Professor Psychology
Lab site:

Dr. Nelson received his Ph.D. in clinical child psychology from the University of Kansas in 2008 following a clinical internship at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. He subsequently completed his post-doctoral fellowship in pediatric psychology in the Stanford University School of Medicine before joining the UNL faculty in 2009. He has served as the Associate Director of Clinical Training at UNL since 2012 and the Associate Director of the Rural Drug Addiction Research Center (RDAR) at UNL since 2020.

Research Interests:

Dr. Nelson’s research interests are in pediatric psychology and pediatric health neuroscience. Specifically, his work focuses on the intersection of behavioral, biological, cognitive, social, and environmental influences on child and adolescent health behaviors and outcomes. Much of his current work examines the development of executive control (EC) from preschool through adolescence and the impacts of early EC deficits on subsequent mental and physical health outcomes. Dr. Nelson’s research especially focuses on identifying potentially modifiable factors – including individual, family, peer, school and community characteristics – that impact the development of “high impact” pediatric health behaviors (e.g., sleep, diet, physical activity, substance use) to inform developmentally-sensitive health promotion interventions. He is also interested in health disparities and understanding the mechanisms that contribute to risk and resilience for vulnerable pediatric populations. In his current work, he is pursuing these interests using a variety of data collection methodologies, including developmentally-appropriate neuropsychological tasks, actigraphy, multiple 24-hour dietary recalls, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), event-related potentials (ERP), salivary bioscience, neighborhood geocoding, ecological momentary assessment (EMA), questionnaires, and medical record reviews. Below are brief descriptions of current research projects.

Executive Control and Adolescent Health. Longitudinal study examining the role of executive control across development on adolescent health-related factors (e.g., weight status, diet, physical activity, sleep, stress reactivity, substance use, psychopathology), with an emphasis on the environmental context in which executive control and health interact.

Modifiable Predictors of Neural Vulnerabilities for Obesity. Study exploring various modifiable factors (including executive control, key health behaviors, and obesogenic neighborhood environment) in childhood and adolescence as potential predictors of emerging neural vulnerabilities for obesity (as measured by fMRI) in young adulthood.

Teaching Interests:

Dr. Nelson's teaching interests are in clinical and clinical child psychology. He teaches courses in child psychopathology, assessment, and treatment. He also mentors graduate students and undergraduate students with interests in pediatric health and neuroscience.

Selected Publications
Peer Reviewed Journal Articles
  • Kidwell, K.M., James, T.D., Brock, R.L., Yaroch, A.L., Hill, J.L., Nelson, J.M., Mason, W.A., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2023). Preschool executive control, temperament, and adolescent dietary behaviors. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 57(3), 260-268.

  • Phillips, E.M., Brock, R.L., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Mason, W.A., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2023). Does preschool executive control mediate the impact of early environmental unpredictability and deprivation on the general factor of psychopathology a decade later? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Online first published March 5, 2023.

  • Patwardhan, I., Guo, Y., Hamburger, E.R., Sarwar, S., Fleming, C.B., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., Nelson, T.D., & Mason, W.A. (2023). Childhood executive control and adolescent substance use: The mediating roles of physical and relational aggression and prosocial behaviors. Child Neuropsychology, 29(2), 235-254.

  • Laifer, L.M., Tomaso, C.C., Chang, O.D., Phillips, E.M., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., Mason, W.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2023). Early executive control buffers risk for adolescent psychopathology during the Covid-19 pandemic. Journal of Adolescence, 1-15.
  • Tomaso, C.C., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2022). Longitudinal associations between executive control and body mass index across childhood. Pediatric Obesity, 17, e12866.
  • Tomaso, C.C., Yaroch, A.L., Hill, J.L., Jackson, T., Nelson, J.M., James, T.D., Mason, W.A., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2022). The roles of sleep and executive function in adolescent nighttime eating. Eating Behaviors, 46(2002), 101657.  

  • Nelson, T.D., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Tomaso, C.C., & Espy, K.A. (2022). Executive control in elementary school: Factor structure and associations with early childhood executive control. Developmental Psychology, 58(4), 730-750.

  • Phillips, E.M., Brock, R.L., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2022). Empirical support for a dual process model of the p-factor: Interaction effects between preschool executive control and preschool negative emotionality on general psychopathology. Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science, 131(8), 817-829.

  • Nelson, T.D., Brock, R.L., Yokum, S., Tomaso, C.C., Savage, C.R., & Stice, E. (2021). Much ado aboutmissingness: A demonstration of full information maximum likelihood versus listwise deletion to address missingness in fMRI data. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 15, 1-12.

  • Tomaso, C. C., Johnson, A. B., James, T. D., Nelson, J. M., Mason, W. A., Espy, K. A., & Nelson, T. D. (2021). Emotion regulation strategies as mediators of the relationship between internalizing psychopathology and sleep-wake problems during the transition to adolescence: A longitudinal study. Journal of Early Adolescence, 41(5), 657-682. 
  • Mason, W.A., Patwardhan, I., Fleming, C.B., Stevens, A.L., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2021). Associations of childhood executive control with adolescent cigarette and e-cigarette use: Tests of moderation by poverty level. Addictive Behaviors, 119, 106923. 
  • Patwardhan, I., Nelson, T.D., McClelland, M.M., & Mason, W.A., (2021). Childhood cognitive flexibility and externalizing and internalizing behavior problems: Examination of prospective bidirectional associations. Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology, 49(4), 413-427.
  • Tomaso, C. C., Johnson, A. B., & Nelson, T.D. (2021). The effect of sleep deprivation and restriction on mood, emotion, and emotion regulation: Three meta-analyses in one. SLEEP, 44(6), 1-30. 
  • Cheadle, J. E., Goosby, B. J., Jochman, J.J., Tomaso, C.C., Kozikowski, C. & Nelson, T.D. (2020). Race and ethnic variation in college student’s allostatic regulation and racism-related stress. PNAS, 117(49), 31053-31062.
  •  Tomaso, C.C., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2020). Associations between different components of executive control in childhood and sleep problems in early adolescence: A longitudinal study. Journal of Health Psychology, 25, 2440-2452.
  • Johnson, A. B., Nelson, J. M., Tomaso, C. C., James, T., Espy, K. A., & Nelson, T. D. (2020). Executive control in preschool as a predictor of social information processing in early elementary school. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 71, 1-11.
  • Nelson, T.D., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Johnson, A.B., Mason, W.A., Yaroch, A.L., & Espy, K.A. (2020). Associations between specific components of executive control and eating behaviors in adolescence: A study using objective and subjective measures. Appetite, 154(1), 1-10.

