September 2019 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Alan Meca

Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Alan Meca, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Old Dominion University.

1.         What drew you to do work in human development? 
As the child of immigrant parents, education has always been emphasized as a doorway by which I can succeed. Indeed, as is often the case, having had limited opportunities, my parents emphasized the importance of education resulting in constant pressure to succeed. This is probably the reason why growing up, I have always had an interest in trying to answer the big questions (e.g., Who are we? Why are we here?). 

Although engineering and physics were my original focus, as I excelled in my high school studies, I noticed some others did not. During my introduction to psychology, I began asking the question “why?” regarding the individual differences behind motivation, personality, and drive. Subsequently, I knew I wanted to play a role in helping youth succeed and thrive. At Florida International University, this focus was solidified into an interest focused on human development.  I then became involved with Dr. William Kurtines at the Miami Youth Development Project (YDP), an outreach research-based intervention that aims at empowering adolescents in voluntary alternative high schools, where these interests were furthered.

Under Dr. Kurtines’ mentorship, I learned about relational metatheory, developmental systems, and positive youth development.  As one who portrays development as complicated, contextualized, and multifaceted, I became more and more enthralled with the underlying conceptualization of humanity. My parents had limited opportunities to engage in their own identity process, what Marcia (1966) would refer to as foreclosed, and my brother struggled with figuring out his identity.  This led to my own fascination with the topic of identity.

2.        Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey? 

I have been fortunate, in my career, to have had a number of important mentors who have played a substantial role in my life. Mrs. Dianne Holmes, my High School psychology teacher was one of the first teachers that not only recognized my potential but allowed me to be myself and introduced me to a whole new field of science. Dr. Kyle Eichas, then a doctoral student gave me the opportunity to work in the Miami YDP and was my direct supervisor under Dr. Kurtines. Dr. Eichas not only exposed me to developmental science and identity theory but he spent a substantive amount of time mentoring me in statistics and how to work with AMOS and Mplus. Concurrently, as I noted previously, Dr. Kurtines played a central role in introducing me to developmental science; first as my instructor in Theories of Personality and Psychology of Adolescence, and then as my research mentor, modeling what an academic should look like. Dr. Dionne P. Stephens also served as an important role model by being a constant advocate for me, and also by exposing me to methodological and theoretical orientations that expanded my early training. She also modelled success as a person of color (POC) in academia. Finally, I do not think I would be where I am today if not for the generosity of Dr. Seth J. Schwartz who gave me opportunities to work and publish utilizing his various datasets, and also greatly facilitated the development of my statistical, methodological, and professional development.

3.        You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief.  What might be the cultural, inclusion or global significance of your work?

Although my research has focused on identity development across various domains, the majority of my research has focused cultural identity, acculturation, and sociocultural stressors that contribute to mental health among Latinx populations, and more broadly, among ethnic/racial minorities. Exemplifying this work, my colleagues and I recently published in Emerging Adulthood a manuscript focused on identifying individual differences in the relationship between ethnic identity and US identity-belonging with well-being within a daily diary conducted with Hispanic emerging adults. Our findings not only identified day-to-day variability in ethnic and US identity developmental processes, which had not previously been investigated, but also identified significant variance in the strength of the within-person association – indicating that for some, ethnic and US identity was negatively associated with well-being. 

In another study published in American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, utilizing a sample of recently immigrated Hispanic adolescents, we examined the unique effects of acculturation (i.e., heritage and US identification and practices) and sociocultural stress (i.e., discrimination, bicultural stress, and negative context of reception) on alcohol initiation and whether sociocultural stress moderates the effects of cultural practices and identifications on alcohol initiation. This study was also innovative given the joint examination of the unique effects of acculturation and sociocultural stress, the decomposition of sociocultural stress into its component parts, and the exploration of the role of sociocultural stress as a moderator of the relationship between acculturative processes and alcohol initiation. As a whole, this study emphasized the need to take on a more nuance understanding of how acculturation-related factors contribute to psychosocial functioning.

a. Your current project and/or key projects

Although the bulk of my research has focused on cultural identity, my research has broadly focused on identity development and the links between identity and psychosocial functioning and health risk behaviors. Most recently, this focus has extended to the topic of parental identity and how parents establishing a sense of self and identity rooted in ones’ role as a parent. As a first step, we have an ongoing cross-sectional study with parents and expectant parents focused on parental identity processes, general adaptation, and parenting stress. If you are a parent or an expectant parent, and wish to participate, please click here: https://odu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4Sm4aHUr6yPJiol

b. Contributions of your projects/research to the study of human development

As noted above, the broader goal of this project is to understand how parents come to view themselves as parents and integrate parenthood into their existing sense of self. Identity serves as a foundation for meaningful interactions and motivation for identity relevant behaviors. Indeed, behavior and performance aligned with ones’ identity serves to verify existing identity commitments whereas divergence between behavior and one’s identity triggers negative emotions that result in either behavioral modification of the relinquishing of one’s existing identity commitment. As such, parenting identity represents the internalized ideals about how parents ought to parent and direct the adoption and engagement in parental behaviors. Thus, it is likely that individuals’ who are able to establish a positive identity during the transition into parenthood, within a timely manner, will be most apt for taking on the role of a caregiver.

4.        Your one wish for the study of human development 

a.        If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be?

