Phil Fisher is an expert in child development, specifically related to the effects of early stressful experiences, including child abuse and neglect. He is a Philip H. Knight Chair, professor and director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology and the Center for Translational Neuroscience, operating the Stress Neurobiology and Prevention (SNAP) Lab, which is part of the university's Prevention Science Institute. Phil develops programs for improving abused and neglected children's ability to attach to caregivers, build relationships with peers, and function in school. Phil is the science director for the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs, based at Harvard University, a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child and the co-principal investigator on the Translational Drug Abuse Prevention (TDAP) Center, which works to increase the understanding of the effects of early adversity and risk in decision-making and behavior policy and practice in child welfare systems.
Areas of Expertise (7)
Translational Science Award (professional)
Awarded by the Society for Prevention Research
Media Appearances (4)
Readiness Program Improves Focus, Learning in Preschoolers
Around the O
“The summer before kindergarten is a critical period,” said Fisher, a Philip H. Knight Chair and director of the Center for Translational Neuroscience. “In fact, summertime for low-income children and those at risk for school failure is a huge problem because a lot of services are delivered in the academic year and drop off in the summer. The key question we asked in this study was whether we could observe changes in brain function that may point to mechanisms of things critical for kids to learn.”...
Muppets Lend a Fuzzy Hand to Uo Professor's Presentation
Around the O
Neno and Kami, Muppets from the South African Sesame Street show, lent a furry hand to UO psychology professor and Philip H. Knight Chair Phil Fisher during a keynote address at a recent LEGO Idea Conference in Denmark. The fuzzy fellows were only too happy to help Fisher bring a complex idea down to earth...
Researchers Will Meld Sciences to Uncover New Health Treatments
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“Neuroscience provides us with the ability to cut to the core of the causal properties behind many behavioral issues such as addictions, anxiety, aggressive behavior and overeating,” said Phil Fisher, the center’s director and a professor in the Department of Psychology who serves as a Philip H. Knight Chair...
How neglect shapes the brain
A recent working paper by the Harvard Center on the Developing Child shows that Fox’s findings were just the start of a solid body of evidence for how neglect shapes a child’s developing brain. “Neglect” is defined as a caregiver’s lack of attention to a child’s physical, social and emotional needs. “The newest idea is that neglect has this lasting and permanent impact on the brain,” says Phil Fisher, a University of Oregon neuroscientist who studies American foster care. Fisher says science is becoming increasingly precise about what parts of the brain neglect can affect — the two main areas being, cortisol production and physical changes to the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that influences cognitive decision-making)...
Identifying environmental influences on inhibitory control (IC) may help promote positive behavioral and social adjustment. Although chronic stress is known to predict lower IC, the immediate effects of acute stress are unknown. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) may be a mechanism of the stress-IC link, given its psychophysiological regulatory role and connections to prefrontal brain regions critical to IC. We used a focused assessment of IC (the stop-signal task) to test whether an acute social stressor (the Trier Social Stress Test) affected participants’ pre- to post-IC performance (n = 58), compared to a control manipulation (n = 31). High frequency heart-rate variability was used as an index of PNS activity in response to the manipulation. Results indicated that stress impaired IC performance, blocking the practice effects observed in control participants. We also investigated the associations between PNS activity and IC; higher resting PNS activity predicted better pre-manipulation IC, and greater PNS stressor reactivity protected against the negative effects of stress on IC. Together, these results are the first to document the immediate effects of acute stress on IC and a phenotypic marker (PNS reactivity to stressors) of susceptibility to stress-induced IC impairment. This study suggests a new way to identify situations in which individuals are likely to exhibit IC vulnerability and related consequences such as impulsivity and risk taking behavior. Targeting PNS regulation may represent a novel target for IC-focused interventions.
Extensive animal research has demonstrated the vulnerability of the brain to early life stress (ELS) with consequences for emotional development and mental health. However, the influence of moderate and common forms of stress on early human brain development is less well-understood and precisely characterized. To date, most work has focused on severe forms of stress, and/or on brain functioning years after stress exposure.
Maltreated foster children are subjected to a range of early adverse experiences, including neglect, abuse, and multiple caregiver disruptions. Research suggests that such disturbances alter the development and subsequent functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical system. The current study was designed to investigate morning cortisol levels in 117 foster children and 60 low-income, nonmaltreated children. Maltreatment and foster care placement experiences were coded from official records. Analyses revealed that the foster children were significantly more likely than the nonmaltreated children to have low morning cortisol levels. Additionally, specific maltreatment experiences were significantly associated with the foster children's morning cortisol levels. Foster children with low morning cortisol levels experienced more severe physical neglect than the other foster children. In contrast, foster children with high morning cortisol levels experienced more severe emotional maltreatment. These results suggest that specific early adverse experiences have differential effects on the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical system.
Atypical diurnal patterns of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis activity have been observed in samples of individuals following early life adversity. A characteristic pattern arising from disrupted caregiving is a low early-morning cortisol level that changes little from morning to evening. Less well understood is the plasticity of the HPA axis in response to subsequent supportive caregiving environments. Monthly early-morning and evening cortisol levels were assessed over 12 months in a sample of 3–6-year-old foster children enrolled in a randomized trial of a family-based therapeutic intervention (N=117; intervention condition, n=57; regular foster care condition, n=60), and a community comparison group of same-aged, non-maltreated children from low-income families (n=60). Latent growth analyses revealed stable and typical diurnal (morning-to-evening) cortisol activity among non-maltreated children. Foster children in the intervention condition exhibited cortisol activity that became comparable to the non-maltreated children over the course of the study. In contrast, children in regular foster care condition exhibited increasingly flattened morning-to-evening cortisol activity over the course of the study. In sum, improvements in caregiving following early adversity appear to have the potential to reverse or prevent disruptions in HPA axis functioning.
This article reviews evidence on the reliability and validity of the Children's Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ), and presents CBQ data on the structure of temperament in childhood. The CBQ is a caregiver report measure designed to provide a detailed assessment of temperament in children 3 to 7 years of age. Individual differences are assessed on 15 primary temperament characteristics: Positive Anticipation, Smiling/Laughter, High Intensity Pleasure, Activity Level, Impulsivity, Shyness, Discomfort, Fear, Anger/Frustration, Sadness, Soothability, Inhibitory Control, Attentional Focusing, Low Intensity Pleasure, and Perceptual Sensitivity. Factor analyses of CBQ scales reliably recover a three-factor solution indicating three broad dimensions of temperament: Extraversion/Surgency, Negative Affectivity, and Effortful Control. This three-factor solution also appears to be reliably recovered in ratings of children in other cultures (e.g., China and Japan). Evidence for convergent validity derives from confirmation of hypothesized relations between temperament and socialization-relevant traits. In addition, parental agreement on CBQ ratings is substantial. The CBQ scales demonstrate adequate internal consistency, and may be used in studies requiring a highly differentiated yet integrated measure of temperament for children in this age range.