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Naomi Ekas

Associate Professor | Psychology


Naomi Ekas's research program utilizes a developmental psychology approach to understanding children’s social and emotional development.





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Naomi Ekas's research program utilizes a developmental psychology approach to understanding children’s social and emotional development. They study how both intrinsic (e.g., temperament) and extrinsic (e.g., parenting quality) factors impact children’s emotion regulation. They study these processes in typically developing children and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In the lab, they also focus on understanding how parents who are raising a child with ASD cope with the various stressors associated with parenting a child with a developmental disability. Using a positive psychology approach, they focus on understanding the factors that promote positive psychological functioning.

Areas of Expertise

Marital ConflictEmerging AdulthoodParentingEmotion RegulationCaregiver Care for Families with AutismAutismEarly Infant Development (Birth to Age 3)Emotional DevelopmentAdolescenceCollege StudentsMarital Relationship


Society for the Teaching of Psychology Faculty Development Award


Eli J. and Helen Shaheen Graduate School Award

University of Notre Dame, 2009

Outstanding Graduate Student Teacher Award for Excellence in Teaching

University of Notre Dame, 2008


University of Notre Dame

Ph.D., Developmental Psychology


Advisor: Julia M. Braungart Rieker, Ph.D. Dissertation: Adaptation to stress in mothers of children with autism with autism spectrum disorder: The role of positive affect and personality factors

University of Notre Dame

M.A., Developmental Psychology


Advisor: Julia M. Braungart-Rieker, Ph.D. Thesis: Toddlers’ behavioral strategies with mothers and fathers

University of California, Davis

B.A., Psychology with Highest Honors



  • International Society for Research in Autism : Member
  • International Society for Infant Studies : Member
  • The Society for Research in Child Development : Member

Media Appearances

Male versus female college students react differently to helicopter parenting, study finds

Medical Xpress  online


Helicopter parenting reduces the well-being of young women, while the failure to foster independence harms the well-being of young men but not young women.

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Raising a child with autism: How optimism can help to cope

ScienceDaily  online


Humans are resilient, even facing the toughest of life's challenges. How individuals and families deal with demanding and emotionally charged circumstances plays a large role in how they view and face the world and the possible outcomes of a difficult situation. There's no exception for the challenging Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and how families adjust and cope with the reported stress of raising a child with autism.

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Can a TV sitcom reduce anti-Muslim bigotry?

The Christian Science Monitor  online


Countering prejudice might be as easy as kicking back with the right sitcom. That's according to new research that suggests media that depict Muslim characters in a positive, relatable way, can counter prejudiced attitudes toward Muslims.

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Can TV reduce stigma? Ask Julia, the new muppet on 'Sesame Street'

The Christian Science Monitor  online


The newest kid on Sesame Street is "Julia," a muppet with bright orange hair and big green eyes. She's also part of the program's newest effort to foster understanding and reduce stigma. That's because "Julia" is a muppet diagnosed with autism.

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Patterns of nonverbal emotional communication between infants and mothers to help scientists develop a baby robot that learns

ScienceDaily  online


To help unravel the mysteries of human cognitive development and reach new the frontiers in robotics, University of Miami (UM) developmental psychologists and computer scientists from the University of California in San Diego (UC San Diego) are studying infant-mother interactions and working to implement their findings in a baby robot capable of learning social skills.

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The Development of Infant Emotion Regulation: Time Is of the Essence | Emotion Regulation

Naomi V. Ekas, Julie M. Braungart-Rieker, Daniel S. Messinger


The ability to effectively regulate emotions is considered a hallmark of early social and emotional development and is associated with a variety of developmental outcomes. Emotion regulation is a dynamic process that involves the temporal sequencing of emotion and behavioral strategies. Despite an increased interest in and investigation of emotion regulation, however, there is little attention given to these temporal dynamics. Infancy is an especially important period during which to examine these dynamics as early development is associated with the greatest changes in emotion regulation, and emotion regulation skills, and these skills are reliably linked to later developmental outcomes (Feldman, 2009). This chapter aims to present research that focuses on the temporal dynamics of emotion regulation during infancy by presenting: (1) an overview of the development of emotion regulation during infancy; (2) traditional, global approaches to the measurement of emotion regulation during infancy; and (3) temporal, momentto-moment sequencing of emotion and regulatory strategies with an emphasis on the methodological and statistical approaches to studying temporal associations. Finally, we highlight new statistical techniques that would allow researchers to further unravel the complexities of emotion regulation during this time period.

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Giving thanks: Findings from a gratitude intervention with mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder | Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Lisa Timmons, Naomi V.Ekas


Gratitude is a character strength related to greater well-being in the general population; however, it has not been studied extensively in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Therefore, an online, writing-based gratitude intervention was conducted with mothers of children with ASD.

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Associations Between Resilience and the Well-Being of Mothers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Other Developmental Disabilities | Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Elizabeth Halstead, Naomi Ekas, Richard P. Hastings, Gemma M. Griffith


There is variability in the extent to which mothers are affected by the behavior problems of their children with developmental disabilities (DD). We explore whether maternal resilience functions as a protective or compensatory factor. In Studies 1 and 2, using moderated multiple regression models, we found evidence that maternal resilience functioned as a compensatory factor—having a significant independent main effect relationship with well-being outcomes in mothers of children with DD and autism spectrum disorder. However, there was no longitudinal association between resilience and maternal well-being outcomes. There was little evidence of the role of resilience as a protective factor between child behavior problems and maternal well-being in both studies.

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Relationship between the broad autism phenotype, social relationships and mental health for mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder | Autism

Megan M Pruitt, Madeline Rhoden, Naomi V Ekas


This study aimed to examine the mechanisms responsible for the association between the broad autism phenotype and depressive symptoms in mothers of a child with autism spectrum disorder. A total of 98 mothers who had a child with autism spectrum disorder between the ages of 2 and 16 years completed assessments of maternal broad autism phenotype, child behavior problems, romantic relationship satisfaction, friend support, family support, and maternal depressive symptoms. Results indicated that only romantic relationship satisfaction was a significant mediator of the relationship between maternal broad autism phenotype social abnormalities and maternal depressive symptoms, where greater broad autism phenotype social abnormalities were associated with lower relationship satisfaction, which in turn was associated with increased depressive symptoms. Child behavior problems were directly related to increased depressive symptoms. Implications regarding maternal mental health outcomes within this population as well as intervention implications are discussed.

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Mortality salience increases death-thought accessibility and worldview defense among high Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP) individuals | Personality and Individual Differences

Robert B. Arrowood, Cathy R. Cox, Naomi V. Ekas


The Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP) is an individual difference whereby persons exhibit mild characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including being socially aloof and having a rigid personality. Given that individuals high in BAP rigidity have difficulty adjusting to change, the present research examined whether rigid persons report greater concerns about death and adhere to their cultural beliefs following mortality salience (MS). In Study 1, we found that BAP rigidity was positively associated with greater mortality-related concerns. In Study 2, high rigid individuals evidenced increased death-thought accessibility following MS. Finally, Study 3 found that MS led to heightened worldview defense for individuals high in rigidity, while decreasing defensiveness for those low in rigidity. These results provide evidence for the moderating role of individual differences in terror management effects. Specifically, ASD characteristics in young adults, particularly in the area of rigidity, contribute to heightened death concerns and greater defensiveness.

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