I would wish that developmental science as a field move to the forefront of the discipline marked by equity, diversity, and justice. A key tenant of developmental science rests on the importance of diversity, and although the field of developmental science has made great strides, research is all too often largely constrained to Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) populations or conducted by individuals from these groups. 

b.        How would it advance the field? 

Our understanding of human development will always be limited if there is a lack of diversity in either our researchers or our participants. A lack of diversity among our researchers limits the questions that are asked and the methods that are utilized. At the same time, a lack of diversity of our participants limits the answers we get.

5.        A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life changing

“You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years, and get pats on the back as you pass, but your final reward will be heartache and tears, if you’ve cheated the man in the glass.” From The Man in the Glass by Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr. 

About the researcher

Alan Meca is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, VA. He received his Ph.D. in Developmental Science from Florida International University in 2014 under the mentorship of Dr. Dionne P. Stephens and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Miami under Dr. Seth J. Schwartz. Broadly, his expertise is in identity development, longitudinal methods, positive youth development, and knowledge of immigrant and Latinx youth and families. More specifically, his research agenda has focused on identity development and cultural stressors and their effects on health risk behaviors, mental health, and educational achievement. In pursuit of this research agenda, he has published over 40 peer-reviewed manuscripts focused on personal, ethnic/racial, and national identity and on the cultural dynamics among Latinx families. In addition to understanding the role identity plays in youth’s lives, he has also participated in the development and validation of one of the few personal identity-focused interventions (Meca et al., 2015; Eichas, Meca et al., 2017). Currently, his research agenda is focused on refining measures of cultural identity and understanding the processes that govern how ethnic/racial minority navigate their cultural environment (e.g., code-switching, cultural-frame switching).

Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto

SSHD Publicity Committee

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June 2018 Researchers Window: Dr. Toni Antonucci

Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Toni Antonucci, Program Director and Research Professor in the Life Course Development Program of the Institute for Social Research, and the Elizabeth M. Douvan Collegiate Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan.

  1. What drew you to do work in human development?

I was always intrigued as a young person when people said 'psychologically speaking' even when I was too young to know what it really meant.  In the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I took a non-matriculated course in psychology at a local college.  Fortunately, I grew up in Brooklyn (NY) so that any university was only a train ride away.  After that course, I was definitely hooked. Early on, I became interested in a new field called 'life span developmental psychology'.  I did my masters' thesis on older men, so it seemed natural to do my dissertation on infants.  I thought that would show real commitment to life span human development.

  1. Did you have any mentor or a researcherwho had substantial influence in your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

In graduate school I had two mentors, Robert Kastenbaum and Carolyn Shantz.  One was a pioneer in the field of aging, the other a classic Piagetian.  They were both important and very positive influences on me.  Kastenbaum was a brilliant and unusual scholar who took a winding path to academia.  Shantz was among the few successful female academics and willingly took me on as a Ph.D. student even though my topic area, infancy, wasn't really her field.  Turns out I was her first Ph.D. student.  We both learned a lot.

Regarding moments in my professional journey.  Bob included Death and Dying in his research portfolio - and once was featured in The Enquirer.  He laughed it off and never thought much about it.  That taught me, not to sweat the small stuff….and years later when I was quoted in the Enquirer (a fact one of my mother’s neighbors pointed out), I did the same thing.

Carolyn helped me through some trying times - especially in how to navigate in the male world of academia.

  1. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief. 

One of my favorite papers is our first paper on the Convoy Model with Robert Kahn. In reflecting on it, I benefitted from Bob’s background in social and organizational psychology and I believe he felt the same about my background in lifespan developmental psychology. The Convoy Model benefits from both perspectives and, in my opinion, is better for it.

Another paper that I am fond of is a paper with Kristine Ajrouch and Mary Janevic examining the association between Social Relations and Health.  There is a well-known finding in the field that people with higher socioeconomic status have better health. Using wave 1 data from our Detroit area study, we were able to demonstrate that middle-aged men who were not highly educated (a proxy for socioeconomic status) but had children with whom they could confide were as healthy as highly educated men of the same age.

a. Your current project and/or key projects?

We now have a third wave of the Detroit area Social Relations, Age and Health (SRS) SRS which is a community based, life-span study of people from 8 to 93, and additional waves about to be collected of specific subgroups being collected now and in the near future.

We are proposing another wave on the original complete sample with the addition of a new parallel sample.  We are expanding our research to include cognitive functioning so that we can examine how social relations both cross-sectionally and longitudinally are associated with AD risk and resilience.  This is a new direction for me and I am very excited about.

We are also just completing an examination of race and ethnic differences in Forgiveness, Humility and Health which has yielded some intriguing findings.

b. Contributions of your projects/research to the study of human development.

It is my hope that my work contributes to our understanding of social relations and how social relations influence other aspects of life. The finding I noted above about how low educated middle-aged men who can confide in their child have the same level of health as higher educated peers is a case in point.

  1. Your one wish for the study of human development

a. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be?

For the one wish volume I wished for respectful interdisciplinary team science.

I still believe this is important but given recent events I would also add a wish that human development perspectives be recognized as fundamental across the life span and that there be norms of reasonable, kind and caring behavior.

b. How would it advance the field? 

As we care for others, we care for ourselves.  This makes us better people and creates a better world.

  1. A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing.

Seek advice from those close and far and always try to include people you know disagree with you.

