Developmental Origins of Lifespan Learning, Well-Being, Health and Disease

Program Type: Cluster

This cluster is designed to provide the next generation of developmental scientists with the theoretical and technical tools to break new ground on the scientific and policy priorities of our times, and to do so with a powerful and nuanced understanding of developmental processes and the complex interface of biology, psychology, social context, culture and policy on early development (pregnancy to age six) and its long-term consequences. 

Recently, scientific evidence has documented the crucial effects of early life factors on later outcomes in learning, biological function, health and disease. Early adverse experiences – such as prenatal exposure to psychological stress (e.g. racism, financial strain), cigarette smoke, or mothers’ depression – is strongly associated with later adverse outcomes in physical health, mental health, and academic achievement. Advantageous early experiences are associated with long-lasting positive developmental outcomes in language, cognitive and social development, as well as in health, well being and functional achievement.

Identifying the early origins of lifespan learning, health and well being is now a strategic priority for our nation and for the broader scientific community. Through seminars, faculty-guided research projects and regular scientific exchange, this cluster aims to:

  • Improve social policies
  • Develop and strengthen preventive interventions
  • Reduce social disparities in health

Formal Opportunities:

Developmental Exchanges: In these seminars, offered once per quarter, we  identify a cross-cutting theory, research or policy theme (e.g., the effects of fathers on health and educational outcomes in young children) and invite four researchers working on the topic from different perspectives to join together in a 90-minute program. Hosted alternately at the Evanston and Chicago campuses, the structure is simple: First, each speaker provides an overview of their work and its implications. Next, discussion opens to engage all participants.

Topical expert seminars.  Each year, Northwestern is host to a wealth of invited addresses that bear directly on cluster issues. To capitalize on this richness, the Developmental Origins cluster selects three such addresses and builds programming around them specifically for cluster fellows. The cluster faculty will circulate a few of the speaker’s most recent publications; one week before the address, interested fellows meet with at least two relevant faculty members to discuss the papers and their implications. Finally, in addition to attending the talk, interested fellows will interact with the speaker directly in an hour-long meeting.

Additional Opportunities: In addition to these formal offerings, small group meetings will be hosted with selected colloquia speakers, to provide more focused time for Cluster member students to engage with noted scholars in developmental science.

How to Participate

All graduate students interested in advancing the field of developmental science are invited to participate in this cluster. For more information please contact the program director or co-director.

Who to Contact

Please contact the program co-directors, listed below, with questions about this program.

Molly Losh, PhD, Co-Director
Jo Ann G. and Peter F. Dolle Chair in Learning Disabilities
Associate Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders, SOC

Vijay Mittal, PhD, Co-Director
Assistant Professor, Psychology, WCAS

Craig Garfield, MD, MAPP, Co-Director
Associate Professor, Pediatrics & Medical Social Sciences, FSM
Co-Director, the Hospital Medicine Fellowship, Lurie Children’s

Stephanie Crawford
Research Project Manager
Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Lab