Applied Psychology OPUS


The following abstracts highlight the research of members of the Applied Psychology Honors Program. The authors will present their projects at the Undergraduate Research Conference on April 30, 2010. Look for their complete theses in the Fall 2010 issue of OPUS.

Loneliness and Depression among Foster Children: The Role of Caregiver Ethnic Match

Maurice Anderson

Nearly 500,000 children are in foster care. More than 20% of them are transethnically (with ethnically dissimilar families) placed following the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994. Many exhibit internalizing behaviors (e.g. depression, loneliness). This study investigated whether transethnic foster placement is associated with variation in mental health outcomes of foster children. It was hypothesized that, the degree of ethnic matching between foster child and caregiver, and the incidence of internalizing behaviors, would be negatively related. To test this hypothesis, a secondary analysis was conducted on a sample (N=106) of mostly African-American and Hispanic (69%) boys (N=58) and girls (N=48) between the ages of 7 and 15 (M=10.47; SD=1.89) in foster care. A continuous measure of ethnic match, Total Match Index (TMI), was created (based on ethnic self-identification, country of origin, and language), and regressed on child internalizing symptoms, controlling for several confounding covariates. TMI trended towards significant prediction of childhood depression even after controlling for potential confounds (t=-1.93; p=.06; R2=.15). Correlational analyses identified specific variables that may have moderated the influence of ethnic match on the mental health outcomes of transethnically placed foster children. Suggestions for future research and potential policy implications are discussed.

Father Involvement in Ethnically Diverse Populations

Ryann McNeil

Researchers, practitioners, and policy makers recognize the early influential role of fathers in their infants’ socio-emotional and cognitive development, and recognize the cultural embeddedness of father involvement. Nonetheless, little research has examined father involvement across ethnically diverse groups in early infancy. The current study uses a time-diary approach coupled with surveys to explore how fathers engage with their 14 month infants, how demographic and social factors affect the quality of the father-infant relationship, and how the child’s gender influences these interactions. Mothers of African American, Dominican, and Mexican backgrounds were recruited from 3 New York City hospitals. When infants were 1, 6, 14, and 24 months mothers were interviewed for an hour using a time-diary approach in which they reported infants’ activities during the prior day (24 hours) based on what infants were doing and who was engaged in those activities. They also reported on their relationship to father, education, etc. This study reports on the 14-month interviews of 168 mothers. From the diary data, infants’ time spent with fathers was coded into eight categories: care-giving, toy play, unstructured, literacy, television, child outings, general outings, and childcare.  Various differences emerged by ethnicity and child gender. Mexican fathers spent the most time in care-giving activities, whereas African American and Dominican fathers spent more time in unstructured play and television activities. Fathers spent significantly more time engaged in book-reading activities with their daughters, and typically spent more time watching television with their sons. Aspects of the mother-father relationship related to father time with infants. The activities infants share with their fathers are shaped by child gender, family cultural practices, and the mother-father relationship. Discussion focuses on the challenges to studying father involvement in infancy, and the value of diary approaches in developmental research.

Book Reading Styles in Bilingual Head Start Classrooms

Silvia Niño

Early narratives shared between children and adults are crucial for children’s linguistic and cognitive development. Most research on narrative development has focused on parent-child conversations and book-reading interactions. However, parent-child interactions are only one context through which children develop narrative skills. Because preschoolers spend a significant part of their day in preschool, interactions between children and their preschool-teachers also plays a formative role for children’s narrative competency. Nevertheless, only a handful studies have examined the book-sharing styles used by preschool teachers, and little is known about how teachers adapt their book-sharing approach to bilingual environments. The present study examined the book-sharing styles of teachers in 12 bilingual (Spanish-English) Head Start classrooms as they shared wordless and text-based books with their class. Preliminary results suggest that there are individual differences in teachers' book-sharing styles, with some teachers focusing closely on the storyline, whereas others encourage their students to think analytically and make predictions about the plot. Interestingly, though, all teachers tend to include more meta-literacy talk and offer richer language lessons when sharing the wordless book. Results are discussed in relation to the role of teacher-class book-sharing on children's language development.

Demographic and Relational Predictors of Social Self-Awareness in Urban Elementary Classrooms

Neha Sahu

Elementary school classroom interactions with peers and individual student social competence are important to children’s success in school. A key component of social competence is social self-awareness - awareness of one’s own behaviors in social interactions. Research has focused on the intra-individual processes predicting social self-awareness. However, as children grow older, peers become increasingly influential in their social development. This study moves beyond the individual, examining the primary peer environment in middle childhood as it relates to social self-awareness. Using social network and peer sociometric methods, the study examined the level of congruence between self-and peer-nominations of prosocial and aggressive behaviors (social self-awareness) as predicted by individual-level social factors (peer network centrality) over and above demographic factors (age and gender). Participants included 418 2nd to 4th grade African-American students facing heightened risk for school disengagement and social problems, from 33 classrooms in 5 Chicago elementary schools, located in high poverty urban neighborhoods. Analyses revealed that increasing age and network centrality predicted increasing levels of social self-awareness. Contrary to expectations, gender normative social behaviors failed to match predictions. Discussion focused on how social contexts facilitate or inhibit internal processes (Bronfenbrennerian approach). Future studies should examine classroom-level predictors, beyond individual-level predictors.

Language Attitudes of Puerto Ricans toward English and Bilingualism

Cristina Tamayo

Language learning and attitudes are often implicitly influenced by larger social, economic, and political factors. The Puerto Rican experience is a perfect case study as the teaching and learning of English on the island is linked to historical events that have led Puerto Ricans to resist becoming bilingual. However, research on Puerto Ricans’ attitudes towards English was conducted in decades before English became the lingua franca of a globalized world. These global cultural changes might have led to significant revisions in the language attitudes of Puerto Ricans, especially among the youth. The purpose of the current study was to examine the language attitudes of young Puerto Ricans. Nine participants (ages 18-23) were interviewed about their beliefs, attitudes and perceptions towards languages spoken in the island. Using a grounded theory approach, data were coded and analyzed looking for recurring themes and patterns across and within cases. Preliminary results suggest that attitudes have positively changed and that young Puerto Ricans are not resisting becoming bilinguals as did youth of earlier generations. Results are discussed in relation to the potential impact of globalization in shaping modern Puerto Rican’s language and cultural ideologies.

The Stories Friends Share: Structural and Thematic Analyses

Jessica Winterstern

Narratives are essential in a child’s life promoting growth in socio-emotional and cognitive areas. Yet, the current research does not sufficiently investigate all critical contributors who influence children’s narrative development, such as peers. Storytelling interactions influence the development of children’s unique narrative styles and the bonds that develop between peers. However, there exist gaps in our understanding of how peer interactions support the development of children’s storytelling abilities, in particular how this relationship develops with age and the role gender plays in such development. The present study examined the personal narratives shared between friends across age groups and gender. Forty-eight children between the ages of 5 and 10 were asked to share stories with a same-sex friend. Stories were audio-recorded, videotaped and transcribed. Narrative interactions were coded for interactional features and themes. Interactional and thematic features were submitted to analyses of variance determining gender and age-group differences. Preliminary results showed that children told more elaborative narratives with age. Boys utilized agency themes whereas girls highlighted communion themes. Finally, girls overlapped and interrupted more so than did boys. Results are discussed in relation to the role peers and friendship play in language development.