The Newborn Biobehavioral Laboratory, located within Penn State College of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, serves as a stress laboratory aimed at maximizing the neurodevelopmental, physical and psychological outcomes of newborns.

Who we are

The Newborn Biobehavioral Laboratory has a staff of research technologists trained in techniques of biological and behavioral stress measurement including: salivary hormone and buccal DNA sampling, heart rate variability, skin conductance, stress/pain behaviors, the modified Trier Social Stress Test, narrative interviews and health/psychological inventories. Researchers and clinicians from within Penn State, from collaborating academic centers, and from industry, work together to focus on the genetic, neurological, immunological, gastrointestinal, developmental and psychological perspectives impacting neonatal outcomes during hospitalization and beyond discharge. These areas are linked mechanistically, and research focused in any one area impacts the other. 

What we do

We investigate ways to improve the health of our infants, including improving interactions with parents and reducing adverse stress in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Collaborating investigators, each with their unique perspectives and areas of expertise, evaluate novel interventions that achieve these aims.

Projects include:

  • Testing how skin conductance in preterm infants provides information about arousal, stress and pain in the NICU
  • Comparing multiple methods of evaluation of stress and pain in the newborn infant, including heart rate variability, stress hormone measurements, biobehavioral observation and skin conductance
  • Determining the validity of heart rate variability as a biomarker of autonomic dysregulation and necrotizing enterocolitis-risk in preterm infants
  • Testing medical devices intended to reduce the pain and stress of heel lance
  • Comparing genomic variants important to individual pain/stress processing with stress response measures (salivary cortisol, skin conductance, heart rate variability and behavioral pain scales)
  • Identifying parents’ experiences of stress, coping and support regarding their preterm infant’s hospitalization and during the transition home from the NICU