Tag Archives: department of human development

 whitlock460Online course brings self-injury to the surface                                                                     Janis Whitlock, Ph.D. ’03, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery (CRPSIR) and a research scientist in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, hopes to spotlight the issue by launching a set of web-based                                   education and training courses.
sad girlEarly puberty in girls raises the risk of depression                                                                   Perri Klass interviewed Jane Mendle in her NY Times' column, The Checkup, about Mendle's research with girls who begin puberty earlier than their peers. Read here about her findings and the risks these girls face in adolescence. 
LRDM lab members and 4-H Career Explorations studentsLearning to reduce risky behaviors leads to STEM careers                                                          The Laboratory for Rational Decision Making, led by Dr. Valerie Reyna in Human Development, welcomed 24 high school students from 18 different counties in New York State as part of  the 4-H Career Explorations Conference.
gsalogoGerontological Society selects experts on aging as fellows                     Professors Corinna Loeckenhoff and Elaine Wethington of human development, were two of 94 professionals named on May 31 to the society, which is the largest of its kind seeking to understand aging in the United States.

Students in the News

Sarah MooreHD graduate student in the news: Sarah R. Moore                                                             Sarah R. Moore, Ph.D. student of Dr. Richard A. Depue, was awarded the Early Career Outstanding Paper Award in Developmental Psychology. Read her summary of research on how people differ in their interaction with their environment.
MorenoMarcos Moreno '17 is named a 2016 Udall scholar                                                                  The Udall Scholarship supports undergraduates with excellent academic records and who show potential for careers in environmental public policy, health care and tribal public policy. Moreno is a human development major concentrating in neuroscience in                               the College of Human Ecology.
tumblr_inline_oab7iaDzqM1tqatqb_1280Summer Scholar Spotlight: Deborah Seok ‘17                                                                              In faculty research labs, in communities across the state, and at jobs and internships around the globe, Human Ecology undergrads are making a powerful impact this summer as they apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

 Articles on the Web

Robert SternbergHow can current research inform the development of new methods to assess intelligence?                                                                                                                                    Read the fifth post from the six-part series, "Researching Human Intelligence" on fifteeneightyfour, the blog of Cambridge University Press, with Robert Sternberg,                                           professor of human development.

 Multimedia

video play buttonVideo introduces the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE), explaining it's mission and introducing key researchers and practitioners involved in the project.                                                                                                                                             
video play button                                                                                                                                                                    Professor Anthony Burrow Discusses Youth and Purpose with Karl Pillemer, Director of BCTR 

 

DIV. 7 AWARD WINNERS

Early Career Outstanding Paper Award winner: Sarah R. Moore

A summary of Sarah R. Moore's research, “Neurobehavioral Foundation of Environmental Reactivity.”

By Sarah R. Moore

Sarah Moore, Ph.D. student in Human Development

Sarah R. Moore, Ph.D. student in Human Development

In this review article, I propose a framework for understanding the neurobiological processes that guide how individuals navigate and internalize environments. Previous work brought to attention the empirical evidence that some individuals with particular temperaments, physiological characteristics and, more recently, genetic polymorphisms, demonstrate heightened effects of social environments on development (Belsky & Pluess, 2009). My review article, published in Psychological Bulletin, steps beyond this question of whether individuals vary in responses to social environments, which is now well-established, to why individuals differ in their responses. In other words, I set out to address: What underlies this variation in sensitivity to experience, and how does it develop?

Since the publication of seminal work on gene-environment interactions (Caspi et al., 2002, 2003), gene-environment interaction has become quite common in investigations of individual differences in responsiveness to environmental factors. Collectively, the work suggests that particular genes encoding neurochemicals relate to the degree that social contexts have enduring consequences on developmental outcomes. What was missing in this area was an explanation as to how variation of these neurobiological systems shapes individual differences in the enduring consequences of environmental factors. The first part of my review article thus addresses the neurobiological functions of genes commonly implicated in gene-environment interaction studies of sensitivity. These functions bridge genetic variation affecting neural systems to actual differences in neuroplasticity processes to environmental inputs, explaining mechanistically why particular genotypes might be linked to larger effects of the environment on development.

