Seed Awards

The Institute of Human Development and Social Change represents a dynamic collaboration of New York University's Schools of Arts and Science, the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. The Institute provides support for NYU faculty to conduct multidisciplinary research on human development and changing social contexts. A central goal is to bridge the longstanding disconnect between research in human development across the lifespan and policies and practices that affect children, youth, adults, and families.

Below, awards are listed by faculty member, NYU unit, and project title, followed by a brief description of the research study.

(Click on the project titles for a short summary.)


IHDSC Seed Funding Fall 2017

Geometry lies at the foundation of millennia of human achievements in domains such as mathematics, art, and architecture. What allows children to acquire knowledge about geometry in the noisy, formal and informal environments like schools, museums, and homes in which they learn and grow? In this project, we examine children’s intuitions about the properties of planar shapes, such as triangles, and about the relations between geometry and physics. The cognitive theories guiding these experiments originate in basic research in the lab. Nevertheless, the testing of these theories will take place in the National Museum of Mathematics, an informal learning environment focused on exploration and play. We ultimately aim to harness the findings of basic research in cognitive science and cognitive development to both test the validity of those theories and also improve children's informal and formal learning of mathematics.

This pilot study will lay the groundwork for a prospective, longitudinal study of college transitions for low-income, urban immigrant Asian American youth. Contrary to the popular portrait of Asian American students as the model minority high achievers, a sizable segment of Asian American students who attend NYC public high schools is not bound for elite colleges and experience challenges in college access and persistence. The mixed-method study combines a quantitative secondary analysis of the joint administrative data from the NYC Partnership for College Readiness and Success, a partnership between the NYC Department of Education (NYCDOE) and City University of New York (CUNY), with a small-scale qualitative study of the processes involved in college decisions and high school to college transition.

Detained or incarcerated students with disabilities often encounter the greatest service delivery gaps in receipt of mandated special education and related services, and these gaps remain particularly visible as juvenile offenders (“juveniles”) transition from placement to placement (e.g., pre-conviction, temporary detainment to post-conviction, juvenile correctional facility detainment) or from within the juvenile justice system back to a K-12 school placement. To gain a clearer understanding of this transition process—and potential service delivery inequalities that arise—we will conduct interviews with juveniles and professionals (e.g., case managers, attorneys, court professionals, juvenile facility teachers or tutors) to gain an understanding of the experiences, attitudes, and perceptions of the juvenile justice system, and we will develop and pilot the use of transition teams to promote a seamless transition model for juveniles with disabilities.


IHDSC Seed Funding Fall 2016

This project aims to contribute to the current scholarship on social inequality by conducting a survey experiment to elicit people’s beliefs about economic inequality and chances of social mobility in the American society. We will also test whether these beliefs and attitudes will be altered if they are provided with information on the actual income inequality and mobility. Assessing these individual perceptions will enable social scientists to test existing conjectures about the social, political and psychological basis of perception and attitude formation. This project will also have policy implications in terms of how attitudes and beliefs towards inequality vary in the population.

Racial inequalities in universities remain one of the US’s greatest social issues; however, our quantitative understanding of how students select universities remains incomplete because it relies primarily on information of students who are already attending universities or are applying to the most elite institutions. To gain a clearer understanding of this process – and potential inequalities that arise – we will use proprietary data on students’ SAT scores and the universities to which students send their scores. These scores are not just one of the most important requirements for admissions to nearly all universities but also reflect how students gauge their academic performance, and ultimately to what universities they apply.


IHDSC Seed Funding Fall 2015

Why do racial disparities in political leadership still exist? This seed grant tests two possible mechanisms including one based on cognitive associations between light and good, and another based on exposure to mainstream media that portrays heroes and heroines as lighter in skin tone. We will assess perceptions of leadership among members of a racial majority and minority groups, and within children, thereby providing insight into the developmental trajectory of the perpetuation of a relatively White political leadership, which might suggest interventions for changing perceptions.

Early language interactions form the foundation upon which later literacy is built. Using insights from behavioral economics, we test the extent to which poverty related limited attention and positive affirmation of motherhood can be favorably directed toward early language and literacy parenting resources among mothers of low income infants. In collaboration with the New York City (NYC) Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), mothers who participate in NYC’s Newborn Home Visiting Program in Harlem (N ~ 1,000) and who consent will be randomized into two groups: half will receive BE enhancements to support a DOHMH early language text-based early language program, and the other half will receive the usual early language resources provided by DOHMH. The IHDSC seed grant will be used to fund self-report data collection from mothers about how they spend time with their babies, as well as to evaluate parent-infant naturalistic language interactions at home via LENA-based audio recordings. This project contributes to a research-to-practice partnership between NYU and DOHMH, testing new data collection methodologies that capture low-income parents’ home language use, and providing evidence about low-cost approaches to optimize the impact of existing early learning initiatives on the lives of low-income children in NYC.

Many urban school districts have adopted a portfolio management model, in which independent schools compete for students, who are no longer assigned to schools based on residence. Charter management organizations (CMOs) have emerged to provide the coordinating functions once served by school districts, such as human resource management and professional development. The ramifications of these new forms of governance for both within and between-school collaboration are not yet well understood. In this project, we will conduct interviews with teachers, principals, and members of multiple CMOs in New Orleans to determine how teachers and schools develop and sustain collaborative networks in the context of a choice-based education system.

