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We study child and adolescent brain development.

Our research investigates how motivation, learning, decision-making, and cognitive control change as individuals mature from childhood to adulthood.

To answer these questions, the lab uses novel experimental tasks, functional neuroimaging, and computational modeling.

In addition to conducting research, we are committed to the translation of science for society. We work with policy-makers, educators, and clinicians to help translate basic science to inform real world applications.


The decisions that adolescents make, and the actions that they take, have substantial consequences for their immediate and long-term wellbeing.

Adolescence is characterized by unique opportunities for learning and growth. Yet, at the same time, adolescents face heightened risk for mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression.

How do adolescents navigate both opportunity and vulnerability?

How does ongoing brain development shape adaptive growth and mental health outcomes?

how we MEAsure

the brain

To understand how the brain develops, we invite kids, teens, and adults to the lab to participate in brain imaging studies.

We use non-invasive methods, like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to measure how the brain responds during cognitive tasks.

Learn more about our research from our lab director.


Meet the CATS Lab

Katie Insel, PhD

lab director

Katie is an incoming Assistant Professor in Northwestern's Department of Psychology and the director of the CATS Lab. She Is also a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research.

She received her PhD from Harvard, and she conducted postdoctoral research at Columbia. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

katharina seitz

PHD student

Kat is an incoming Clinical Psychology Ph.D. student. She received a B.S. in Psychology and Computer Science from Davidson College in 2020, after which she worked as a data analyst at Accenture and then as a research coordinator at Northwestern. She is interested in using data-driven neuroimaging methods to better understand how stressful experiences disrupt development across the brain and body, creating risk for internalizing disorders, especially during adolescence. Her research is supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).

megan spurney

PHD student

Megan is an incoming first-year PhD student in the Brain. Behavior, & Cognition program. She received a B.A. in Psychology from Cornell University in 2021. She spent three years working at the National Institute of Mental Health as a post-baccalaureate IRTA, conducting research using fMRI to analyze resting-state functional connectivity data, as well as investigating how hormonal changes influence brain function at rest. She is interested in studying how the hormonal changes that accompany adolescence and the pubertal transition influence the development of higher-order cognitive processes, such as decision-making and cognitive control, and how this may confer risk for internalizing disorders, such as depression.


PhD Students

We will be reviewing PhD applications to start September 2025.

Learn more about Northwestern's PhD program and how to apply to the Brain, Behavior, and Cognition area.

Postdoctoral Fellow

We are recruiting a postdoc to help with a NIH funded research study

If you are interested in learning fMRI and computational modeling, this could be a great fit for you!

Undergraduate Research Assistants

We will be accepting undergraduate students soon! Reach out in the beginning of the Fall quarter to find out more!

We have openings for volunteers and students doing research for credit.


Phaneuf, C. Jacques, I., Insel, C., Otto, R., Somerville, L.H. (submitted). Characterizing Age-Related Change in Learning the Value of Cognitive Effort.

Cohen, A. O. & Insel, C. (2023) More than just a phase: adolescence as a window into how the brain generates behavior. PsyArXiv.

Insel C.*, Tabashneck, S.*, Shen, F.X., Edersheim, J.G., & Kinscherff, R.T. (2022). White Paper on the Science of Late Adolescence: A Guide for Judges, Attorneys, and Policy Makers. Center for Law, Brain, & Behavior.

Rodman A., Powers K.E., Insel C., Kastman E.K., Stark A., Kabotyanski K.E., & Somerville L.H. (2021). How adolescents and adults translate value to action: Age-related shifts in strategic physical effort exertion for monetary rewards. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 150(1), 103-113.

Kearns, J.C.*, Coppersmith, D.D.L.*, Santee, A.C., Insel, C., Pigeon, W.R., & Glenn, C.R. (2020). Sleep problems and suicide risk in youth: A systematic review, developmental framework, and implications for hospital treatment. General Hospital Psychiatry, 63, 141-151.

