Daniel Messinger, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Pediatrics, and Electrical & Computer Engineering
Lab Overview for Associates
Dr. Messinger is interested in what babies feel, how they communicate, and how they develop. His research focuses on typically developing young children a well as children who might be experiencing various developmental delays, including Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). His main project compares infants who do and do not have an older brother or sister diagnosed with an ASD across 12 time points during the first six years of life. Graduate students and research assistants observe the baby and their parent interacting, and the researcher also interacts with and assesses the baby or their sibling. Through these interactions, Dr. Messinger and his team hope to learn more about social, emotional, cognitive, and language development as well as brain activity in siblings of children with an ASD diagnosis. Patterns in which infants develop theses abilities over the formative years are examined by coding and analyzing different constructs like sensitivity, gaze patterns, empathy, attachment styles, and parent-child interactions.
Dr. Messinger also has several projects focusing specifically on emotional expression, including smiles and negative expressions. In one study, Dr. Messinger asks parents and undergraduate students to make ratings of parent and infant interactions in order to understand how different infant expressions convey different messages to the rater. In another study, Dr. Messinger uses software to make automatic measurements of facial expressions in order to compare children with Autism, children with other Developmental Disabilities, and typically developing children. Ultimately, Dr. Messinger hopes to discover how emotional expression and interactive patterns predict later development in children. Children who are diagnosed with an ASD and infant siblings of children with ASDs may show depressed levels of positive emotion, although some at-risk children are likely to develop typically. Dr. Messinger’s group aims to identify early markers of these differences.
Dr. Messinger believes research is a valuable part of the undergraduate experience. Accordingly, his team’s goal is to offer each undergraduate research assistant with the breadth and depth of experience necessary to prepare them for graduate school. Most of the studies in Dr. Messinger’s lab use play- or video- based assessments. The assessment techniques used provide precise measurement of early development. Facial expressions, interaction, cognitive development, language, shared emotion, security of attachment, and activity level of these young children are monitored closely. Undergraduate research assistants play a vital role in this data collection. Assistants may play “stranger” in the strange situation (i.e., Ainsworth’s protocol), code video assessments, score behavioral questionnaires, track facial expressions, or aid in other data management activities. Most importantly, research assistants will learn how to observe behavior and develop critical thinking skills. Assistants should be enthusiastic and possess both interpersonal skills as well as good technical skills. Familiarity with Excel, Access, SPSS, editing digital video, and calculus are plusses but not required.
Additional information is also available on our SIB SMILE homepage: http://umkids.psy.miami.edu/. More information about Dr. Messinger can be found on his website at http://www.psy.miami.edu/Faculty/DMessinger.
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