Center for Investigating Healthy Minds BLOG

at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mother-Infant Study Searches for Insight Into Early Development


Research Specialist Corrina Frye works with families participating in the study, allowing the team to glean information about early brain development.


For participants in the Center’s Baby Behavior and Brain Project, naptime isn’t just a break for new moms.

These daily rituals also provide researchers an important window for scientific discovery. Using cutting-edge neuroimaging techniques, they are exploring the impact of early experience on child well-being. In the brief span of a 45-minute sleep cycle, the research team observes how brain structures and connections work in a resting state.

“Babies seem like such quiet little beings, but so much is going on from a developmental perspective,” says Nicci Schmidt, manager of the project. “We know a lot about emotional development and how early emotions relate to adolescent brain development, but we know very little about the interplay between the earliest stages of brain and behavioral development.”

Schmidt and colleagues are welcoming mothers and infants participating in a five-year project, which gathers a range of data beginning during pregnancy through the second year of life. Researchers are observing infant behavior, analyzing umbilical cord blood and drawing from extensive surveys with the goal of better understanding how experience shapes the infant brain and promotes child well-being at a behavioral and cellular level.

The project, in partnership with co-investigator and Fluno Bascom Professor and Leona Tyler Professor of Psychology Hill Goldsmith, builds upon more than 25 years of joint investigation on the nature of emotional individuality to unearth links between early behavior and adolescent brain development. These results underscore the importance of early experience, but figuring out exactly how experience shapes the brain has been difficult to study until recent years with advancements in functional MRI technology.

Scientists know sensitive developmental periods such as preschool, the first formal years of schooling and adolescence are important, which is one reason why the Baby Project focuses on this earliest frame.

Overall, Schmidt says they’re very early in the research, with the first babies in the study born in fall of 2014. Each week, three to four new babies are born, quickly expanding the Center’s research family, she says. That poses many unique family schedules to work with at each testing occasion.

“The entire project is fully centered on the babies,” Schmidt says. “We ensure the testing occasions are scheduled when babies are fed, rested, and comfortable and work around the schedules of each family.”

In other studies in the future, Schmidt says the team hopes to expand the research to look at how meditation and other practices during pregnancy affect infant brain development.

Kellner Gift to Bolster Synergy Between School of Ed, Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

UW-Madison alumni Mary and Ted Kellner have decided to strengthen their ongoing support of the university and its School of Education by providing a generous gift of $1.5 million that will establish a new Distinguished Chair position.

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Feeling the Happiness – Not Pain – of Others Predicts Helpful Behavior

The idea of putting yourself in another person’s shoes has been a hallmark of empathy, but whether you’re relating to negative or positive emotion matters, too, according to researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) at the Waisman Center, UW–Madison.

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‘Kindness Curriculum’ Boosts School Success in Preschoolers

Watch Richard Davidson discuss this project at the 2015 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Over the course of 12 weeks, twice a week, the prekindergarten students learned their ABCs. Attention, breath and body, caring practice — clearly not the standard letters of the alphabet.

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To Practice Mindfulness, Start by Counting Your Breaths

It’s as simple as breathing in and breathing out.

Mindfulness – a focus on the here and now through awareness of the present moment – can be both practiced and, importantly, measured by simply counting your breath, according to new studies led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers and published collectively this month in Frontiers in Psychology.

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CIHM and Madison Schools Team Up to Train Mindfulness Muscles

Mindfulness practice in the classroom may be one way to help students improve their academic performance, nurture their emotional well-being and bolster their behavior.

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Early Life Stress can Leave Lasting Impacts on the Brain

For children, stress can go a long way. A little bit provides a platform for learning, adapting and coping. But a lot of it — chronic, toxic stress like poverty, neglect and physical abuse — can have lasting negative impacts.

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