Child and Family Experiences Lab

Child and Family Experiences Lab Home

The main focus of our research is to examine the effects of family violence (e.g. childhood maltreatment, marital conflict, harsh parenting) and community violence (e.g. school, neighborhood) on long term adjustment.

We are particularly interested in examining biological stress response systems, including the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. We do this by examining salivary biomarkers, including cortisol and salivary alpha-amylase, as well as electrophysiological measures, including heart rate, skin conductance, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia.

For more information view our publications.


Our Projects

Current Projects 

Family Functioning, Parental Stress and Coping During COVID-19 Pandemic

Due to the current pandemic situation and the official recommendations to stay in, quarantine and work from home, many parents are spending a lot more time with their children while coping with different life changes. The impact of this wide range of life-changing factors on parenting and family functioning is unclear. This study aims to investigate the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on family functioning, parenting practices and coping strategies.

If you are a parent and is above 18 years old, consider participating in our study:

Physiology, Emotion, Attention Study

The purpose of our study is to examine how childhood experiences relate to how adults think and behave. We are especially interested in how certain biological systems (measured using respiration sinus arrhythmia (RSA), skin conductance level (SCL), heart rate, and blood pressure) affect current feelings and behavior. Additionally, we intend to examine how attention to the present moment through mindfulness attentional training might impact those biological systems, and subsequently current feelings and behavior. This project is funded by a grant from the Department of Psychology at the University at Albany.

Past Projects

Childhood Experiences and Psychophysiology Study

The purpose of this study was to examine how young adult's experiences of harsh parenting during childhood and adolescence relate to emotion regulation, attention difficulties, depression, anxiety, anger, aggression, resilience, and physiological functioning as adults. This project was funded by a grant from the Department of Psychology at the University at Albany.

Life Stress, Aggression, and Psychobiology Study

The purpose of this study was to examine how experiences in the community, such as exposure to conflict and violence, affect the behavior of children and adolescents. We are especially interested in the roles of autonomic nervous system and HPA axis activity in mediating and/or moderating these effects. We are conducting this study in collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of Schenectady. This project was funded by a grant from the University at Albany’s Faculty Research Award Program, the Graduate Student Organization at University at Albany, and the Department of Psychology at the University at Albany.

Family Interactions and the Response to Stress

The purpose of this study was to examine how young adults’ experiences of harsh parenting during childhood and adolescence relate to anger, aggression, depression, anxiety, and interpersonal functioning as adults. Ari Rabkin wrote his master’s thesis examining the moderating role of autonomic activity in the effect of harsh parenting on depression, and Dr. Christy Olezeski wrote her dissertation examining the roles of beta adrenergic activity, as measured by salivary alpha-amylase, and HPA activity, via salivary cortisol, in effects of harsh parenting on later aggressive behavior. Honors student Louis Labriola is working on a project examining relations among harsh parents, post traumatic stress symptoms, and affect modulated startle eye blink (as measured electrophysiological via facial EMG).

Physical Abuse and Child Aggression: Role of ANS Arousal

This project is a longitudinal investigation of the effect of childhood maltreatment on children’s long term emotional and behavioral development. This study is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Penelope K. Trickett, at the University of Southern California School of Social Work, where data collection occurs. Dr. Gordis’ focus in this study is on the roles of autonomic and HPA axis system activity in the effects of child maltreatment on aggression and other outcomes. Funding for this project was provided by grants awarded to Dr. Gordis (K01 HD 41428 and R03HD56560) and by R01 awards from National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and National Institute on Drug Abuse to Dr. Trickett by the National Institutes of Health.

Lab Members

Lab Director
Elana Gordis
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology; Psychological Services Center
Joseph Bettcher, M.A., Graduate Research Assistant

Joseph Bettcher is currently a Ph.D. student in the clinical psychology program at the University at Albany. He obtained his M.A. from San Diego State University and worked as a Neuropsychometrist and Research Assistant at the NeuroCognitive Institute prior to his doctoral studies. Joseph is interested in the development of executive function particularly as it relates to decision-making and youth educational achievement.

