Kayla received her bachelor’s degree in General Science with a neuroscience focus in 2014 from Penn State. She became interested in developmental psychology research through her undergraduate and post-baccalaureate experiences in the labs of Dr. Kristin Buss and Dr. Koraly Pérez-Edgar. Initially drawn to pediatric neurology, her experiences collecting data, interacting with children, and seeing how they develop over time led her to become more interested in parent-child interactions. As a graduate student at Penn State, Kayla was excited for the opportunity to work with Dr. Erika Lunkenheimer in the Parent-Child Dynamics Lab to earn her doctorate in developmental psychology.
Kayla focused on investigating interaction patterns in high-risk parent-child dyads during the first few years of her graduate program. Her master’s thesis examined how harsh parenting, early child temperament, and dynamic dyadic interactions influence each other. She found that when children with exuberant temperament, that is, children with high energy and positive affect but who were easily frustrated, had parents who were highly variable in their use of parenting behaviors, the children were more likely to have behavior problems. Kayla continues in Dr. Lunkenheimer’s lab post masters and has helped establish data collection and recruitment procedures for high-risk families with parents who may use harsh discipline strategies. Meanwhile, she has continued working with Dr. Pérez-Edgar’s Cognition, Affect, and Temperament Lab. In her secondary lab, she focused on examining how temperament affects dyadic interactions between parents and children as well as peers. Most recently, Kayla has used eye-tracking data to understand gaze patterns and link them to the later development of children’s socioemotional skills, such as self-regulation.
After being awarded a predoctoral fellowship on Penn State’s Child Maltreatment Solutions Network T32 training grant, Training the Next Generation of Scholars in Child Maltreatment, Kayla has become passionate about addressing the challenges related to translating research into policy using linked child protective services’ administrative data. After graduation, she plans to continue investigating better ways to help families affected by maltreatment, including continuing to work with administrative data and parent-child dyads to inform policies that affect families for positive change.