functioning. Broadly, my work shows that children create for themselves an “experienced environment” that is shaped by their idiosyncratic attention biases. These biases have a cascading effect that impacts cognitive attributions social relationships, neural functioning, and the pathway to anxiety. This work is a direct continuation of the research carried out by my graduate and postdoctoral mentors.

Ironically, my mentors and I shared seemingly little with respect to our life experiences and the path that led us to research. However, they each took me on for who I am, didn’t ask that I turn myself into a clone, and gave me the confidence (when I’m not wallowing in imposter syndrome) to continue my work. These are the mentoring experiences that I try to inculcate with my own lab. I find that the diversity of experience and point of view makes the environment more supportive and the science more robust.

Research Spotlight
We invited scholars to describe a recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it.

We recently summarized some of our most recent work with mobile (ambulatory) eye-tracking in a paper coming out in Current Directions in Psychological Science. A lot of researchers are interested in in how people engage in social interactions and navigate their environment. However, in trying to get experimental control we often strip our presentation of the social world down to two-dimensional static stimuli. Mobile eye-tracking lets us see how children visually attend to the environment and actively select and engage with the world around them. This can give us a different sense of children’s world view than the processing seen when we (researchers) choose for them.

A big project our lab is contributing to is being carried out with Dr. Kristin Buss and Dr. Vanessa LoBue. We are recruiting families with infants in State College PA, Harrisburg PA, and Newark NJ, and following them up to age two. As part of the study we are examining how attention and temperament shape emotional development. Importantly, we are also looking at the impact psychosocial stress from the environment can have on infants. We are beginning to see that even in the first year of life high levels of environmental stress can shape attention and socioemotional functioning, swamping the effects of temperament typically seen in samples dominated by middle class or non-diverse families.

Any upcoming talks, presentations, or publications we should know about?

Here are two in press review papers that might be of interest:

Pérez-Edgar, K., Fu, X., & MacNeill, L. (in press). Navigating through the experienced environment: Insights from mobile eye-tracking. Current Directions in Psychological Science. https://osf.io/qawc4/

Pérez-Edgar, K., Vallorani, A., Buss, K. A., & LoBue, V. (in press).  Individual differences in infancy research: Letting the baby stand out from the crowd. Infancy.

Reflections on Latino Caucus Experiences
Finally, we asked about experiences with the SRCD Latino Caucus: Why is the caucus important and/or your views on the role of the Latino Caucus vis-à-vis SRCD, research on child development, policy/practice.

The caucus helps create a critical mass so that researchers and students can see the broad range of issues that we study and the concerns that impact our communities. In addition, it allows early career scientists the opportunity to really focus on the pathways and obstacles we often encounter during our training and career.  It also lets us see the diversity in our science—both the questions asked and the individuals asking the questions.

Email: kxp24@psu.edu

Website: The Cognition, Affect, and Temperament Lab at Penn State University

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