The Brain, Family, and Health Lab focuses on how the brain and the family environment intersect to affect health. We have two primary focus areas: 1) Examine the intersection of executive functions (i.e., problem solving, planning, inhibitory control, working memory, and attention) and the family environment on mental and physical health outcomes. 2) Increase recognition of the preeminence of the family on health throughout the lifecourse through research, teaching, and practice.
The purpose of the Brain, Family, and Health Lab is to find sustainable, public health approaches to create healthier family environments that promote better cognitive, mental, and physical health across the life course.
Focus Area #1:
Executive functions help us to manage our lives. The Harvard Center for the Developing Child has compared executive functions to the air traffic control system of our lives. Executive functions are a family of skills (such as problem solve, inhibitory control, planning, working memory, and attention shifting) that help us to reach our small and big goals. These functions are housed in the prefrontal cortex, which develops over the first three decades of our lives. Family and community poverty, violence, and dysfunction can impair the development of the prefrontal cortex and our executive functioning capacities, which is one reason why the family environment is so important to child and adolescent healthy development. When our executive functions are impaired, we are more likely to engage in behaviors that negatively affect our health and family relationships, and it may be more difficult to escape from challenging situations like poverty. We aim to conduct research that leads to more sustainable public health promotion efforts to strengthen family environments and individual executive functioning.
Focus Area #2:
Every individual has a family, and families may be the most important influencer on health - for better or for worse. The ways that families affect health are complex, and as a result, public health solutions often target the larger community or governmental policies. Public health initiatives that focus on families are few and far between. Although community and government initiatives are important to health, these initiatives often fail to account for the family system. Since individuals at all stages of life (prenatal, childhood, adolescence, and young, middle, and older adults) are heavily influenced by their family, the lack of a family approach in public health can impair the effectiveness of a program. We aim to conduct research that highlights the importance of families in health and demonstrates effective methods for applying a family approach to public health. Additionally, we aim to incorporate a family approach to public health in our teaching so that students graduate better prepared to support families and health.