Professional Education

  • Bachelor of Arts, University of Connecticut (2005)
  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of California Davis (2017)

Stanford Advisors

All Publications

  • Sympathetic nervous system dominance during stress recovery mediates associations between stress sensitivity and social anxiety symptoms in female adolescents. Development and psychopathology Ho, T. C., Pham, H. T., Miller, J. G., Kircanski, K., Gotlib, I. H. 2020; 32 (5): 1914–25


    Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is commonly diagnosed during adolescence and is associated with psychological stress reactivity and heightened physiological arousal. No study, however, has systematically examined which aspects of autonomic nervous system function mediate likely links between stress sensitivity and social anxiety symptoms in adolescents. Here, we assessed 163 adolescents (90 females; 12.29 ± 1.39 years) with respect to life stress and social anxiety symptoms, and measured respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and skin conductance levels (SCL) during a psychosocial stress paradigm. We operationalized stress sensitivity as the residual variance in subjective stress severity after accounting for objective severity and changes in autonomic regulation using standardized change scores in RSA and SCL. In females only, stress sensitivity and social anxiety symptoms were significantly correlated with each other (p < .001) and with autonomic regulation during both reactivity and recovery (all ps < 0.04). Further, sympathetic nervous system dominance during recovery specifically mediated associations between stress sensitivity and social anxiety symptoms (B = 1.06, 95% CI: 0.02-2.64). In contrast, in males, stress sensitivity, autonomic regulation during reactivity or recovery, and social anxiety symptoms were not significantly associated (all ps > 0.1). We interpret these results in the context of psychobiological models of SAD and discuss implications for interventions targeting autonomic processes.

    View details for DOI 10.1017/S0954579420001261

    View details for PubMedID 33427188

  • Water contaminant levels interact with parenting environment to predict development of depressive symptoms in adolescents DEVELOPMENTAL SCIENCE Manczak, E. M., Miller, J. G., Gotlib, I. H. 2020; 23 (1)

    View details for DOI 10.1111/desc.12838

    View details for Web of Science ID 000501321400020

  • The Development of Generosity From 4 to 6 Years: Examining Stability and the Biopsychosocial Contributions of Children's Vagal Flexibility and Mothers' Compassion. Frontiers in psychology Miller, J. G., Kahle, S., Troxel, N. R., Hastings, P. D. 2020; 11: 590384


    Individual differences in children's prosocial behaviors, including their willingness to give up something of value for the benefit of others, are rooted in physiological and environmental processes. In a sample of 4-year-old children, we previously found evidence that flexible changes in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) were linked to donation behavior, and that these physiological patterns may support greater sensitivity to the positive effects of compassionate parenting on donation behavior. The current study focused on a follow-up assessment of these children at age 6. First, we examined the stability of individual differences in donation behavior and related parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity from age 4 to 6. Second, we examined associations between donation behavior and RSA at 6 years. Third, we examined whether the association between children's RSA and donation behavior at age 6 varied depending on mothers' compassionate love. We found low to modest stability in donation behavior and RSA reactivity from age 4 to 6. These findings provide preliminary evidence that stable individual differences in altruism, as reflected by generosity, and in some aspects of parasympathetic functioning during opportunities to be prosocial, emerge in childhood. In addition, we found that some of the same associations between donation behavior, RSA, and compassionate love that we previously observed in children at 4 years of age continued to be evident 2 years later at age 6. Greater decreases in RSA when given the opportunity to donate were associated with children donating more of their own resources which, in turn, were associated with greater RSA recovery after the task. Lastly, mothers' compassionate love was positively associated with donation behavior in children who demonstrated stronger decreases in RSA during the task; compassionate parenting and RSA reactivity may serve as external and internal supports for prosociality that build on each other. Taken together, these findings contribute to the perspectives that individual differences in altruistic behaviors are intrinsically linked to healthy vagal flexibility, and that biopsychosocial approaches provide a useful framework for examining and understanding the environmental and physiological processes underlying these individual differences.

