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
The Pennsylvania State University

Administered in: Liberal Arts
NIH/NIDA 5R01DA020585 (PI: Neiderhiser)
NIH/NICHD 5R01HD42608 (PI: Leve)
NIH/NIMH 5R01MH092118 (PI: Neiderhiser)
NIDD KRO1DK090264 (PI: Ganiban)


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.

There are four (4) specific phases of study. The first is EGDS-School; in this study, we interview participants as the children enter the early school-aged years. We continue to look at the connection between nature and nurture on children’s behavioral development and look at such influences on children’s regulatory systems by measuring salivary cortisol levels. The second phase is EGDS-Prenatal. In this study, DNA is collected from all sets of families in order to better understand how genes might influence the development of personality and behaviors. The third phase is EGDS-NIMH. This study examines the interplay between genetic, prenatal, and postnatal environmental influences on early pathways to conduct, anxiety, and depressive behaviors. We interview parents about their own mental health and about their child’s behavior and symptoms between the ages of 6 and 8 years. Currently, Penn State is collecting EGDS-NIMH data across the county in addition to processing video and interview data from previous phases. The fourth and most recent phase is EGDS-Health which focuses on the eating habits and behaviors of adoptive parents, their children, and of birth parents, examining family dietary habits, food preferences, physical activities, and child growth patterns from birth to middle childhood. This study is interested in identifying the environmental and genetic factors that promote physical growth and healthy weight over time.

Additional Faculty:

Headshot of Jody Ganiban
Jody Ganiban Psychology George Washington University
Headshot of Leslie Leve
Leslie Leve
Oregon Social Learning Center
Headshot of Ginger Moore
Ginger Moore Psychology Penn State University
Headshot of David Reiss
David Reiss, M.D. Yale Child Study Center
Headshot of Daniel Shaw
Daniel Shaw Psychology University of Pittsburgh
Headshot of Dawn Witherspoon
Dawn Witherspoon
Penn State University

Research Staff:

Headshot of Amy Whitesel
Amy Whitesel Project Coordinator, GWU
Headshot of Cindy Mitchell
Cindy Mitchell Data Manager, PRI
Headshot of Allison Mitchell
Allison Mitchell
Lab Manager, PSU
Headshot of Mari De Araujo-Greecher
Mari De Araujo-Greecher Medical Record Data Manager
Headshot of Denise Ford-Ruthrauff
Denise Ford-Ruthrauff Interviewer, Fresno, CA

Survey Research Center:

(photos not available)
  • Teresa Crisafulli and Sally Crandall, Mail Division
  • Diana Crom, Telephone Interview Supervisor and Data Tracker

Graduate Students:

Headshot of Tong Chen
Tong Chen Psychology
Headshot of Amanda Ramos
Amanda Ramos Psychology