Guided by the bioecological systems framework, my program of research focuses on elucidating the individual (e.g., temperament, social information processing) and contextual (e.g., family, culture) factors that contribute to children’s and adolescents’ socio-emotional competence and psychopathology. To achieve a comprehensive understanding of how factors at multiple levels interplay with each other in shaping children’s development, I use a wide range of rich and rigorous quantitative and qualitative methods (e.g., complex structural equation models, questionnaires, behavioral observations, biological measures, interviews, focus groups). Specifically, my research has three overarching aims:
1) To illuminate the interplay between social cognitive characteristics and other individual and contextual factors in the development of socio-emotional and psychopathological outcomes. Social cognitive characteristics, such as selective attention, attirbution, perspective taking, and cognitive schemas, provide a framework for individuals' responses to the social world and influence psychological and social adjustment. Developmentally, children's and adolescents' social cognition can be shaped by the context they live in (family, community, culture, socio-economic characteristics, and structural inequity), and may modulate the risk for behavioral and mental health problems. How children and adolescents are treated by other people in their lives (e.g., parents, teachers, peers) also depends on other people's social cognition or mindsets. It is crucial to understand how social cognition at multiple levels influence children's and adolescents' adjustment, and how to create an environment that fosters adaptive and positive social information processing.
2) To unravel the multifaceted nature of risk and protective factors in socio-emotional development. Many individual and interpersonal characteristics can serve as both risk and protective factors for children's development. For example, inhibited, fearful children may be more prone to develop anxiety symptoms, but they are also more sensitive to social cues and relationships, which can lead them to become well-functioning, respectful, and empathetic people. Close relationships may bring extra support or could be extra hurtful. In what situations does a certain factor introduce risk, and in what situations is the same factor considered a strength? How can we minimize the risk and maximize the strength related to a specific factor?
3) To situate development in cultural practices. Specifically, most of our theories and research on child development have built upon Western, industrialized contexts, and may not generalize to countries in the Global South. A more inclusive and rigorous developmental science requires a deeper understanding of the Global South contexts. Certain theories may be more or less applicable across different contexts, whereas others may need an overhaul. As a first step, we need to conduct more research in the Global South, and develop reliable and valid measurement tools for the context. Currently one of my interests is to investigate diverse childrearing practices in multiple cultural contexts (especially Africa, where developmental science has the least focus) and their impact on children's and adolescents' attachment security and socio-emotional adjustment.
A full list of my publications can be found on Google Scholar.