Insel, C., Charifson, M., & Somerville, L. H. (2019). Neurodevelopmental shifts in learned value transfer on cognitive control during adolescence. Developmental cognitive neuroscience, 40, 100730.

Martin, R.E., Silvers, J.A., Hardi, F., Stephano, T., Helion, C., Insel, C., Franz, P.J., Ninova, E., Lander, J.P., Mischel, W., Casey, B.J., & Ochsner, K.N. (2019). Longitudinal Changes in Brain Structures Related to Appetitive Reactivity and Regulation Across Development. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 100675.

Insel, C.*, Glenn, C.*, Nock, M., & Somerville, L.H. (2019). Aberrant striatal tracking of reward magnitude in youth with current or past-year depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(1), 44-56.

Insel, C. & Somerville, L.H. (2018). Asymmetric neural tracking of gain and loss magnitude during adolescence. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(8), 785-796.

Insel, C., Davidow, J.Y., & Somerville, L.H. (2018). Neurodevelopmental processes that shape the emergence of value-guided goal directed behavior. Forthcoming in The Cognitive Neurosciences VI (Gazzaniga, Mangun, & Poeppel, Eds.).

Davidow, J.Y.*, Insel, C.*, & Somerville, L.H. (2018). Adolescent development of value-guided goal pursuit. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22(8), 725-736.

Lee, N.C.*, Weeda, W.D.*, Insel, C., Krabbendam, L., Somerville, L.H., & Huizinga, M. (2018). The influence of emotional cues on cognitive control in high and low risk-taking adolescents. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 31, 20-34.

Insel, C., Kastman, E.K., Glenn, C.R., & Somerville, L.H. (2017). Development of corticostriatal connectivity constrains goal directed behavior during adolescence. Nature communications, 8, 1605.

Somerville, L.H., Sasse, S.F., Garrad, M.C., Drysdale, A.T., Akar, N.A., Insel, C., & Wilson, R.C. (2017). Charting the expansion of strategic exploratory behavior during adolescence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146 (2), 155.

Silvers, J.A., Insel, C., Powers, A., Franz, P., Helion, C., Weber, J., Casey, B.J., Mischel, W., & Ochsner, K.N. (2017). The transition from childhood to adolescence is marked by a general decrease in amygdala reactivity and an affect-specific ventral-to-dorsal shift in medial prefrontal recruitment. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 25, 128-137.

Silvers, J.A., Insel, C., Powers, A., Franz, P., Helion, C., Weber, J., Casey, B.J., Mischel, W., & Ochsner, K.N. (2016). vlPFC-vmPFC-amygdala circuit underlies age-related differences in cognitive regulation of emotion. Cerebral Cortex, 27(7), 3502-3514.

Silvers, J.A., Insel, C., Powers, A., Franz, P., Weber, J., Casey, B.J., Mischel, W., & Ochsner, K.N. (2014). Curbing craving: Behavioral and brain evidence that children regulate craving when instructed to do so but have higher baseline craving that adults. Psychological Science, 25(10), 1932-1942.

Insel, C., Reinen, J., Weber, J., Wager, T. D., Jarskog, L. F., Shohamy, D., & Smith, E. E. (2014). Antipsychotic dose modulates behavioral and neural responses to feedback during reinforcement learning in schizophrenia. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 14(1), 189-201.

Reinen, J., Smith, E. E., Insel, C., Kribs, R., Shohamy, D., Wager, T. D., & Jarskog, L. F. (2014). Patients with schizophrenia are impaired when learning in the context of pursuing rewards. Schizophrenia Research, 152(1), 309.

Eich, T. S., Nee, D. E., Insel, C., Malapani, C., & Smith, E. E. (2013). Neural correlates of impaired cognitive control over working memory in schizophrenia. Biological Psychiatry, 76(2), 146–153.

Get In touch to learn more!

Our team is growing!

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The lab is located in

Cresap Laboratory

Evanston Campus