• I research how experiences during development shape our brains, minds, and behavior.

    Environmental experiences profoundly influence the course of development. This remarkable plasticity confers significant advantages for learning, but also heightened vulnerability to adverse experiences. For example, developmental plasticity enables us to learn languages, but also renders us susceptible to the stresses of neighborhood violence. Similarly, aberrant plasticity, even with optimal environments, may predispose development toward a range of disordered outcomes, including autism and schizophrenia.


    I examine how experiences during sensitive periods of plasticity shape development and lead to healthy or maladaptive outcomes. I integrate behavioral paradigms with physiology, EEG, and fMRI neuroimaging to provide a mechanistic account of both developing and adult cognition and behavior.

    Postdoctoral Positions,

    Boston Children's Hospital,

    Harvard University

    2019- Postdoctoral Research Associate

    2016-2018 Postdoctoral Fellow


    2017 Fellow Award in Developmental Medicine


    Here in the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience (PI: Charles A. Nelson III), I have the privilege to work with several clinical populations to examine how disrupted brain plasticity affects learning from early environments (e.g. language, faces) and contributes to disordered development. I focus on infants at high-risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder and children with genetic syndromes caused by mutations in pathways regulating neuroplasticity. I developed and support the HAPPE software for EEG data processing in this position as well.


    I am also excited to be part of a collaborative international team (PI: Takao K. Hensch) using a cross-species framework to understand how experiences of general anesthesia influence early neurocognitive development. In addition to outpatient visits in our lab, we have engineered mobile equipment that enables us to safely perform neuroimaging and behavioral assessments with Children's inpatients, including in NICU environments.


    PhD, Columbia University

    2016 PhD

    2015 MPhil


    2015 Edward E. Smith Memorial Award in Cognitive Neuroscience


    I completed my PhD training at Columbia University in the Psychology Department with Dr. Nim Tottenham after she moved from UCLA in 2014. My dissertation examined the experience-driven development of amygdala-prefrontal cortex circuitry and associated emotion regulation behaviors. This research focused on understanding how normative experiences like emotional faces and music shape typical development as well as how early adverse experiences like institutionalization (e.g. orphanage care) alter developmental course. I examined how these experience-driven changes to brain circuitry affected subsequent emotion regulation behavior across development and in adulthood.


    MA, University of California, Los Angeles

    2012 MA


    2012 Chancellor's Prize, Psychology


    I began my PhD training at UCLA in the Developmental Psychology Department with Dr. Nim Tottenham. As a graduate student in her Developmental Affective Neuroscience Lab, I acquired expertise using behavioral, phsyiological, and structural and functional MRI methods with children, adolescents, and adults. I received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to examine the development of brain circuitry subserving emotion regulation behavior. Using a resting-state fMRI approach, I identified the time period when the amygdala-prefrontal cortex circuit appeared most unstable and plastic. My dissertation research built on these early studies to explicitly test when and how environmental experiences shape this plastic circuitry.


    In 2014, Dr. Tottenham and the Developmental Affective Neuroscience Lab moved to Columbia University, so I changed PhD programs in order to complete my doctoral research in her lab.

    MPhil, University of Cambridge

    2011 MPhil


    2010 Lionel de Jersey Harvard-Cambridge Award


    I was fortunate to receive Harvard's Lionel de Jersey Fellowship which funds a postgraduate year of intellectual exploration at the University of Cambridge, England. In the lab of Dr. Nicola Clayton, I explored questions in comparative psychology about higher-order cognition in Corvidae, a highly-intelligent family of birds. For my M.Phil. project, in the context of food storing and stealing, I asked whether scrub jays demonstrate theory of mind (knowledge of what another bird knows, separate from one's own knowledge), and examined how social familiarity and hierarchy rankings affect punishment behavior. This rewarding year confirmed my interest in researching questions at the cognitive and behavioral levels in addition to my ongoing curiosity about brain function.

    BA, Harvard College

    2010 BA Summa cum Laude


    As an undergraduate molecular biology major, I took Dr. Takao K. Hensch's course on experience-dependent brain development. It was love at first critical period mechanisms paper, and I knew then I wanted a career exploring questions about developmental plasticity in brain function and behavior. Dr. Charles A. Nelson guest-lectured in this same course about experiential influence in human brain development, and graciously accepted me as a thesis student. My undergraduate thesis focused on an EEG-based biomarker of atypical brain development and its relation to early affective behavior in infants at low- and high-risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder (since published as Gabard-Durnam et al., 2015).


