As children go about their day at home and at school, their bodies respond to environmental experiences. In particular, children’s bodies respond via changes in stress-physiology, the physiological systems which maintain homeostasis and adapt to contextual stimuli. My research program centers around young children’s stress-physiology. In particular, I investigate (1) How young children’s experiences at home (e.g., parent child relationships, family structures, routines) are associated with variability in their stress-physiology; and (2) How young children’s physiological responses in turn are associated with their positive school-related adaptation (e.g., positive peer relationships, self-regulated behavior, cognitive skills, academic achievement).

Stanford Advisors

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

Emma Armstrong-Carter is a doctoral student in Developmental and Psychological Sciences at Stanford University and a recipient of the IES fellowship training grant. She received her BA in Psychology & Neuroscience and Geographic Information Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in 2016. Emma is amazed by the variation in children’s behavioral, socio-emotional, and cognitive functioning. She studies young children's capacity to contribute to the lives of others--via helping friends, family, and strangers. In particular, she investigates how these types of helping behaviors interplay with children's experiences at school (e.g., self-regulated behavior), and their bodies, using markers of stress-physiology such as cortisol, and autonomic nervous system arousal.

All Publications

  • Young Children's Prosocial Behavior Protects Against Academic Risk in Neighborhoods With Low Socioeconomic Status. Child development Armstrong-Carter, E., Miller, J. G., Hill, L. J., Domingue, B. W. 2021


    Children raised in neighborhoods with low socioeconomic status (SES) are at risk for low academic achievement. Identifying factors that help children from disadvantaged neighborhoods thrive is critical for reducing inequalities. We investigated whether children's prosocial behavior buffers concurrent and subsequent academic risk in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Bradford, UK. Diverse children (N=1,175) were followed until age seven, with measurements taken at four times. We used governmental indices of neighborhood-level SES, teacher observations of prosocial behaviors, and direct assessments of academic achievement. Neighborhood SES was positively associated with academic achievement among children with low levels of prosocial behavior, but not among children with high levels of prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior may mitigate academic risk across early childhood.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdev.13549

    View details for PubMedID 33594683

  • Daily provision of instrumental and emotional support to friends is associated with diurnal cortisol during adolescence. Developmental psychobiology Armstrong-Carter, E., Telzer, E. H. 2021


    This study investigates how adolescents' daily prosocial behaviors to friends are related to diurnal cortisol using between- and within-subject analyses. Further, we examine whether role fulfillment (i.e., feeling like a good friend) moderates links between prosocial behaviors and cortisol. Ethnically diverse adolescents (N=370; ages 11-18) reported whether they provided instrumental and emotional support to friends for 5days, and provided four saliva samples/day for 4days. On the daily level, providing emotional support predicted lower cortisol awakening response the next day, and providing instrumental assistance to friends was associated with a flatter cortisol slope the same day (a cardiovascular risk factor). Adolescents also provided more emotional support on days they had lower CAR and steeper cortisol slopes. On the average level, providing more instrumental support was associated with steeper cortisol slopes among adolescents who felt high levels of role fulfillment, but not among adolescents who felt low levels of role fulfillment. Providing instrumental support may be physiologically taxing from day to day but, across the long term, linked to lower cardiovascular risk for adolescents who experience helping as highly fulfilling.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/dev.22101

    View details for PubMedID 33569768

  • Genetics and Child Development: Recent Advances and Their Implications for Developmental Research CHILD DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVES Armstrong-Carter, E., Wertz, J., Domingue, B. W. 2021

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdep.12400

    View details for Web of Science ID 000611958300001

  • Advancing Measurement and Research on Youths' Prosocial Behavior in the Digital Age CHILD DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVES Armstrong-Carter, E., Telzer, E. H. 2021

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdep.12396

    View details for Web of Science ID 000606009100001

  • Beta-adrenergic blockade blunts inflammatory and antiviral/antibody gene expression responses to acute psychosocial stress. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology MacCormack, J. K., Gaudier-Diaz, M. M., Armstrong-Carter, E. L., Arevalo, J. M., Meltzer-Brody, S. n., Sloan, E. K., Cole, S. W., Muscatell, K. A. 2021


