College of Education and Human Development

Institute of Child Development

Sylia Wilson

  • Pronouns: she, her, hers

  • Associate Professor, McKnight Land-Grant Professor

Sylia Wilson

Areas of interest

Adolescents and youth, adulthood, alcohol and brain development, assessment and evaluation, developmental neuroscience, early childhood, executive function, families and parenting, genetics and epigenetics, high-risk populations, infancy, infant and early childhood mental health, lifespan, prenatal, relationships, resilience, social and emotional development, stress and maltreatment, vulnerable populations


BA, Psychology, English, Macalester College, 2002
MS, Clinical Psychology, Northwestern University, 2009
PhD, Clinical Psychology, Northwestern University, 2012



The Family Cognitive Affective Neurodevelopment (Fam CAN) Lab


I am interested in the developmental etiology of psychopathology--the underlying processes that lead to the development of mental illness. I focus in particular on major depression and substance abuse, two frequently comorbid internalizing/externalizing disorders that are common in adolescence and adulthood, are often preceded by problem behaviors/symptoms evident as early as the preschool years, and comprise a huge individual and public health burden.

My program of research integrates developmental, clinical, and neuroscience methods, and takes a lifetime developmental perspective that includes the study of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. Identifying the underlying neural and behavioral processes that are causally linked to the development of internalizing and externalizing psychopathology requires differentiation of premorbid causal risk from effects of disease progression on the brain and related behavior. I capitalize upon study designs and populations that are genetically and causally informative, including longitudinal, high-risk family, twin, and adoption study designs. I take a multimodal approach (behavioral, observational, neurocognitive, psychophysiological, magnetic resonance imaging) that spans multiple levels of analysis and is sensitive to varied presentations in different developmental periods.

An important aim of mine is to delineate the mechanisms by which early familial and environmental adversity disrupts and/or alters neurodevelopment in sensitive developmental periods, increasing risk for mental illness. By investigating how environmental adversity influences the brain during periods of rapid growth and change, such as infancy and the transition into adolescence, when the developing brain may be particularly vulnerable to stressful experiences and external influences, my research has critical implications for preventing or halting the progression of internalizing and externalizing psychopathology, and for developing the most effective preventive-intervention efforts for at-risk children, adolescents, adults, and their families.

Advising expectations and availability

If you are a prospective student who is interested in working in the Family Cognitive Affective Neurodevelopment (Fam CAN) Lab with Dr. Wilson, click here to review her advising expectations. The document outlines what you can expect from Dr. Wilson as an advisor/mentor and provides an overview of her expectations of students in the developmental psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota.

Please note that for the 2025 admissions cycle Dr. Wilson is planning to take on new Ph.D. students as their primary advisor. If you are interested in learning more about applying to work with Dr. Wilson as a Ph.D. student, please see this overview of information for prospective applicants.


Schaefer, J. D.*, Nelson, K.*, Wilson, S. (in press). The effects of adolescent cannabis use on psychosocial functioning: A critical review of the evidence. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America.

Durbin, C. E., Wilson, S., & MacDonald, A. (in press). Integrating development into the RDoC framework: Introduction to the Special Section. Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science.

Harper, J.*, Wilson, S., Bair, J. L.*, Hunt, R. H., Thomas, K. M., Malone, S. M., & Iacono, W.G. (in press). Testing the consequences of alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine use on hippocampal volume: A quasi-experimental cotwin control analysis of young adult twins. Psychological Medicine.

Schaefer, J. D.*, Jang, S.-K., Clark, D. A., Deak, J. D., Hicks, B. M., Iacono, W. G., Liu, M., McGue, M., Vrieze, S. I., & Wilson, S. (in press). Associations between polygenic risk of substance use and use disorder and alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine use in adolescence and young adulthood in a longitudinal twin study. Psychological Medicine.

Wilson, S. & Rhee, S. H. (2022). Causal effects of cannabis legalization on parents, parenting, and children: A systematic review. Preventive Medicine, 156, 106956. 

