Research in Focus
Dr. Michael Lorber Seeks Clues to Childhood Anger and Aggression
- Barbara Kancelbaum

Understanding the earliest origins of child development is the focus of Dr. Michael Lorber, a recently appointed research scientist in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care.

Dr. Lorber was previously a member of a team, based at the University of Minnesota, conducting a 30-year study of development from infancy through adulthood and how people respond to unsupportive environments, both behaviorally and physically. He is particularly interested in charting the early development of aggressive and defiant behaviors among children.

The results of Dr. Lorber''s study with the Minnesota team (Dr. Byron Egeland is a coauthor) show that negative parenting toward infants at three and six months of age, compared with infant temperament, was a stronger predictor of child anger and maternal hostility at 24 and 42 months, and eventually of conduct problems at school entry (such as physical aggression, defiance, explosive behavior). Dr. Lorber''s team observed more than 260 mothers and their children while the mothers fed their children as infants and taught them challenging tasks in toddlerhood, recording levels of negative and positive parenting, as well as child anger. Difficult infant behavior was measured via observations in the neonatal period and via maternal report at three and six months.

With the information garnered from this study, Dr. Lorber hopes to develop interventions to break the cycle of hostility very early on.

Dr. Lorber is working with Drs. Amy Smith Slep and Richard E. Heyman, professors of family translational research in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care, to fine-tune interventions to prevent violence and improve family dynamics among high-risk couples, with the aim of improving mental, physical, and oral health. These interventions will be tested in an upcoming randomized controlled trial of a multi-component intervention to prevent early childhood caries.