Closeup of three, gray, felt pinwheel lamps in the Dorothy O'Brien Innovation Lab.

Research & ScholarshipResearch Labs

Research underlies the work of faculty. Human Ecology faculty specialize in diverse areas, and regularly offer students opportunities to work in labs, to become involved and engaged in research. 

Child and Family Ecologies (CAFÉ) Lab

The Child and Family Ecologies (CAFÉ) Lab is directed by Dr. Janean Dilworth-Bart, Professor  of Human Development and Families Studies. The goal of the CAFÉ Lab is to conduct research that can better inform parents and schools about healthy parent-child relationships and safe environmental spaces for children to live in. Our lab focuses on the intersections of environment, family structure, and race, and their relationship to early childhood school readiness. Because social science research often oversimplifies or excludes the experiences of families and children of color, our mission is to make these families more visible.

Cognitive Development and Media Lab

Dr. Heather Kirkorian directs the Cognitive Development and Media Lab, where she and her students study how young children learn and play in the digital age. Recent and ongoing studies use a wide range of methods to (1) identify ways to improve informal learning (e.g., from TV shows, apps, digital games, and eBooks) and (2) examine the interdependence of parent mental health and parent/child media use. Visit the lab website to learn more.

Couples Lab

Dr. Lauren Papp directs the Couples Lab, where she and her students investigate couple and family relationships as key contexts for health and well-being across the lifespan. Recent and on-going studies investigate the predictors and consequences of day-to-day risky experiences (focusing on substance use and relationship conflict) among couples in dating relationships and midlife marriages.

Child Development Lab

As part of the Child Development Lab, this interaction lab promotes research combining behavioral observations with indices of individual and family well-being and development across the lifespan including physical, cognitive, emotional, relational, cultural, and economic well-being. The facility has two research rooms, one for families and one designed for infants and children. Each research room has a one-way mirror and an adjoining observation room. For more information or to discuss your project please email

AgeInPlace Lab

Dr. Jung-hye Shin leads the AgeInPlace Lab, made up of a diverse and collaborative team engaged in interdisciplinary research, delving into various aspects of aging in place. Specializing in the assessment and analysis of home and neighborhood features that either hinder or promote factors supporting aging in place, the lab’s primary goal is to advocate for measures that encourage successful aging at both the individual and community levels.

Hartley Lab

The Hartley Lab is run through the UW–Madison and the Waisman Center. The principle investigator is Dr. Sigan Hartley, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, and her students study the resources and contexts underlying positive well-being in individuals with developmental disabilities and their family members.  Their research investigates many aspects of individual well-being and family relationships, such as marital quality, parent-child interactions, healthy aging, mental health conditions, and stress and coping.

Poehlmann Lab

Dr. Julie Poehlmann studies resilience in infants and young children who have experienced risks or trauma, including children with incarcerated parents, infants exposed to pre- and postnatal parental substance use, children raised by their grandparents, and preterm infants. She also designs and evaluates interventions to facilitate positive family interactions and well-being in vulnerable groups. Her current studies include the Healthy Brain and Child Development Study (HBCD) and the Enhanced Visits Program for children with incarcerated parents. If you are an undergraduate or graduate student, you can apply to become involved in the lab by emailing Dr. Julie Poehlmann at

Thomas Resilient Youth Lab (TRYlab)

The Thomas Resilient Youth Lab, headed by Dr. Alvin Thomas, engages child and community mental health research to understand the factors that hinder or contribute to positive outcomes in youth, particularly those exposed to greater risks in their day-to-day environments. The lab also explores father-child relationships as an under-examined resource in the lives of families and youth.

Kerr Parent Lab

The Kerr Parent Lab, directed by Dr. Margaret Kerr, studies parents’ emotions, experiences, and mental health, including the development of parent-focused family interventions. Some of our current projects include 1) parents’ real-time emotions and experiences, 2) parents’ experiences during COVID-19, and 3) the development and pilot of an anti-racist parenting training. Graduate or undergraduate students interest in joining the lab should email Dr. Margaret Kerr at