 

About the researcher

Toni Antonucci has a Ph.D. in life-span developmental psychology.  She is Program Director and Research Professor in the Life Course Development Program of the Institute for Social Research, and the Elizabeth M. Douvan Collegiate Professor of Psychology all at the University of Michigan.  She has been the recipient of a Research Career Development Award from the National Institute on Aging as well as several research awards from the National Institutes of Health and private foundations. She has been President of the  Society for the Study of Human Development and Gerontological Society of America.  She’s also been President of the American Psychological Association’s Division 20 on Adult Development and Aging and is Past Program Chair for Division 9, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.  She is Past-Editor of the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Associate Editor for Developmental Psychology.  She served as Chair of the Board of Scientific Affairs, Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest and the Committee on Aging-  all of APA, and is currently Secretary-General (Vice President) of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics and is President-Elect of the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development.  She is an elected fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Science and Phi Kappa Phi. And finally, she has mentored undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral scholars at the University of Michigan, received the APA Division 20 Master Mentoring award, an APA Presidential Citation in recognition of her mentoring and is currently the Director of the ISSBD\Jacob Foundation International Mentored Fellowship Program which includes fellows from the developed and developing world.

Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto

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January 2018 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Mona Abo-Zena

Researcher's Window: Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Dr. Mona Abo-Zena, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education and Development in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston

1.      What drew you to do work in human development?

I took an indirect route to studying human development formally. I began my professional career as a teacher and administrator in a range of PK-12 educational contexts. I had never taken a human development course. Having grown up as a Muslim-American daughter of immigrants in a small town in Iowa, I was keenly aware of the importance of creating a learning context for my students where they felt validated. My teaching then and now is grounded in critical multicultural scholarship and inclusive practices. Although through my applied work I acquired a decent working understanding of children and adolescents, I did not realize how little I knew about human development until I became a mother myself. Parenting premature twins, I was overwhelmed.  Although I felt swamped, I also realized the privileges I have including my own level of education, socioeconomic status, legal status, and level of family support. When our twins started receiving services through early intervention, I had the opportunity and motivation to take child development courses.  My first courses were so intriguing that they eventually led to my matriculation in a doctoral program in applied child development. Largely as a result of my own experiences, I strongly believe that all educators and others who work in human services study human development.

2.      Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

I am fortunate to have been sustained by a constellation of mentors to support the nuances of my interests and push me, both formally and informally. Throughout the majority of my doctoral studies, Dr. Ellen Pinderhughes scaffolded my learning and modeled for me how to participate in a holistic mentoring relationship.  In our sessions, she welcomed conversations about my applied work (including parenting) and discussed how to navigate the academy as a woman of color with a strong commitment to social justice. Dr. Richard Lerner trained me to consider how to plan and work programmatically. Numerous other faculty at Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University took an interest in me and my scholarship and contributed to my development in distinct substantive ways particularly Drs. Martha Pott, Fran Jacobs, George Scarlett, Chip Gidney, Jayanthi Mistry, and David Henry Feldman.

Although I enjoyed the honeymoon period of immersing myself in developmental scholarship, I quickly became critical of the largely de-contextual and non-inclusive methods and samples that provided its early foundation. Given my commitment to better understanding and promoting positive human development through studying it, I experienced a troubling level of dissonance. In particular, I could not reconcile the methods of human development that seemed resistant to the nuances of the lived experiences of the diverse individuals and groups I sought to better understand (e.g., religious minority, racial or ethnic minority, immigrant-origin, minoritized identities). In the darkness of this abyss, I was introduced to the landmark work by Cynthia García-Coll and colleagues (1996) on the developmental challenges and competencies of minority youth. The scholarship by Margaret Beale Spencer, particularly the 2006 Handbook of child psychology: An advanced textbook chapter Phenomenology and ecological systems theory: Development of diverse groups, explicitly enumerates major flaws of developmental scholarship.  These scholars articulated many of the concerns I had felt. I found both affirmation and modeling of how to contribute to the scholarship while being critical of its weaknesses. I have grown immensely through the work of Barbara Rogoff, particularly through her book The cultural nature of human development (2003) and others in the sociocultural tradition that provided accessible examples and entry points to reflect and understand how culture and human development are intertwined. 

While those mentoring relationships occurred indirectly through the real and complex interconnections between thinkers, text, and meaning making, I also had a transformative experience in my own professional journey. Feeling like an imposter early in my doctoral training because of my own minoritized identities coupled with the sense that my training as an educator was not valued in the research world, I was struggling to develop an integrated identity as a whole scholar and person. Within the human development field, the measures and previous research inadequately reflected my primary research interests on how religion and religious contexts affect immigrant-origin individuals and communities. I was presenting my first poster on these topics at an academic conference on immigrants where Carola Suárez-Orozo was a keynote speaker.  After the keynote, I approached Dr. Suárez-Orozo to ask about why developmental scholarship on immigrant-origin youth seems not to include the role of religion in their lives. Carola listened carefully and validated my concerns indicating that developmental scholarship seemed decades behind other fields like sociology and political science that have long attended to the religious beliefs and participation of immigrants and their communities. Carola and I ended up continuing the conversation instead of our original plans of running to attend the next session.  That conversation marked the point in my professional journey where I felt that reputable scholars perceived my potential contributions; in fact, they would later become collaborators in some of those contributions.