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.590384

    View details for PubMedID 33224079

  • Neural bases of social feedback processing and self-other distinction in late childhood: The role of attachment and age. Cognitive, affective & behavioral neuroscience Miller, J. G., Shrestha, S. n., Reiss, A. L., Vrtička, P. n. 2020


    Attachment plays a key role in how children process information about the self and others. Here, we examined the neural bases of interindividual differences in attachment in late childhood and tested whether social cognition-related neural activity varies as function of age. In a small sample of 8-year-old to 12-year-old children (n = 21/19), we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure neural responses during social feedback processing and self-other distinction. Attachment was assessed using child self-report. The social feedback processing task presented smiling and angry faces either confirming or disconfirming written information about participant performance on a perceptual game. In addition to observing main effects of facial emotion and performance, an increase in age was related to a shift from negative (i.e., angry faces/bad performance) to positive (i.e., smiling faces/good performance) information processing in the left amygdala/hippocampus, bilateral fusiform face area, bilateral anterior temporal pole (ATP), and left anterior insula. There were no effects of attachment on social feedback processing. The self-other distinction task presented digital morphs between children's own faces and faces of their mother or stranger females. We observed differential activation in face processing and mentalizing regions in response to self and mother faces versus morphed faces. Furthermore, left ATP activity was associated with attachment anxiety such that greater attachment anxiety was related to a shift from heightened processing of self and mother faces to morphed faces. There were no effects of age on self-other distinction. We discuss our preliminary findings in the context of attachment theory and previous work on social evaluation and self-other processing.

    View details for DOI 10.3758/s13415-020-00781-w

    View details for PubMedID 32141028

  • Right Temporoparietal Junction Involvement in Autonomic Responses to the Suffering of Others: A Preliminary Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Study. Frontiers in human neuroscience Miller, J. G., Xia, G. n., Hastings, P. D. 2020; 14: 7


    Functional neuroimaging studies have emphasized distinct networks for social cognition and affective aspects of empathy. However, studies have not considered whether substrates of social cognition, such as the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ), play a role in affective responses to complex empathy-related stimuli. Here, we used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to test whether the right TPJ contributes to psychophysiological responses to another person's emotional suffering. We used a theory of mind functional localizer and image-guided TMS to target the sub-region of the right TPJ implicated in social cognition, and measured autonomic and subjective responses to an empathy induction video. We found evidence that TMS applied at 1 Hz over the right TPJ increased withdrawal of parasympathetic nervous system activity during the empathy induction (n = 32), but did not affect sympathetic nervous system activity (n = 27). Participants who received TMS over the right TPJ also reported feeling more irritation and annoyance, and were less likely to report feeling compassion over and above empathic sadness, than participants who received TMS over the vertex (N = 34). This study provides preliminary evidence for the role of right TPJ functioning in empathy-related psychophysiological and affective responding, potentially blurring the distinction between neural regions specific to social cognition vs. affective aspects of empathy.

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fnhum.2020.00007

    View details for PubMedID 32047426

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6997337

  • Higher Executive Control Network Coherence Buffers Against Puberty-Related Increases in Internalizing Symptoms During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Biological psychiatry. Cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging Chahal, R. n., Kirshenbaum, J. S., Miller, J. G., Ho, T. C., Gotlib, I. H. 2020