    Drs. Hensch and Nelson have continued to mentor me for over a decade now, and I was thrilled to return to Harvard to perform translational research with them both as a postdoctoral fellow.

  • Research Interests

    Typical experience-driven development


    Learning from environmental experiences is critical for healthy development. I study how and when normative, daily experiences, like music, language, and caregiving shape healthy brain function and behavior. Identifying these windows of plasticity when experiences heavily impact emotional and cognitive development is critical for both understanding and effectively intervening in mental health trajectories.


    Development following adversity


    Development is a period of heightened vulnerability when adverse experiences can have lasting impacts in a number of ways (as in right panel). I study how and when different adversities "get under the skin" to shape brain and behavior development. In particular, I focus on how disruptions to early caregiving experiences, including institutional (orphanage) care, alter development and lead to resilient or negative outcomes.




    Development following general anesthesia


    Each year, 1-2 million infants undergo general anesthesia in the US, which may be necessary for up to weeks at a time. This early general anesthesia sedates brain activity during a time typically characterized by rapid neurocognitive development. How and when does this sedation impact development? I examine sensory, cognitive, and language development in infants who undergo anesthesia during different windows in the first year of life.



    Plasticity in Autism Spectrum Disorder


    Aberrant brain plasticity has been implicated in a range of disorders, suggesting disrupted experience-driven development is a core feature of psychopathology. In particular, brain plasticity disruptions are thought to be central to Autism Spectrum Disorder. I study how plasticity manifests in a population at high-risk for autism to inform etiology, especially communication difficulties. I also combine early brain measures with data-driven approaches to predict future outcomes and inform early intervention efforts.


  • Teaching

    I embrace teaching and mentoring as a privilege of my academic career.

    I have sought out and designed courses to teach undergraduate and graduate students at each of my institutions, and I look forward to future opportunities.


    I also know first-hand the tremendous impact that positive early mentoring experiences in science may have, and I strive to provide an inclusive, welcoming environment for my own mentees. I am proud to have supported students from 5 different undergraduate institutions, including first generation college students and mentees from diverse ethnic and sociocultural backgrounds, through research experiences and into top-tier graduate and professional programs.



    “[Laurel’s] zest and passion for mentorship, for science, the way she cares…it is seriously special and rare. I can say with complete confidence that she is one of those unique people that is meant to teach, to care for her students, to cultivate the kind of connection with people that brings them into her work and motivates them to stay driven and to go after what they want.”


    “Her creativity in presentation material and dynamic teaching style allowed students from all different backgrounds to grasp difficult topics.”


    "[Laurel] is clearly passionate about the material and makes it tangible for the students."


    “…She was very patient without doing the work for us…Laurel was there to help empower us. She gave me greater faith in my statistics abilities, and that's one of the best things that has happened to me in grad school.”


    "[Laurel] knows her material and is passionate about it, she has such great energy and enthusiasm to help us out that it is contagious and makes us want to ask her questions!"

  • Publications

    The articles below are provided for personal and educational use



    Longitudinal EEG in the first postnatal year differentiates autism outcomes


    Nature Communications


    Gabard-Durnam, L.J., Wilkinson, C., Kapur, K., Tager-Flusberg, H., Levin, A., Nelson, C.A.

    Do sensitive periods exist for exposure to adversity?


    Biological Psychiatry


    Gabard-Durnam, L.J., McLaughlin, K.A.

    The Harvard Automated Processing

    Pipeline for EEG (HAPPE): standardized processing

    software for developmental and high-artifact data


    Frontiers in Neuroscience: Brain Imaging Methods


    Gabard-Durnam, L.J., Mendez Leal, A., Wilkinson, C., Levin, A.

    Human amygdala functional network development: a cross-sectional study from 3 months to 5 years of age


    Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience


    Gabard-Durnam, L.J.*, O’Muircheartaigh, J.*, Dirks, H., Dean III, D.C., Tottenham, N.,Deoni, S.

