Barry M. Lester Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Professor of Pediatrics, Director of the Center for the Study of Children at Risk

Barry M. Lester, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychiatry & Human Behavior and Pediatrics and Director of the Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk at the Brown Alpert Medical School and Women & Infants Hospital. The Brown Center also includes the Center for Children and Families at Women & Infants Hospital. The Centers provide research and clinical services for infants at risk and their families as well as research and clinical training. Dr. Lester's research has been federally funded throughout his career. He has been heavily involved in the NIH peer review process serving on NIH study sections, the NIH National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse, the NIH Director's Pioneer Award Program and the College of the Center for Scientific Review. He is past president of the International Association for Infant Mental Health and the author of more than 250 peer reviewed publications and 100 chapters and books.

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

scholarly work

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research overview

Children can be at risk for poor developmental outcome because of biological factors, social factors or the combination of biological and social factors. Biological factors include prenatal substance exposure, stress, maternal depression, and prematurity. Social factors include poverty, home environment, and parenting factors. By studying the development of these children we can understand processes, such as how the action of genes is altered by environmental factors, that drive development which can lead to interventions to reduce or prevent poor developmental outcome.

research statement

Our research, as well as the research of many others, has shown that biological insults can lead to poor developmental outcome in children at risk but that many of these effects can be attenuated or exacerbated by social and environmental factors. We study a broad range of typical and atypical developmental outcomes including neurodevelopmental, cognitive and academic deficits, temperament, social and emotional development, antisocial behavior, psychopathology, and substance use onset. Our group also studies different (but often overlapping) populations of children at biological and/or social risk. Examples of biological risk include prenatal exposures to legal and illegal substances of abuse, maternal depression, psychotropic medication, intrauterine growth retardation and stress; prematurity, fetal and newborn neurobehavioral deficits. Developmental outcomes are also mediated by physiological mechanisms, thus our work also includes the study of heart rate variability, respiratory activity, electrodermal responses and cortisol reactivity. Examples of social risk factors include poverty, the quality of the home environment, parenting, including mental status, changes in caregiving and other aspects of childhood adversity and environmental toxicity such as maltreatment. We also use cross-cultural designs to study "naturalistic" experiments in environmental and parenting conditions. The study of the interplay between biological and social factors provides an understanding of the mechanisms that determine developmental outcome. For example, one way in which the environment (prenatal or postnatal) alters behavior is through epigenetic mechanisms and this has become a major focus of our current research. The study of children at risk enables us to understand the unfolding of developmental processes that will lead to the development of preventive interventions to minimize or eradicate the forces that drive adverse outcome in children.

funded research

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