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University of Wisconsin–Madison

CREATE: Cumulative Risks, Early Development, and Emerging Academic Trajectories

Children facing multiple stressors in early childhood are at greater risk for lower educational achievement and increased chronic disease and mortality in adulthood. Early childhood is a period of rapid brain development that is vulnerable to adverse effects of psychosocial and environmental stress but these negative effects on brain development maybe reversible through high-quality interventions.

Research is needed to determine the range of psychosocial and environmental stressors facing children and their associations with physiological stress response and academic readiness in early childhood. This project will address this pressing societal issue by identifying the most relevant avenues for future intervention and prevention studies.

This project brings together social and environmental scientists to identify sources of chemical and non-chemical stress in preschool age children by collecting and integrating data about the physical environment (particulate matter and noise), the home environment (household chaos, parenting quality, caregiver psychological distress, and the home learning environment), biological processes (inflammation markers), demographic variables, and children’s outcomes (self-regulation and language skills).

The project will develop a composite cumulative risk score based on the child’s exposure to environmental and psychosocial stressors to examine the associations between cumulative risk, physiological markers of stress (e.g., inflammation, coritisol) and academic readiness among three and four year olds. Study participants will reside in diverse neighborhoods and communities. This research can potentially transform interventions for children living within high social and environmental risk communities.

Principal Investigator

  • Janean Dilworth-Bart
    Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies

Co-Principal Investigator

  • Kristen Malecki
    Assistant Professor of Population Health Sciences


  • Heather Kirkorian
    Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies
  • James Schauer
    Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering