Laboratory for Social-Emotional Development and Intervention



Longitudinal Study on Emotions, Aggression, and Physiology (LEAP)

The emotions that children feel after treating others unfairly or causing others harm have important implications for how they interact with their peers. For example, feelings of guilt and sympathy make children less likely to act aggressively. However, we know relatively little about why some children, but not others, feel bad or sad after harming others. Children’s physiological arousal (e.g., heart rate reactivity) and regulation during social conflicts may help explain differences in their emotional experiences. Drawing from a large (N=300) community sample of 4- and 8-year olds, this 4-year longitudinal study is examining children’s physiological activity and self-reported emotions in response to hypothetical social conflicts to understand how changes in emotions and physiology across childhood and early adolescence contribute to the development of aggressive tendencies. We are also extending this work to include samples of behaviourally disordered children from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Centre for Community Mental Health to understand similarities and differences in these processes between typically developing children and those with extreme physiological and emotional deficits. Our ultimate goal is to reduce childhood aggression by developing new treatment strategies targeting physiological and emotional processes that are age appropriate and tailored to the unique needs of typical and clinical populations.




One of our central research themes focuses on the origins, developmental trajectories, and treatment of aggression in children and adolescence.

Below you will find our ongoing research projects on aggression.



LEAP Project Illustration, by Erinn Acland

The Development of Children’s Attention, Physiology, and Emotions (PACE)

Why do some children feel guilty when transgressing norms, such as situations involving physical harm, while others do not show any remorse? Understanding how children learn to be kind to others is important because it motivates them to behave prosocially and avoid behaving aggressively.


In this project, we examine how children attend to different cues in hypothetical social conflicts from 4 to 12 years of age. By studying children’s eye movements, we can examine how the cues to which they attend impact their self-reported emotions, facial expressions, and physiology. With this, we hope to better understand how children move from being self-centered and selfish, to other-oriented and kind.



Illustration PACE project, by Erinn Acland

Social-Emotional Responding Screening and Assessment Project (SER)

Many children face social and emotional challenges that jeopardize their healthy development, potential, and behavioural adaptation. Information about children’s normative social-emotional development is critical to addressing their needs, gauging their strengths and overcoming their challenges early to ensure positive long-term outcomes. Our laboratory is committed to the generation of cutting-edge knowledge and creation of new screening and assessment tools that are based in our social-emotional developmental theory. These tools measure core dimensions of children’s social-emotional capacities in age-appropriate ways, using multiple methods, informants, and approaches. Working closely with community partners and organizations, we are currently implementing this instrument suite in a systematic way across different areas of practice.  We also offer training for practitioners and innovative data visualization strategies to help clinicians, practitioners, and educators integrate children’s social-emotional strengths and needs into decisions made about the child’s health, care, and education. Ultimately, professionals are better able to employ developmentally tailored intervention strategies that address the social-emotional needs of each child and capitalize on existing strengths.



Illustration SER Project, by Erinn Acland



University of Toronto Mississauga