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Isabella Kahhalé

 Clinical & Developmental 


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I'm a sixth-year Clinical-Developmental PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh studying early life adversity, neuroscience, antisociality, & prosociality.

I am applying for internship this coming Fall 2024!

I work with Professor Jamie Hanson to understand how adverse childhood experiences influence the development of a) the brain, b) antisocial behavior (e.g., aggression, criminality) and c) prosocial behavior (e.g., empathy, helping behaviors). 

After graduating with a B.S. in Cognitive & Brain Sciences from Tufts University, I joined the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab led by Professor Jamil Zaki to study the neural foundations of empathy. ​

I am also passionate about service work with under-resourced members of my community and incorporating a culturally-humble lens in my research and clinical work. I have completed externships/practicum placements at the following sites: 

  • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Services for Teens at Risk (STAR) ~11 months

  • University of Pittsburgh Teen Screen Study: Suicide Safety Assessment ~ 12 months

  • UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Pediatric Neuropsychology ~ 4 months

  • UPMC Services for Adolescents and Families (SAFE) ~ 12 months


And I am currently an extern at the following sites: 


  • Mother and Family Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)          Skills Training 

  • Mathilda Theiss Center for Child & Adolescent Trauma



Check out some of the projects that I'm currently working on below! Stay tuned for updates on the work below and the other fun topics in the pipeline.

Structural Brain Connectivity, Childhood Maltreament, & Antisocial Behavior

My Master's Thesis probes the associations between structural brain connectivity, childhood maltreatment, and later antisocial behavior.

Many of the neural structures implicated in childhood maltreatment are crucial components of emotional regulatory brain networks, connected through pathways including the uncinate fasciculus, the cingulum bundle, and the fornix. 


Poorer emotion regulation has been pointed to as an underlying factor contributing to antisocial behavior; therefore, we are exploring if alterations in neural emotion-regulatory pathways significantly account for a portion of the established link between childhood maltreatment and adult antisocial behavior.

Early Life Adversity & Empathy

Research has established childhood maltreatment as a powerful antecedent to an array of socioemotional problems, but it is less clear how experiences of early life adversity, such as childhood maltreatment, impact empathy. Empathy is a fundamental skill linked to social development and resilience and underpins critical processes such as successful interpersonal interactions, bond formation, and prosocial behavior.

I am currently investigating the associations between early life adversity and empathic accuracy in an online study. 

Perspective Taking & Sentencing Outcomes

Empathy can influence our understanding of others and bias our decision making.  While at the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab, I investigated how taking the perspective of a victim or a perpetrator of a crime might impact the extent to which we punish and dehumanize the perpetrator. 

We have conducted a) an exploratory experiment, b) a second replication study pre-registered on the Open Science Foundation, and c) an analysis of restricted-access archival data on over 12 million national incarceration records.


We found that hearing the perpetrator’s perspective led to a shorter recommended sentence, and more importantly, less dehumanization. These results highlight the impactful nature of someone’s story in influencing perceptions of their behavior. This work has been presented at two national conferences and is currently in preparation for submission.

publications & presentations


Hanson, J. L., Kahhale, I., Sen, S. (accepted). Integrating Data Science and Neuroscience in Developmental Psychopathology: Formative Examples and Future Directions. Development and Psychopathology.

Kahhale, I., Puccetti. N. A., Heller, A. S., Hanson, J. L. (accepted). Probing connections 

between social connectedness, mortality risk, and brain age: A preregistered study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Kahhale, I., Farrise, K., Das, A., McPhee, J., Galán, C.A., Scholars for Elevating Equity and Diversity (SEED), and Park, A. (in press). Recognizing the impact of racism-based traumatic stress on youth: Implications for research and clinical practice. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Kahhale, I., Hanson, J. L., Raine, Adrian, Byrd, A. L. (2024). Associations between Empathy and aggression subtypes among high-risk adolescents. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment.

Hanson, J. L., O’Connor, K., Adkins, D. J., & Kahhale, I. (2023). Childhood Adversity and 

COVID-19 Outcomes: Findings from the UK Biobank. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Kahhale, I., Barry, K., Hanson, J. L. (2023). Positive parenting moderates associations 

between childhood stress and corticolimbic structure. PNAS Nexus

Kahhale, I., Buser, Nicholas J., Madan, Christopher R., Hanson, Jamie L. (2023). Quantifying 

numerical and spatial reliability of amygdala and hippocampal subdivisions in FreeSurfer. Brain Informatics. 

