Aysenil Belger, PhD, became director of the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) on April 1, 2018. In this role, Belger's aim is to bring distinction to the Institute and set a standard of leadership and excellence for its programs and people.
In collaboration with the Executive Leadership Board and external constituencies, she works to extend the Institute's influence, broaden its sources of funding, and enhance its reputation. Furthermore, Belger builds partnerships, nationally and internationally, with institutions, government agencies, and private-sector groups to advance the goals of the Institute, and promotes inter-disciplinary collaboration and intellectual exchange, establishing strong, working relations with other centers and departments across UNC’s campus. Through her work at the Institute, she seeks to inspire progressive social change by conducting research that informs public policy and by advocating for the welfare of all children and families.
Belger's vision is to identify areas of growth within the Institute while maintaining its reputation. She would like to bridge FPG's research with developmental clinical cognitive neuroscience research ongoing at UNC and elsewhere, and forge faculty collaborations across UNC and other institutions to better understand the effects of early childhood adversity.
Equity, diversity, inclusion, engagement, and transparency guide her leadership. She is involved in all aspects of the institute, from training the next generation of scientists and scholars who will impact and transform the field of early childhood and adolescent research through translation and implementation, to disseminating the Institute's work to communities, both local and global, to inform and guide policy and improve the everyday lives of children and families.
In addition to being the director of FPG, Belger is professor and director of Neuroimaging Research in the Department of Psychiatry, and professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as adjunct associate professor at the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center at Duke University. Her research focuses on translational and interdisciplinary studies of the brain circuits underlying attention, executive function, and emotion processing in the human brain, as well as their breakdown in neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, mood disorders, and PTSD.
Belger combines functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electrophysiological scalp recording (EEG), functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), experimental psychology, and neuropsychological assessment techniques to explore the behavioral and neurophysiological underpinnings of sensory and cognitive impairments across disorders. Her integrative research has most recently examined electrophysiological and functional changes in children with autism, as well as children, adolescents, and adults at risk for psychosis. Belger is part of a large interdisciplinary team of investigators conducting multi-institutional studies exploring the impact of early childhood maltreatment on adult brain function, structure, and mental health outcomes.
Recent studies from Belger's laboratory have demonstrated that parents of children with autism share phenotypic and neurobiological markers associated with aberrant social information processing. Additionally, her lab has demonstrated that abnormal brain electrical activity can be linked to specific cognitive and affective processing impairments in patients with schizophrenia and their unaffected first-degree relatives. She currently examines stress regulation and brain function in adolescence and risk for psychopthology. She eagerly mentors undergraduate, graduate, and medical students, postdoctoral trainees, and junior faculty, and teaches Cognitive Clinical Neuroscience at UNC.