Work at the Developmental Psychopathology Lab is conducted within the broader framework of a developmental psychopathology approach. A developmental psychopathology approach refers to a quantitative integrative discipline that seeks to unify contributions from multiple fields of inquiry with the goal of understanding psychopathology in youngsters and its relation to normative adaptation within a developmental, lifespan framework. Our work therefore cuts across multiple levels of explanation and analysis including the neurobiological, affective, cognitive and the behavioral.
Our work is also guided by a translational approach. We therefore design our studies such that the investigation of the basic processes involved in cognitive, emotional and reward processing may directly inform clinical questions about childhood disorder. Many of our studies focus on patient populations (the Adolescent Treatment Program of the Menninger Clinic and the Harris County Psychiatric Center), thereby acknowledging the fact that many valuable lessons can be learnt about basic processes by studying them in atypical populations. Finally, by studying the effectiveness of interventions which identifies social cognition as its mechanism of change, we further adhere to a translational approach by bringing our research into a real-life clinical context.
Research Program Goals and Background
The primary aim of the research is to identify early markers of disorders in youth and to refine and further develop the practice of assessment and diagnosis of childhood psychopathology thereby enabling early identification and treatment of youngsters. This program of research started at the University of Cambridge in 1997 and initially used only behavioral and questionnaire-based methods for investigating social cognition and affective processing in children with emotional-behavior problems (the Child Behavior Study). In 2004 Dr. Sharp moved to Baylor College of Medicine and her methods expanded to also include fMRI and behavioral economics in the broader framework of developmental psychopathology designs to characterize the developmental precursors of mechanisms thought to underlie childhood disorders. Dr. Sharp also has a keen interest in measure development and a second strand of her work focuses on the development of diagnostic measures for use in low-resource countries to identify psychiatric disorder in children and adolescents. In 2009 Dr. Sharp accepted a position at the University of Houston where she now continues her research. Research is organized in four broad programs (for a description of each and associated research projects see Research Projects):
- Intranasal Oxytocin and Social Cognition in Youths
- Healthy Adolescent Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors
- The Development of Diagnostic Measures for Children affected by AIDS in South Africa
- The Neurobiology of Social cognition, Reward, and Affective Processing
- Social cognition and Developmental Psychopathology
- Social Cognitive Factors and Suicide-related Behaviors in Adolescents