    Friendship and social functioning following early institutional rearing: The role of ADHD symptoms


    Development and Psychopathology


    Humphreys, K. L., Gabard-Durnam, L., Goff, B., Telzer, E. H., Flannery, J., Gee, D. G.,Park, V., Lee, S. S., Tottenham, N.

    The developing amygdala: a student of the world and a teacher of the cortex


    Current Opinion in Psychology​


    Tottenham, N. &

    Gabard-Durnam, L.J

    Altered ventral striatal-medial prefrontal cortex resting-state connectivity mediates adolescent social problems after early institutional care


    Development and Psychopathology


    Fareri D.S.,

    Gabard-Durnam L.J., Goff B., Flannery J., Gee D.G., Lumian D.S., Caldera C.,Tottenham N.

    Diurnal Cortisol after Early Institutional Care - Age Matters


    Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience


    Flannery, J., Gabard-Durnam, L., Shapiro, M., Goff, B., Caldera, C., Louie, J., Gee, D., Telzer, E., Humphreys, K., Lumian, D., Tottenham, N.

    Positive valence bias and parent-child relationship security moderate the association between early institutional caregiving and internalizing symptoms


    Development and Psychopathology


    VanTieghem, M.,

    Gabard-Durnam, L., Goff, B., Flannery, J., Humphreys, K., Telzer, E., Caldera, C.,Louie, J., Shapiro, M., Bolger, N., Tottenham, N.

    Stimulus-elicited connectivity influences resting-state connectivity years later in human development: a prospective study


    Journal of Neuroscience


    Gabard-Durnam, L.J.*, Gee, D.G.*, Goff, B., Flannery, J., Telzer, E., Humphreys, K.,Lumian, D., Fareri, D.S., Caldera, C., Tottenham, N.

    Alpha asymmetry in infants at risk for autism spectrum disorders


    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders


    Gabard-Durnam, L., Tierney, A., Vogel-Farley, V., Tager-Flusberg, H., Nelson, C.A.

    Normative development of ventral striatal resting-state connectivity in humans




    Fareri, D.S., Gabard-Durnam, L., Goff, B., Flannery, J., Gee, D.G., Lumian, D.S., Caldera,C., Tottenham, N.

    The development of human amygdala-cortical functional connectivity at rest from 4 to 23 years: a cross-sectional study




    Gabard-Durnam, L., Flannery, J., Goff, B., Gee, D., Telzer, E., Humphreys, K., Hare, T., Tottenham, N.


    Maternal buffering of human amygdala-prefrontal circuitry during childhood


    Psychological Science


    Gee, D.G.*, Gabard-Durnam, L.*, Telzer, E.H., Humphreys, K.L., Goff, B., Shapiro, M.,Flannery, J., Lumian, D.S., Fareri, D.S., Caldera, C., Tottenham, N.

    Early Developmental Emergence of Human Amygdala-PFC Connectivity after Maternal Deprivation




    Gee, D.G., Gabard-Durnam, L., Flannery, J., Goff, B., Humphreys, K.L., Telzer, E.H., Hare,T.A., Bookheimer, S.Y., Tottenham, N.

    Developmental Trajectories of resting EEG power: an endophenotype of autism spectrum disorder




    Tierney, A.L., Gabard-Durnam, L., Vogel-Farley, V., Tager-Flusberg, H., Nelson, C.A.

  • Additional Publications

    Reduced frontal gamma power at 24 months is associated with better expressive language in toddlers at risk for Autism


    Autism Research


    Wilkinson, C., Levin, A.,

    Gabard-Durnam, L.J., Tager-Flusberg, H., Nelson, C.A.

    Decreased amygdala reactivity to parent cues protects against anxiety following early adversity: an examination across 3 years


    Biological Psychiatry: CNNI


    Callaghan, B., Gee, D.,

    Gabard-Durnam, L.J., Telzer, E., Humphreys, K., Goff, B., Shapiro,M., Flannery, J., Lumian, D., Fareri, D., Caldera, C., Tottenham, N.

    Mind and gut: associations between mood and gastrointestinal distress in children exposed to adversity


    Development and Psychopathology​


    Callaghan, B., Fields, A., Gee, D.G., Gabard-Durnam, L., Caldera, C., Humphreys, K., Goff,B., Flannery, J., Telzer, E., Shapiro, M., Tottenham, N.

