Seth Pollak

Credentials: (he/him)

Position title: Bascom-Vaughan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Developmental Area Group Chair


Phone: (608) 890-2525

317 Psychology

Research Area(s)
Biology of Brain and Behavior
Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience
Individualized Graduate Major

Lab Website
Child Emotion Research Lab

Research Interest
I approach research on child development from both basic science and applied, public health perspectives. From the vantage point of basic science, my students and I address questions about the interpersonal, cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms that are responsible for the increasingly complex behaviors that children acquire during infancy, early childhood, and into adolescence. My particular area of interest is in understanding how the quantity and quality of early experiences in children’s lives, especially adversity, influences how children think about and process information. Members of our lab group hope to leverage an understanding of how developmental change occurs to develop effective prevention and intervention strategies for children most at risk for emotional, learning and behavior problems. Taken together, the goal of our research is to better understand the role that early experiences in children’s lives have on development of brain structure and function with implications for improving children’s lives.

Representative Publications

(Please see for full list)


Ruba, A.L., Pollak, S.D., and Saffran, J. R. (2022). Acquiring complex communicative systems: Statistical learning of language and emotion. Topics in Cognitive Science, (

Woodard, K., Zettersten, M., and Pollak, S.D. (2021). The representation of emotion knowledge across development. Child Development, 00, 1–14. [PMID: 34822168 DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13716]

Barrett, L.F., Adolphs, R., Marsella, S., Martinez, A., & Pollak, S.D. (2019). Emotional expressions reconsidered: Challenges to inferring emotion in human facial movements. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 20 (1), 1-68. [PMID: 31313636, PMCID: PMC6640856].


Smith, K.E., and Pollak, S.D. (2021). Early life stress and perceived social isolation influence how children use value information to guide behavior. Child Development, 93(3), 804-814. [PMID: 3497146, DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13727].

Pollak, S.D., and Smith, K.E. (2020). Re-thinking concepts and categories for understanding the neurodevelopmental effects of early childhood adversity. Perspectives in Psychological Science. [PMID: 32668190].


Hair, N., Hanson, J.L., Wolfe, B., and Pollak, S.D. (2022). Low household income and neurodevelopment from infancy through adolescence. Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE, 17(1), e0262607. (

Pollak, S.D. and Wolfe, B. (2020). How developmental neuroscience can help address the problem of child poverty. Development & Psychopathology, 32(5): 1640-1656. [PMID: 33427175, PMC8346912, NIHMSID: NIHMS1729823]