Bacas, E., Kahhale, I., Raamana P. R., Pablo, J. R., Anand, A. S., Hanson, J. L. (2023). Probing 

Multiple Algorithms to Calculate Brain Age: Examining Reliability, Relations with Demographics, and Predictive Power. Human Brain Mapping

Richie-Halford, A., Cieslak, M., Ai, L., Caffarra, S., Covitz, S., The Fibr Community Science 

Consortium... & Rokem, A. (2022). An analysis-ready and quality controlled resource for pediatric brain white-matter research. Scientific Data, 9(1), 1-27.

Kahhale, I., (2022). The Promise of Prediction: Review of Glenn & Raine, NatRevNeuro, 2014. Invited submission to Nature Reviews Psychology.


Galán, C., Tung, I., Tabachnick, A., Sequeira, S., Novacek, D. M., Kahhale, I., … Bekele, B. 

(2022). Combatting the conspiracy of silence: Clinician recommendations for talking about racism and racism-related events with youth of color. The Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

​Galán, ​C., Tung, I., Tabachnick, A., Sequeira, S., Novacek, D. M., Kahhale, I., Jamal-Orozco, N., Carlos-Gonzalez, J, Bowdring, M. A., Boness, C. L., & Bekele, B. (2021, March 5). Talking about Racism in the Context of the Trial against George Floyd’s Murderer: Practical Recommendations for Professionals, Parents, & Clinicians. PsyArXiv.

Ong, D. C., Wu, Z., Zhi-Xuan, T., Reddan, M., Kahhale, I., Mattek, A., & Zaki, J. (2019). 

Modeling emotion in complex stories: the Stanford Emotional Narratives Dataset. IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing.

Seligowski, A. V., Lebois, L. A. M., Hill, S. B., Kahhale, I., Wolff, J. D., Jovanovic, T., Winternitz, 

S. R., Kaufman, M. L., & Ressler, K. J., (2019). Autonomic responses to fear conditioning among women with PTSD and dissociation. Depression and Anxiety. 


Kahhale, I. (2024). Exploring the Nexus of Early Life Adversity and Empathy: A Comprehensive Review of Past Research and Recommendations for Future Directions. Research talk presented to the Department of Psychology Jeremy Johnson Landen Award Event, April 2024.


Kahhale, I. (2024). Treating Trauma and Suicidality in a Minoritized Adolescent: a Cultural Case Conceptualization & Presentation. Talk presented to Pitt Clinical Students, March 20th, 2024.


Kahhale, I., Hanson, J. L. (2024). Probing connections between social connectedness, mortality risk, and brain age: A preregistered study. Poster presented at the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society Conference (April 10-13, 2024).

Kahhale, I., Hanson, J. L., Raine, Adrian, Byrd, A. L. (2023). Emotion regulatory brain structure and 

normative deviations: connections with subtypes of aggression. Poster at Developmental Affective Neuroscience Symposium Conference, November 9th 2023.

Kahhale, I., Hanson, J. L., Raine, Adrian, Byrd, A. L  (2023). Socioemotional brain structure and 

normative deviations: Connections with subtypes of empathy and aggression. Invited Flash Blitz Talk at Aggression and Violent Behavior Conference, October 2023.


Kahhale, I., Barry, K., Hanson, J. L. (2023). Empathic Accuracy Moderates the Association between 

Early Life Adversity and Adult Antisocial Behavior. Data Blitz Talk at Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy Early Career Event, May 2023.

Kahhale, I., Barry, K., Hanson, J. L. (2023). Empathic Accuracy Moderates the Association between 

Early Life Adversity and Adult Delinquency. Poster presented at Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy Early Career Event, May 2023.

Kahhale, I., Barry, K., Hanson, J. L. (2023). Positive Parenting Moderates Associations between 

Childhood Stress and Corticolimbic Structure. Poster presented at SRCD biennial meeting, March 2023.

