Skip to content Skip to navigation


AMES: Assessment of Motivation, Effort, and Self-regulation

Our lab has created an iPad app — the Assessment of Motivation, Effort, and Self-regulation (AMES) — which uses five brief games to measure intrapersonal SEL skills, including persistence, challenge preference, delay of gratification, and executive functions (EFs). We are using AMES to study how these skills change over time and how they support learning in diverse groups of children. This work is funded by Technology for Equity in Learning Opportunities at Stanford (TELOS), the Spencer Foundation, and an SRCD-Jacobs Foundation initiative, Development in the Digital Age.

  • In 2018, we conducted an initial field test of these games with 675 four- to twelve-year-old children at museums and summer camps in the Bay Area. 
  • Next, we are examining the structure and longitudinal change in low-income elementary school students.
  • We are also adapting AMES for use in low-and-middle-income countries, to understand how persistence, challenge preference, and EFs develop and how they moderate the effectiveness of a literacy intervention in Ivory Coast. 
Early Childhood Educational Experiences

In partnership with the SFUSD Early Education Department, we are examining how different aspects of the Pre-K classroom experience uniquely relate to the growth of children’s academic, social, and emotional learning skills, and whether these associations vary by children’s ethnic background, language proficiency, or initial skill levels. Further, we are evaluating the effects of a new social and emotional curriculum in 25 transitional kindergarten (T-K) classrooms. This research is supported by an SFUSD-Stanford Partnership grant.

  • Leveraging SFUSD classroom- and student-level data, we are examining whether observed classroom quality (instructional, organizational, and emotional support) is uniquely related to gains in children’s school readiness skills across the preschool year.
  • Further, we are identifying the degree to which a large, urban, public, needs-based preschool program can reduce racial/ethnic disparities in cognitive, socioemotional, and literacy skills. 
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.

  • We demonstrated differential susceptibility at the level of basic self-regulatory skills, shedding light on potential mechanisms through which biological sensitivity operates on long-term adaptation (Obradović, Portilla, & Ballard, 2016). 
  • We conceptualized physiological response as a dynamic process that encompasses multiple stages and found that children's executive functions were linked to reactivity and recovery trajectories of physiological response (Obradović & Finch, 2017).
  • We found that parents’ own self-regulation skills are crucial for responsive and engaged caregiving (Shaffer & Obradović, 2017), whereas dynamic measures of parent-child co-regulation are linked to teacher reports of self-regulated classroom behavior (Bardack, Herbers, & Obradović, 2017).
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.

  • 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).
  • We found that observed maternal scaffolding behaviors and quality of home environment mediated the longitudinal effects of the early parenting intervention on preschooler’s EFs (Obradović, Yousafzai, Finch, & Rasheed 2016).
  • We found that maternal working memory, short-term memory, and verbal intelligence have been shown to uniquely predict maternal scaffolding behaviors (Obradović et al., 2017).
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.

  • 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).
  • 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).
  • We found that having classmates with higher average EFs is associated with growth in individual student EFs (Finch, Garcia, Sulik & Obradović, 2019).