Lisa Johnson and Elisa Ugarte
UC Davis

Lisa Johnson is a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology department at UC Davis. She has earned her B.A. in psychology from Temple University, where her thesis focused on the interaction between positive affect and emotional clarity in predicting positive life events during adolescence.
Johnson’s research interests include positive youth development within the context of early adversity, especially the interaction of environmental and physiological mechanisms underlying trajectories of adolescent adaptive functioning (e.g., self-regulation, coping, peer competence). Her recent projects have examined the longitudinal effects of poverty dynamics on adolescents’ adrenocortical regulation.

Elisa Ugarte is a doctoral student in Human Development at UC Davis. She earned her B.A. in Arts and Humanities from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and an M.A. in Human Development and Education at UC Berkeley. She is broadly interested in how unpredictability shapes children’s and youth’s physiology and mental health. In particular, how unpredictability at different time scales, such as war displacement or fluctuations in day-to-day maternal mood, relates to neurobiology and psychopathology. Before coming to UC Davis, she worked as an elementary school teacher with underserved children and families in Santiago, Chile. This experience inspired her to learn how stressors get under the skin with the purpose of promoting social, health, and educational justice for Chilean children and youth’s biobehavioral development.

The Impact of Poverty on Neurobiological Regulation in Latinx Adolescents: The Role of Environmental Risks
Poverty is a complex chronic stressor associated with disruptions in physiological and psychological functioning during adolescence. Despite strong evidence for the negative effects of poverty on adolescent psychophysiology, many studies take a unidimensional approach by measuring one aspect of the experience (e.g., low family income) as it relates to one physiological system (e.g., HPA axis) using cross-sectional designs. Moreover, little research has documented the neurobiological risks of poverty exposure within minority populations (e.g., Mexican-Americans) throughout the pubertal transition. Thus, the proposed study will use a multidimensional approach by measuring environmental toxin exposure alongside family and neighborhood economic disadvantage and explore independent and additive effects of these poverty-related risks throughout the pubertal transition in the prediction of development of Latinx adolescents’ multisystem neurobiological stress regulation. To that end, we propose to match census tracts with data from the California Families Project (CFP), a ten-year longitudinal study of Mexican-origin youth and families living in Northern California. Data for families’ subjective SES and adolescents’ physiological functioning will be taken from the CFP, and data for pollution burden (e.g., air quality, particulate matter, water quality, pesticide exposure, and traffic density) and neighborhood SES (e.g., housing burden, unemployment, and educational attainment) will be taken from the CalEnviroScreen. The proposed study will use latent growth curves and multi-level modelling to generate a rich contextual picture of multisystem neurobiological stress regulation of Latinx youth living in urban and rural impoverished areas. The proposed research has the potential to be directly translated to policy as it will generate objective evidence of the deleterious effects of environmental toxin exposure and neighborhood disadvantage on adolescent health and development. Furthermore, results will contextualize the field’s understanding of Latinx adolescent neurobiology regulation within a multi-domain framework which will inform intervention programs advancing the health and stability of economically and ethnically diverse youth.