Emerging Scholar Spotlight

September 2020

Emily Robertson   www.elrobertson.com

Emily L. Robertson is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology (Child/Adolescent Track) in the Department of Psychology at Louisiana State University. She is also the incoming 2020-2021 Clinical Psychology intern at University of Miami’s Mailman Center for Child Development housed within the Miller School of Medicine. Broadly, her research uses both cross-sectional and longitudinal methodologies to study the developmental pathways to childhood and adolescent conduct problems, with a particular interest in the development of callous-unemotional (CU) traits. CU traits are defined by a lack of guilt, reduced empathy, limited display of appropriate emotion, and limited effort in important activities. These traits designate an important subgroup of youths with serious conduct problems as they display more persistent and severe aggression and violence, and the importance of these traits led them to be included as a specifier to Conduct Disorder in recent revisions of major psychiatric classification systems (i.e., DSM-5, ICD-11). Emily’s work seeks to inform clinical practice and policy for systems that serve at-risk adolescents and their families (e.g., mental health, juvenile justice, Department of Children and Families). Through her research, Emily was the recipient of the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology’s 2019 Early Graduate Student Achievement Award in Research and the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy’s 2019 Cheryl Wynne Hare Award for Best Student Research.

Emily became interested in the intersection of psychology, adolescent development, and the law in a unique encounter with the Florida state prosecutor while taking a course on criminal law in 2011. Emily asked the prosecutor whether and how she considered child and adolescent development when making prosecutorial decisions. The prosecutor had recently charged a 12-year-old, as an adult, for first degree murder of a younger sibling. Despite what is known regarding the consequences of abuse and trauma, which was rife in this case, she made clear that, in her opinion, psychological science and the legal system do not and should not communicate. This conversation struck a nerve and has since guided her research, clinical, teaching, and advocacy interests: How should systems interact with at-risk children and adolescents, especially when their behavior is harmful and doesn’t elicit empathy from others?

In order to pursue this line of work, Emily spent two years as a research assistant in Dr. Ashley Batts Allen’s Self, Well-Being, & Social Behavior Laboratory at the University of North Florida where she co-developed, implemented, and assessed the efficacy of a novel 6-week self-compassion intervention for women in a domestic violence shelter. Upon graduating Emily sought two years of post-bachelorette research training at Georgetown University where she served as Lab Manager in the Laboratory on Social and Affective Neuroscience under Dr. Abigail Marsh. It was here that she studied the atypical cognitive and neural functioning of youths with serious conduct problems and CU traits. Following her two years in Washington D.C., Emily went to Louisiana State University to pursue her PhD in clinical psychology under the mentorship of Dr. Paul Frick in the Developmental Psychopathology Lab where she continued to study adolescent conduct problems. As a graduate student, Emily served as the coordinator for the Jefferson Parish site of The Crossroads Study, a multisite, longitudinal study that tracks 1,216 justice-involved youths to evaluate how contact with the justice system influences adolescent development (PI: Dr. Elizabeth Cauffman, Co-PIs: Laurence Steinberg, and Dr. Paul Frick). Emily’s current research takes a developmental psychopathology approach to understanding how CU traits interact with other mental health symptoms (e.g., anxiety), psychosocial factors (e.g., peer delinquency), and contextual factors (e.g., juvenile justice processing decisions; trauma exposure) that may increase risk for aggression, violence, and offending.

Featured Publications

  • Robertson, E.L., Frick, P.J., Walker, T.M., Kemp, E.C., Ray, J.V., Thornton, L.C., Wall Myers, T.D., Steinberg, L., & Cauffman, E. (2020). Callous-unemotional traits and risk of gun carrying and use during crime. American Journal of Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2020.19080861
  • Robertson, E.L., Frick, P.J., Ray, J.V., Thornton, L.C., Wall Myers, T.D., Steinberg, L., & Cauffman, E. (2020). Do callous-unemotional traits moderate the effects of the juvenile justice system on later offending behavior? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13266
  • Robertson, E.L., Frick. P.J., Ray, J.V., Thornton, L.C., Wall Myers, T.D., Steinberg, L., & Cauffman, E. (2018). The associations among callous-unemotional traits, worry, and aggression in justice involved adolescent boys. Clinical Psychological Science, 1-14. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702618766351
  • Robertson, E.L., Walker, T.M., & Frick, P.J. (2020). Intimate partner violence perpetration and psychopathy: A comprehensive review. European Psychologist, 25(2), 134-145. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000397