    Early pubertal maturation has been posited to be a biopsychosocial risk factor for the onset of internalizing psychopathology in adolescence; further, early-maturing youths exhibit heightened reactivity to stressful events. School closures and enforced social distancing, as well as health and financial uncertainties, during the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to adversely affect mental health in youths, particularly adolescents who are already at risk for experiencing emotional difficulties. The executive control network (ECN) supports cognitive processes required to successfully navigate novel challenges and regulate emotions in stressful contexts.We examined whether functional coherence of the ECN, measured using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging 5 years before the pandemic (T1), is a neurobiological marker of resilience to increases in the severity of internalizing symptoms during COVID-19 in adolescents who were in more advanced stages of puberty at T1 relative to their same-age peers (N = 85, 49 female).On average, participants reported an increase in symptoms from the 3 months before pandemic to the 2 most recent weeks during the pandemic. We found that early-maturing youths exhibited greater increases in internalizing symptoms during the pandemic if their ECN coherence was low; in contrast, relative pubertal stage was not associated with changes in internalizing symptoms in adolescents with higher ECN coherence at T1.These findings highlight the role of the functional architecture of the brain that supports executive functioning in protecting against risk factors that may exacerbate symptoms of internalizing psychopathology during periods of stress and uncertainty.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.bpsc.2020.08.010

    View details for PubMedID 33097469

  • Early Life Stress, Frontoamygdala Connectivity, and Biological Aging in Adolescence: A Longitudinal Investigation. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991) Miller, J. G., Ho, T. C., Humphreys, K. L., King, L. S., Foland-Ross, L. C., Colich, N. L., Ordaz, S. J., Lin, J. n., Gotlib, I. H. 2020


    Early life stress (ELS) may accelerate frontoamygdala development related to socioemotional processing, serving as a potential source of resilience. Whether this circuit is associated with other proposed measures of accelerated development is unknown. In a sample of young adolescents, we examined the relations among ELS, frontoamygdala circuitry during viewing of emotional faces, cellular aging as measured by telomere shortening, and pubertal tempo. We found that greater cumulative severity of ELS was associated with stronger negative coupling between bilateral centromedial amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a pattern that may reflect more mature connectivity. More negative frontoamygdala coupling (for distinct amygdala subdivisions) was associated with slower telomere shortening and pubertal tempo over 2 years. These potentially protective associations of negative frontoamygdala connectivity were most pronounced in adolescents who had been exposed to higher ELS. Our findings provide support for the formulation that ELS accelerates maturation of frontoamygdala connectivity and provide novel evidence that this neural circuitry confers protection against accelerated biological aging, particularly for adolescents who have experienced higher ELS. Although negative frontoamygdala connectivity may be an adaptation to ELS, frontoamygdala connectivity, cellular aging, and pubertal tempo do not appear to be measures of the same developmental process.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/cercor/bhaa057

    View details for PubMedID 32215605

  • Water Contaminant Levels Interact with Parenting Environment to Predict Development of Depressive Symptoms in Adolescents. Developmental science Manczak, E. M., Miller, J. G., Gotlib, I. H. 2019: e12838


    Contaminants in drinking water, such as lead, nitrate, and arsenic, have been linked to negative physical health outcomes. We know less, however, about whether such pollutants also predict mental health problems and, if so, the conditions under which such effects are strongest. In this longitudinal study, we examined whether drinking water contaminants interact with negative family environments (parental psychological control) to predict changes in depressive symptoms in 110 adolescents-a developmental period when symptoms often first emerge. We found that for adolescents in psychologically controlling families, levels of drinking water contaminants prospectively predicted depressive symptoms two years later; this effect was not present in adolescents in non-controlling families. Importantly, these associations were not accounted for by family- or community-level socioeconomic resources, demographic features, or by the adolescents' stress exposure. These findings highlight the interplay of physical and psychological environments in influencing depressive symptoms in adolescents. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

    View details for PubMedID 31009144

  • Inter-brain synchrony in mother-child dyads during cooperation: An fNIRS hyperscanning study NEUROPSYCHOLOGIA Miller, J. G., Vrticka, P., Cui, X., Shrestha, S., Hosseini, S., Baker, J. M., Reiss, A. L. 2019; 124: 117–24
  • Resting Heart Rate Variability is Negatively Associated with Mirror Neuron and Limbic Response to Emotional Faces. Biological psychology Miller, J. G., Xia, G. n., Hastings, P. D. 2019: 107717


