Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
Early Growth and Development Study: A Family of Adoption Studies (EGDS)

Early Growth and Development Study: A Family of Adoption Studies (EGDS)

Headshot of Jenae Neiderhiser
PI: Jenae Neiderhiser
Penn State

Administered in: Liberal Arts

NIH 3OD023389 (PI: Leve, Ganiban & Neiderhiser) The Early Growth and Development Study Cohort of the ECHO Program

NIH R01DA045108 (PI: Neiderhiser) An Adoption Study of the Development of Early Substance Use: The Joint Roles of Genetic Influences, Prenatal Risk, Rearing Environment, and Pubertal Maturation (Coronavirus 2019 Administrative Supplement; Diversity Supplement)

NIH R01MH092118 (PI: Leve & Neiderhiser) Gene-Environment Interplay and Development of Psychiatric Symptoms in Children – Cohort I & II: Mental Health

NIH R01DK090264 (PI: Ganiban) Gene-Environment Interplay and Childhood Obesity: An Adoption Study – Cohort I & II: Health

NIH R01HD042608 (PI: Leve) The Early Growth and Development Study: Family Process, Genes, and School Entry – Cohort I: School (Toddlers Continuation)

NIH R01HD042608 (PI: Reiss) The Early Growth and Development Study: Family Process, Genes, and School Entry – Cohort I: Toddlers 

NIH R01DA020585 (PI: Neiderhiser) Genes, Prenatal Drug Exposure, and Postnatal Environment: An Adoption Study – Cohort II: Prenatal


The Early Growth and Development Study (EGDS) is designed to investigate how children develop to their fullest potential. Findings will be used to develop a greater understanding of how families can bring out the best in their children. This study is the first of its kind to investigate both the adoption process and the influence of heredity and family environment on child development at the same time. Traditional thinking was that nature OR nurture influences a child’s development. More recent research shows that both nature AND nurture are closely connected and that together, both may influence the same areas of a child’s development. In order for us to examine how children’s behavior is influenced by their heredity and by their relationships with their parents, as well as how heredity and environment are connected, we need to study families in which children are not raised by their biological families. The best way to do this is to study adopted children, adoptive families, and birth families.

The EGDS is the result of a cooperative effort among Penn State University, George Washington University, the Oregon Social Learning Center, Yale University, University of California Riverside, and the University of Pittsburgh. The initial study started in 2002 and the recruitment of study participants began in 2003. The primary areas of exploration include: 1) the roles of parenting and heredity on child development; 2) the effects of the adoption process on children, birth parents, and adoptive parents; 3) the effects of pregnancy-related events and experiences on birth parents and on child adjustment; and 4) the characteristics of birth and adoptive parents involved in an adoption plan and how the adoption process may reflect and influence these characteristics.

EGDS has evolved over the years while still adhering to the four areas of exploration listed above. We have collected data from children and their families from the prenatal period into adolescence including data on rearing environment and family relationships, and child development and physical health. We are currently examining the role of puberty and pubertal hormones on child development and are part of the NIH ECHO program ( We have added siblings of the original EGDS participants who are either residing in the adoptive home with the child or are being parented by the birth parent of the adopted child. 

Leadership Team:

Headshot of Jody Ganiban
Jody Ganiban
George Washington University
Headshot of Leslie Leve
Leslie Leve
Oregon Social Learning Center
Headshot of Jenae Neiderhiser
Jenae Neiderhiser
Penn State

Collaborating Faculty:

Headshot of Lorah Dorn
Lorah Dorn
Penn State
Headshot of Kristine Marceau
Kristine Marceau
Purdue University
Headshot of Misaki Natsuaki
Misaki Natsuaki
University of California Riverside
Headshot of David Reiss
David Reiss, M.D. Yale Child Study Center
Headshot of Daniel Shaw
Daniel Shaw
University of Pittsburgh
Headshot of Elizabeth Shirtcliff
Elizabeth "Birdie" Shirtcliff
University of Oregon
Headshot of Dawn Witherspoon
Dawn Witherspoon
Penn State

Research Staff:

Headshot of Allison Mitchell
Allison Mitchell
Project Coordinator

Postdoctoral Researchers:

Lijun Li sitting on colorful steps
Lijun Li, PhD
Headshot of Danielle Seay
Danielle Seay, PhD

Graduate Students:

Headshot of Chia-li Yu
Chia-li Yu
Daiqing (Iris) Zhao wearing graduation attire
Daiqing (Iris) Zhao