    The Batch Electroencephalography Automated Processing Platform (BEAPP)


    Frontiers in Neuroscience: Brain Imaging Methods


    Levin, A., Mendez Leal, A.,

    Gabard-Durnam, L.J., O’Leary, H.

    Atypical frontoamygdala functional connectivity in youth with autism


    Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience


    Odriozola, P., Dajani, D.R., Burrows, C.A., Uddin, L.Q.,

    Gabard-Durnam, L.J., Tottenham,N., Gee, D.G.

    Full text

    Vigilance, the amygdala, and anxiety in youth with a history of institutional care


    Biological Psychiatry: CNNI


    Silvers, J.A., Goff, B.,

    Gabard-Durnam, L.J., Gee, D.G., Fareri, D.S, Caldera, C.,Tottenham, N.

    Full text

    Previous institutionalization is followed by broader amygdala-hippocampal-PFC network connectivity during aversive learning in human development


    Journal of Neuroscience


    Silvers, J., Lumian, D.,

    Gabard-Durnam, L.J., Gee, D., Goff, B., Fareri, D., Caldera, C.,Flannery, J., Telzer, E., Humphreys, K., Tottenham, N.

    Full text

    Discrimination of amygdala response predicts future separation anxiety in youth with early deprivation


    Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry​


    Green, S., Goff, B., Gee, D.G.,

    Gabard-Durnam, L.J., Flannery, J., Telzer, E., Humphreys,K.L., Louie, J., Tottenham, N.

    Full text

    Risky decision-making from childhood through adulthood: Contributions of learning and sensitivity to negative feedback




    Humphreys, K. L., Telzer, E. H., Flannery, J., Goff, B.,

    Gabard-Durnam, L., Gee, D. G.,Lee, S. S., Tottenham, N.

    Full text

    “The Cooties Effect”: Amygdala reactivity to opposite-versus same-sex faces declines from childhood to adolescence


    Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience


    Telzer, E.H., Flannery, J., Humphreys, K.L., Goff, B.,

    Gabard-Durman, L., Gee, D.G.,Tottenham, N.

    Full text

    Exploration-exploitation strategy is dependent on early experience


    Developmental Psychobiology


    Humphreys, K. L., Lee, S. S., Telzer, E. H., Gabard-Durnam, L.J., Goff, B., Flannery, J.,Tottenham, N

    Full text

    Early experience shapes amygdala sensitivity to race: an international adoption design


    Journal of Neuroscience


    Telzer, E., Flannery, J., Shapiro, M., Humphreys, K., Goff, B.,

    Gabard-Durnam, L., Gee, D.,Tottenham, N.

    Full text

    A negativity bias for ambiguous facial expression valence during childhood: Converging evidence from behavior and facial corrugator muscle responses




    Tottenham, N., Phuong, J., Flannery, J., Gabard-Durnam, L., Goff, B.

    Full text

    Reduced nucleus accumbens reactivity and depression following early-life stress




    Goff, B., Gee, D., Telzer, E., Humphreys, K., Gabard-Durnam, L., Flannery, J., Tottenham, N.

    Full text

  • Funding for this research program provided by:

  • HAPPE Software


    HAPPE (Gabard-Durnam et al., 2018) is open-source software for pre-processing EEG & ERP data.

    I developed HAPPE with my colleagues to address an urgent need in the developmental neuroimaging community for standardized, automatable processing approaches that perform well with acquisition constraints and artifact levels in developmental and patient populations.


    HAPPE continues to evolve:

    We're currently validating HAPPE for nonlinear EEG analyses

    HAPPE 2.0 coming September 2019

    Got a functionality request? Let me know!


    HAPPE at work:

    Pierce et al., 2019 JAMA Pediatrics

    Gabard-Durnam et al., 2019

    Wilkinson et al., 2019 Autism Research

    Bick et al., 2018 Biological Psychiatry

    Naples et al., 2018 Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials



    You can also access HAPPE through BEAPP, our open-source platform for EEG analysis.

    BEAPP (Levin et al., 2018) facilitates batch processing of EEG data.

    HAPPE in BEAPP seamlessly integrates contemporary processing and analysis approaches.

    Get BEAPP


  • Connect with me

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