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Kathryn L. Humphreys - Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN, US

Kathryn L. Humphreys Kathryn L. Humphreys

Assistant Professor of Psychology and Human Development | Vanderbilt University


A clinical psychologist with expertise in infant mental health.






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Stress and trauma in early childhood linked to reduced hippocampal volume in adolescence



Kathryn Humphreys is trained as a clinical psychologist and has expertise in infant mental health. Her work centers on identifying pathways to psychopathology and other negative outcomes. Given the importance of early experience and plasticity of the developing brain, she focuses on caregiving experiences in early life, with a particular interest in identifying targets for prevention and intervention programs. Her research includes tools from neuroscience, including magnetic resonance imaging, in infants, children, and adults, as well as biological markers of aging and health.

Areas of Expertise (11)

Tender Age Detainment Centers

Infants and Toddlers


Parent Child Separations

Migrant Youth

Trauma in Youth

Stress and Early Adversity

Clinical Psychology


Childhood Adversity

Mental Health

Accomplishments (5)

Jacobs Foundation Early Career Research Fellow (professional)


Michael J. Goldstein Distinguished Dissertation Award in Clinical Psychology, UCLA (professional)


Association for Psychological Science (APS) “Rising Star” Award (professional)


National Psychologist Trainee Register Credentialing Scholarship (professional)


Children and Adults with ADHD (CHADD) Young Scientist Award (professional)


Education (4)

University of California: Ph.D., Clinical Psychology 2014

University of California: M.A., Psychology 2009

Harvard Graduate School of Education: Ed.M., Risk and Prevention 2006

Vanderbilt University: B.S., Child Development and Cognitive Studies 2005

Affiliations (3)

  • Provost search committee member, Stanford University
  • Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12 of the APA)
  • Psychology in Action

Selected Media Appearances (3)

A 4-month-old baby was separated from his parents at the border last year and still can't walk or speak. Experts say he could grow up with trauma he has no memory of experiencing.

Insider  online


Kathryn L. Humphreys, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University who studies psychology and early childhood development, said the bulk of Constantin's trauma would likely have been experienced not when he was separated from his birth parents, but when he was reunited with them. By that point, Constantin had spent 5 months with his foster mother, and just 4 months with his birth mother — more than half of his young life. By the time Constantin was reunited with his family in Romania, he had likely already started forming a strong attachment bond with his foster mother, Humphreys said. Constantin's foster mother would even text his birth mother with tips on how he liked to be held and soothed, according to The Times.

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What a typical day is like for a child in government custody at a Texas Border Patrol station

Insider  online


Kathryn L. Humphreys, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University who studies psychology and early childhood development, said those reactions are unsurprising. Typically, institutionalized children who lack a parent or close caregiver often already suffer negative health outcomes. But to couple the lack of adults with an additional lack of basic needs such as toothbrushes, soap, and diapers was "horrific," she said. "We have reason to think that these kids are quite scared. And the person they would normally turn to to help make sense of their hunger, the cold floor, and other experiences that are uncomfortable — they wouldn't have someone to help them. They have to turn to other kids who are similarly confused," Humphreys said.

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Immigrant kids in 'tender age' shelters face myriad risks

Futurity  online


“Many members of the lay public, public officials, and even scientists perpetrate a pernicious belief that if children cannot remember something, it does not affect them. This could not be further from the truth,” Humphreys says. “Our research finds that infants and young children up to age five are particularly affected by experiences of stress and trauma. Children belong in families that are safe and supportive and substitute group-based care is insufficient to meet their emotional needs.” The practice of separating immigrant children from their parents at borders as a deterrent is counterproductive, Humphreys says.

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Selected Articles (3)

Irritability and Brain Volume in Adolescents: Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Associations

Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

Emily L Dennis, Kathryn L Humphreys, Lucy S King, Paul M Thompson, Ian H Gotlib

2019 Irritability is garnering increasing attention in psychiatric research as a transdiagnostic marker of both internalizing and externalizing disorders. These disorders often emerge during adolescence, highlighting the need to examine changes in the brain and in psychological functioning during this developmental period.

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Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder in Early Childhood Predicts Reduced Competence in Early Adolescence

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

Katherine L Guyon-Harris, Kathryn L Humphreys, Devi Miron, Mary Margaret Gleason, Charles A Nelson, Nathan A Fox, Charles H Zeanah

2019 Psychosocial deprivation is associated with the development of socially aberrant behaviors, including signs of disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED). In longitudinal studies, signs of DSED have been shown to decrease over time, especially as children are removed from conditions of deprivation.

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Early life stress, cortisol, frontolimbic connectivity, and depressive symptoms during puberty

Development and Psychopathology

Katharina Kircanski, Lucinda M Sisk, Tiffany C Ho, Kathryn L Humphreys, Lucy S King, Natalie L Colich, Sarah J Ordaz, Ian H Gotlib

2019 Early life stress (ELS) is a risk factor for the development of depression in adolescence; the mediating neurobiological mechanisms, however, are unknown. In this study, we examined in early pubertal youth the associations among ELS, cortisol stress responsivity, and white matter microstructure of the uncinate fasciculus and the fornix, two key frontolimbic tracts; we also tested whether and how these variables predicted depressive symptoms in later puberty.

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