The transition from childhood through adolescence is characterized by changing brains and bodies, affect and motivation, peer relationships and conceptions of self – many strands which combine to shape behavior during this critical period. Dr. Pfeifer is interested in how affect, motivation, regulation, self-evaluation, and social perception interact across contexts, are instantiated at the neural level, as well as influence adolescent choices and well-being.
She studies the development of these related phenomena at multiple levels, with the goal of enabling healthy transitions from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Her research is focused on i) building a foundational knowledge base about normative and atypical trajectories of functional brain development supporting these social, affective/motivational, and regulatory processes - in particular, integrating the contributions of social processes and social cognitive brain function to our neurobiological models of adolescent development; and ii) using fMRI as a tool to advance our understanding of neurobiological mechanisms that put some adolescents at risk for adverse outcomes, or serve as protective factors for others. She is also interested in how functional brain development is affected by various endogenous and exogenous factors such as pubertal development and early adversity.
Her work has been funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Science Foundation, and the Oregon Medical Research Foundation.