Studies/Research

Babies and Families Lab (Socio-Emotional Development Lab)

Dr. Julia Braungart Rieker, Ph.D.

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We currently have three active projects that graduate and undergraduate students can get involved with (see below): Families and Babies Study (FABS), Read and Grow (Leer y Crecer) and FamJam. We also have data from other projects that my students and I analyze for conference presentations, senior theses, master’s theses, dissertations, and journal publications: Family Interaction StudyParenting for the First Time, Skin-to-Skin, and Undercover Mother.

Scroll down to learn more about these projects!


Active Projects (Collecting and/or Coding Data) 

Family and Babies Study (FABS)

With Drs. E. Mark Cummings, Peggy Wang, and John Borkowski

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FABS is a 5-year study that is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This project aims to help mothers and fathers of infants in their parenting skills and in their communication with each other. We are recruiting 400 families of infants to participate in a randomized clinical trial. Families are randomly assigned to one of four conditions: parent training, enhancement in communicating as a couple, both, or neither (control condition). In the first three conditions, family coaches visit homes several times to carry out the program. Families come to the Shaw Center for Children and Families and are assessed at 6 months for baseline behavior prior to intervention, and then retested at 12, 16, and 18 months after the programs have been completed. We look at factors such as parent sensitivity, mother-father communication and conflict, infant affect and regulation, infant-mother and infant-father attachment, and many other factors. We are currently enrolling new families and continuing to follow current families. We are also in the process of coding videos. Students help with the lab visits and coding of the videos.

Read and Grow (also known as Leer y Crecer)

With Dianna Tran (graduate student)

Father Reading To Children

The Read and Grow study, also known as Leer y Crecer, aims to learn more about how Latino and African-American families read and play, and how language plays a role in child socioemotional development. Approximately 80 families with a child aged 4-5 have participated. This project was funded by a Rodney F. Ganey Seed Grant. Students help with the coding of videos.

FamJam Study

With Amanda Nowak, and Ruthie Speidel, (graduate students)

Babies And Families

FamJam is a study looking at how communication between parents and children relate to children's emotional development and regulation. In particular, we are looking at children’s expressions of guilt versus shame, which are two important emotions that can affect behavior and mental health over time. Families (mothers, fathers, and preschool-aged children) attend visits at the Shaw Center and participate in several tasks. Students currently help with lab visits.


Projects with Data Already Collected

Family Interaction Study

With Drs. Lee Gettler and E. Mark Cummings

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Compared to our understanding of mothers’ roles, we know less about the importance of fathers, especially during early life, or whether mother-father interactions can help shape how both parents impact their children. We also know little about fathers’ biology might relate to their social behavior. In the Family Interaction Study (FIS), we are exploring parent-child and mother-father interactions to better understand the social bonds between parents and children and how parents’ biology changes when family members engage with each other. During their lab visit, parents provided us with saliva samples so that we could assess various hormonal levels such as cortisol and testosterone which have been shown to relate to various feelings and behaviors. Students working on this project help with video-coding of parent and infant behavior. Several presentations at national conferences have been given using some of the data thus far. 

Parenting for the First Time

With Drs. John Borkowski, Jennifer Lefever, and others (Psychology)

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This project involved new mothers and their infants, beginning prenatally through age 3. The sample involved over 600 mothers who fell into one of three groups: teen mothers, adult mothers with low education, and adult mothers with high educations. The project involved multiple lab and home visits examining issues such as parenting, maternal depression, infant-mother attachment, children’s regulation skills, stress, and children’s BMI. Data collection is completed for this project, sample paper.

Skin-to-Skin Project

With Dr. Lee Gettler (Anthropology)

Skin To Skin

In the Skin-to-Skin project, we teamed up with physicians and nurses at Memorial Hospital and focus on fathers’ biology immediately after their babies are born. We collected biological samples from men before and after they hold their newborns, skin-to-skin, on the birthing unit to see how early, nurturing contact affects fathers’ short-term, minute-to-minute hormonal patterns. We also conducted short, online follow-up interviews with the fathers 2 to 3 months after their babies are born. These follow-ups were aimed at helping us understand what roles fathers are playing as parents, how father-infant bonds have emerged in the early post-partum, and how the early months of parenthood affect men’s mental health and emotional well-being. The main goal of this project is to see how fathers’ hormone changes during skin-to-skin contact with their newborns impact fathers’ well-being, parenting, and adjustment as their babies grow, sample paper.


Undercover Mother

With Drs. Elizabeth Moore (Marketing) and Jennifer Lefever (Shaw Center), in partnership with Head Start

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This project focuses on reducing obesogenic home environments for low-income families. Making small changes that often go unnoticed, such as decreasing plate and cup sizes, altering how healthy food is presented, turning the TV off during mealtimes, and changing negative or ineffective patterns of parenting behaviors about children’s eating behavior could lead to reductions in calorie intake without triggering feelings of deprivation. We recruited 50 families to participate in either the Undercover Mother program or a control condition. We conducted a pre- and post-test assessment for both groups and a home visitor administered the Undercover Mother program to the treatment group. We are currently analyzing the data. The study was funded by a grant from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Community Health Engagement Program.