3.   You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief.  

Current project and/or key projects 

Currently, I am synchronizing my teaching and applied research efforts with three projects focused on education and human development. Within higher education contexts, I am studying how students with diverse or minoritized identities navigate their educational contexts and contribute to their own development and to the environment and people around them. Looking more closely at the development of the college students themselves as they prepare to work with diverse children and their families, I have been focused on how to operationalize diversity and inclusion at personal, social, structural, levels in a range of professional contexts to support pre-service and in-service educators. Finally, in another action research project engaging families, community members, and educators in public schools, we are seeking to promote authentic conversations and reflections about diversity, inclusion, and biases as integral to reflective and equitable educational practices by all stakeholders. Still in incubation, I am developing a study of religiously diverse young children, families, and educators to help identify particular religiously-based cultural funds of knowledge.

Contributions of the projects/research to the study of human development.

In my research, I hope to contribute a person-centered focus that captures understudied populations, topics, and perspectives with ecological validity in order to represent regularities and variations in human development. In particular, through a range of studies, my colleagues and I have found that starting in early childhood, religious and other beliefs, practices, and doubts can serve as influential dimensions of personal development that intersect with other identities (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, immigrant status, ability) that must be studied through multiple methods. Some contributions of my developmental scholarship include the edited volume Transitions: The development of immigrant children (Suárez -Orozco, Abo-Zena, & Marks, 2015, recipient of the 2016 Social Policy Award for “Best Edited Book” from the Society for Research on Adolescence).  I delved deeply into researching religion and human development in another edited volume Emerging adults’ religiousness and spirituality:  Meaning-making in an age of transition that explored meaning making during emerging adulthood (Barry & Abo-Zena, 2014) and highlighted for me the promise of and need to involve emerging adults in more participatory manners in research on emerging adults (Abo-Zena & Pavalow, 2016). Perhaps the most reprinted product is an applied research project with kindergarten students and their families exploring their investigation of beliefs (renamed by the learning community because not everyone has a religious faith, but everyone has beliefs) and illustrating how young children have the capacity to explore their own beliefs and those of others (Mardell & Abo-Zena, 2010, recipient of a GOLD Excel Award by the Association Media and Publishing).

 4.    Your one wish for the study of human development 

I really appreciate this question because it gives us an opportunity for reflective practice and to re-envision the field, hopefully in a more equitable manner with potential to address pressing problems. To achieve this, my wish for the study of human development is that it/we strive to be more humanizing, primarily through being more inclusive in our methods, sampled populations, and areas or topics of inquiry. For example, in recently completing a literature review on the experiences of young adolescent females navigating their experiences of menarche, I was disappointed to find that none of the leading developmental journals had published a study with this as a central focus for the last few decades. Relatedly, I wish that the field were more encompassing in what are considered highly regarded research designs and methods so that, for example, understanding the variety of individuals’ lived experiences would regularly be considered an indicator of rigor and validity.

5.      A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing 

“Functionally, oppression is domesticating. To no longer be prey to its force, one must emerge from it and turn upon it. This can be done only be means of the praxis: reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (Freire, 1994/1970, p. 33).

About the researcher

Dr. Mona Abo-Zena is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education and Development in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston. On individual, social, and structural levels, Dr. Abo-Zena integrates research, theory, and practice to support the development of children and families with diverse experiences and backgrounds. Her research focuses on the role of religion and religious and spiritual development (broadly defined) as a way of knowing and being and as particular cultural funds of knowledge that affects development and learning, within an intersectional framework that includes other dimensions of identity and context. In addition, her research investigates how aspects of home-to-school connections affect student performance and development and how to better support pre-service and in-service teachers’ development and praxis. Mona draws on her background in sociology, education, and developmental psychology to advance her research and scholarship. She earned her B.A. in sociology from the University of Chicago, her Ed.M. from Harvard University, and her Ph.D. from Tufts University. 

Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto

SSHD Publicity Committee

April 2017 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Kristine Ajrouch

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Kristine J. Ajrouch, the current SSHD president and a professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University. 

Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

  1.  What drew you to do work in human development?

My doctoral research focused on social relationships between U.S. born adolescents and their immigrant parents in the pursuit of understanding ethnic identity formation. One subtle theme articulated by the adolescents included insistence that their ethnicity was evident through a firm commitment to ensuring their parents would never have to “be put” in a nursing home. These narratives steered me to begin asking questions about the aging experience, and led me to a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan. My post-doctoral training centered on the study aging, but involved working with individuals from different disciplines. Through this training I was introduced to the life span and life course perspectives. I became firmly committed to using these frameworks to examine and better understand social life.  I came to realize that aging is a life-long process, and a pillar of the human condition. Human development, as an interdisciplinary field, emphasizes the importance of all life stages/ages and moves beyond the individual to highlight links between multiple levels of human life including the biological, social and cultural.  This premise appealed to my commitment to the scientific study of social life.

  1. Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

The mentor and researcher who had substantial influence on my path is the developmental psychologist Toni Antonucci.  Her name appeared on a list of faculty who would be willing to mentor during my postdoctoral training in aging. Above and beyond social relations, she listed cross-cultural issues as her interest and expertise.  I made an appointment to meet with her, to ask if she would be willing to work with me during my fellowship.  Knowing that I was trained as a sociologist, and wise to the importance of disciplinary mentoring for future career trajectories, she advised me to meet with a well-known and influential sociology colleague also listed as a willing mentor with expertise in race and ethnicity. She then told me that if after meeting with him I remained interested to work with her, to come back and see her.  There was something appealing about the way Toni conveyed her advice that reinforced my initial interest to work with her.  And so, after meeting with the suggested faculty member, I promptly went back and told her I appreciated the advice to meet the other faculty member, but believe my interests align more closely with hers.  Since that day she has been an important influence on my professional journey and scholarly endeavors.  She introduced me to the field of human development, and I have been committed ever since.

