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Our lab has created innovate assessments to better understand how children's social-emotional and cognitive skills change over time and how they support learning. In addition, we have adapted existing measures to ensure that they can be used equitably with diverse groups of children.

Our work on developing and validating direct assessments of elementary school students’ EFs and motivation in classroom settings are described in a new chapter. Obradović & Steyer (2022)

Lessons learned from studying EFs in young children from low-and-middle-income countries are reported in a review article that provides practical guidance on task adaptation, study design, team training, data analyses, and interpretation for future studies. Obradović & Willoughby (2019)

Learn more about our measures


We developed and validated a pragmatic, cost-effective way to directly assess children’s EF skills using tablet computers, enabling group-based classroom assessments at scale. Obradović, Sulik, Finch, & Tirado-Strayer (2017)

We developed a novel ranking procedure to quickly obtain teacher report of EF skills on all students in a classroom. These rankings showed high convergence with teachers’ ratings of EF, and similarly predicted school outcomes, but they took less time to complete. Sulik & Obradović (2018)

Our international work has demonstrated the importance of using both EF tasks and adult reports of EF behaviors by showing that each method captures unique aspects of self-regulation relevant to school readiness and academic achievement.
Ahmed et al. (2022) Obradović et al. (2022)

Using a brief and reliable self-report of elementary school students’ behaviors, we found that challenge preference was uniquely related to teacher ratings of task orientation, assertiveness, peer social skills, and frustration tolerance and to students’ performance on standardized achievement tests , controlling for students' EF skills. Finch & Obradović (2017) Sulik, Finch, & Obradović (2020)

Early Childhood Educational Experiences

In partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Early Education Department (EED), we are leveraging routinely collected classroom- and student-level data to examine how different aspects of preschool experience and kindergarten readiness uniquely relate to children’s social, emotional, and academic skills during preschool and elementary school grades. This research is supported by an SFUSD-Stanford Partnership grant.

Our current SFUSD-EED research-practice partnership work also supports the implementation of socio-emotional learning curriculum and evaluates its effectiveness, while advancing the science of how EFs, emotion knowledge, and social skills develop in racially/ethnically and linguistically diverse preschoolers. This research is supported by a Spencer Foundation grant. 

View a list of all SFUSD-EED publications.


By comparing students who attended the district's need-based preschool or universal age-based transitional kindergarten (TK) program to demographically similar students, we found that the district's preschool and TK programs have positive impacts on students literacy skills and cognitive/motor skills at kindergarten entry. Sulik, Townley-Flores, Steyer, & Obradović (2023)

Our work shows that measures of preschool classroom quality (CLASS & ECERS-R) do not predict preschoolers’ skill development between fall & spring. Only ECERS-R ratings of appropriate discipline, safety, and positive interactions with teachers and peers were associated with improvements in skill levels during the second half of the preschool year. McDoniel, Townley Flores, Sulik, & Obradović (2022)

Using a universal screening measure of child health at kindergarten entry, we found that kindergarteners’ experiences of hunger, tiredness, and sickness in classrooms were related to lower academic and social-emotional skills. Health concerns partially explained racial/ethnic disparities in kindergarten readiness.
Steyer, Townley-Flores, Sulik, & Obradović (2022)

Stress Physiology and Self-regulation in Children

We are studying how the dynamic interplay between children’s physiological arousal, self-regulatory skills, and the quality of caregiving environments relates to children’s health, learning, and well-being over time. This work points toward the possibility of harnessing stress physiology to promote resilience in at-risk children (Obradović, 2016). Thus, we are testing whether brief interventions can change young children’s physiological responses to emotional and cognitive challenges. This work was supported by a grant from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and it is currently funded by the Jacobs Foundation.


Our work shows that a 1-minute, animated video designed to scaffold children’s deep breathing lowers their physiological arousal in everyday settings (e.g., summer camps, playgrounds). The randomized field experiment and the intention-to-treat approach suggest that the video is a pragmatic and scalable tool. Obradović, Sulik, & Armstrong-Carter (2021)

In this review, we examine the links between stress physiology and learning and how children's experiences at school shape stress physiology, cognition, and behavior. We suggest ways in which stress physiology can be used to increase the impact of future research on school-based interventions. Obradović & Armstrong-Carter (2020)

We found that children with more positive, reciprocal relationships with their parents exhibited greater withdrawal of the parasympathetic nervous system while receiving critical feedback from an unfamiliar adult. Children with lower levels of independent self-regulated behavior showed greater withdrawal of the parasympathetic nervous system after the critical feedback ceased, suggesting that this post-task period was physiologically challenging for them. Armstrong, Sulik, & Obradović (2020)