    Dysregulation of the immune system is one potential mechanism by which acute stress may contribute to downstream disease etiology and psychopathology. Here, we tested the role of β-adrenergic signaling as a mediator of acute stress-induced changes in immune cell gene expression. In a randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled trial, 90 healthy young adults (44% female) received a single 40 mg dose of the β-blocker propranolol (n = 43) or a placebo (n = 47) and then completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Pre- and post-stress blood samples were assayed for prespecified sets of pro-inflammatory and antiviral/antibody gene transcripts. Analyses revealed increased expression of both inflammatory and antiviral/antibody-related genes in response to the TSST, and these effects were blocked by pre-treatment with propranolol. Bioinformatics identified natural killer cells and dendritic cells as the primary cellular context for transcriptional upregulation, and monocytes as the primary cellular carrier of genes downregulated by the TSST. These effects were in part explained by acute changes in circulating cell types. Results suggest that acute psychosocial stress can induce an "acute defense" molecular phenotype via β-adrenergic signaling that involves mobilization of natural killer cells and dendritic cells at the expense of monocytes. This may represent an adaptive response to the risk of acute injury. These findings offer some of the first evidence in humans that β-blockade attenuates psychosocial stress-induced increases in inflammatory gene expression, offering new insights into the molecular and immunologic pathways by which stress may confer risks to health and well-being.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41386-020-00897-0

    View details for PubMedID 33452438

  • Self-regulated behavior and parent-child co-regulation are associated with young children's physiological response to receiving critical adult feedback SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT Armstrong-Carter, E., Sulik, M. J., Obradovic, J. 2020

    View details for DOI 10.1111/sode.12498

    View details for Web of Science ID 000599077100001

  • Addressing educational inequalities and promoting learning through studies of stress physiology in elementary school students. Development and psychopathology Obradovic, J., Armstrong-Carter, E. 2020; 32 (5): 1899–1913


    To be ready to learn, children need to be focused, engaged, and able to bounce back from setbacks. However, many children come to school with heightened or diminished physiological arousal due to exposure to poverty-related risks. While stress physiology plays a role in explaining how adversity relates to processes that support students' cognitive development, there is a lack of studies of physiological stress response in educational settings. This review integrates relevant studies and offers future directions for research on the role of stress physiology in the school adaptation of elementary school students, focusing on these important questions: (a) What are the links between physiological stress response and learning-related skills and behaviors, and do they vary as a function of proximal and distal experiences outside of school? (b) How are school experiences associated with students' physiological stress response and related cognitive and behavioral adaptations? (c) How can we leverage measures of students' physiological stress response in evaluations of school-based interventions to better support the school success of every student? We hope to stimulate a new wave of research that will advance the science of developmental stress physiology, as well as improve the application of these findings in educational policy and practice.

    View details for DOI 10.1017/S0954579420001443

    View details for PubMedID 33427176

  • Interactions between Polygenic Scores and Environments: Methodological and Conceptual Challenges SOCIOLOGICAL SCIENCE Domingue, B., Trejo, S., Armstrong-Carter, E., Tucker-Drob, E. 2020; 7: 465–86

    View details for DOI 10.15195/v7.a19

    View details for Web of Science ID 000575889800001

  • Daily Links Between Helping Behaviors and Emotional Well-Being During Late Adolescence. Journal of research on adolescence : the official journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence Armstrong-Carter, E., Guassi Moreira, J. F., Ivory, S. L., Telzer, E. H. 2020


    We investigated daily associations between helping behaviors and emotional well-being during late adolescence, examining whether these links depend on the recipient of help (i.e., friend vs. roommate), type of help (i.e., instrumental vs. emotional), and individual differences in the helper (i.e., gender and empathy). First-year college students (N=411, 63.5% women, Mage =18.62years) completed diary checklists for eight days, reporting whether they provided instrumental and emotional support to a friend or roommate, and positive and negative emotions. On days that adolescents provided instrumental assistance to friends they felt more positive affect, but men also felt more negative affect. Providing instrumental and emotional support to roommates and providing emotional support to friends did not predict daily emotions.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/jora.12572

    View details for PubMedID 32776635

  • The Earliest Origins of Genetic Nurture: The Prenatal Environment Mediates the Association Between Maternal Genetics and Child Development. Psychological science Armstrong-Carter, E., Trejo, S., Hill, L. J., Crossley, K. L., Mason, D., Domingue, B. W. 2020: 956797620917209