  1. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development.

My research interests have focused on three areas: 1) social relations; 2) Arab Americans; and 3) the Middle East.  I have used multiple methodologies to study these topics, including the collection and analysis of survey data, focus group discussions, and in-depth one-on-one interviews. Facility with multiple methods has enabled me to identify key trends at the population level, but also to discover unique meanings at the cultural level. Recognizing that social relations are multidimensional, my program of research investigates the complex ways that stratifying factors influence their form and function.  A key contribution to the study of human development may be found in recent work I carried out with colleagues that investigated variations in social networks among adults aged fifty and older in diverse regions of the world: Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, and the United States. This analysis attends to the significance of national context for advancing understanding of links between social networks and age. Identical measures of social networks and closeness were collected in each nation.  Findings illustrated, on the one hand, a universal pattern concerning the presence of children in the networks of older adults; that is, older age was associated with a higher proportion of children, and children were also most likely to be nominated as one of the closest relationships in all four nations. This finding may reflect that a universal characteristic of human bonding involves keeping children close, even in late-life. Yet, other dimensions of social networks showed differences by age that were sensitive to national context. In particular, only in the U.S. was older age associated with smaller networks. Age was not associated with network size in Japan or Mexico, suggesting continuity between mid- and later- life with regard to the number of people identified as close and important. In Lebanon, contrary to the pattern in the U.S., increasing age is associated with larger social networks. Hence, links between age and network size are unique; they vary within national context.  Identifying universal and unique characteristics of social networks in later life provides a preliminary empirical basis upon which to advance developmental science as a useful framework to inform policies that can facilitate health and well-being among middle-aged and older people around the world.  

  1. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be?

My wish is to incorporate culture as a more central aspect of studies in human development.  Culture signifies a fundamental aspect of human life.  It facilitates human interaction by providing meaning to lived experience. Accounting for culture in both theories and methods potentially advances the field by connecting the macro (contextual) and micro (personal) levels of human experience. Yet, culture should be understood as dynamic and complex. It fundamentally shapes individuals and simultaneously is shaped by individuals. Attention should be placed on making distinctions between ideal aspects of culture and pragmatic realities as well as developing ways to make culture more visible in both research and in public discussions.  Attention to culture holds great potential for advancing understanding of life trajectories in human development.

  1. A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing

Education and hard work are necessary to succeed, but alone are usually insufficient. Getting to know others in the field, building social networks and cultivating social capital through those connections will lead to opportunity and resources.

About the researcher

Kristine J. Ajrouch, PhD is Professor of Sociology at Eastern Michigan University.  She is also Adjunct Research Professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Her research has focused, for over twenty years, on Arab Americans in the U.S. beginning with ethnic identity formation among adolescent children of immigrants followed by a focus on aging from the perspective of older adults in the metro-Detroit Arab-American and Muslim communities.  A core area of study concerns links between social networks and health with focused attention to how stratification and immigration influence network form and function. She recently initiated a program of study concerning the topic of family ties, aging and health in Beirut, Lebanon following a Fulbright award in 2008.  Professor Ajrouch also studies the topics of forgiveness and immigrant integration in comparative perspective. She currently serves as President of the Society for the Study of Human Development, and works on projects that enhance global awareness and promote cross-cultural understanding.

Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto

SSHD Publicity Committee

March 2017 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Masami Takahashi

Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Masami Takahashi, Professor of Psychology and Gerontology at Northeastern Illinois University.

  1. What drew you to do work in human development?

I wasn’t drawn to human development at all in the beginning. Instead, like many psychology undergrads, I had this vague and grandiose notion of wanting to help people, especially older adults simply because I saw my parents getting old. It was my adviser (Dr. Howard Eisner) at University of Houston-Clear Lake who introduced me to the field. Instead of getting into a very specific field like gerontology or Social Work, he told me to keep my options open by pursuing “mainstream” psychology. Because he taught aging-related courses and he came from Duke/Michigan developmental psychology programs, he suggested that I apply to developmental psychology programs.

  1. Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

It was my graduate adviser at Temple University, Dr. Bill Overton, who converted me. Prior to knowing his work, I thought psychology was about finding a bunch of factors, both genetic and environmental, that influenced human behavior. I thought, at one point, it was kind of boring. However, it was Bill who taught me that it is critical that we be creative in theorizing developmental processes of an underlying psychological mechanism on which these factors may operate. When we presented our proposed projects to him in class, he would often ask us, “What’s developmental about this?” He really emphasized the developmental underpinning of the research.

