Faculty Directory

Nathaniel Riggs

Nathaniel Riggs, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies
Graduate Program Chair

Contact Information

317 Behavioral Sciences Building
1570 Campus Delivery
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1570
Phone: 970-491-2684
ax: 970-491-7975
E-mail: nathaniel.riggs@colostate.edu

Research Interests

I am a prevention scientist who focuses on translating basic research in developmental neuroscience to interventions for child and adolescent social-emotional, behavioral, and physical health. Of primary interest is the development of executive function, the set of neuro-cognitive skills mediated by the prefrontal cortex that encompass self-regulated decision-making and goal-oriented problem-solving. My basic research has demonstrated that disruptions in the development of executive function can be an important contributor to patterns of childhood and adolescent aggressive and depressive symptomatology (Riggs, Blair, & Greenberg, 2003), substance use (Riggs, 2015), and obesity (Riggs et al., 2014).

I translate this research into developmentally-timed interventions for young people. The neural systems of the brain responsible for executive function proceed through rapid stages of growth in childhood and adolescence. This provides a window of opportunity to implement interventions that take advantage of neurodevelopmental processes, potentially leading to larger and more sustained intervention effects. My early research in the promotion of social-emotional competence demonstrated that immediate intervention effects on executive function mediate long-term intervention effects on child behavioral development (Riggs et al., 2006).

Research from my lab has also demonstrated that executive function is positively associated with mindfulness, which is the quality of human consciousness characterized by a non-judgmental and accepting awareness of the constant stream of lived experience (Riggs et al., 2015). Currently I am testing the efficacy of Mindful Moments, a school-based approach to positive youth development which combines traditional strategies for promoting social-emotional competence with mindful awareness practices.

I am also a co-investigator on the Health and Happiness project, a National Institute on Drug Abuse funded research project testing bidirectional models of substance use and mental health problems. A recent study from this project, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrated that initiating e-cigarette use in early adolescence places youth at risk for transitioning to the use of traditional tobacco products including combustible cigarettes, cigars, and hookah (Leventhal et al., 2015). A second study demonstrated that executive function problems were associated with greater cigarette, e-cigarette, and hookah use for youth in lower socio-economic communities (Riggs et al., in press).

In addition to my school-based prevention research, I am also interested in the role of after-school programs as a context for promoting youth development. The hours immediately following school can be the riskiest of a child’s day, particularly if that child is left unsupervised. After-school programs have increasingly been offered as a solution to providing youth with supervised and constructive after-school activities. My research in this domain informs after-school policy by identifying the youth who benefit most from the after-school program experience (Riggs, 2006; Riggs et al., 2010; Riggs & Greenberg, 2004).


B.S., 1996, Psychology, University of Washington
M.S., 2001, Human Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State University
Ph.D., 2003, Human Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State University

Honors and Awards

2014 - Colorado State University, The Institute of Learning and Teaching (TILT) Teaching Fellow (Course Redesign Grant).
2011 - Invited Guest Editor: International Journal of Emotional Education: Special Issue on Social-Emotional Learning and Drug Use.
2009 - Recipient of the USC Undergraduate Research Associates Program (URAP) Grant. $3,300 in stipends funding undergraduate research associates.
2006 - Society for Prevention Research (SPR) Early Career Prevention (ECPN) Travel Award ($500).
2005 - SPR ECPN Travel Award ($500).
2004-2007 - National Cancer Institute (T32) Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship: University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.
2002 - University of California, Riverside Summer Institute for Youth Violence Prevention (Selected Graduate Participant).
1999-2001 - Penn State Prevention Research Center Edna Bennett Pierce Graduate Prevention Fellowship Award.
1996 - Psi Chi National Psychology Honors Society.

Current Research Projects

2016-2018 Advancing Innovation and Dissemination of Evidence-Based Action in Schools (IDEAS) for Health. The Colorado Health Foundation. Principal Investigator. 33% Effort (4 Calendar Months). Co-Principal Investigator: Melissa George. $827,080.

2016-2017 Adapting a Social Norms Approach to the Prevention of Cannabis Misuse among College Students. Colorado State University Prevention Research Center Pilot Program. Principal Investigator. $27,600.

2016-2017 Promoting Mindfulness to Prevent Adolescent Substance Misuse. Colorado State University Graduate Program in Public Health Research Pilot Grants Program. Principal Investigator. $19,946.

2015-2020 Colorado State University (CSU) & University of Hawai`i at Manoa (UHM) - Sustainable Community Project (CO&HI-SCP). National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) Sustainable Community Program (SCP). 2015-06132. Lead Evaluator. 14% Effort (1.3 Calendar Months). PI: Christine Fruhauf. $1,500,000.

