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Resilience in Children

Resilience in Children
Reported by
Catherine Zandonella

Posted July 17, 2009

Presented By

A New York Academy of Sciences conference, jointly sponsored with the Brown Alpert Medical School


The capacity of children to develop resilience in the face of adversity has intrigued psychology researchers since the birth of this field in the 1970s. By studying these children, psychologists have uncovered resilience-enhancing factors within the child, in caregivers, and in the wider social environment. Awareness of these factors informs the design of interventions aimed at enhancing coping skills early in children's lives, rather than trying to repair disorders later.

Now psychologists are joining with neuroscientists to explore the interplay of biology and experience in creating human resilience. These researchers hope to uncover the processes that govern how the brain responds to both adverse events and positive interventions.

The conference Resilience in Children brought together behavioral scientists, psychologists, and neurobiologists with pediatricians, social workers, and public policy makers from February 26–28, 2006 in Arlington, Virginia. The conference covered the latest research on behavioral-psychosocial processes, neurobiological processes, and science-based interventions.


Web Sites
The NYU Child Study Center offers science-based, research-driven psychiatric care to children and adolescents with learning, behavior, and emotional disorders.

The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, ERIC houses the world's premier database of journal and non-journal education literature.

The Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota
A premier center of scholarship, teaching, and outreach devoted to the understanding and fostering of child development.

The International HapMap Project
A partnership of scientists and funding agencies organized to develop a public resource to find genes associated with human disease and response to pharmaceuticals.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
A resource on child traumatic stress for other professionals and the public. The NCTSN will raise public awareness of the scope and serious impact of child traumatic stress on the safety and healthy development of our nation's children and families.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
NIAAA provides leadership in the national effort to reduce alcohol-related problems by conducting and supporting research in a wide range of scientific areas including genetics, neuroscience, epidemiology, health risks and benefits of alcohol consumption, prevention, and treatment.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
NIDA supports over 85 percent of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction addressing the most fundamental and essential questions about drug abuse, ranging from the molecule to managed care, and from DNA to community outreach research.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
NIMH is the lead Federal agency working to reduce the burden of mental illness and behavioral disorders through research on mind, brain, and behavior.

The Oregon Social Learning Center
A nonprofit, independent research center dedicated to increasing the scientific understanding of social and psychological processes related to healthy development and family functioning.

A source of current, reviewed information about human resilience.

Resiliency in Action
Provides classes and training for teachers and youth service-providers.

Scientific Learning Corporation
A company that produces products that use neuroscience approach to reading intervention based on research by Michael Merzenich, University of California, San Francisco.


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Gewirtz, A. H. & A. S. Masten. 2006. Vulnerability and resilience in early child development. In The Blackwell Handbook of Early Childhood Development. K. McCartney & D. Phillips, Eds. Blackwell Publishing, New York.

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Benard, B. 2004. Resiliency: What We Have Learned. WestEd, San Francisco, CA.

Cicchetti, D. & D. J. Cohen, Eds. 2006. Developmental Psychopathology: Risk, Disorder, and Adaptation, Volume 3. Wiley, New York.

Clauss-Ehlers, C. S. & M. D. Weist. 2004. Community Planning to Foster Resilience in Children. Kluwer Academic Publishers, New York.

Flynn, R. J., P. M. Dudding & J. G. Barber, Eds. 2006. Promoting Resilience in Child Welfare. University of Ottawa Press, Ottowa.

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Henderson, N. & M. M. Milstein. 2003. Resiliency in Schools: Making It Happen for Students and Educators. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA.

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Barry M. Lester, PhD

Brown Medical School
Department of Pediatrics
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
email | web site | publications

Barry Lester is professor of psychiatry & human behavior and pediatrics, and director of the Brown University Center for the Study of Children at Risk, at Brown Medical School and Woman and Infants Hospital. The Center provides research and clinical services for infants at risk and their families as well as research and clinical training.

Lester received his PhD in developmental psychology from Michigan State University in 1973. He also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. His specialty is developmental processes in infants at risk, including infants with prenatal substance exposure. He is particularly interested in the interplay between the biological, parenting, and social environmental forces that drive development. His research has been supported by NIH grants for over 30 years.

A past member of NIH study sections, Lester is currently a member of the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse and member of the Expert Panel at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction. He is past president of the International Association for Infant Mental Health and the author of more than 200 scientific publications and 17 books.

Ann Masten, PhD, LP

University of Minnesota
Department of Child Development
email | web site | publications

Ann Masten is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota. After completing her undergraduate degree at Smith College, Masten was research assistant to David Shakow at the National Institute of Mental Health, before pursuing doctoral work in clinical psychology at the University of Minnesota. She completed her PhD in psychology at Minnesota in 1982, with a minor in child development and a clinical internship at UCLA. Since 1986, Masten has been on the faculty of the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, where she was appointed a full professor in 1996 and served as director and department chair from 1999 until January 2005.