Inherent to the notion of plasticity is the critical role of experience. Plasticity means that environments are interacting with biology in the development of traits. Despite this accepted view of development as plastic, and thus involving an ongoing interplay of biology and experience, there still exists a heavy emphasis on genetics, in and of itself, wherever one or more genes might be implicated. In the second part of my review, a developmental framework is proposed that accounts for the dynamic nature of the biological processes that are affected by genes. Simply put, if a genetic factor shapes plasticity to the environment, then the history of environmental effects on the biology of the brain is as important to understanding outcomes as the genetic susceptibility factor: Any long-term consequences of such a factor is intrinsically dependent on the surrounding environmental context.

Taken together, the importance of this article lies in its novel insights into the mechanisms that may account for individual variations in sensitivity at a point where the field is in need of such an analysis. For the increasing number of developmentalists turning to research on genetic and biological markers of sensitivity, this article serves to inform the biological role of the prominently studied genes in human development. It also highlights other biological systems relevant to how experiences are registered and internalized. The article advances the current literature's myopic focus on identifying genetic plasticity markers to understanding the plasticity processes at play. The plasticity of neurobiological systems directly accounts for who responds and adapts and to what in the environment. This is essential for understanding developmental change, and for identifying targetable mechanisms of risk. After all, changing genes is not an option.

Ultimately, this article is intended to jumpstart more in-depth research aimed at understanding the nuanced developmental trajectories of individuals with different susceptibilities and unique histories. Understanding how biological tendencies are modified by experience will pave the way for tailored interventions that target the specific needs of individuals and, ultimately, improve psychological and physical health outcomes. I will be continuing this work as a scholar at the Child and Family Research Institute at the University of British Columbia. In this next phase, I will investigate the epigenetic mediators bridging the interplay of genetic variation and experience to neurodevelopment.

References

Belsky, J., & Pluess, M. (2009). Beyond diathesis stress: Differential susceptibility to environmental influences. Psychological Bulletin, 135 (6), 885–908.

Caspi, A., McClay, J., Moffitt, T. E., Mill, J., Martin, J., Craig, I. W., et al. (2002). Role of genotype in the cycle of violence in maltreated children. Science, 297 (5582), 851–854.

Caspi, A., Sugden, K., Moffitt, T. E., Taylor, A., Craig, I. W., Harrington, H., et al. (2003). Influence of life stress on depression: Moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science, 301 (5631), 386–389.

Relax. Breathe. It’s all small stuff. When faced with life’s daily challenges, adults who don’t maintain a positive outlook have shown elevated physiological markers for inflaming cardiovascular and autoimmune disease, according to new research by Cornell University and Penn State psychologists.

Anthony Ong

Anthony Ong

“Hassles and minor frustrations are common in day-to-day living. Our findings suggest that how people react to daily stressors may matter more … than the frequency of such stressors,” explain the researchers in “Affective Reactivity to Daily Stressors is Associated with Elevated Inflammation,” published June 8 in the journal Health Psychology and co-authored by Anthony Ong, Cornell associate professor of human development; along with Penn State researchers Nancy Sin, Jennifer Graham-Engeland and David Almeida.

While many scientists have studied how chronic stress affects human health, the researchers explained that little is known about how reactivity to daily stressors affects biomarkers of inflammation.

The study found that those people who had difficulty maintaining positive emotional engagement during times of stress appeared to be particularly at risk for elevated levels of inflammation.

The researchers surveyed nearly 870 midlife and older adults. People who experienced greater decreases in positive affect on days when stress occurred were found to have increased amounts of interleukin-6 (a protein that acts as an inflammatory or anti-inflammatory agent) and C-reactive protein (an anti-inflammatory agent). Women who experience increased negative affect when faced with minor stressors may be at particular risk of elevated inflammation.

“Previous research suggests that the chronic experience of joy and happiness may slow down the physiological effects of aging,” Ong said. “This study extends that research by showing that possessing stable levels of ‘positive affect’ may be conducive to good health, while disturbances in daily positive affect may be associated with heightened inflammatory immune responses.”

Ong explained, “These findings are novel because they point to the importance of daily positive emotion regulation that until now have largely been neglected in studies of stress and inflammation.”

Flip a coin, roll the dice, pick a number, throw a dart -- there is no shortage of metaphors for the perceived randomness of juries. That belief that "anything can happen," is applied to some extent to the whole jury model, but nowhere more so than on the topic of civil damages. When jurors are asked to supply a number, particularly on the categories that are intangible (like pain and suffering) or somewhat speculative (like lost earnings), the eventual number is sometimes treated as a kind of crapshoot. What's more, the process that the jury goes through to get to it is seen as a kind of black box: not well understood or necessarily subject to clear influence.

