Human Development and Family Studies

Esther Leerkes, Ph.D.

Current/Recent Projects

Read an overview of Dr. Leerkes' research from the 2013 edition of the UNCG research Magazine.

TCS Triad Child Stody

In this NICHD funded project, we are examining maternal responses to infant negative emotions in a sample of 250 first-time mothers. The goals of the project are to identify predictors of maternal sensitivity to infant distress, to determine if sensitivity to distress predicts unique variation in infant emotional well-being over and above sensitivity to non-distress, and to examine racial differences in early emotion socialization beliefs, practices, and outcomes. We recently received additional funding to collect DNA from participating mothers and infants to examine molecular genetic predictors or maternal sensitivity and child well-being.  See a list of publications and presentations stemming from this project. 

STAR Project School Transition and Academic Readiness (STAR)

In the first NICHD funded project, we examined emotional and cognitive precursors to early school success in a sample of 250 children and families.  Review a list of manuscripts (doc) that stemmed from this project.

Recently, we were awarded a new grant from NICHD to extend this work in a new sample of children by including measures of children’s neural processing while completing challenging tasks and measures of their learning engagement in school. To learn more about this study, visit our website:  There are multiple opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to be involved in this project as research assistants.  Please contact us at

Women, Work and Wee Ones

This NICHD funded project is a collaborative effort involving the Wake Forest University School of Medicine (Joseph Grzywacz, Co-PI) and UNCG’s Center for Youth, Family and Community Partnerships (Stephanie Daniel, Co-PI) and Department of Human Development and Family Studies. The goals of the study are to examine the impact of mothers’ working a nonstandard schedule (anything other than the standard 9 to 5 arrangement) on mothers’ well-being, parenting behavior, and infant health and social emotional development in a low income sample and to identify individual, familial, and social factors that promote resilience in this type of work arrangement. Leerkes is a co-investigator along with Drs. Chris Payne, Charles Randall Clinch, and Beth Reboussin

Infant Parent Project

In this NICHD funded project, we followed 100 first-time expectant couples from the third trimester of pregnancy until their children were 3 ½ years old. The goals of this project were fourfold: 1) to identify personality characteristics and family factors that influence mothers' beliefs, goals, and feelings about infant emotions; 2) to determine if these beliefs, goals, and feelings in conjunction with infant temperament influence maternal sensitivity to negative infant emotions in a diverse sample; 3) to examine the influence of early parenting behavior and beliefs on subsequent child outcomes; and 4) to identify characteristics of mothers, fathers, and the parenting context that affect marital/partner satisfaction and individual adjustment during the transition to parenthood. Please review this list of works that stemmed from this project.