The Stress Physiology Investigative Team (SPIT) laboratory was established in 2008. The SPIT lab seeks to understand the development of psychopathology by enhancing our understanding of psychobiological risk factors and inter-related social contextual factors in adolescents. This interdisciplinary research examines both short term responses to stressors such as laboratory challenges, as well as changes that are not necessarily temporary but can consistently or even permanently change an individual’s biology.
The SPIT lab investigates how developmental trajectories are established and activated across development. The focus is on adolescence because it represents a period of intensification, where many maturational processes that took place earlier in development coalesce. Adolescents experience many biological changes as they undergo puberty, but these changes are not new events. Their development is shaped and organized by earlier events and stressors, particularly their hormones. Biological changes are just one part of a greater suite of changes across several domains, making this developmental stage one of the most exciting times to conduct interdisciplinary research. This is also one of the first times that early psychobiological vulnerabilities are evinced as overt psychopathology or health problems. Rarely does stress lead to a specific type of health issue, however, so Dr. Shirtcliff maintains a broad definition of developmental psychopathology, does not focus on a single diagnostic spectrum, and considers symptoms ranging from normative to clinical impairment. Ultimately, the goal of understanding the interplay between stress exposure, biological trajectories and adolescent development in the SPIT lab is to understand why certain individuals will develop psychopathology.