Biobehavioral Health Alumni Profile: Elizabeth A Shirtcliff, Ph.D.

Photo of Elizabeth Shirtcliff


  • B.S. 1998, University of Oregon. Major: Psychology with Honors
  • Ph.D. 2003, The Pennsylvania State University. Major: Biobehavioral Health Minor: Statistics

Current Position

Associate Professor
Department of Human Development and Family Studies
Iowa State University

On the Ph.D. program, in her words:

“One of the most attractive aspects of the department of biobehavioral health is its emphasis on truly interdisciplinary research and education. The program nicely emphasizes the importance of the cross-fostering of ideas across multiple levels: from bench to bedside; from animal to human to community levels of analysis, from normative to atypical development. This kind of interdisciplinary research is what many funding agencies are calling for”.

“I feel like biobehavioral health placed me in an extraordinarily good position to be able to conduct the most cutting edge kind of research in my future career”.

Current areas of professional interest are:

I am a behavioral endocrinologist who seeks to understand the developmental factors leading to increased risk for psychopathology during adolescence. Following my doctoral studies in Biobehavioral Health at Penn State, I was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship on the NIMH Emotion Training Grant at the University of Wisconsin. During my post-doctoral training, I applied my expertise in endocrinology to understanding how emotional experiences influence the establishment of set points in hormonal regulation of the stress response. This training exposed me to developmental research questions about stress regulation. I found studying the developmental period of adolescence rewarding because it is critical for understanding the etiology of mental disorders. My current career goals are to address questions about adolescent’s social contextual experiences as they relate to psychobiological mechanisms underlying maladaptive stress regulation and psychopathology. I was recently awarded a K01 career award through NIMH to pursue these goals for the next five years.

Doctoral Thesis

Low salivary cortisol levels are associated with externalizing but not internalizing behavior problems: A latent state trait model in normally developing youth.

Brief Description: Practical experience in the behavioral endocrinology laboratory was augmented during graduate school to include the refinement of more sophisticated statistical methods for assessing hormone-behavior relationships. My hope was that increasingly accurate measurement and analytical methodologies would result in a more conceptually meaningful understanding of how hormones operate in children and adolescents. In my doctoral dissertation, I used latent state trait modeling to separate out cortisol variability derived from situation specific day-to-day fluctuations from variability attributable to stable activity. The latent trait factor captured person-specific basal cortisol. Extrapolating basal cortisol helped to identify relationships between low basal cortisol and externalizing behavior. I have since replicated this finding in two independent adolescent samples.

Ph.D. Advisor

Dr. Douglas A. Granger