Parenting and Family Processes

Our work examines how contextual family experiences relate to and shape children’s development of EFs and self-regulation skills. We have shown shown that caregivers’ own EFs and self-regulation skills are crucial for responsive and engaged caregiving in. We also study how children’s EF and self-regulation skills are related to their experiences of dyadic caregiver-child co-regulation and caregiver's scaffolding practices. Our ongoing work investigates the role of sibling, parental, and family co-regulation processes and aims to identify everyday experiences that explain intra-individual variability in EF skills.

Our new NIH-funded mixed-method work will identify how caregivers  respond to children’s negative emotions in the context of learning challenges. Our goal is to create a new measure that will be validated with large groups of racially/ethnically diverse mothers and fathers (stratified by socioeconomic status) to expand understanding of how families in the U.S. support children’s well-being and learning.


Our work has also revealed that caregiving experiences often considered negative, such as exposure to mild-to-moderate levels of parental emotional challenges (Finch & Obradović, 2017) and parental minimization of negative emotions (Bardack & Obradović, 2017), can be linked with better self-regulation.

We found that a dynamic SSG measure of parent-child positive co-regulation uniquely predicted teacher reports of kindergartners’ classroom self-regulated behaviors, whereas conventional, global, high-inference ratings of parenting behaviors did not. Bardack, Herbers, & Obradović (2017)

We employed momentary dyadic interaction data to measure parental over-engagement, as indexed by the time parents spend actively guiding children’s behavior relative to following the child’s lead, when their child is actively engaged with tasks. Our work showed that parental over-engagement predicted lower levels of kindergartners’ hot EFs and observed self-regulation, controlling for demographics and global ratings of parenting. This work highlights the need for parents to let an engaged child take the lead, especially during the key developmental transition to elementary school. Obradović et al. (2021)

STAR Project: School Transition and Readiness in Rural Pakistan

With Dr. Aisha Yousafzai and a research team at Aga Khan University, in Karachi, Pakistan, we are studying how an early parenting intervention, family processes, and antecedent development relate to emergent executive functions (EFs) and related school readiness skills in disadvantaged preschoolers. Our goal is to further the understand of early childhood development in low-and middle-income countries (LMIC) where children face high levels of adversity, including infections, malnutrition, and inadequate stimulation. This work was funded by the Grand Challenges Canada, Saving Brains Program.

View a list of all STAR publications.


We found that the association between the number of older siblings and preschool-age children's executive functions and verbal IQ were moderated by the quality of home stimulation, such that older siblings may promote these emerging skills for children with fewer opportunities for cognitive stimulation. Rathore, Armstrong-Carter, Siyal, Yousafzai, & Obradović (2022)

We demonstrated that, even while accounting for direct assessments of executive functions, assessors' reports of self-regulation had unique associations with children's contextual experiences and age-salient developmental outcomes (prosocial behavior and behavior problems). Obradović et al. (2022)

We found that EFs in preschoolers were uniquely predicted by physical growth status at age two, number of older siblings, and an early parenting intervention, after controlling for child IQ. Obradović et al. (2019)

PLUS Project: Promoting Learning, Understanding Self-regulation

We studied executive functions (EFs) in upper elementary school grades, an age when students are expected to manage their own classroom behaviors with less direct input from teachers and when peer influences become more salient. We showed that EF skills are uniquely related to both adaptive classroom behaviors and academic achievement, over and above related, but conceptually distinct skills. We identified how specific aspects of the classroom context relate to changes in EF skills across an academic school year. This work was funded by a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation.

View a list of all PLUS publications.


We developed and validated a pragmatic, cost-effective way to directly assess children’s EF skills using tablet computers, enabling group-based classroom assessments at scale. Obradović, Sulik, Finch, & Tirado-Strayer, 2017

We found persistent, systematic disparities (by gender, ethnicity, and ELL status) in teachers’ reports of students’ EFs, when compared to the direct assessment of these skills. Garcia, Sulik, & Obradović, 2018

We developed an observation measure, Teachers’ Displays and Scaffolding of Executive Function (T-DSEF) , to help study how teacher behaviors relate to students' EF skills. Teachers' displays of impulsivity, distraction, or disorganization were linked to student EFs in the fall, whereas teachers’ scaffolding practices were linked to student EFs in the spring. Bardack & Obradović, 2019