Hicks, B. M., Clark, D. A., Deak, J. D., Liu, M., Durbin, C. E., Schaefer, J. D.*, Wilson, S., Iacono, W. G., McGue, M., & Vrieze, S. (2021). Polygenic score for smoking is associated with externalizing psychopathology and disinhibited personality traits but not internalizing psychopathology in adolescence. Clinical Psychological Science, 9, 1205-1213. 

Schettini, E., Wilson, S., & Beauchaine, T. P. (2021). Internalizing-externalizing comorbidity and regional brain volumes in the ABCD study. Development and Psychopathology, 33, 1620-1633.

Harper, J.*, Wilson, S., Malone, S. M., Hunt, R. H., Thomas, K. M., & Iacono, W. G. (2021). Orbitofrontal cortex thickness and substance use disorders in emerging adulthood: Causal inferences from a cotwin control/discordant twin study. Addiction, 116, 2548-2558. 

Wilson, S., & Olino, T. M. (2021). A developmental perspective on personality and psychopathology across the lifespan. Journal of Personality, 89, 915-932. 

Schaefer, J. D.*, Jang, S.-K., Vrieze, S., Iacono, W. G., McGue, M., & Wilson, S. (2021). Adolescent cannabis use and adult psychoticism: A longitudinal co-twin control analysis using data from two cohorts. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 130, 691-701. 

Mattoni, M., Wilson, S., & Olino, T. M. (2021). Identifying profiles of brain structure and associations with current and future psychopathology in youth. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 51, 101013. 

Wilson, S., Malone, S. M., Venables, N. C., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2021). Multimodal indicators of risk for and consequences of substance use disorders: Executive functions and trait disconstraint assessed from preadolescence into early adulthood. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 163, 47-57. 

Harper, J.*, Malone, S. M., Wilson, S., Hunt, R. H., Thomas, K. M., & Iacono, W. G. (2021). The effects of alcohol and cannabis use on the cortical thickness of cognitive control and salience brain networks in emerging adulthood: A co-twin control study. Biological Psychiatry, 89, 1012-1022. 

Malone, S. M., Wilson, S., Bair, J. L.*, McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2021). A co-twin control analysis of adolescent and young adult drinking effects on learning and memory. Addiction, 116, 1689-1699. 

Schaefer, J. D.*, Hamdi, N. R., Malone, S. M., Vrieze, S., Wilson, S., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2021). Associations between adolescent cannabis use and young-adult functioning in three longitudinal twin studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118, e2013180118. 

Wilson, S., Elkins, I. J., Malone, S. M., Iacono, W. G., & McGue, M. (2021). Associations between common forms of psychopathology and fecundity: Evidence from a prospective, longitudinal twin study. Clinical Psychological Science, 9, 197-209. 

Elkins, I. J., Saunders, G. R., Malone, S. M., Wilson, S., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2020). Differential implications of persistent, remitted, and late-onset ADHD for substance abuse in women and men: A twin study from ages 11 to 24. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 212, 107947. 

Wilson, S., Haroian, K., Iacono, W. G., Krueger, R. F., Lee, J. J., Luciana, M. M., Malone, S. M., McGue, M., Roisman, G. I., & Vrieze, S. (2019). Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 22, 746-752.

Wilson, S., Hopwood, C. J., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2019). Personality heterogeneity in adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders. Journal of Research in Personality, 82, 103851. 

Goodman, R. J., Samek, D. R., Wilson, S., Iacono, W. G., & McGue, M. (2019). Close relationships and depression: A developmental cascade approach. Development and Psychopathology, 31, 1451-1465. 

Silverman, M. H., Wilson, S., Ramsay, I. S., Hunt, R. H., Thomas, K. M., Krueger, R. F., & Iacono, W. G. (2019). Trait neuroticism and emotion neurocircuitry: fMRI evidence for a failure in emotion regulation. Development and Psychopathology, 31, 1085-1099. 

Samek, D. R., Wilson, S., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2018). Genetic and environmental influences on parent-child conflict and child depression through late adolescence. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 47: Sup 1, S5-S20. 