2013-2017 Anhedonia as a Risk Factor and Consequence of Substance Use. National Institute of Drug Abuse. R01 DA033296. Principal Investigator, CSU Subcontract 13% Effort (1.2 Calendar Months). $92,290. PI: Adam Leventhal, University of Southern California. $3,466,510.

Professional Experience

2015-present: Associate Editor, Infant and Child Development

2013-present: Associate Professor, Department of Community and Behavioral Health, Colorado School of Public Health

2012-present: Associate Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, Colorado State University

2008-2012 Assistant Professor, Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California

2007-2008: Assistant Professor of Research, Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California

2004-2007: National Cancer Institute Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Preventive Medicine University of Southern California

Selected Publications

Riggs, N. R. & Pentz, M. A. (in press). Inhibitory control and the onset of combustible cigarette, e-cigarette, and hookah use in early adolescence: the moderating role of socioeconomic status. Child Neuropsychology. DOI: 10.1080/09297049.2015.1053389

Riggs, N. R., Black, D. S., & Ritt-Olson, A. (2015). Associations between dispositional mindfulness and executive function in early adolescence. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24, 2745-2751. DOI: 10.1007/s10826-014-0077-3.

Riggs, N. R. (2015). Translating research in neurocognitive development to interventions for youth substance use. Current Addiction Reports, 2, 114-124. DOI: 10.1007/s40429-015-0050-2.

Riggs, N. R., Shin, H-S, Unger, J. B., Spruijt-Metz, D., & Pentz, M. A. (2014). Prospective associations between bilingualism and executive function in Latino children: sustained effects while controlling for acculturation. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 16, 914-921. DOI: 10.1007/s10903-013-9838-0.

Riggs, N. R., Tate, E. B., Ridenour, T. A., Reynolds, M. D. Zhai, Z. W., Vanyukov, M. M., & Tarter, R. E. (2013). Longitudinal associations from neurobehavioral disinhibition to adolescent risky sexual behavior in boys: direct and mediated effects through moderate alcohol consumption. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53, 465-470. PubMed: 23876782.

Riggs, N. R., Huh, J., Chou, C. P., Spruijt-Metz, D., & Pentz, M. A. (2012). Executive cognitive function and latent classes of childhood obesity risk. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 35, 642-650. 10.1007/s10865-011-9395-8.

Riggs, N. R. Spruijt-Metz, D., Chou, C.P. & Pentz, M. A. (2012). Relationships between executive cognitive function and lifetime substance use and obesity-related behaviors in fourth grade youth. Child Neuropsychology, 18, 1-11. DOI:10.1080/09297049.2011.555759.

Riggs, N. R., Bohnert, A., Guzman, M., & Davidson, D. (2010). After-school programs for rural and urban Latino youth: For which children do they work best? American Journal of Community Psychology, 45, 417 429. PMID: 20300821.

Riggs, N. R., Chou, C. P., Spruijt-Metz, D., & Pentz, M.A. (2010). Executive cognitive function as a correlate and predictor of child food intake and physical activity. Child Neuropsychology, 16, 279 – 292. PMID: 20234954.\

Riggs, N. R. & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). Neurocognition as a moderator and mediator of adolescent substance misuse prevention. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 35, 209-213. PMID: 20180672.

Riggs, N. R., Kobayakawa-Sakuma, K. L., & Pentz, M. A. (2007). Preventing risk for obesity by promoting self-regulation and decision-making skills: Pilot results from the Pathways to Health Program. Evaluation Review, 31, 287-301. PMID:17478630.

Riggs, N. R., Chou, C-P., Li, C., & Pentz, M. A. (2007). Adolescent to emerging adulthood smoking trajectories: When do smoking trajectories diverge and do they predict early adulthood nicotine dependence? Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 9, 1147-1154. PMID: 17978988.

Riggs, N. R., Greenberg, M. T., Kusché, C. A., & Pentz, M. A. (2006). The mediational role of neurocognition in the behavioral outcomes of a social-emotional prevention program in elementary school students: Effects of the PATHS Curriculum. Prevention Science, 7, 91-102. PMID: 16572300.

Riggs, N. R., Jahromi, L. B., Razza, R. P., Dillworth, J. E., & Mueller, U. (2006). Executive function and the promotion of social-emotional competence. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 27, 300-309. DOI:10.1016/j.appdev.2006.04.002.

Thematic Research Areas

  • Prevention Science
  • Child and Adolescent Development
  • Risk and Resilience
  • Executive Function
  • Self-regulation