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September 18, 2018

Seth Pollak, PhD
Current ResearchTeaching & EducationPeopleLab DirectorStaffCollaboratorsCommunity OutreachFor Parents Publications

Laboratory Members

Anna Bechner
  Anna Bechner, Research Laboratory Manager
B.S. Ed., 1997, Marian College (Early Childhood Education)

My background includes over ten years of teaching and research experience with families and young children in childcare, preschool, and the elementary school level. As a classroom teacher I became very interested in understanding how children's emotional experiences affect learning, behavior, and socio-emotional development. I very much enjoy being involved with this research where I have the opportunity to work on projects examining the effects of early emotional experiences as well as interact with children and their families.



Pablo Cacerés

Pablo Cacerés, Graduate Student
B.A., Universidad de Chile (Sociology)
M.A., Universidad de Chile (Public Policy)

My research focus on how children and adolescents implement and transform domain-general learning mechanism as reinforcement and associative learning, to adapt in the context of acute psychosocial stress (i.e., perceived social threat) and chronic psychosocial stress (i.e., chaos, poverty, neglect and/or maltreatment). By using a multi-level approach that integrates behavioral experiments, computational modelling, and neuroimaging tools, I hope to pinpoint the cascade of bio-behavioral processes that shape socioemotional and cognitive development in the context of dynamic environments and adverse circumstances. By understanding such mechanisms, I hope to identify means to intervene at risk-populations for psychopathology and negative health and academic outcomes. Before coming to Madison, I completed an undergraduate degree in Sociology and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy at the Universidad de Chile. Furthermore, I spent two years working as research assistant in a cognitive neuroscience lab in Chile. I am currently supported by a Fulbright Fellowship and a Scholarship from the Chilean Government.


Madeline Harms Madeline Harms, Postdoctoral Student
B.A., 2008, Wellesley College (Psychology)
Ph.D., 2015, University of Minnesota (Developmental Psychology)

In my research, I explore developmental changes in reward processing and the influences of social feedback and social experience on the ways in which children, adolescents, and adults respond to potential risks and rewards. Another line of my research examines developmental and individual differences in neural responses to emotional facial expressions. I utlilize behavioral and neuroimaging methods to explore these questions. I obtained my Ph.D. from the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, and prior to that spent two years working in an autism lab at the National Institute of Mental Health.


Brian Leitzke   Brian Leitzke, Graduate Student, Clinical Psychology
B.S., 2007, University of Wisconsin - Madison (Elementary Education)
M.S., 2012, University of Wisconsin - Madison (Psychology) 

My research focuses on the development of emotion processing and perception throughout childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. I am particularly interested in how early life experiences influence emotion processing later in life and what role these changes play in the development of psychopathology. Of key importance to my research is how individuals perceive emotional facial expressions and how they integrate contextual information into their perception of emotional scenes. Utilizing eye tracking and analyzing psychophysiological correlates, I hope to elucidate the role of emotion perception in the trajectory from early experience to adult emotional functioning, and identify means of intervention for those at-risk for negative health and life outcomes.



Rista Plate
  Rista Plate, Graduate Student, Clinical Psychology
B.A., 2010, University of Wisconsin, Madison (Psychology)

I am interested in exploring how social categories guide or compete with emotion perception and understanding. In particular, I would like to investigate the extent to which the identity of individuals expressing emotions influences how those emotions are perceived. I completed my undergraduate education at UW-Madison and spent two years as a clinical research fellow at the National Institutes of Health in a pediatric anxiety lab.


Barb Roeber
  Barb Roeber, Community Outreach Coordinator
M.S., 1988, St. Cloud State University (Child and Family Studies)
B.S., 1977, Michigan State University (Special Education)

My background includes over 25 years of work with children and families including teaching children with emotional disabilities, counseling children affected by abuse, and supporting children with developmental disabilities.  I am a licensed social worker in the state of Wisconsin and also hold a lifetime teaching license in Wisconsin.  I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and families.


Karen Smith   Karen Smith, Postdoctoral Fellow
B.A., 2011, Univeristy of Chicago (Psychology)
Ph.D., 2018, University of Chicago (Psychology)

I am interested in understanding individual differences in psychophysiological responses to stress, especially experiences of early life stress. Specifically, my research centers on elucidating the role of reciprocal interactions between physiological processes and affective states in children’s responses to stress, with a focus on how children’s perceptions of environmental demands shape their responses to stress. This work aims to identify protective factors that can aid in the development of targeted, effective interventions for at risk children and families, through enabling a more comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms contributing to individual differences in responses to stress.


Kristina Woodard

Kristina Woodard, Graduate Student
B.A., 2013, University of Pennsylvania (Psychology)

I am interested in exploring the effects of early life experiences on the development of executive function and learning processes, and how differences in development in these areas lead to disruptions in emotional regulation. By better understanding the development of these processes and their role in emotional regulation, I hope to identify means of intervention for at-risk populations. I completed my undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania and spent two years as a lab manager in a developmental lab.


Yuyan Xu   Yuyan Xu, Graduate Student
B.A., 2015, Jinan University (Applied Linguistics)
M.A., 2017, Teachers College, Columbia University (Developmental Psychology)

After graduating from Jinan University in 2015 with a BA in Applied Linguistics, I altered my path to pursue a master’s degree in Developmental Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. I then worked as a research coordinator in Dr. Katie McLaughlin’s Stress and Development Lab testing a hippocampus-dependent associative learning model of PTSD in adolescents. There, I developed a research interest in how different dimensions of early life adversity might shape children’s environmental expectations and influence their associative learning, decision-making, and emotion processing, which in turn underlies various forms of psychopathology. I am eager to learn more about the behavioral and neuroimaging methods so as to explore these questions in graduate school.

Child Emotion Lab Alumni

Joseph L. Flanders
  Joseph L. Flanders, PhD
Research Director
Montreal General Hospital
McGill University



Jamie Hanson   Jamie L. Hanson, PhD
Post-doctoral Fellow
Institute for Brain Sciences
Duke University

Lori M. Hilt
  Lori M. Hilt, PhD
Assistant Professor Department of Psychology
Lawrence University

Jennifer McDermott
  Jennifer McDermott, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts – Amherst

Sarah Romens   Sarah E. Romens, PhD
Clinical Psychologist
The Psychology Center, Madison, WI

Leslie Seltzer   Leslie Seltzer, PhD
Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jessica Shackman

Jessica Shackman, M.D., Ph.D.
Georgetown University Medical Center



Kate Shannon, PhD   Kate Shannon, Post-doctoral Fellow
Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Neurology, UW-Madison

Elizabeth A. Shirtcliff, PhD
  Elizabeth Shirtcliff, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies Iowa State University

Nicole Strang   Nicole M. Strang, PhD
Research Scientist, Center for Addiction and Mental Health University of Toronto

Alison B. Wismer Fries

Alison B. Wismer Fries, Ph.D.
Infant, Early Childhood, and Family Mental Health Consultant
Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services State of Wisconsin