  1. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development.

a. Your current project and/or key projects 

I am interested in developmental constructs that relate to aging such as wisdom and spirituality. A cross-cultural or global perspective is particularly important in examining these concepts. For example, when I attended a symposium several years ago about religion and spirituality in a large academic conference, I was astounded to hear everyone talking about spirituality only in the Christian and American context. In recent years, I have been involved with a consortium of Japanese researchers conducting empirical research on religion and spirituality, leading to the publication of a couple of books. These efforts are noteworthy because in the last half a century no books on the subject of psychology and religion have been published in Japan. This is largely due to a unique and ambivalent feeling toward religion/spirituality among Japanese people including scientific researchers. While a large majority of Americans claim some degree of religious belief and affiliation, 70-90% of the Japanese report that they are not religious. However, they are involved in “religious” activities throughout years including Shinto New Year’s celebration, Buddhist summer festivals, and Christmas.  Also, religion plays a significant role during the aftermath of natural disasters such as the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. We are currently trying to translate one of the books into English for distribution to a broader audience.

b. Contributions of your projects/research to the study of human development

Since the field of aging is often described as “data rich but theory poor”, my approach helps to restore the theory/data equilibrium given the emphasis in my work on a developmental understanding of our aging process.

  1. Your one wish for the study of human development. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be?

Because of my personal interest, I produced a documentary film in 2005 about the former suicide pilots (The last kamikaze: Testimonials from WWII Suicide pilots, Documentary Educational Resources). Because the project focused more on the visual documentation than data collection, I interviewed only a dozen people (they were quite advanced in age at the time, and many passed away soon after). My one wish would be to interview additional pilots providing further empirical data given the extraordinary significance of suicide operations past and present.

  1. A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing

“You are grown-up. Do whatever you like.”

I need to explain a bit here. Toward the end of my dissertation process, I became frustrated and really needed a break. I thought about taking a vacation to restore my sanity. Coming from a very strict teacher-student relationship tradition in Japan, I thought my dissertation adviser would oppose my plan. One day, I mustered up my courage and popped the question, “Could I take a break from my writing and take a trip to somewhere relaxing, say, the Caribbean?” This was his reply above and also by “To which island are you going?”

About the researcher

Dr. Masami Takahashi is a professor of psychology and gerontology at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, IL. He received a B.A. and M.S. in psychology from University of Houston-Clear Lake and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Temple University.

His primary research interests are: (a) definition, operationalization, and evaluation of psychological strengths, such as wisdom and spirituality, in late adulthood; (b) evaluation of psychosocial profile of the former kamikaze pilots with implications in other suicide operations around the world; and (c) exploration of longevity factors in the Blue Zones (e.g., Okinawa).

 

Edited and launched by Yoko Yamamoto & Deborah J. Johnson

SSHD Publicity Committee

December 2016 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Javanthi Mistry

Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

 This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Jayanthi Mistry, a professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University.

  1. What drew you to do work in human development?

As a high school student I was drawn to literature and literary analysis. Eventually my fascination with character development and story lines in fiction led me to psychology as a field of study. Later as a graduate student, I vividly recall feeling that my own developmental contexts and history were not represented in the mainstream knowledge base of human development. This triggered my interest in learning about cultural perspectives on human development and led to an NIMH post-doctoral fellowship with Barbara Rogoff. Since then, the application of socio-cultural perspectives to understanding children’s development has remained at the center of my scholarship. As a parent raising two children in the U.S., guiding our children as they navigated their multiple worlds and identities precipitated a more specific interest in the development of children from immigrant and culturally diverse backgrounds. At that time, I took advantage of opportunities at Tufts University to work with colleagues across disciplines (e.g., in interdisciplinary programs such as International Relations, Asian American Studies). These were transformative experiences that convinced me of the value of cross-disciplinary dialogue.

  1. Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

Two mentors have had substantial influences on my professional trajectory. Professor T.S. Saraswathi was my MA program advisor and has remained a valued and wise mentor who keeps me grounded in global perspectives on human development. Professor Barbara Rogoff was my mentor for the NIMH Postdoctoral Fellowship and introduced me to sociocultural theory.  Barbara’s influence on my scholarship is best reflected in the following story. Once during a discussion of with her team of postdocs, Barbara shared her professional goal.  In the mid-1980s when cultural perspectives in human development were as yet nascent, she explained her intention to bring culture to the core of human development.

  1. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development.

At this point in my career I am most committed to interweaving my theoretical and empirical scholarship. Here I mention two recent publications that best represent my theoretical contributions to the field. The first publication is a chapter (Mistry & Dutta, 2015) in the seventh edition of the Handbook of Child Psychology & Developmental Science, in which my colleague and I document the emerging convergence of cultural psychology and developmental science perspectives as both emphasize the mutually constitutive nature of individual development and culture. The second publication (Mistry et al., 2016) presents a conceptual framework that highlights the interrelated nature of developmental contexts, developmental domains, and culturally-situated interpretive processes. This is part of a connected set of papers published as a Special Section on Asian American Children and Youth in Child Development. The conceptualization of culture integrates both the broadly generalizable ideologies and practices shared by groups, as well as, the meaning-making processes through which individuals interpret their environmental contexts as they act in, with and upon their environmental contexts in the developmental process.

