It is now widely known that brain development is exquisitely sensitive to environmental inputs, for better or for worse. For worse, poverty, toxic stress, child maltreatment, racism, and a host of other negative experiences and conditions can compromise brain growth and cognitive functioning with life-long implications.

Neural systems, which are often affected by these sources of psychosocial stress, help regulate cognitive control over emotional responses. When these systems are weakened, individuals are more likely to act impulsively and to express emotion inappropriately. In the absence of effective intervention, individuals are at risk for mental and behavioral health problems, such as anxiety, substance use disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among others. Unfortunately, at present, even our most effective interventions are reaching only a small number of program recipients.

For better, on the other hand, interventions that precisely target biological processes associated with mental and behavioral health problems we wish to prevent holds promise for reaching a greater number of people. Fusing developmental neuroscience techniques with prevention science and practices has the potential to shed light on some of the most pressing questions that plague the field of prevention. By identifying the neural bases of negative developmental outcomes, we will be able to create intervention components that work to fine-tune or strengthen those processes at sensitive points in childhood and adolescence. This approach could improve functioning, as a result disrupting pathways to negative outcomes.

FRONTIER can connect intervention investigators/practitioners with scientists who focus on neural and other biobehavioral mechanisms in mental and behavioral health problems to:

  • determine the extent to which these mechanisms influence responses to existing evidence-based interventions;
  • delineate ways in which intervention improves these processes; and
  • construct new interventions more specifically mapped to these novel targets.

This knowledge is critical to understanding how to refine existing interventions and develop new ones to increase the number of people who benefit from them, and, ultimately, better support individuals, families, and communities.