Elkins, I. J., Saunders, G., Malone, S. M., Wilson, S., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2018). Mediating pathways from childhood ADHD to adolescent tobacco and marijuana problems: Roles of peer impairment, internalizing, adolescent ADHD symptoms, and gender. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 59, 1083-1093. 

Wilson, S., Malone, S. M., Hunt, R. H., Thomas, K. M., & Iacono, W. G. (2018). Problematic alcohol use and hippocampal volume in a female sample: Disentangling cause from consequence using a co-twin control study design. Psychological Medicine, 48, 1673-1684. 

Wilson, S., Elkins, I. J., Bair, J. L.*, Oleynick, V. C.*, Malone, S. M., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2018). Maladaptive personality traits and romantic relationship satisfaction: A monozygotic co-twin control analysis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127, 339-347. 

Wilson, S., Bair, J. L.*, Thomas, K. M., & Iacono, W. G. (2017). Problematic alcohol use and reduced hippocampal volume: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Medicine, 47, 2288-2301. 

Wilson, S., Stroud, C. B., & Durbin, C. E. (2017). Interpersonal dysfunction in personality disorders: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 143, 677-734. 

Wilson, S., Malone, S. M., Thomas, K. M., & Iacono, W. G. (2015). Adolescent drinking and brain morphometry: A co-twin control analysis. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 16, 130-138. 

Stroud, C. B., Meyers, K. M., Wilson, S., & Durbin, C. E. (2015). Marital quality spillover and young children’s adjustment: Evidence for dyadic and triadic parenting as mechanisms. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 44, 800-813. 

Wilson, S., Hicks, B. M., Foster, K. T., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2015). Age of onset and course of major depressive disorder: Associations with psychosocial functioning outcomes in adulthood. Psychological Medicine, 45, 505-514. 

Wilson, S., Vaidyanathan, U., Miller, M. B., McGue, M. & Iacono, W. G. (2014). Premorbid risk factors for major depressive disorder: Are they associated with early onset and recurrent course? Development and Psychopathology, 26, 1477-1493. 

Malone, S. M., Luciana, M., M., Wilson, S., Sparks, J., Hunt, R. H., Thomas, K. M., & Iacono, W. G. (2014). Adolescent drinking and motivated decision-making: A cotwin-control investigation with monozygotic twins. Behavior Genetics, 44, 407-418. 

Wilson, S., DiRago, A. C., & Iacono, W. G. (2014). Prospective inter-relationships between late adolescent personality and major depressive disorder in early adulthood. Psychological Medicine, 44, 567-577.

Wilson, S., Revelle, W., Stroud, C. B., & Durbin, C. E. (2013). A confirmatory bifactor analysis of the Inventory of Interpersonal Problems—Circumplex and associations of interpersonal traits across multiple relationship contexts and measures. Psychological Assessment, 25, 353-365. 

Wilson, S., & Durbin, C. E. (2013). Mother-child and father-child dyadic interaction: Parental and child bids and responsiveness to one another during early childhood. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 59, 249-279. 

Wilson, S., & Durbin, C. E. (2012). The Laboratory Parenting Assessment Battery: Development and preliminary validation of an observational parenting rating system. Psychological Assessment, 24, 823-832. 

Wilson, S., & Durbin, C. E. (2012). Dyadic parent-child interaction during early childhood: Contributions of parental and child personality traits. Journal of Personality, 80, 1313-1338. 

Durbin, C. E., & Wilson, S. (2012). Convergent validity of and bias in maternal reports of child emotion. Psychological Assessment, 24, 647-660. 

Wilson, S., & Durbin, C. E. (2012). Parental personality disorder symptoms are associated with dysfunctional parent-child interactions during early childhood: A multilevel modeling analysis. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 3, 55-65. 

Stroud, C. B., Durbin, C. E., Wilson, S., & Mendelsohn, K. A. (2011). Spillover to triadic and dyadic systems in families with young children. Journal of Family Psychology, 25, 919-930. 

Wilson, S., & Durbin, C. E. (2010). Effects of paternal depression on fathers’ parenting behaviors: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 167-180.