  1. Your one wish for the study of human development. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be?

My one wish for the study of human development is best presented in Mistry & Dutta (2015). In this chapter we document that discussions of the mutually constitutive nature of individual development and culture were occurring concurrently nearly two decades ago among cultural psychologists (e.g., Cole, 1996; Rogoff, 1990), developmental scientists (e.g., Overton, 1997), and cognitive scientists (e.g., Rowlands, 1999). However, scholars were too often engaged in parallel discussions and not in dialogue across perspectives. The following excerpt from the chapter explains this wish best:

“The convergences we have highlighted in this chapter can pave the way for developing theories of human development that are culturally inclusive and relevant globally. The need for such a global orientation stems from the state of science and technology that situates us in an interconnected world bringing diverse people together on scientific, economic, and social fronts. In this climate of interconnectivity and coexistence of diverse peoples, we call for greater dialogue and discourse as a critical mechanism for the development of culturally inclusive theories and knowledge of human development. We hope that the emerging convergences we have delineated in this chapter will promote the dialogue that can promote integration and synthesis of perspectives.” (p. 401).

The viability of such cross-perspective dialogue has been brought home to me in the recent experience of preparing the Special Section on Asian American Child Development with members of the SRCD Asian Caucus. The opportunity for sustained dialogue and discussion through which we bridged and synthesized our varying theoretical perspectives was most rewarding.

  1. A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing

Mentoring is at the core of being a transformative educator. As a mentor I strive to be “an empowering mentor” and one who “offers encouraging yet deep and critical feedback that promotes a more nuanced and deeper understanding of the field.”

About the researcher

Dr. Jayanthi Mistry is a professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University. Dr. Mistry received her doctorate degree from Purdue University in 1983 and then completed an NIMH Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Utah. Her current research projects include investigations of multiple ethnic identities among ethnic minority, immigrant, and under-represented communities in the United States; an evaluation of a teen parenting program, with a focus on understanding the lived experiences of young immigrant and ethnic minority mothers; and a research and curriculum development project based on home-school collaborations with teachers and parents of dual language learners in Head Start classrooms serving two distinct communities of recent immigrants (from China and Central America).

 

Edited and launched by Yoko Yamamoto & Deborah J. Johnson

SSHD Publicity Committee

October 2016 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Susan Holloway

Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

 This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Susan D. Holloway, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley.

  1. What drew you to do work in human development?

The earliest influence on my interest in human development is probably my experience as the oldest of four closely spaced children. My youngest brother was born shortly before my seventh birthday, and I felt some responsibility to help my parents by nipping at the heels of the herd. In 1965, when I was 10 my family moved from the suburbs to San Francisco. As an adolescent I went to school with kids from many different ethnic and racial backgrounds. I also soaked in the political atmosphere of the time. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was interested in non-violent resistance and did attend protests and trainings in the East Bay and San Francisco. When I wasn’t floating around the Bay Area in long skirts and hiking boots, I spent a lot of time reading nonfiction and novels by as well as feminist writers. Simone de Beauvoir was a particular hero. All these experiences informed my interest in understanding how humans develop in the context of race, culture, gender, and class.

  1. Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

I feel very fortunate to have had a number of supportive and inspiring mentors early in my career but I can single out my advisor at Stanford, Robert D. Hess. A particularly distinctive feature of Bob’s work was his focus on family as a context for preparing children to succeed in school. He was very interested in the ways parents motivate and encourage children to do well in school. As a sociologist, he was also committed to looking at the function of macro-structural contexts like social class on micro family processes. All these dimensions continue to be a central touchstone in my own research – the focus on family processes (particularly motivational ones) and education, the cultural framing, and the attention to institutional and structural context. When I started working with Bob, he was interested in conducting a follow-up of his research on parent socialization in Japan and the United States.  In the spring of 1980 we traveled to Japan to meet Bob’s co-investigators, Professors Hiroshi Azuma and Keiko Kashiwagi. In addition to meeting with these senior colleagues in Tokyo, I took time to venture into the countryside and get a sense for small town and rural Japan. The trip was a life-changing experience for me. I have been doing research in Japan ever since.

  1. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development.

 a. Your current project and/or key projects

Over the last 20 years I have studied the conditions that support parents’ confidence in accomplishing their goals using the cultural and personal tools available in their current environment. I typically focus on the construct of parenting self-efficacy, which is a self-evaluation of competence in the parenting role. My choice of this construct is based on the belief that, given adequate support, most parents can identify the resources they need to find a good resolution of the parenting challenges that come their way. To me, this is a more satisfactory route than trying to identify particular parenting behaviors that are related to optimal child development regardless of context. Currently, I am studying the ecocultural factors associated with parenting self-efficacy in a variety of national settings, including the US, Japan, Korea, China, and Turkey. Among other things, my research shows that across diverse settings, women’s sense of parenting competence is deeply affected by the quantity and quality of support that they receive from their spouse or life partner.

b. Contributions of your projects/research to the study of human development

My work contributes to “a person-centered view of cultural psychology” as articulated by Per Gjerde at UC Santa Cruz. My work conceptualizes parents as agentic individuals who draw upon culturally-constructed tools as well as personal beliefs and competencies to address childrearing challenges with the opportunities and constraints of particular eco-cultural settings.

  1. Your one wish for the study of human development. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be?

I would like our field to focus on ways of supporting parents’ capabilities rather than identifying particular parenting behaviors to “fix” or “improve” parents. I am concerned that identifying “optimal” ways to rear children contributes to the phenomenon of intensive parenting, in which parents are made to feel that everything they do has drastic and irreversible effects on their children’s development. In the US, parents are also expected to buffer the effects of low quality childcare and insufficiently funded schools with their own private efforts. This neoliberal focus on personal actions instead of community responsibilities makes it hard for many parents to lead a balanced life.

  1. A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing

Hillary was right – raising children takes a village!