    Whether neurovisceral integration, reflected by resting high-frequency heart rate variability (HRV), constrains or facilitates neural reactivity to other people's emotions is unclear. We assessed the relation between resting HRV and neural activation when observing and imitating emotional faces. We focused on brain regions implicated in sensorimotor resonance, salience detection and arousal. We used electrocardiogram data to compute resting HRV. Resting HRV measures were negatively correlated with activation in a portion of the inferior frontal gyrus showing mirror neuron properties, the insula and the amygdala in response to observation, but not imitation, of emotional faces. Thus, resting HRV appears to be linked to sensitivity to others' emotional cues, both in terms of the tendency to map others' emotional facial expressions onto one's own motor system and to rapidly detect and mark others' emotions as salient events. Resting HRV may reflect, in part, a threshold for increased processing of others' emotional cues.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2019.107717

    View details for PubMedID 31199946

  • Fine Particle Air Pollution and Physiological Reactivity to Social Stress in Adolescence: The Moderating Role of Anxiety and Depression. Psychosomatic medicine Miller, J. G., Gillette, J. S., Manczak, E. M., Kircanski, K. n., Gotlib, I. H. 2019; 81 (7): 641–48


    Exposure to high levels of fine particle air pollution (PM2.5) is associated with adolescent pathophysiology. It is unclear, however, if PM2.5 is associated with physiology within psychosocial contexts, such as social stress, and whether some adolescents are particularly vulnerable to PM2.5-related adverse effects. This study examined the association between PM2.5 and autonomic reactivity to social stress in adolescents and tested whether symptoms of anxiety and depression moderated this association.Adolescents from Northern California (N = 144) participated in a modified Trier Social Stress Test while providing high-frequency heart rate variability and skin conductance level data. PM2.5 data were recorded from CalEnviroScreen. Adolescents reported on their own symptoms of anxiety and depression using the Youth Self-Report, which has been used in prior studies and has good psychometric properties (Cronbach's α in this sample was .86).Adolescents residing in neighborhoods characterized by higher concentrations of PM2.5 demonstrated greater autonomic reactivity (i.e., indexed by lower heart rate variability and higher skin conductance level) (β = .27; b = .44, p = .001, 95% CI = 0.19 to 0.68) in response to social stress; this association was not accounted for by socioeconomic factors. In addition, adolescents who reported more severe anxiety and depression symptoms showed the strongest association between PM2.5 and autonomic reactivity to social stress (β = .53; b = .86, p < .001, 95% CI = 0.48 to 1.23).Exposure to PM2.5 may heighten adolescent physiological reactivity to social stressors. Moreover, adolescents who experience anxiety and depression may be particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of PM2.5 on stress reactivity.

    View details for DOI 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000714

    View details for PubMedID 31460967

  • Linking autonomic physiology and emotion regulation in preschoolers: The role of reactivity and recovery DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOBIOLOGY Kahle, S., Miller, J. G., Helm, J. L., Hastings, P. D. 2018; 60 (7): 775–88


    Physiological recovery from negative emotions may be important for effective self-regulation, but little is known about recovery processes in children. The current study investigated links between autonomic physiology, anger expressions, and emotion regulation in a sample of eighty-three 3.5-year-olds. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia and pre-ejection period were measured during an anger induction task as parasympathetic and sympathetic indices, respectively. We examined whether preschoolers' anger expressions and emotion regulation behaviors were associated with individual differences in physiology. Autonomic changes were more strongly linked with emotion regulation than with expressed anger. Verbalized regulatory strategies were linked with greater sympathetic reactivity and also with greater recovery. In contrast, attention diversion was associated with blunted patterns of sympathetic reactivity followed by increased sympathetic arousal in the recovery phase. Disengaging from an emotional challenge may be linked with reduced physiological arousal in the short term, this behavior but also appears to have delayed consequences for physiological recovery.

    View details for PubMedID 29926898