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Irwin WaldmanProfessor

Biography

I did my undergraduate degree in Human Development and Family Studies at Cornell University, graduating in 1982. Following graduation, I attended graduate school in clinical psychology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada and earned my Ph.D. in 1988. In my Master's and dissertation research, I examined the relations among non-social information processing (i.e., inattention and impulsivity), social perception, and aggressive and withdrawn behavior in 7 to 12 year old children. Following my year-long clinical internship at the Lafayette Clinic in Detroit (1987-88), I completed a three-year, NIMH-funded Postdoctoral Fellowship in Behavioral Genetics at the University of Minnesota.

I began as a faculty member in the Psychology Department at Emory University in the fall of 1991. During the spring of 1996, I was a Visiting Faculty Scholar at the Henry A. Murray Research Center at Harvard, and a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In the fall of 1998, I was a Visiting Professor and Honorary Lecturer at the Centre for Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry Research at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, UK.

I am an Associate Editor of the journal, Behavior Genetics, and am on the editorial boards of two other journals (Journal of Abnormal PsychologyClinical Psychological Science). I have also reviewed grants for NIH, as well as for the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust in the UK. I was a member-at-large of the Executive Committee of the Behavior Genetics Association from 1998-2000, and a member of the task force on social, legal, and research implications of behavioral genetics of the American Society of Human Genetics from 1995-96. I was also a statistical consultant to the DSM-IV Disruptive Behavior Disorders Field Trials. I am currently Principal Investigator on an NIMH grant to study the molecular genetics of childhood disruptive disorders, and am Co-Principal Investigator on an NIMH grant which funds a behavior genetic study of child externalizing problems.

Research

In my lab we work at the intersection of psychology, statistics, and biology to understand the causes, classification, and biological bases of childhood psychopathology and relevant personality traits. My overarching interests are in developmental psychopathology and developmental behavior genetics. In my lab we aim to understand the causes, classification, and development of childhood disruptive disorders (e.g., ADHD, Conduct Disorder) and externalizing behavior problems (e.g., aggression, psychopathic traits), as well as related personality and temperament traits (e.g., prosociality, Negative Emotionality), social cognitive mechanisms (e.g., perception of facial displays of emotion), and neurocognitive executive functions. A major focus of my research centers on disentangling the genetic and environmental influences that underlie these traits and disorders, as well as understanding how such causal factors combine to influence risk for childhood psychopathology.

Behavior Genetics

To address these issues, I use developmental behavior genetic methods (primarily twin study designs) in which the genetic and environmental influences that underlie such disorders and behavior problems can be disentangled and their magnitude can be quantified. I also use these methods to gain a better understanding of comorbidity, in particular the extent to which common genetic and environmental influences may account for the overlap within and among childhood externalizing and internalizing disorders, and the covariation of these disorders with temperament and personality traits.

Molecular Genetics

In addition to conducting twin studies to estimate genetic and environmental influences, I use molecular genetic methods to search for specific genes that may account for the genetic influences on these disorders and traits. Historically, most of the genes we studied underlie various neurotransmitter systems, though recently we have begun examining neuropeptide genes such as the arginine vasopressin 1a receptor (AVPR1a) and oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR). We genotype multiple markers to capture genetic variation across the genes and use omnibus gene-based tests, thus increasing the likelihood of obtaining replicable associations with disorders and traits. We also are transitioning from examining associations with specific genes selected a priori to conducting gene-based tests of data from Genome Wide Association Scans (GWAS) of ADHD, Conduct Disorder, aggression, and psychopathic traits, as GWAS provides more comprehensive and unbiased tests of genetic associations.

Within the context of behavioral and molecular genetic designs, we have also examined specific environmental influences at a number of different levels (e.g., pre- and peri-natal influences, parenting behavior, neighborhood characteristics), neurocognitive endophenotypes (e.g., measures of inattention and impulsivity), and social cognitive mechanisms (e.g., hostile perceptual biases, and deficits and biases in the processing of facial emotions) that may underlie externalizing disorders and the development of aggression and psychopathic traits. We also are using twin study designs and sophisticated statistical methods (e.g., Confirmatory Factor Analysis [CFA], Exploratory Structural Equation Modeling [ESEM], and Item Response Theory [IRT]) to test alternative models for the hierarchical dimensional structure of psychopathology. Finally, I've recently co-authored or edited several pieces focusing explicitly on replication issues in our field.

Waldman Lab Research Topics

[callout to Waldman Research Topics Overview and Relevant Publications.pdf]

  1. Using Genome-Wide Data to Find Genes for Externalizing Psychopathology, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Aggression, Psychopathic Traits, and Antisocial Behavior
  2. Tests of Specific Genes as Risk Factors for Externalizing Psychopathology
    1. Association of the Oxytocin Receptor gene with Autism, Aggression, and Social Behavior
    2. Finding Dopamine & Noradrenergic Genetic Risk Factors for ADHD
  3. Meta-Analyses of Genetic and Environmental Influences on ADHD and Antisocial Behavior
  4. Analyses of the Classification and Underlying Structure of Youth Psychiatric Disorders
  5. Etiological Relation of Temperament and Personality with Youth Psychiatric Disorders
  6. Neurocognitive and Social Cognitive Endophenotypes for ADHD and Aggression
  7. Rigorous Tests of Direct Causal Environmental Influences on Child Psychopathology
  8. Exploration of Issues Related to Replicability of Findings of Psychological Research

Prospective Students

Prospective students should have an interest in behavioral and molecular genetic methods as well as in sophisticated statistical analyses. The research in our lab emphasizes evaluating different techniques and approaches for analyzing genetic and phenotypic data. Although a background in genetics and statistics is not required, students will be expected to become proficient in these areas.

Teaching

  • PSYC 190: Freshman Seminar in Psychology
  • PSYC 385R: Special Topics in Psychology
  • PSYC 351: The Nature of Evidence (Maymester)
  • PSYC 561: Multiple Regression/General Linear Model
  • PSYC 770R: Topical Seminars in Psychology 

Publications