Joseph Bettcher
Ed Merritt, M.A., Graduate Research Assistant 

Ed is currently a Ph.D. student in the clinical psychology program at the University at Albany. He earned his Master's Degree in Psychology at Stony Brook University in 2016 and worked as a research program coordinator in the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program. Ed is interested in the effects of harsh parenting on psychophysiological changes, aggression, and empathy among adolescents and young adults.

Li Shen (Jesslyn) Chong
Li Shen (Jesslyn) Chong, M.A., Graduate Research Assistant

Jesslyn is currently a Ph.D. student in the clinical psychology program at the University at Albany. She graduated from University of Minnesota in 2017 with a B.S. in Psychology and two minors in Neuroscience and Management. She worked as a research assistant in the University of Minnesota Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences for the Cognition and Brain Lab and Adolescent Depression Lab prior to her graduate studies. Jesslyn's research interests include understanding biopsychosocial mechanisms associated with youth’s risk and resiliency processes after experiencing significant adversities and examining how early life adversities and neurobiological systems influence racial/ ethnic health disparities, with an overarching goal of incorporating stress biomarkers as parameters to improve outcomes.

Kate Senich
Kate Senich, B.S., Graduate Research Assistant

Kate is currently a Ph.D. student in the clinical psychology program at the University at Albany. She graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2014 with a B.S. in Child Psychology. She worked in multiple labs at the University of Minnesota exploring topics including children’s executive functions, parenting interventions and autonomic arousal and coregulation of infants and mothers. Kate’s current research interests focus on the psychophysiological correlates of adverse childhood experiences and how caregivers may serve as risk or protective factors.

Teresa Mejia, M.A., Graduate Research Assistant

Teresa is currently a Ph.D. student in the clinical psychology program at the University at Albany. She graduated from the University of Delaware in 2016 with a B.S double majoring in Psychology and Neuroscience, and a minor in Biology. She then earned her Master’s degree at the Universidad de Alcalá. Teresa worked as a clinical research assistant in the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for the Children in the Pediatric Auditory and Speech Lab prior to her graduate studies. Teresa’s research interests focus on acculturative stress and trauma and their psychophysiological impacts within youth and their families.

Taqwa Ramadan
Taqwa Ramadan, B.S., Graduate Research Assistant

Taqwa is currently a Ph.D. student in the clinical psychology program at the University at Albany. She earned her B.S. in Psychology and Child Learning & Development from the University of Texas at Dallas. Following graduation, she worked at Stanford’s Psychophysiology Lab exploring topics including emotion regulation, cognitive reappraisal, and neurodevelopmental disorders. Taqwa is interested in researching the impact of sociocultural factors on youth development, particularly through psychobiology.

Sadena Ahmad, Undergraduate Research Assistant 

Sadena is currently a junior at UAlbany majoring in Psychology and Communications with a minor in business. Her research interests focus on the long-term effects of childhood neglect on brain development, its correlation to psychopathological disorders, and risk for anxiety disorders into adulthood.

