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Social Serve and Return

How is the early environment built into children’s bodies and brains?  Selected publications demonstrate that through social serve and return interactions with parents and caregivers, infants and children acquire information about the early environment, and make internal adaptations in accordance with external demands.  Internal adaptations, indexed in these publications by cortisol output, have consequence for physical health (i.e., asthma) as well as coordination of physiological and behavioral responses to challenge.  A theme of this work is interactive person x environment effects, and differential susceptibility to similar environments.

Physiological Serve and Return

Selected publications focus on evaluation of maternal-fetal signaling that Dr. Voegtline refers to as physiological serve and return of the prenatal period which precedes social interaction in the postnatal period referenced above.  This research highlights maternal signals to the fetus, such as adiposity, parity, or the spoken voice, as well as, fetal signals to the mother including motor activity. The time course of physiological signaling ranges from associations detected across gestational weeks (e.g., maternal obesity and frequency of fetal heart rate accelerations) to a lag of seconds (i.e., fetal motor bursts and maternal sympathetic activation).

Fetal Origins of Sex Differences

Sex differences in the brain and behavior are well documented after birth; however, there is still much we do not know about the fetal origins of sex differences.  Selected publications target the influence of prenatal sex steroids as one mechanism of interest for differences in male and female fetal development and vulnerability to adverse prenatal exposures. 

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