My research addresses social-emotional development, primarily in early childhood, with an emphasis on identifying typical trajectories of temperament development, as well as risk and protective factors relevant to the development of psychopathology. In addition, parental contributions to both temperament development and the emergence of symptoms/behavior problems continue to be examined. I have been fortunate to collaborate with a number of wonderful colleagues abroad, who contributed to another area of research I am involved in, namely cross-cultural study of temperament development and developmental psychopathology.
My work with temperament emphasizes areas related to methodology (i.e., how do we ask meaningful questions about this domain of individual differences?) as well as development (examining trajectories of fear, and other characteristics, in early childhood). Along the way issues related to how much temperament changes over time, vs. how stable attributes appear to be, how much parents agree with each other about their infants’ temperament, and how parental attributes influence their ratings of children’s behavior and emotions, have been addressed. Most recently, my attention has turned to applying this information, offering parents of infants an opportunity to learn more about temperament in general, and their baby’s profile more specifically, in an effort to increase their sensitivity/responsiveness, and lower the risk for child behavior problems, maltreatment, and likely other adverse outcomes.
Here the goal has been twofold: (1) how to understand the interplay between different temperament attributes in predicting early signs/symptoms of behavioral and emotional difficulties, and (2) how to make sense of the parent related factors, as these interact with temperament and help shape the development of symptoms/behavior problems. The temperament feedback program mentioned earlier represents an attempt to prevent these difficulties from coming online, by intervening in the first year of life, providing a psycho-educational parent guidance program, which is currently being evaluated.
Parenting is important to child outcomes across the entire period of childhood/adolescence, and some would argue into adulthood. However, early childhood, and infancy in particular, represent a developmental period of greatest vulnerability for the child and their greatest dependence on caregivers to meet their basic needs. I have chosen to focus on parent-child interaction dynamics, linking these to temperament and developmental psychopathology outcomes. Most recently, my work has begun to address parental values and expectations, examining their ethnotheories as these relate to temperament development and developmental psychopathology.
So much of the social-emotional development literature has been based on the assumption that discerned effects could be easily generalized to people/populations around the world. More recently, cross-cultural differences in the development of temperament and behavior problems have been identified, with noted variability attributed to differences in the “developmental niche”, which represents a set of factors related to the settings available to the child, caregivers’ characteristics, and daily activities, that are culturally influenced and shape the developmental process.