Kahhale, I., Barry, R. K., Hanson, J. L., (2023). Empathic Accuracy Moderates the Association between 

Early Life Adversity and Adult Delinquency. Flash talk presented at Society for Affective Science (SAS) Meeting, April 2023. 

Symposium Chair, Heterogeneity in Externalizing Psychopathology: the Contribution of Multiple 

Etiological Pathways across Childhood and Adolescence (2023). Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) biennial meeting symposium, March 2023.  

Kahhale, I., Hanson, J. L., Raine, Adrian, Byrd, A. L. (2023). Associations between Empathy and 

Aggression Subtypes in High-Risk Adolescents. Symposium talk at SRCD biennial meeting, March 2023.


Boness., C., Gonzalez, C. J., Kahhale, I., (2022). Combatting the Conspiracy of Silence: 

Recommendations for Talking about Racism-Related Events. Invited Workshop for Clinical Psychology PhD Students at Palo Alto University. May 2022.


Smith, C., Kahhale, I., Hanson, J.H. (2021). Investigating Associations between Childhood 

Maltreatment, Cortical Thickness, and Surface Area. University of Pittsburgh Psychology Department Undergraduate Student Research Poster Session. April 14, 2021.

Kahhale, I., (2021). Probing Associations between Childhood Maltreatment, Brain Connectivity, 

and Later Antisocial Behavior. University of Pittsburgh Clinical Research Seminar. October 29, 2021.


Kahhale, I., Hackel, L., & Zaki, J. (2020). The impact of victim and defendant narratives 

on empathy, dehumanization, and sentencing. Data Blitz talk at the 2020 American Psychology-Law Society Annual Conference, in New Orleans, Louisiana, March 5-7, 2020.

Kahhale, I., Hackel, L., & Zaki, J. (2019). Mock juror exposure to two sides in a criminal case. 

Poster presented at the Annual Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference, Portland, OR.



Lecturer/Instructor of Record

June 2021 - August 2021

University of Pittsburgh

Organized and taught a full course delivered remotely; integrated multiple platforms including Canvas, Panopto, and Top Hat

Introduction to Social Psychology

Guest Lecturer

October 2021, April 2021


March 2020

"Childhood Maltreatment & the Brain."


"The Stress Response & Adverse Childhood Experiences."

University of Pittsburgh

Introduction to Psychology

University Counseling Center Workshop Facilitator

June 2020 - August 2020

University Counseling Center

University of Pittsburgh

I led virtual workshops on stress management, mindfulness, & other topics aimed at helping students cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I also developed 3 workshops related to self-care including practicing gratitude, engaging in hobbies, & regulating autonomic nervous system activity. 


May 2020 - August 2020

I provided weekly academic support to a young woman with learning disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pittsburgh, PA

Graduate Teacher's Assistant 

January 2020 - April 2020

August 2022 - December 2022

I served as a graduate TA for Professor Melinda Ciccoccopo.

Introduction to Psychology

University of Pittsburgh

Undergraduate Teacher's Assistant 

August 2016 - December 2016

Introduction to Psychology

I served as a TA for Professors Elizabeth Race, Jessica Remedios, and Paul Muentener. 

Tufts University 

about me

about me

see what I've been reading!
see what I've been eating!


I am a Lebanese-American from Boston, MA now in Pittsburgh for graduate school, seeking to understand how early adverse experiences shape developmental trajectories. My parents survived the Lebanese Civil War and worked tirelessly to provide a better life for my brother, my sister, and me; I have them to thank for instilling in me a) a curiosity to understand how trauma and adversity impact behavior and well-being, b) a passion for service work within my community, and c) an undying love of food. 

I am a doting mother to two adopted cats, Momo (pictured left, named after Maury the hormone monster on the Netflix show Big Mouth) and Mimi (pictured right, named after the NPR host Lakshmi Signh). Ask me for more pictures and I promise the content will never stop. 


Staying active is the main tool in my self-care arsenal. I "enjoy" (i.e., suffer through) crossfit workouts, rowing, snowboarding, cycling, and poorly playing tennis.


I also love reading (particularly audiobooks, and particularly ones read by the author), traveling during non-pandemic times, and eating. If you find yourself in Pittsburgh one of these days, please reach out for food recommendations; I'd get a lot more research done if I spent as much time reading papers as I do menu-prowling. 




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