Some children seem to be born with a happy personality. Other children seem to feel more negative emotions. These “irritable” children are generally in a bad mood and have many tantrums and outbursts. As these children get older, they are at risk for school failure, problems with friends and family and mental illness. These problems also can get worse because of things like poverty, violence in the home or exposure to drugs and alcohol.

A little boy plays a computer game while his brain activity is monitored.

Dr. Susan Perlman, assistant professor of psychiatry, directs the Laboratory for Child Brain Development at the University of Pittsburgh. She is interested in how the brains of these irritable children are able to control emotion. We believe that if we are able to understand the brain dysfunction of irritable children, we can discover new therapies that can help preschoolers learn to better control emotion. This would help the children develop the social skills they need to get good grades, make friends and have happy family relationships when they reach school age.

Our studies use safe and painless technology to monitor a child’s brain while they play entertaining computer games. In some studies, children wear a headband that measures brain activity with light while they play computer games. Older children will play similar games during a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of their brain. (These children will even receive a picture of their brain!) Parents will be asked to fill out questionnaires or participate in an interview about their child’s daily life.

We are looking for children ages 3-12 to participate in studies at the Laboratory for Child Brain Development. Families will be paid and will be given free parking or bus passes. Both irritable and non-irritable children are welcome to participate. If your child is interested in participating, please contact Lisa at the Laboratory for Child Brain Development at 412-383-5280 or e-mail

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