Social Development and Family Processes

Current Projects

Our research focuses on how children and adolescents come to understand themselves, their relationships (particularly with parents) and their social world.  We are particularly interested in how children and adolescents in different cultural and ethnic/racial contexts develop an understanding of moral matters (e.g., issues pertaining to justice, welfare, and rights), as distinct from conventional norms and how children, adolescents, and adults (typically parents) draw boundaries between what they believe are private, personal matters and issues that they consider to be legitimately regulated by parents and society. To study these issues, we use different types of methods (interviews, observations, narratives, experiments) in research with toddlers, children, and adolescents and their families.

We are conducting research in several distinct areas.


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.)

  • 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.

  • 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 Psychology.



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.

  • Hong Kong Chinese Children’s Evaluations of Maternal Guilt and Shame

This study examines Hong Kong preadolescents’ and adolescents’ evaluations of parental guilt and shame induction. We are interested in how Chinese youth in Hong Kong evaluate different types of guilt and shame induction in the context of moral and academic issues.

  • 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.