Rachel Marsh, PhD

  • Irving Philips Professor of Medical Psychology (in Child Psychology) at CUMC
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Dr. Rachel Marsh received a BA in psychology from Skidmore College and a PhD in experimental psychology from the City University of New York. The focus of her graduate work was on cognitive and language development in infants. During her postdoctoral training, she began developing expertise in fMRI techniques and studying the functioning and development of the frontostriatal circuits that support self-regulatory capacities in healthy individuals and in those with psychopathologies that emerge during childhood and adolescence (e.g., Tourette syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders). 

The Cognitive Development and Neuroimaging Lab (CDNL), directed by Dr. Rachel Marsh, focuses on identifying alterations in the neurodevelopmental trajectories of self-regulatory control processes. Utilizing multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques, behavioral, and clinical measures, CDNL studies self-regulatory control processes and how they change over development and following the remission of symptoms with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in children (R01MH115024) and adults with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Their findings from adults with OCD suggest that an altered balance between task-positive and task-negative regions predicts response to therapy. Such alterations may lead to difficulty controlling both intrusive thoughts and resisting ritualistic behaviors (Pagliaccio, D.  et al, PNAS, 2021). Their findings from children with OCD similarly point to functional and structural alterations in control circuits that predict response to CBT (Cyr, M. et al. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2019), consistent with their theory that interventions enhancing functioning of control circuits in pediatric OCD and anxiety disorders may facilitate brain maturation and lead to better treatment outcomes (Fitzgerald, K. D., Schroder H. S., & Marsh, R., Biological Psychiatry, 2020). Their work with large, publicly available datasets further points to alterations in these circuits as marking increased risk for OCD (Pagliaccio, D., et al, Depression and Anxiety, 2021).

Most recently, Dr. Marsh’s lab has taken a dyadic approach to understanding child development with one NIMH funded study aimed at studying the intergenerational transmission of regulatory deficits from mother to child (R01MH117983) and another aimed at understanding the effects of prenatal SARS-CoV-2 on brain-behavioral indices of socioemotional functioning in mother-infant dyads (R01MH126531). This latter study capitalizes on the COVID-19 Mother Baby Outcome (COMBO) initiative, a large multidisciplinary collaborative that was established at CUIMC to follow SARS-CoV-2 exposed laboring mothers and their newborns and compare their long-term health outcomes to case-matched dyads without prenatal exposure. A supplement to this project was also awarded by the NIMH to tease apart the impact of COVID-19 and structural racism and discrimination, economic marginalization, and other social determinants of health as drivers of maternal mental health inequities.

Academic Appointments

  • Irving Philips Professor of Medical Psychology (in Child Psychology) at CUMC

Administrative Titles

  • Director of MRI Research at New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York NY


  • Female



  • OCS (Task control circuit targets for obsessive compulsive behaviors in children)

Principal Investigators: Rachel Marsh, PhD; Kate Fitzgerald, MD Multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to assess the functioning and structure of overlapping task control (TC) circuits in a large sample of unmedicated children with a range of obsessive compulsive (OC) symptoms. Children (ages 7-13) and their parents complete self-reports, clinical interviews, and behavioral tasks of control, learning and memory. Children with subclinical OC symptoms and those with OCD are combined to test the relation of TC circuitry with OC symptoms across the full range of severity. Children with OCD are also offered a standard course of evidence based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) before rescanning (along with age-and gender-matched control participants) to explore changes in these circuits following treatment and the improvement of OC symptoms.

For more information, please see Brain Imaging Study for Children and/or contact Sarah Pieper (Sarah.Pieper@nyspi.columbia.edu(link sends e-mail))


  • INHIBITORY CONTROL (Intergenerational Transmission of Deficits in Self-Regulatory Control)

Principal Investigators: Rachel Marsh, PhD; Catherine Monk, PhD; Marisa Spann, PhD Self-regulatory deficits are common across a variety of childhood psychiatric disorders in which children have difficulty regulating their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. By leveraging previously collected prenatal and neonatal data and acquiring new data from mother-infant dyads, this study will identify brain-based markers of regulatory deficits that are passed inter-generationally and persist from infancy to childhood. This study includes pregnant woman and mothers between the ages of 14 and 45 years old. The children enrolled in this study will be given age-appropriate measures of regulatory control processes at 4 months, 14 months and again during preschool and school age. MRI data will be collected from neonates and school age children who were previously scanned as neonates. These measures will also be collected from the mothers, allowing us to associate maternal neonatal indices of self-regulatory control. Thus, this study will uncover trajectories of control processes and circuits from infancy to school age and the intergenerational transmission of regulatory deficits from mothers to children.

For more information, please contact Sydney Taylor (Sydney.Taylor@nyspi.columbia.edu(link sends e-mail)).


  • COMBO (The COVID-19 Mother-Baby Outcomes Study)

Principal Investigators: Rachel Marsh, PhD; Catherine Monk, PhD; Dani Dumitriu, MD The COMBO study explores the hypothesis that prenatal SARS-CoV-2 exposure affects mother and child brain and behavior and demonstrates that the socioemotional health of each member of the mother-child dyad is intrinsically related to that of the other. COMBO tests this hypothesis through multimodal MRI as well as olfaction testing, wearable in-home physiological recordings, and observational mother-child assessments. PIs Dani Dumitriu, pediatrician, Dr. Catherine Monk, clinical psychologist embedded in Ob/Gyn, and Dr. Marsh lead the imaging portion of COMBO, which looks at socioemotional circuits (fronto-limbic) and behavior (caregiving and bonding) in 100 mother-child dyads from prepartum to 18 months postpartum. Detecting COVID-19-related mother-child neurobehavioral effects will provide insights into interventions for and contribute significantly to children’s developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) and stress science.

For more information, please see the COVID-19 Mother Baby Outcomes Study and/or contact Charlotte Quincoses (Charlotte.Quincoses@nyspi.columbia.edu(link sends e-mail)).


  • NOSI Maternal Health

This project explores structural racism and discrimination, economic marginalization, and other social determinants of health as drivers of maternal mental health inequities. Our team at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) has pioneered a large multidisciplinary consortium, the COVID-19 Mother Baby Outcomes (COMBO) Initiative, to address the impacts of COVID-19 on mother-infant dyads in an understudied population (predominantly Latinx of low socioeconomic status [SES]).

For more information, please contact Charlotte Quincoses (Charlotte.Quincoses@nyspi.columbia.edu(link sends e-mail))

Research Interests

  • Brain Imaging
  • Cognitive/Systems Neuroscience
  • Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

Selected Publications

Marsh, R., G. Horga, et al. (2014). "Altered activation in fronto-striatal circuits during sequential processing of conflict in unmedicated adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder." Biological psychiatry 75(8): 615-622.

Marsh, R., G. Horga, et al. (2011). "An FMRI study of self-regulatory control and conflict resolution in adolescents with bulimia nervosa." The American journal of psychiatry 168(11): 1210-1220.

Marsh, R., M. Stefan, et al. (2013). "Anatomical Characteristics of the Cerebral Surface in Bulimia Nervosa." Biological psychiatry.

Marsh, R., J. E. Steinglass, et al. (2009). "Deficient activity in the neural systems that mediate self-regulatory control in bulimia nervosa." Archives of general psychiatry 66(1): 51-63.

Marsh, R., H. Zhu, et al. (2007). "A Developmental fMRI Study of Self-Regulatory Control in Tourette's Syndrome." Am J Psychiatry 164(6): 955-966.