Professor of Applied Psychology
Phone: (212) 998-5014
Pamela Morris is a Professor of Applied Psychology, the Vice Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and former director of the Institute of Human Development and Social Change. Dr. Morris has conducted more than a decade of research working at the intersection of social policy, practice, and developmental psychology, testing promising interventions for low-income families and children. Dr. Morris’ research is characterized by the study of theoretically-informed interventions, strong attention to measurement of developmental outcomes for children, and cutting-edge analytic strategies on causal inference, and strong research designs. She received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and a doctorate in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University.
Dr. Morris' work has spanned from research on employment and antipoverty policies targeted to parents, to early childhood interventions targeting the development of low-income children. Examples of her current work include large-scale randomized experiments of enhancements to preschool, work with NYCs Department of Education to strengthen the research architecture in the context of their historic Pre-k expansion, and the study of an integrated primary/secondary parenting intervention within the population-scalable pediatric care platform. Morris has extensive experience working on cross-institutional, interdisciplinary teams of researchers to contribute to both research and practice. A former William T. Grant scholar, Morris has served on the National Academy of Science’s Board on Children, Youth, and Families.
- Ph.D. Developmental Psychology, Cornell University
- M.A. Developmental Psychology, Cornell University
- B.A. Middle East Language and Cultures, Columbia University
Parents' Economic Conditions and Children's Development
Income Volatility and its Effects on Children
This project is an extension of the work completed on the Next Generation Project and focuses on the role of instability in family's economic conditions and how it affects children's development. Decades of research have documented the unfavorable effects of poverty on children’s development. Income is commonly analyzed as a static (often annualized) condition experienced by families, but a body of empirical economics research highlights growing income volatility—year to year as well as month to month—in U.S. households. Frequent changes in income and unpredictable resources may increase parental stress and affect parent-child interactions. Specifically, as parents spend time seeking job opportunities, working, or dealing with family finances they may have less energy to supervise their children. Preliminary work on this project has focused on describing trends in the magnitude and frequency of income changes in households with children over the past two and a half decades and identifying patterns of income instability among low-income families using the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Additionally the association between income instability and adolescent school outcomes has been examined. Current work aims to move beyond descriptive research to try to use experimental data to identify a causal relationship between income volatility and family and child well being.
This project is one component of the larger School Reform and Beyond (SRB) project. SRB is a multi-site, multi-collaborator project coordinated at the Center for Advancing Research and Solutions for Society (CARRS) at the University of Michigan. SRB focuses on three targets: strategies to help pre-K and early elementary children in their early transition to school, strategies to help children in the years of life attain school readiness, and non-school strategies to improve children’s school outcomes. SMART Beginnings is a study of the 0-3 year age range tests a comprehensive approach to the enhancement of school readiness in low-income families through enhancement of positive parenting practices within the pediatric primary care platform. We do so by integrating two evidence-based interventions: (1) a universal primary prevention strategy, Video Interaction Project (VIP), that provides parents with a developmental specialist who videotapes the parent and child and coaches the parent on effective parenting practices; and (2) Family Check Up (FCU) a home-based, family-centered intervention that utilizes an initial ecologically-focused assessment to promote motivation for parents to change child-rearing behaviors, with follow-up sessions on parenting and factors that compromise parenting quality for families with infants/toddlers identified as having additional risks.
Opportunity NYC: An Embedded Child and Family Study of Conditional Cash Transfers
In 2007, the Center for Economic Opportunity in the Mayor’s Office of the City of New York mounted the first holistic conditional cash transfer initiative in an economically advanced, services-rich jurisdiction. “Opportunity NYC/Family Rewards” (ONYC-Family Rewards), as the initiative is called, is a family-setting-level intervention in which cash incentives are used as levers of change to strengthen family functioning and to promote the extent to which children and their parents become connected and engaged with other settings and systems - namely education, employment, and health care. Payments can amount to $4000-$6000 per family per year, and include education-based incentives, health-based incentives and workforce-related incentives. The program targets families in low-income communities in New York City with children in the 4th, 7th, and 9th grades, and is being evaluated by MDRC using a rigorous random-assignment design. This embedded child and family study adds to the core study by addressing the effects of this intervention on key aspects of the family setting, including social processes and resource allocation; on key mediating developmental processes, such as children’s academic efficacy and outcome expectations, academic competence, and intrinsic/extrinsic motivation; and on long term outcomes for children not directly targeted by this intervention, most notably their mental health and problem behavior.