What litigators might not know is that the subject of civil damages is a great example of social science research beginning to close the gap. Based on research within the last decade, we are coming closer to opening that black box in order to see a jury process -- albeit not fully predictable, but at least more knowable. The way jurors arrive at a number is increasingly capable of being described through the literature, and these descriptions have implications for the ad damnum requests made by plaintiffs and for the alternative amounts recommended by defendants. A study just out this year (Reyna et al., 2015), for example, provides support for a multistage model describing how jurors move from a story, to a general sense or 'gist' of damages, and then to a specific number. Their work shows that, while the use of a numerical suggestion -- an 'anchor' -- has a strong effect on the ultimate award amount, that effect is strongest when the anchor is meaningful. In other words, just about any number will have an effect on a jury, but a meaningful number -- one that provides a reference point that matters in the context of the case -- carries a stronger and more predictable effect. This post will share some of the results from the new study framed around some conclusions that civil litigators should take to heart.

No, Jurors Aren't Random

The research team, led by Cornell psychologists Valerie Reyna and Valerie Hans, begins with the observation that "jurors are often at sea about the amounts that should be awarded, with widely differing awards for cases that seem comparable." They cover a number of familiar reasons for that: limited guidance from the instructions; categories that are vague or subjective; judgments that depend on broad estimations, if not outright speculation; and a scale that begins at zero but, theoretically at least, ends in infinity. Add to that the problem that jurors often have limited numerical competence (low "numeracy") or an aversion to detailed thinking (low "need for cognition"). All of that means that there isn't, and will never be, a precise and predictable logic to a jury's damages award. But it doesn't mean that they're picking a number out of a hat either. Research is increasingly pointing toward the route jurors take in moving to the numbers.

There is a Path Jurors Follow

As detailed in the article, jury awards will vary on the same essential case facts, but a number of studies have found a strong "ordinal" relationship between injury severity and award amounts: More extreme injuries lead to higher awards, and vice versa. Increasing knowledge of the process has led researchers to describe a jury's decision in steps, both to better understand it, and also to underscore that some steps are more predictable than others. The following model, for example, is drawn from Hans and Reyna's 2011 work (though I've taken the liberty to make some of the language less academic):

Slide1

That breakdown of steps is backed up by the research reviewed in the article, but it isn't just useful for scholars. Watch mock trial deliberations and you are likely to see jurors moving through that general sequence. Knowing that jurors are going to implicitly or explicitly settle on a 'gist' (large, small, or in between) before translating that into a specific number is also helpful to litigators in providing the reminder 'speak to the gist' as well as to the ultimate number.

So Use an Anchor, but Make it Meaningful

The model also points out the advantages of giving jurors guidance on a number. Research supports the view that it is a good idea to try to anchor jurors' awards by providing a number. Suggesting a higher number generally leads to a higher award, and vice versa. Reyna and colleagues found that even the mention of an arbitrary dollar amounts (the cost of courthouse repairs) influences the size of awards. But the central finding of the study is that it helps even more if the dollar amount isn't arbitrary. "Providing meaningful reference points for award amounts, as opposed to only providing arbitrary anchors," the team concludes, "had a larger and more consistent effect on judgments." Not only are the ultimate awards closer to the meaningful anchor, but they are also more predictable, being more tightly clustered around the anchor when that anchor is meaningful and not arbitrary.

And Here is what "Meaningful" Might Mean

Of course, the notion of what is "meaningful" might carry just as much vagueness as the damages category itself, and the research team is not fully explicit on what makes a number meaningful in a trial context. That might be a fitting question for the next study, but in the meantime, the team gives at least some guidance. To Reyna et al., recommended amounts are "meaningful in the sense that their magnitude is understood as appropriate in the context of that case." In the study, the "meaningful" anchor was that one that expressed a pain and suffering amount as being either higher or lower than one year's income. That's not a perfect parallel -- one is payment for work, the other is recompense for suffering -- but it does reference something that the jury is used to thinking about and using as a rough way of valuing time. By nature, meaningful anchors will vary from case to case, but there are a few general numbers that could be used as a reference point, like median annual salary; daily, weekly, or monthly profits; or remediation costs.

Of course, those are well-known devices that attorneys will regularly apply. Still, it is good to know that, at a preliminary level at least, they have the social science stamp of approval. Those kinds of anchors and reference points work because they give jurors a way to get a gist of the claimed damages, and a way to bring abstract numbers into the jurors' own mental universe.