    Observed genetic associations with educational attainment may be due to direct or indirect genetic influences. Recent work highlights genetic nurture, the potential effect of parents' genetics on their child's educational outcomes via rearing environments. To date, few mediating childhood environments have been tested. We used a large sample of genotyped mother-child dyads (N = 2,077) to investigate whether genetic nurture occurs via the prenatal environment. We found that mothers with more education-related genes are generally healthier and more financially stable during pregnancy. Further, measured prenatal conditions explain up to one third of the associations between maternal genetics and children's academic and developmental outcomes at the ages of 4 to 7 years. By providing the first evidence of prenatal genetic nurture and showing that genetic nurture is detectable in early childhood, this study broadens our understanding of how parental genetics may influence children and illustrates the challenges of within-person interpretation of existing genetic associations.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797620917209

    View details for PubMedID 32484377

  • Biological sensitivity to context in Pakistani preschoolers: Hair cortisol and family wealth are interactively associated with girls' cognitive skills. Developmental psychobiology Armstrong-Carter, E., Finch, J. E., Siyal, S., Yousafzai, A. K., Obradovic, J. 2020


    Many young children in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) face heightened risk for experiencing environmental adversity, which is linked with poorer developmental outcomes. Children's stress physiology can shed light on why children are differentially susceptible to adversity. However, no known studies have examined whether links between adversity and children's development are moderated by children's stress physiology in LMICs. The present study revealed significant interactive effects of hair cortisol concentrations, an index of chronic physiological stress regulation, and family wealth on preschoolers' cognitive skills in rural Pakistan. In a sample of 535 4-year-old children (n=342 girls), we found significant associations between family wealth and direct assessments of verbal intelligence, pre-academic skills, and executive functions only in girls with lower hair cortisol concentrations. Specifically, girls with lower cortisol concentrations displayed greater cognitive skills if they came from relatively wealthier families, but lower cognitive skills if they came from very poor families. There were no significant associations among boys. Results provide evidence of biological sensitivity to context among young girls in a LMIC, perhaps reflecting, in part, sex differences in daily experiences of environmental adversity.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/dev.21981

    View details for PubMedID 32458442

  • Role Fulfillment Mediates the Association Between Daily Family Assistance and Cortisol Awakening Response in Adolescents CHILD DEVELOPMENT Armstrong-Carter, E., Ivory, S., Lin, L. C., Muscatell, K. A., Telzer, E. H. 2020; 91 (3): 754–68

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdev.13213

    View details for Web of Science ID 000534258400021

  • Family meals buffer the daily emotional risk associated with family conflict. Developmental psychology Armstrong-Carter, E. n., Telzer, E. H. 2020


    Family meals have been associated with positive adolescent outcomes in cross-sectional and longitudinal research. However, it is not known how adolescents experience family meals on a daily basis, and whether family meals buffer stresses associated with interpersonal conflicts on the daily level. To address this gap in the literature, adolescents (N = 396, 58% female, Mage = 14.57 years) completed diary checklists for up to 14 days, reporting their emotions, experiences of family and peer conflict, and whether they ate with their family that day. On days that adolescents shared a family meal, they felt greater happiness and role fulfillment, and less burnout and distress. Moreover, family conflict was associated with more negative emotionality only on days that adolescents did not also eat with the family. Findings suggest that family meals buffer daily risks associated with familial conflicts. Follow-up analyses suggest that these processes may be particularly important among older adolescents. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

    View details for DOI 10.1037/dev0001111

    View details for PubMedID 32986450

  • A Unifying Approach for Investigating and Understanding Youth's Help and Care for the Family CHILD DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVES Armstrong-Carter, E., Olson, E., Telzer, E. 2019

    View details for DOI 10.1111/cdep.12336

    View details for Web of Science ID 000479883500001

  • Role Fulfillment Mediates the Association Between Daily Family Assistance and Cortisol Awakening Response in Adolescents. Child development Armstrong-Carter, E., Ivory, S., Lin, L. C., Muscatell, K. A., Telzer, E. H. 2019


    Family assistance (helping the family) is associated with both positive and negative psychological and biological outcomes during adolescence. However, the association between family assistance and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis remains unstudied. Thus, we assess how helping the family relates to adolescents' diurnal cortisol, an index of HPA activity, and psychological outcomes. Three hundred and seventy ethnically diverse adolescents (ages 11-18) reported daily helping behaviors and psychological experiences for 14days and provided four saliva samples per day for 4days. Multilevel modeling revealed that cortisol awakening response was lower the day after adolescents helped their families more. This association was explained, in part, by perceived role fulfillment (feeling like a good son, daughter, and sibling). Results highlight a possible psychological and biological benefit of assisting the family during adolescence.

    View details for PubMedID 30629290