Intervention Strategies for Young (0-5-year-old) Children
Head Start CARES Project
The Head Start CARES Project (Classroom-based Approaches and Resources for Emotion and Social skill promotion) was conceived and funded by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In collaboration with MDRC (as the prime organization), academic partners, the Lewin Group and Survey Research Management, Morris is co-leading the Head Start CARES Project. The project uses a group-based randomized design to test the effects of a set of evidence-based strategies designed to improve the social and emotional development of children in Head Start classrooms. The evaluation randomly assigns approximately 120 centers to three interventions and a control group, with 30 centers in each of the four groups. The three treatment models are: (1) Preschool PATHS; (2) Incredible Years Teacher Training Program; and (3) Tools of the Mind. The Head Start CARES Project will provide information that federal policymakers and Head Start can use to increase Head Start’s capacity to improve the social-emotional skills and school readiness of preschool-age children. This study helps to improve our understanding of: (1) promising approaches to building children’s social and emotional development, (2) the processes by which the largest and most sustained effects on children’s social and emotional development are likely to occur, and (3) the features of Head Start settings and families that contribute to successful implementation of these program models. Head Start CARES Project holds the promise of identifying the impacts of these new approaches compared to current practices within Head Start settings and providing lessons about how they can best be integrated into Head Start classrooms around the country.
Secondary Analysis of Variation Impacts of Head Start Center (SAVI Head Start Center)
This project, a collaboration among three institutions: New York University (Principal Investigator Pamela Morris, and Co- Investigators Cybele Raver and Larry Aber), MDRC (Co-Principal Investigator Howard Bloom) and Harvard University (Co-Principal Investigator Hiro Yoshikawa, and Co- Investigator Lindsey Page), creates a center to conduct secondary analysis of data from the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS). Our analyses will extend HSIS findings to address a key question it left unanswered: How are features of Head Start centers associated with variation in program impacts on key child outcomes of cognitive functioning, social-emotional skills, and health status? Our guiding framework bridges the gap between the fields of intervention science, which focuses on impacts of interventions, and implementation science, which focuses on the implementation of interventions. The study is based on an in-depth exploration of the Head Start treatment contrast: the differences between the nature, quality, and timing of developmental, health, and other services and benefits received by Head Start participants versus what they would have received had they not participated in the program (counterfactual experiences). Our framework acknowledges that impacts of Head Start treatment contrast might depend on the characteristics of the program’s participant children and families, as well as the neighborhoods in which Head Start participants live and go to school. We are also interested in how quality and quantity lend themselves to the overall impacts of the Head Start programs.
The Next Generation Project
The Next Generation Project is a collaborative project involving researchers at MDRC and several research universities. Unique to this research was the synthesis of results from a set of random assignment experiments launched in the late 1980s and early 1990s to learn how policies designed to increase the self-sufficiency of low-income parents can affect the development of their children. Early studies conducted as part of this effort examined the effects of specific environmental welfare and antipoverty programs on family and child outcomes. Building on that foundation, further work was designed to leverage these data to address how changes in employment, income, and type of child care, affected outcomes for families and children. As intended in the original proposal, our research was produced in cross-situation, cross-disciplinary teams, benefitting from the unique synergy of a policy research and an academic team of junior and senior researchers trained in the fields of economics and developmental psychology.
Foundations of Learning Project
The Foundations of Learning Project is being conducted in partnership with researchers at MDRC as well as Cybele Raver at New York University and Stephanie Jones at Harvard University. The project builds on the growing evidence that resolving children’s early problem behaviors can provide the underpinning for a high-quality and effective preschool experience. Working in partnership with preschool programs in Newark, NJ, and Chicago, IL, Foundations of Learning is a large-scale test of a model that has produced promising results in small-scale studies where it has helped to resolve the severe behavioral problems of a small but influential subset of preschool children. A preview of findings from the Newark demonstration was released in September 2009. These early results provide evidence that the intervention: (1) improved teachers’ ability to effectively support children’s behavior and emotional development; (2) increased instructional time and created a positive climate for learning in classrooms; (3) reduced conflictual and acting-out behaviors by children; and (4) improved children’s ability to focus their attention, to curb their impulsivity, and to show greater engagement in the classroom. Overall, this preview of findings provides evidence that early investments in children’s emotional and behavioral readiness can pay off in children’s experiences in preschool. Further work will examine the effects of this program on children as the transition into elementary school and the effects in the Chicago site.