  • Mason, W.A., Fleming, C.B., Tomaso, C.C., James, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2020). Associations of early socio-familial stress with maladaptive and adaptive functioning in middle childhood: Roles of executive control and foundation cognitive abilities. Prevention Science, 21(5), 681-690.

  • Nelson, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Mason, W.A., Kozikowski, C.B., Tomaso, C.C., & Espy. K.A. (2019). Executive control and adolescent health: Toward a conceptual framework. Adolescent Research Review, 4(1), 31-43.

  • Nelson, T.D., Kidwell, K.M., Nelson, J.M., Tomaso, C.C., Hankey, M., & Espy, K.A. (2018). Preschool executive control and internalizing symptoms in elementary school. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 46(7), 1509-1520.

  • Nelson, T.D., Kidwell, K. M., Hankey, M., Nelson, J. M., & Espy, K. A. (2018). Preschool executive control and sleep problems in early adolescence. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 16(5). 494-503.
  • Kidwell, K.M., Kozikowski, C., Roth, T., Lundahl, A., & Nelson, T.D. (2018). Concurrent and longitudinal associations among temperament, parental feeding styles, and selective eating in a preschool sample. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 43(5), 572-583.

  • Nelson, T.D., James, T.D., Hankey, M., Nelson, J.M., Lundahl, A., & Espy, K.A. (2017). Early executive control and risk for overweight and obesity in elementary school. Child Neuropsychology, 23(8), 994-1002.

  • Kidwell, K.M., Hankey, M., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2017). Child executive control as a moderator of the longitudinal association between sleep problems and subsequent attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 42(10), 1144-1155.

  • Nelson, T.D., Nelson, J.M., James, T.D., Clark, C.A., Kidwell, K.M., & Espy, K.A. (2017). Executive control goes to school: Implications of preschool executive performance for observed elementary classroom learning engagement. Developmental Psychology, 53(5), 836-844.

  • Hankey, M., Kidwell, K.M., Nelson, J.M., Espy, K.A., & Nelson, T.D. (2017). Weight status as a mediator of the association between preschool extraversion and adolescent restrained eating. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 42(8), 882-891.

  • Kidwell, K.M., Nelson, T. D., Nelson, J.M., & Espy, K.A. (2017). A longitudinal study of maternal and child internalizing symptoms predicting early adolescent emotional eating. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 42(4), 445-456.
  • Van Dyk, T.R., Thompson, R.W., & Nelson, T.D. (2016). Daily bidirectional relationships between sleep and mental health symptoms in youth with emotional and behavioral problems. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 41, 983-992.
  • Kidwell, K.M., Van Dyk, T.R., Lundahl, A., & Nelson, T.D. (2015). Stimulant medications and sleep for youth with ADHD: A meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 136, 1145-1153.
  • Lundahl, A., & Nelson, T.D. (2015). Sleep and food intake: A multisystem review of mechanisms in children and adults. Journal of Health Psychology, 20, 794-805.
  • Nelson, T.D., Nelson, J.M., Kidwell, K.M., James, T.D., & Espy, K.A. (2015). Preschool sleep problems and differential associations with specific aspects of executive control in elementary school. Developmental Neuropsychology, 40, 167-180.
  • Lundahl, A., Kidwell, K.M., & Nelson, T.D. (2014). Parental underestimates of child weight: A meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 133, e689-703.
  • Nelson, T.D., Lundahl, A., Molfese, D.L., Waford, R., Roman, A., Gozal, D., Molfese, V.J., & Ferguson, M. (2014). Estimating child sleep from parent report of time in bed: Development and evaluation of adjustment approaches. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 39, 624-632.
  • Nelson, T.D., Smith, T.R., Thompson, R.W., Epstein, M.H., Griffith, A.K., Duppong Hurley, K., & Tonniges, T.F. (2011). Prevalence of physical health problems among youth entering residential treatment. Pediatrics, 128, e1226-1232.
Current and Recent Funding:
  • R01DK125651, Modifiable predictors of neural vulnerabilities for obesity. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)/National Institutes of Health (NIH), July 2020-April 2025. Role: Multiple Principal Investigator.
  • R01DK116693, Executive control and adolescent weight trajectories. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)/National Institutes of Health (NIH), July 2018-April 2024. Role: Principal Investigator.
  • R01DA041738, Role of executive control in adolescent substance use and co-occurring problems. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)/National Institutes of Health (NIH), February 2017 - November 2022. Role: Multiple Principal Investigator.
  • P20GM130461, Nebraska Rural Drug Addiction Research (RDAR) Center. National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)/National Institutes of Health (NIH), April 2019-March 2024. Role: Associate Director.
  • R01HD087384, Household income and child development in the first three years of life. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)/National Institutes of Health (NIH), September 2017-July 2023. Role: Co-Investigator/UNL Site Multiple Principal Investigator.