Courtesy of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Dylan Gee, an assistant professor of psychology and psychiatry at Yale, was honored by the Society for Affective Science, or SAS, for her research on how early adversity in childhood contributes to the development of mental health disorders. 

The SAS Early-Career in Affective Science Awards recognize the outstanding scientific contributions by SAS members who have completed their doctoral degrees within the last ten years. Gee, who completed her doctoral degree at UCLA in 2015, was one of two recipients designated with this honor in 2022. Specifically, Gee was chosen for her work exploring the manner in which the developing brain responds to its environment and how these experiences can affect one’s mental health.

“I really enjoy the combination of the excitement of scientific discovery, the opportunity to connect with youth and families and the potential for broader impact that our research brings,” Gee said. “Stress is a universal experience, and exposure to trauma during childhood is unfortunately common. Our work in childhood adversity has been applied to inform decisions about public policy related to children’s well-being, and that opportunity to contribute to the translation of science into societal impact is really important to me.”

Part of Gee’s interest in this area of study stemmed from her time as an undergraduate student at Dartmouth working with DREAM –– Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure and Mentoring –– a mentoring program led by students for children living in low-income housing in Vermont and New Hampshire neighborhoods. Gee observed the wide range of ways in which children responded to stressors in their environments and became curious about how to foster positive growth through a deeper understanding of children’s relationship to these factors.

Gee explores this aspect of psychology in her role as the director of the Clinical Affective Neuroscience and Development Lab, called CANDLab, on campus. The CANDLab investigates the role of caregiving and trauma in areas such as emotional regulation, anxiety disorders and PTSD. Notably, Gee has studied the impact of childhood stressors and the risk for psychopathology with the hope of developing clinical strategies for intervention. The lab also evaluates emotional learning and behavior through the lens of neuroplasticity and changes in corticolimbic circuitry, which are responsible for a myriad of cognitive functions.

“As a postdoctoral fellow in the CANDLab, I have benefitted immeasurably from Dr. Gee’s mentorship,” Alexis Brieant, a postdoctoral fellow in the CANDLab, said. “Her innovative research in clinical and affective science continuously moves the field forward, and I’m so thrilled that this work is being recognized by the field through this award.”

Going forward, Gee aims to bridge the gap between neuroscience and clinical practice by using her lab’s findings to formulate new treatment methodologies for children. The lab has two primary goals for the future: devise methods to observe the wide range of experiences in early childhood to identify the impact of key factors on the developing brain and explore how children regulate emotions such as fear and anxiety through their understanding of safety in their particular environments. Gee hopes that finding the answers to these questions could provide crucial insights into developing new treatments.

“Her work is not only really amazing basic science work that helps to understand brain development, but also important applied work,” Jutta Joormann, the department chair of psychology, said. “She takes the insights that she gains from her research to then try to improve interventions that we have. We know from research that very often, anxiety disorders in childhood are sort of the precursors of more serious psychopathology as children get older, so it’s actually really important to develop effective interventions for anxiety disorders in childhood.”

Gee also recently received the Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology from the American Psychological Association for research in psychopathology.

ELIZABETH WATSON
Elizabeth Watson covers breakthrough research for SciTech and illustrates for various sections. She is a first year in Pauli Murray College and is planning to major in STEM and the humanities.