Research Group

Social Development and Family Processes

Current Projects

Our research focuses on how children and adolescents come to understand and act in their social world.  We employ the framework of social domain theory, a constructive, social-cognitive, and domain-specific approach to understand the development of social knowledge.  We are interested in how children and adolescents draw distinctions between moral matters (issues pertaining to others' welfare, justice, and rights), social conventions (arbitrary, culturally variable social norms) and personal issues (personal choices and jurisdiction) and how they apply their understanding in different social contexts, situations, and relationships. We are conducting research in several distinct areas.

Adolescent-Parent Relationships

In these studies, we are interested in the divergent ways that parents and children draw boundaries between parents' legitimate authority to control and decide different aspects of children's lives and what children rightfully can control (that is, what is seen in different ethnic and cultural contexts as personal, private, and up to the individual).  In studies of adolescent-parent conflict, we have investigated adolescents' and parents' different interpretations of conflicts and how they influence adolescent autonomy.  One of our current interests is in disclosure, nondisclosure, and secrecy in adolescent-parent relationships.  We are investigating the types of issues that adolescents disclose or conceal in their relationships with their parents, the parenting and parent-adolescent relationship correlates of disclosure and secrecy, and the implications for healthy adolescent development. We are also investigating adolescents' and parents' beliefs about parents' legitimate authority and their right to know about adolescents' activities. The underlying theme of these studies is how adolescents develop autonomy in the context of their relationships with parents. (For more information, see descriptions of the Adolescent Narrative Study, the Refugee Study, and the Parent-Adolescent Communication Study below.)

Young Children's Social and Moral Understanding

We are examining children's developing understanding of and distinctions among moral and social conventional rules and transgressions and how their developing psychological understanding informs their developing knowledge. We are also considering how children apply their moral and conventional understanding to different issues and in different relationships, and the social interactions that facilitate children's development. We are particularly interested in the early emergence of moral concepts in the preschool years, in developmental changes in moral understanding and emotions from preschool to middle childhood, and links among moral reasoning, emotions, and behavior. (For more information, see descriptions of the Social Events in Relationships Study, the Morality and Aggression Study, and the Necessary Harm Study.)

Our studies (past, current, and planned) employ different methods and multiple informants and many are conducted in different ethnic and cultural contexts. The following are some of the currently active projects in our lab.

"Social Events in Relationships Study"

This study examines young children's moral judgments about transgressions that occur in the context of different social relationships. We are interviewing children between the ages of 4 to 8-years of age to better understand how their judgments and reasoning regarding the permissibility of different types of moral transgressions, their understanding of others' intentions, and their beliefs about retaliation vary as a function of relationship type.

"Learning Social Rules"

In this laboratory study, we are interested in examining the early emergence of young children's moral and social rule understanding. After witnessing puppet shows depicting rule violations, children as young as 2 years of age are being asked for their social preferences (for instance, which puppets they like or want to be friends with). We are interested in whether these social preferences are associated with early moral judgments or with parents' ratings of parenting and children's social competence.

"Morality and Aggression: Links in Early Childhood"

In this short-term longitudinal study, we are interested in links between children's developing moral and conventional rule knowledge and aggressive behavior. Children between the ages of 4 and 6-years are being interviewed to assess their understanding of moral and conventional events and distinctions between them. We are also obtaining parents' and teachers' ratings of children's social behavior (including aggression) over time to examine the role of social rule understanding in the development of different types of aggressive behavior. This project is funded by the H.F. Guggenheim Foundation.

"Adolescents' Narratives about Disclosure, Concealment, and Lying"

In this study, middle school, high school, and college students were interviewed and asked to provide narratives of times when they did something they did not want parents to know but they chose to disclose, conceal, or lie about it to parents. We are currently analyzing their stories to better understand adolescents' motivations and emotions around these events and the lessons learned from their experiences. This study is in collaboration with Cecilia Wainryb, Ph.D., University of Utah and is funded by a seed grant from the Department of Clinical & Social Sciences in Psychology.

"Parenting and Adjustment Among Refugee Youth in Jordan"

This study investigates parenting beliefs (including conceptions of parental authority legitimacy) and practices (including different parenting dimensions), stressors, and adjustment among a large sample of war-displaced Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian refugee adolescents currently living in Jordan. We are interested in how their different backgrounds and experiences are associated with their perceptions of parenting and their current adjustment. This study is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Ikhlas Ahmad at the University of Jordan and is funded by a grant from the University of Jordan.

"Korean Children's Understanding of Necessary Harm"

This study builds on our past research examining children's understanding and reasoning about intentionally harmful actions performed for the purpose of helping of preventing harm. In our previous research, we examined how children's psychological knowledge (such as their judgments of others' intentions) informs and is intertwined with children's moral reasoning. The present study, conducted with a sample of Korean children, replicates and extends this research to include older children (early adolescents) and to examine the role of social relationships and authority commands in these judgments. This research is being conducted in collaboration with Jeeyoung Noh and Dr. Melanie Killen at the University of Maryland.

"Adolescent-Parent Communication and Relationships"

We are analyzing data from a longitudinal study of adolescent-parent communication and relationships that involved over 200 middle class, ethnically diverse families with middle adolescents from the Rochester area and their parents, who completed online surveys three times across a year.  We are examining what adolescents' disclose to parents and the different strategies they use for managing information with parents. We are also examining how parents keep track of their adolescents and what they want to know, need to know, and do know about their adolescents' lives. In answering these questions, we hope to learn more about healthy patterns of adolescent-parent relationships and communication. This project was funded by the Fetzer Institute.