Copyright Holland & Hart LLP 1995-2015.

Steve and WendyWendy M. Williams is a professor in the department of human development at Cornell University. She founded and directs the Cornell Institute for Women in Science. Stephen J. Ceci is the Helen Carr professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University. They wrote "The Mathematics of Sex" and edited "Why Aren't More Women in Science?"

Earlier today, struggling with an armful of files, a large computer, and a 10-pound mega-purse, one of us got a steel door in the face when an out-to-lunch undergraduate slammed it. So are Cornell students vacant-minded budding sociopaths? No; nor are most male scientists prone to disparaging talented women working in their labs.

Tim Hunt speaks for a vanishing minority — as is shown by the national data on women in science, which reveal sustained progress.

Tim Hunt made some outrageous statements, but he speaks for a vanishing minority — as is shown by the national data on women in science, which reveal sustained progress. In large-scale analyses with economists Donna Ginther and Shulamit Kahn, we showed the academic landscape has changed rapidly, with women and men treated comparably in most domains. Some differences exist, usually benefiting men when they occur, but they are exceptions, not the rule.

Generally, female assistant and associate professors earn as much as men, are tenured and promoted at comparable rates, persist at their jobs equally, and express equivalent job satisfaction (over 85 percent of women and men rate their satisfaction as “somewhat to very satisfied”). And, importantly, women are hired at higher rates than men.

In 1971, women were less than 1 percent of professors in academic engineering. Today women represent roughly 25 percent of assistant professors, with similar growth in all traditional male domains — physics, chemistry, geosciences, mathematics/computer science and economics. Women in 1973 comprised 15 percent or less of assistant professors in these fields whereas today they constitute 20 percent to 40 percent.

Women prefer not to major in these fields in college (choosing instead life sciences, premed, animal science, social science or law) and women do not apply as often as men for professorial posts. But when female Ph.D.’s apply for tenure-track jobs they are offered these posts at a higher rate than male competitors. This is not obvious because the majority of both men and women are rejected when they apply for professorial positions. But women are usually hired over men.

We recently reported results of five national experiments, demonstrating that 872 faculty members employed at 371 universities and colleges strongly preferred, 2 to 1, to hire a female applicant over an identically qualified man. Even when asked to evaluate just one applicant, faculty rated the woman as stronger. We found this pro-female hiring preference in all four fields we studied and it was just as true of women faculty as men faculty.

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Felix Thoemmes

Felix Thoemmes

Felix Thoemmes, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development was part of team of researchers that examined the effect of taking a gap year before college on student retention in college.

Reprinted from the Academy of Finland Communications, May 12, 2015

A gap year between high school and the start of university studies does not weaken young people’s enthusiasm to study or their overall performance once the studies have commenced. On the other hand, adolescents who continue to university studies directly after upper secondary school are more resilient in their studies and more committed to the study goals. However, young people who transfer directly to university are more stressed than those who start their studies after a gap year. These research results have been achieved in the Academy of Finland’s research programme The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills (TULOS).

“For young people, the transition from upper secondary school to further studies is a demanding phase in life, and many adolescents are tired at the end of upper secondary school. The demanding university admission tests take place close to the matriculation examination in Finland and require diligent studying from students. For many, a gap year offers an opportunity to take a break and think about future choices while developing a positive view of the future,” says Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro, the principal investigator of the study.

The transition period from secondary education to further studies is a key phase for the development of young people. It is a phase in which adolescents ponder over important future choices regarding educational directions and career goals.

The impact of a gap year on young people’s motivation to study and their future educational path was studied for the first time in the Academy of Finland’s research programme The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills. The research was conducted in Finland with the help of the FinEdu longitudinal study, which followed young people for several years after upper secondary school. A corresponding study was conducted concurrently in cooperation with Australian researchers among local youth in Australia.

“In the light of our research findings, a gap year between secondary education and further studies is not harmful, especially if the young person only takes one year off. When these adolescents are compared with those who continue their studies directly after upper secondary school, those who take a gap year quickly catch up with the others in terms of study motivation and the effort they put into their studies,” says Salmela-Aro.

If young people take more than one gap year, however, they may have more difficulties coping with the studies and with study motivation. “In the transition phase, many young people are left quite alone, which may make the transition to a new study phase quite challenging.”

