Faculty profile

Seth Pollak

Seth Pollak

Dept. of Psychology
317 Psychology
(608) 265-8190

Lab: 198 Psychology
(608) 262-6647

Lab: 527 Waisman Center
(608) 262-5148


Research Keywords

emotion, child development, learning, learning mechanisms, cognitive/affective/social neuroscience


  • Department of Psychology, Professor
  • Department of Pediatrics, affiliate
  • Department of Psychiatry, affiliate
  • Researcher, Waisman Center
  • NIMH Research Network on Adolescent Brain Maturation and Emotion Regulation
  • NIMH Research Network on Early Experience, Stress Neurobiology and Prevention Science

Current Projects

  • Investigator, Social and Affective Processes Unit, Waisman Center
  • Director, Child Emotion Research Lab

Representative Classes

  • Psych 211: Nature and Nurture in Child Development
  • Psych 311: Typical and Atypical Emotional Development
  • Psych 741: Psychological Disorders of Childhood
  • Psych 911: Culture and Mental Health

Research Statement

It is well known that children who develop within aberrant emotional environments, such as maltreated children, are at heightened risk for mental health difficulties. Yet, little is understood about the underlying neuro-developmental mechanisms conferring such risk. Our lab group employs techniques from the emerging fields of developmental affective neuroscience and developmental psychopathology to explicate the processes underlying risk for abused children. We seek to address central questions in the field of affective development and cognitive science: what are the relative contributions and constraints of innate structure and environmental input, and to what extent are the mechanisms underlying the processes of affective development specifically tailored for emotion? Ultimately, the learning of emotion (like the learning of most other complex systems) must be explained by a combination of innate structure and learning from experience. However, surprisingly little research in this area has focused on the mechanisms underlying emotion learning, and therefore the neurodevelopmental processes involved in the organization of affective systems remains largely unknown. This dearth of knowledge is even more pressing in the field of developmental psychopathology, where the application of tailored interventions for children suffering from emotional difficulties requires a clear understanding of the developmental processes that have gone awry.

Selected Publications

  • Pollak, S.D. (2005). Early adversity and mechanisms of plasticity: Integrating affective neuroscience with developmental approaches to psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 17: 735-752
  • Pollak, S.D., Vardi, S., Bechner, A.M.P., and Curtin, J.J. (2005). Physically abused children's regulation of attention in response to hostility. Child Development, 76(5): 968-977.
  • Wismer Fries, A.B., Ziegler, T.E., Kurian, J.R., Jacoris, S. and Pollak, S.D. (2005). Early experience in humans is associated with changes in neuropeptides critical for regulating social behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102:17237-17240.
  • Pollak, S.D., and Kistler, D. (2002). Early experience alters the development of categorical representations for facial expressions of emotion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 99, 9072-9076.
  • Pollak, S.D., & Sinha, P. (2002). Effects of Early Experience on Children's Recognition of Facial Displays of Emotion. Developmental Psychology, 38, 784-791.