Rhode Island Child Study
This study builds on the Rhode Island site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project, being conducted by MDRC. The purpose of this study is to understand how and under what circumstances changes in parents’ depression affect the development of children and adolescents in low-income families. This study capitalizes on the unique opportunity provided by an existing experimental study that explicitly aims to reduce parents’ depressive symptomatology among low-income families. The analyses make use of a random assignment design to address the ways in which changes in parents’ depression affect psychosocial (behavioral problems as well as skills and socioemotional competencies), clinical (risk of affective disorders),cognitive (verbal competencies and achievement), and physiological (dysregulation of the adrenocortical system) outcomes for children and adolescents in low-income families. The intervention includes outreach by a clinically-trained care manager to facilitate engagement in treatment along with ongoing efforts to improve both the quality of care patients receive as well as to promote strategies to maintain continuity of care. Ongoing research explores how cummulative risk affects children and youth.
- Child development
- New York City & education
- Poverty & inequality
- Early childhood education & preschool
- Morris, P.A, & Halkitis, P. N. (2015). The influence of context on health. Behavioral Medicine, 41, 1-3. doi: 10.1080/08964289.2015.1063869
- Wolf, S., Aber, J. L. & Morris, P. M. (2015). Patterns of time use among low-income minority adolescents and associations with academic outcomes and problem behaviors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44(6),1208-1225.
- McCoy, D. C., Connors, M. C., Morris, P. A., Yoshikawa, H., & Friedman-Krauss, A. H. (2015). Neighborhood economic disadvantage and children's cognitive and social-emotional development: Exploring Head Start classroom quality as a mediating mechanism. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 32(0), 150-159. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2015.04.003
- Gennetian, L. A., Wolf, S., Morris, P. A., & Hill, H.H. (2015). Intra-year household income instability and adolescent school behavior. Demography,52(2), 455-483.
- Willner, C. J., Morris, P. A., McCoy, D. C., & Adam, E. K. (2014). Diurnal cortisol rhythms in youth from risky families: Effects of cumulative risk exposure and variation in the serotonin transporter gene-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR). Development and Psychopathology, 26(4), 999-1019. doi: 10.1017/S0954579414000558
- Lloyd, C., Morris, P.A., & Portilla, X. M. (2014). Implementing the Foundations of Learning Project: Consideration for preschool intervention research. Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 42(4), 282-299.
- Wolf, S., Gennetian, L. A., Morris, P. A., & Hill, H. D. (2014). Patterns of income instability among low- and middle-income households with children. Family Relations, 63(3), 397-410.
- Ganzel, B.A. & Morris, P.A. (2014). Typical and atypical brain development across the lifespan: Contributions to diathesis-stress models of psychopathology. In D. Cicchetti (ed.), Handbook of developmental psychopathology. New York, NY: Wiley.
- Friedman-Krauss, A. H., Raver, C. C., Morris, P. A., & Jones, S. M. (2014). The role of classroom-level child behavior problems in predicting preschool teacher stress and classroom emotional climate. Early Education and Development, 25(4), 530-552.
- Morris, P., Millenky, M., Raver, C.C., & Jones, S.M. (2013) Does a preschool social and emotional wellbeing intervention pay off for classroom instruction and children's behavior and academic skills? Evidence from the foundations of learning project . Early Education and Development 24(7), 1020-1042.
- Ganzel, B. L. & Morris, P. A., (2011). Allostasis and the developing brain: Explicit consideration of implicit models. Development and Psychopathology: Special issue on Allostasis, Vol 2. [lead article].
- Duncan, G., Morris, P., & Rodrigues, C. (2011). Does money really matter? Estimating impacts of family income on children’s achievement with data from social policy experiments. Developmental Psychology. [alphabetic listing of authors to reflect equal contribution].
- Hill, H., Morris, P., Castells, N., Thornton, J. (2011). Getting a job is only half the battle: Maternal job loss and child classroom behavior in low-income families. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 30 (2), 310-333.
- Yoshikawa, H., Gassman-Pines, A., Morris, P.A., Gennetian, L. A., & Godfrey, E. (2011). Racial/Ethnice Difference in Effects of Welfare Policies on Early School Readiness and Later Achievement. Applied Developmental Science.
- Gennetian, L., Castells, N., & Morris, P. A. (2010). Meeting the basic needs of children: Does income matter? Children and Youth Services Review, doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2010.03.004
- Ganzel, B. L., Morris, P. A., & Wethington, E. (2010). Allostasis and the Human Brain: Integrating Models of Stress from the Social Life Sciences.Psychological Review, 117 (1), 134-174.