The Pierce Experience & Development Lab, led by Dr. Lara Pierce, is housed in the Psychology Department at York University in Toronto. 

Here in the lab, we are curious about the many types of early experiences that babies and children have. We want to understand how experiences that happen during the first years of life – beginning even before a child is born – shape important foundational aspects of brain development. We also explore how brain development that happens during infancy and early childhood interacts with ongoing experiences to shape how we learn across the lifespan.

To test these questions, we use language as a model system. Because so much is known about how the brain supports language development, we can use this knowledge to explore how variation in early experience shapes brain development more broadly. Language is also fascinating because it interacts with so many other developing systems, such as attention, executive function, social development, and so much more! 

In the Pierce Lab, we are interested in many types of early experiences, but we place particular emphasis on understanding how children and families experience challenging circumstances such as poverty and stress. Our research stems from a strengths-based perspective, which means we strive to understand how the brain adapts to challenging and stressful situations, the implications of early exposure to stress for lifelong learning, and factors (both biological and environmental) that support early neurodevelopment across a variety of contexts. 

In doing this research we have three important aims. First, we aim to uncover general mechanisms of early neurodevelopment. In other words, we want to know exactly how variation in early experience shapes brain structure and function, and, in turn, how early brain development supports children’s learning over time. Second, we care deeply about the practical implications of our work for children and families – particularly families facing high levels of stress. Finally, and most importantly, we strive for our work to be representative. We want to reduce barriers to participation in research such that children and families from all backgrounds are included in the development of new insights into how children grow, learn, and thrive.    

Thank you for your interest in our work! We hope to see you in the lab soon