Masten's research aims at understanding the processes that promote competence and prevent problems in human development, with a focus on resilience processes and pathways to adaptation in the context of high cumulative risk, adversity, and trauma. She directs the Project Competence studies of risk and resilience, which include a longitudinal study of normative school children followed for more than 20 years, as well as studies of young war survivors and children living in emergency shelters. Additionally, she has collaborated on studies of injuries to farm children, refugee adjustment, children exposed to domestic violence or conflict, and desistance among antisocial children. Masten has published empirical, theoretical, and review papers on risk and resilience, competence, and developmental psychopathology.

The recipient of numerous honors and teaching awards, she is frequently invited to speak and consult at the national and international level. She is currently President of Division 7 (Developmental) of the American Psychological Association and serves on the Governing Council of the Society for Research in Child Development and the Executive Committee of the Society for Research on Adolescence.

Bruce McEwen, PhD

The Rockefeller University
email | web site | publications

Bruce McEwen is the Alfred E. Mirsky Professor and head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University. McEwen graduated summa cum laude in chemistry from Oberlin College in 1959 and obtained his PhD in cell biology in 1964 from The Rockefeller University. He returned to Rockefeller in 1966 to work with the psychologist, Neal Miller, after postdoctoral studies in neurobiology in Sweden and a brief period on the faculty at the University of Minnesota. He was appointed as professor at Rockefeller in 1981.

As a neuroscientist and neuroendocrinologist, McEwen studies environmentally-regulated, variable gene expression in the brain, particularly as it is mediated by circulating steroid hormones and endogenous neurotransmitters in relation to brain sexual differentiation and the actions of sex, stress, and thyroid hormones on the adult brain. His laboratory combines molecular, anatomical, pharmacological, physiological and behavioral methodologies and relates their findings to human clinical information. His laboratory discovered adrenal steroid receptors in the hippocampus in 1968.

McEwen is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences. He served as Dean of Graduate Studies from 1991–1993 and as president of the Society for Neuroscience in 1997–1998. He is a member of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health, in which he is helping to reformulate concepts and measurements related to stress and stress hormones in the context of human societies. He is the coauthor of a recent book with science writer Elizabeth Lasley for a lay audience called The End of Stress as We Know It, published by the Joseph Henry Press and the Dana Press.


Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, PhD

Columbia University
Teachers College
email | web site | publications

Bruce E. Compas, PhD

Vanderbilt University
Department of Psychology and Human Development
email | web site | publications

Kiki Chang, MD

Stanford University
Pediatric Bipolar Disorders Program
email | web site | publications

Dante Cicchetti, PhD

University of Minnesota
Department of Psychology
email | web site | publications

Michael Davis, PhD

Emory University School of Medicine
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
email | web site

Thomas J. Dishion, PhD

University of Oregon
Child and Family Center
Department of Clinical Psychology
email | web site | publications

Mary-Anne Enoch, MD

National Institutes of Health
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
email | publications

Philip A. Fisher, PhD

Oregon Social Learning Center

Jay N. Giedd, MD

National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Mental Health
email | web site | publications

Mark T. Greenberg, PhD

Pennsylvania State University
email | publications

Myron Hofer, MD

Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
Department of Psychiatry
email | web site

Thomas R. Insel, MD

National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Mental Health
web site | publications

Anna Y. Klintsova, PhD

University of Delaware
Department of Behavioral Neuroscience
email | web site | publications

Karol L. Kumpfer, PhD

University of Utah
Strengthening Families Program
email | web site | publications

Richard M. Lerner, PhD

Tufts University
Department of Applied Developmental Science
email | web site | publications

Marc D. Lewis, PhD

University of Toronto
Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology
email | web site | publications

Suniya S. Luthar, PhD

Columbia University
Teachers College
email | web site | publications

Linda Mayes, MD

Yale University
Child Study Center
email | web site | publications

Matt McGue, PhD

University of Minnesota
Department of Psychology
email | web site | publications

Kathleen Ries Merikangas, PhD

National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Mental Health
email | web site | publications

Michael M. Merzenich, PhD

University of California at San Francisco
Department of Otolaryngology
email | web site | publications

Daniel S. Pine, MD

National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Mental Health
email | publications

Sir Michael Rutter, MD, FRS

Institute of Psychiatry, London

Arnold Sameroff, PhD

University of Michigan
The Center for Human Growth and Development
email | web site | publications

Stephen J. Suomi, PhD

National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
email | web site | publications

Edward Z. Tronick, PhD

Harvard Medical School
email | web site | publications

Nora D. Volkow, MD

National Institutes of Health
National Institute on Drug Abuse
web site | publications

Theodore D. Wachs, PhD

Purdue University
Department of Psychological Sciences
email | web site | publications

Catherine Zandonella

Catherine Zandonella is a science writer based in New York City, covering such topics as environmental science, public health, and applied technology. She has a master's degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley. Zandonella has written for a number of publications, including New Scientist, The Scientist, and Nature.