James E Swain MD, PhD, FRCPC

Assistant Professor (Adjunct) in the Child Study Center; Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Psychology and Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan

Biographical Info

My interests include the use of multiple, coordinated biological and psychological approaches to understand human thoughts and behaviors in mental health and illness – especially with a developmental perspective. Thus, my scholarly interests range from the brain-basis and psychology of social bonding across development to the impacts of mental illness and poverty on parenting and development.

1. I am interested in the cognitive neuroscience that underlies the risk, resilience and recovery associated with mental health issues around the transition to parenthood. This involves the coordinated use of a range of interview and video assessment tools plus brain imaging using socially salient stimuli. Over the last 10 years, my group has accumulated an extensive database on both mothers and fathers in the early postpartum. This work on the healthy transition to parenthood links directly with the following.

2. As psychiatrist, I am keen to understand the ways in which vulnerability to mental illness - such as with youth and low socioeconomic status, as well as the actual manifestation of depression, anxiety, and opiate exposure – affect the transition to parenthood and parenting thoughts and behaviors. To this end, we are studying the brain mechanisms through mental illness affects parenting, leading directly to risk and resilience for new mothers, their families and the next generation.

3. Toward contributing to improved identification of risk and treatments, we are also gathering data on the biological mechanisms through which early life environments affect child development, and how parenting interventions – aimed at mood and reflective function – improve parent brain function and may be optimized toward breaking intergenerational cycles of stress and mental illness.

4. Given the pervasive and severe risk of poverty to impair child development, we were delighted to receive an NIH/NICHD/NIMHD Grand Opportunity Grant in 2009. This allowed us to gather brain imaging data, across social and cognitive systems, on a richly characterized (part of 15+ year longitudinal study) cohort of subjects who grew-up under conditions of chronically low socioeconomic status. We are thus investigating how associated aspects of stress and parenting through childhood affect adult brain structure and function.


Education & Training

University of Toronto (1994)
University of Toronto (1997)
University of Ottawa, Child Psychiatry
Yale University School of Medicine, Child Neuropsychiatry

Honors & Recognition

  • Outstanding Mentor
    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2008)
  • Clinical Research - Hot Topic
    ACNP (2008)
  • Todd Ouida Annual Clinical Scholar Award, University of Michigan
    University of Michigan (2010)
  • Research Fellowship
    Klingenstein Third Generation Foundation Depression Fellowship Award (2010)
  • Clinical Research - Hot Topic
    American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (2011)
  • Independent Investigator Award
    NARSAD (Brain and Behavior Research Foundation) (2013)

Professional Service

  • Editorial Board, Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Archives of Women's Mental Health, Translational Developmental Psychiatry (10/01/2005 - 12/12/2014)

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