February 2024 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Christia S. Brown

Taking a closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of the current President-Elect of SSHD, Dr. Christia S. Brown. She is a Professor of Developmental Psychology and Associate Dean of Inclusive Excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky.

  1. What drew you to do work in your field?

I first became interested in human development as an undergraduate in a Developmental Psychology class. We had an assignment to administer a Piagetian conservation task to a child. I tested my young cousin, who failed it beautifully. It was the first time I really paid attention to the ways in which children thought differently about the world around them than adults. Around the same time, I also started tutoring children from low-income families who attended a very underfunded elementary school. It was clear to me that the children I worked with were being influenced by the school they attended, the neighborhood they lived in, and the constraints their parents faced. I became interested in how these foundational experiences shaped the rest of their lives.

  1. Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had a substantial influence on your path or work?

My graduate advisor, Rebecca Bigler, had a profound influence on my path, both as a researcher and as a person. Having an outspoken feminist mentor who is a brilliant researcher taught me much more than research. I was taught to work hard, ask tough questions, and be brave in the face of the White patriarchal power structures that devalued research on children's gender and ethnic stereotypes. It was a powerful lesson that taught me that research on human development can be focused on issues of social justice and that developmental scientists can ask thoughtful research questions that are both rigorous and consistent with our moral values of equity and inclusion. On a personal level, as a first-generation college student, I was really lucky to have a mentor who valued their family, who modeled for me how to be an academic and a parent, and who supported me as a complete person. I have tried to do the same thing for all of my students.

  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. 

Much of my research has examined how children and adolescents perceive gender and ethnic discrimination. One of the most important findings shows that children in elementary school can perceive gender and ethnic discrimination from their peers and teachers, and this can negatively affect children's attitudes about their academic abilities. Importantly, though, children’s burgeoning ethnic and gender identities can help buffer some of the sting of discrimination.  As part of this work, we have highlighted the importance of the early development of ethnic identity, among both ethnic minority children (to withstand discrimination) and White children (to understand, and hopefully stop, discrimination). We have also shown that children whose teachers and schools explicitly value diversity experience less peer discrimination and feel more positively about their ethnicity (and feel more positively about school) than children whose teachers are indifferent about diversity. This work suggests that schools, instead of ignoring ethnic diversity, should help ethnic minority children feel proud of their ethnicity, show children a range of ethnically diverse role models, and reinforce treating each other with respect.

  1. Your one wish for the study of human development

I wish that more research on human development was put into the hands of people who could use it. There is so much misinformation out there. I wish researchers across the span of human development could translate key research findings to the public. The work we all do is so important to improving people's quality of life, but it often only lives in journal articles and academic books.

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

Put your head down, work hard, live the life you want, and ignore everything else.

About the researcher

Christia Spears Brown, Ph.D., is the Professor of Developmental Psychology and Associate Dean of Inclusive Excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on children’s understanding of discrimination, the development of stereotypes and group identity, and the impact of discrimination and stereotypes on academic outcomes. As an intergroup researcher, her work spans gender and gender identity, ethnicity, immigration status, and economic inequality. In addition to peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, she has written three books, one for an academic audience, Discrimination in Childhood and Adolescence, and two for general audiences, Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue and Unraveling Bias. She is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science; has been a Society for Research in Child Development Scholar-in-Residence; and is an Associate Editor for British Journal of Developmental Psychology. She is committed to “giving science away” to help improve the lives of all children and adolescents, and therefore regularly speaks with parent groups, schools, toy and media companies, and professional organizations about reducing the impact of stereotypes, is regularly featured in national media outlets, and has served as an expert witness for the ACLU on cases of gender discrimination in schools.

Edited and launched by Yoko Yamamoto and Deborah J. Johnson

SSHD Publicity & Diversity Science Initiative Committee

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