About a researcher

shDr. Susan D. Holloway is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. A California native, she attended UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz as an undergraduate, and obtained a PhD from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford in 1983. Her research explores the conditions that support parents’ childrearing goals and practices, emotional wellbeing, and parenting self-efficacy.

August 2016 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Michael Cunningham

Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researchers’ Windows

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Michael Cunningham, a professor in the department of Psychology and the undergraduate program in Africana Studies at Tulane University.

What drew you to do work in human development?

I was drawn to the field as a college student by changing my major from Computer Science to Child Development. While I enjoyed the classes and planned to focus on a career in Computer Science and Math, I did not have passion for the field. So, I took a class that required me to do a practicum in an elementary school. My life changed after working in a 4th grade classroom. I thought I was going to change the world, one classroom at a time. So, I changed my major to Child Development with a focus on Elementary Education. After college I went to grad school and began having more intense research experiences. I realized that I could continue doing research that impacts policies and future research directions as well as train individuals who would work with young people. I was particularly interested in research with African American males. The extant literature was full of examples of psychopathology, antisocial behaviors, delinquency, and school underachievement. Missing from the research was research on the developmental processes that are associated with why some males have challenges and why some males in the same environment do not, and in fact, are very successful. This latter point is especially salient for research examples associated with typical human development for underrepresented populations generally, and African American males specifically.

Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence on your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

My mentor is Margaret Beale Spencer. I met her when she gave a guest lecture in one of my undergraduate classes. Her lecture was perfectly timed for me as I just finished reading her chapter on Black children and cognitive/affective linkages, which is in an edited volume that she co-edited with Geraldine Kearse Brookins and Walter Allen (Spencer, Brookins, & Allen, 1985, Beginnings: The social and affective development of Black children). After hearing her lecture, I inquired about volunteering for her research project. I starting working with her my last semester in college and subsequently applied to work with her in graduate school. My admiration grew even more in graduate school when I was able to learn from Dr. Spencer in formal and informal contexts. Her research and theorizing is the foundation of how I approach my work. I also got to know her family too. She exemplifies the balance between work and family. Dr. Spencer is great academic, researcher, professional, and mentor. She is equally as good as a spouse, mother, and grandmother. I try to live my life by emulating her. She instilled in me to do research that is scientifically strong, meaningful, and has the potential to impact change in the lives in which the research is based.

You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development.

  • Your current project and/or key projects

My current project examines potential buffers to students exposed to challenges. Using mixed methodologies, my research team is exploring how moderators (e.g., prosocial behaviors, racial identity, domain specific social support, etc.) are associated with short- and long term outcomes (academic, psychosocial, and mental health). To date we have collected two waves of data and the team is embarking on including focus group and interview data before a 3rd wave of data collection begins. The participants are high school students who attend an open enrollment charter school in the south central part of the United States. Over 90% of the participants are African American and approximately 50% reside in single mother headed households. Preliminary findings indicate that there are gender differences in prosocial behaviors, with boys benefiting more from prosocial behaviors than girls. This finding is distinct from the extant literature that does not report gender differences in prosocial behaviors. Our findings highlight that while there are no gender differences in students’ reports of prosocial behaviors, outcomes such as antisocial behaviors are thwarted more for boys who report high prosocial behaviors than girls who report equivalent levels of these behaviors.

  • Contributions of your projects/research to the study of human development.

My current and past contributions to the field are mainly associated with understanding gender-specific trajectories in African American adolescents who reside in urban environments. For example, my research on hypermasculine attitudes in adolescent African American males has indicated that negative community experiences has a long term impact on hypermasculine attitudes. This impact is above and beyond the experiences that males have in their home and school environments. By using a human development perspective, the findings suggest that researchers and applied personnel have to simultaneously examine the communities in which males are raised as well as other direct associations. We cannot just focus one context alone. Thus, collaborative relationships between multiple areas (e.g., home and community, school and home, and community and school) are needed to successfully understand human developmental undergirding issues as well as adolescent outcomes.

Your one wish for the study of human development. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be?

My wish is for a continued focus on typical developmental processes as a core component of our research and translational work. This means including social address variables in which children and adolescents have no control as normative experiences that human have.  I wish that normative development as described in the field include issues associated with racial/ethnic diversity and at the intersections of all aspects of human development (cognitive, psychosocial, and biological). In doing so, we as developmental scientist must emphasize that no one aspect of human development is more or less important than another, but that developmental processes interact with where we live as well as developmental stages throughout the lifespan.

A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing.

Racial and ethnic minority populations deserve good science that is representative of their human developmental experiences.

About a researcher

Michael-Cunningham2012Dr. Cunningham is a professor in the department of Psychology and the undergraduate program in Africana Studies at Tulane University. He completed an undergraduate degree at Morehouse College, his doctoral studies at Emory University, and a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. As a developmental psychologist, he has a program of research that focuses on racial, ethnic, psychosocial, and socioeconomic processes that affect psychological well-being, adjustment to chronic stressful events, and academic achievement among African American adolescents and their families. He uses mixed methods in his current research project that includes the study of gender-specific patterns of resilience and vulnerability in urban African American participants. He is currently Associate Provost for Graduate Study and Research and has been bestowed the Weiss Presidential Teaching Award.

 

Edited and launched by Yoko Yamamoto & Deborah J. Johnson

SSHD Publicity Committee