According to the research results, those young people who begin their further studies directly after upper secondary school are more resilient in their studies and more committed to their goals than those who take a gap year. In addition, adolescents who continue their studies immediately after upper secondary school believe in their ability to achieve their goals more than those who start their studies after a gap year. On the other hand, they find studying and aiming for study goals more stressful than the students who take a gap year.

“The research results also suggest that students who take a gap year are slightly more susceptible to dropping out of university later on than those who transfer to university directly after upper secondary school,” says Salmela-Aro.

The study has been published in Developmental Psychology:

I wish I had (not) taken a gap-year? The psychological and attainment outcomes of different post-school pathways. Parker, Philip D.; Thoemmes, Felix; Duinevald, Jasper J.; Salmela-Aro, Katariina. Developmental Psychology, Vol 51(3), Mar 2015, 323–333. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0038667

More information:

  • Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro, Cicero Learning, University of Helsinki and University of Jyväskylä, tel. +358 50 415 5283, katariina.salmela-aro(at)helsinki.fi

Academy of Finland Communications
Riitta Tirronen, Communications Manager
tel. +358 295 335 118
firstname.lastname(at)aka.fi

Last modified 12 May 2015

 

Banner-Logo-150x150Scholars funded through the Institute for the Social Sciences’ small grant program this spring seek to answer such questions as, how do economic crises affect voters’ behavior, and how do public perceptions of social inequality influence efforts to mobilize cooperative solutions to climate change?

Twice yearly, the Institute for the Social Sciences (ISS) provides up to $12,000 to tenured and tenure-track faculty through its peer-reviewed small grant program. This spring, faculty from six different colleges won awards.

“One of the strengths of the program is that it forges interdisciplinary connections across campus, both in the traditional strongholds of the social sciences and units where scholars are working at the boundaries of social sciences, humanities and life sciences,” said Kim Weeden, professor of sociology and the Robert S. Harrison Director of ISS.

One of these boundary-spanning projects is a collaborative effort between Malte Jung and Steven Jackson, both in Computing and Information Sciences, and a surgical team at Weill Medical College in New York City. They will compare robotic and laparoscopic surgical teams.

Christopher Huckfeldt, assistant professor in economics, is calibrating a macroeconomic model of unemployment with data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. He is applying quantitative macroeconomic theory to assess the importance of occupational downgrading in generating permanent income losses for workers who lose their job during a recession.

“The ISS grant has put me on a faster track to accomplish the research goals associated with my project. As a junior faculty member, this type of grant is invaluable for establishing a long-term research agenda,” Huckfeldt said.

Claire Lim, assistant professor in economics, is looking at how deregulation, mergers and acquisitions, and changes in regulators’ ideology, have affected executive compensation in the domestic energy industry. She’s also examining how political environments in the U.S. influence the regulation and conduct of energy firms.

Using the Charles Manson murders and subsequent trials in the early 1970s as a stage, Claudia Verhoeven, associate professor in history, hopes to invigorate the historiography through analysis of gender, class, race, geo-politics, pop and mass culture, social movements, religion, the justice system, mass media and militant environmentalism. She intends to properly situate the case in the context of the late 1960s, and provide it with a reception history – a history of the way events were portrayed and perceived at the time.

Jonathon Schuldt, assistant professor of communication, will use his ISS grant to study how socioeconomic status influences beliefs and intentions to address and mitigate climate change.

Alexander Kuo, assistant professor of government, will use the grant to conduct surveys before and after the 2015 national elections in Spain to analyze how an economic crisis affects voter behavior and supports new political movements.

The ISS’ small grants program also is supporting two upcoming conferences.

Trevor Pinch and collaborators Michael Lynch and Bruce Lewenstein, all from science and technology studies, are using ISS funds to support a 2016 conference to take stock of the field of science and technology studies, what it has accomplished and where it is headed.

Another conference, led by Gustavo Flores-Macias, assistant professor in government, is bringing together leading scholars on the political economy of Latin America in a conference to address taxation and its importance to inequality and economic development.

Other recipients of spring 2015 small grants include Adam Anderson, associate professor in human development; Garrick Blalock, associate professor in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management; John Forester, professor in city and regional planning; Karel Mertens, associate professor of economics; David Mimno, assistant professor in information science; and Luo Zuo, assistant professor of accounting.

The deadline for the fall 2015 small grants competition is Sept. 8, and applications will be requested shortly after the fall semester begins.

Lori Sonken is the staff writer for the Institute for the Social Sciences.