CAFE Lab Alumni

Name CAFE Lab Position Current Position
Alyssa Nicotra Volunteer Residential Counselor, Disability Services Center, Albany, NY
Ari Rabkin, Ph.D. Graduate Student Pediatric Neuropsychologist, Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, OH 
Christy Olezeski, Ph.D. Graduate Student Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT
Gail Corneau Volunteer Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC.
Jaclyn Bleski, Psy.D. Volunteer School Psychologist, Rondout Central School District, Accord, NY.
Jaclyn Vollmoeller Volunteer Social Work Masters Student, Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College, NY.
Jenna Bodisch Volunteer Social Work Masters Student, University at Albany, SUNY, NY.
Jennifer Malatras, Ph.D. Volunteer Associate Director for Child Services, the Child and Family Therapy Clinic, UAlbany Psychological Services Center, NY.
Julia Hoffmann Volunteer Facility Coordinator, Early Childhood Education Center, Albany, NY.
Kameron Decker Volunteer Counselor, Educator, Advocate, Victims Assistance Program, Buffalo, NY. 
Social Work Masters Student, University at Buffalo, SUNY, NY.
Katie McGowan Volunteer General Psychology Masters Student, City College of NY.
Laura Kenneally Volunteer Research Staff, Department of Psychiatry, the University of Pittsburgh, PA.
Melissa Lehrbach, M.A. Graduate Student License Psychologist, Osika & Scarano Psychological Services, Glen Falls, NY
Rachel Clegg, Ph.D Graduate Student Post-doctoral Fellow, Edmund Ervin Pediatric Center, Maine General Health, ME.
Samantha Barry, Ph. D Graduate Student Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Massachusetts Medical School Diabetes Center of Excellence, MA.
Stephanie Emhoff, Ph. D Graduate Student Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Texas, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, TX.
Stephanie Rohrig Volunteer
Clinical Psychology Doctoral student, Hofstra Univeristy, NY.
Tania Khan Volunteer Post-doctoral Fellow, University at Albany Counseling Center, NY.
Victoria Fitz, M.D. Volunteer Resident Physician, Obstetrics & Gynecology, University North Carolina, School of Medicine, NC.
Wadia John Volunteer Case Planner, Graham Windham, NY.
Zach Grieb Volunteer Neuroscience Doctoral Student, Michigan State University, MI. 


Join Our Lab

Undergraduate Research Assistants

Research Assistant Requirements

Gaining a research assistant (RA) position in our lab is competitive. To be eligible, applicants must be willing to:

1) Commit to at least 1 year of work in the lab (pending satisfactory performance).

2) Have a solid academic performance record (minimum GPA of 3.0) and extracurricular or work experiences that speak to a high level of achievement.

3) Demonstrate a strong work ethic, interpersonal skills, and have begun to plan for a future career in the field of psychology.

4) Computer literacy is required as well as an aptitude for research methods.

5) Be willing to spend 9 hours each week during the semester working on lab projects (297/397 course credit is available and 497 credit can be requested by Honors Program students if mentored by Dr. Gordis).

Most research assistants who work in the lab are highly committed to advanced graduate training in clinical psychology and see their present research experiences in the lab as the beginning of their eventual career as clinical scientists and practitioners. Many assistants work with our lab for more than 1 year and are able to speak with confidence about the processes and outcomes involved in research when writing their personal statement for graduate school. We also offer the opportunity to work closely with graduate students and encourage assistants to seek out mentoring relationships within our lab throughout their undergraduate career.

Expectations of RAs

RAs are expected to behave in a professional, collegial, and respectful manner when interacting with staff, other professionals, and particularly patients, research participants and our collaborating partners. RAs are expected to uphold their commitments to our schedules and activities as well as maintain a level of professional work ethic with regard to all lab obligations. RAs will gain experiences necessary to support their future goals and in return, we expect that they will choose to engage in all aspects of our work with a level of enthusiasm that merits involvement and training beyond the basic administrative tasks that are at the core of all research.

Selection Criteria

All applications will be given careful consideration and potential candidates whose interests and qualifications fit with our program will be contacted by Dr. Gordis or one of her staff to set up an interview. We are always looking for great candidates! If you think you are a match for the CAFE Project, please contact Dr. Gordis via email.

Prospective Graduate Students

Acceptance to the Child and Family Experiences Lab is contingent on admission into the Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Entrance into the graduate program, as well as the CAFE lab, is very competitive. We look for the most qualified as well as the best-rounded candidates. The individuals we do invite to interview weekend represent those who have exemplified their commitment to their chosen path, and have clearly sought out experiences which have prepared them for doctoral level research, and especially those who have maintained a focus on the child and family track. Along with your application to the University at Albany’s Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program, we encourage you to email Dr. Gordis with any specific questions to further explore whether you are the best fit for the CAFE Lab.