Most developmental psychological research focuses on ways that young children learn by studying key cognitive processes involving attention, memory, and higher-order thinking skills. In these models, we have recognized that “soft skills” involving volitional control, initiative-taking, and persistence also play important roles in learning. However, we have had few innovative models or methods with which to test the hypothesis that those “soft skills” matter for learning. This project focuses on one specific dimension of initiative-taking, called “self-directed learning” as a way to break new conceptual and empirical ground in supporting young children’s educational opportunities. By integrating methods from educational psychology and engineering/computer science, the current study aims to develop new methodology to computationally model the self-directed information sampling strategies in young learners, and validate these measures against standardized assessments of volitional control and working memory.


IHDSC Seed Funding Spring 2015

In partnership with Good Shepherd Services (GSS), the investigators are studying the initial effects of a cooperative literacy learning (CLL) program on the proposed mechanisms of language development among English Language Learners (ELLs) and their non-ELL peers in low-income urban afterschool settings. This two phase project involves (a) piloting measurement tools to test their feasibility and relevance in afterschool settings, and (b) conducting a pre-post experimental trial of the CLL program's impact on youths' social networks, academic discourse, and behavioral engagement. The investigators aim to build understanding of the social and academic mechanisms through which cooperative learning enhances the capacity of afterschool settings to promote youth development.

This project investigates how race and ethnic identity moderates the reaction of youth to the police, and how these effects manifest during middle and late adolescence. We propose to study the psychological and physiological responses of Black males age 14 to 22 to police-related stimuli. We use videos of police encounters with civilians as primary stimuli and record responses in terms of a) explicit evaluations of the videos, b) implicit representations of police as protectors vs. threats, c) physiological sympathetic nervous system (SNS) arousal as indicated by skin conductance and d) eye-tracked attention to the police officer in the video. We explore ethnic identity differences by recruiting Black males who identify as immigrants, children of immigrants or African American (i.e Black youth whose parents were born in the U.S.) We also recruit a sample of white males from the same set of high schools and colleges. We expect that Black youth will be more aroused by the police videos than white youth, but that immigrant youth will be less aroused than the African Americans. We predict that the strength of the reactions will vary systematically with variables that represent individual differences (such as contact with police) and family differences (such as ethnic-racial socialization).


IHDSC Seed Funding Spring 2014

Increasing numbers of infants are overweight or obese during the same developmental period when they are learning to crawl and to walk. This interdisciplinary project examines effects of body weight on infants’ crawling and walking skill and spontaneous locomotor exploration. Although body weight necessarily affects movement, researchers know little about how children cope with overweight and obesity while acquiring new locomotor skills and how such factors might alter movement proficiency and inhibit exploration of the environment.

This study will examine the impact of providing information and other decision supports to 8th graders choosing public high schools in New York City. The investigators will provide one of two supports to participating students: a targeted list of recommended high schools, based on their academic history; or, structured introduction to a smartphone/web app designed to assist students in their choices. The primary aim of the study is to identify low-cost interventions that increase students’ knowledge of available options, aid them in making informed choices, and increase the likelihood they choose and enroll in a high-performing school.

It has been suggested that shame is universally associated with poverty, reduces individual agency and may contribute to the persistence of poverty. Shame is said to be felt internally, but it is also externally imposed by others and sometimes as stigma in the framing, design and implementation of public policy. The investigators aim to examine the association of poverty and shame through a qualitative study.


IHDSC Seed Funding Fall 2012

Drs. Aronson and Noguera will collect pilot data in New York State school districts that the Department of Education has identified as being at risk of racial disproportionality in suspension rates in order to prepare for a large research proposal to the Novo Foundation and other agencies. The PIs will use the Seed funds for Phase 1 of the project, in which they will collect baseline data including observational, interview, and survey data as well as saliva samples for students and teachers. For the larger project, the PIs plans to expose the schools to either: a) meditation, b) mindset or c) meditation and mindset interventions. The baseline data from Phase 1 will be compared against follow-up observation, surveying, interviewing, saliva sampling, and school record data that will be collected at two more time points in the school year for each of the three conditions. The project emphasizes the need to develop interventions aimed at reducing suspensions and their antecedents as an important priority for research, policy and practice.

Drs. Burde, Middleton and Samii will begin preparing to launch a randomized field study of a community-based education program in Afghanistan. The proposed study will involve 220 community-based schools that will be created in partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Ministry of Education in Kabul, and national NGOs over the course of 3 years with three waves of surveys. The seed funds will support preparatory data analysis as the team prepares to begin the full scale randomized experiment.

Dr. Seidman’s project seeks to demonstrate the reliability and validity of an observation instrument that is sensitive to measuring and understanding the teacher practices and classroom processes linked to favorable academic and social-emotional student outcomes. Dr. Seidman has been developing the Teacher Instructional Practices and Processes System (TIPPS), a tool that is tailored to the needs of schools that serve students in low-income settings, both domestically and internationally, and created to be evidence-based, user-friendly, and cost effective. In this investigation, Dr. Seidman and his team will first test the reliability of TIPPS by employing a generalizability study, then will examine the factor structure and finally, will examine the validity by examining correspondence with CLASS ratings. The proposed work will present a closer view of mechanisms within the classroom, providing teachers better feedback to improve the way they conduct classes.

Drs. Silver and Mijanovich seek to understand the effects of city-level and neighborhood-level social and economic characteristics on birth outcomes for women.  Specifically, this project is driven by two questions: 1) what is the relationship between residential neighborhood characteristics and birth outcomes (low birthweight, very low birthweight, pre-term birth and teen births) for African-Americans and whites? and 2) how do these relationships vary based on city-level characteristics? The PIs will use merged ACS and Vital Statistics data to construct neighborhood-level socio-economic and birth outcome variables at the census tract level and indicators of distress for cities and neighborhoods in order to estimate mediation models to assess the relationships between race, neighborhood socio-economic indicators, city level indicators, and birth outcomes. 


IHDSC Seed Funding Fall 2011

Drs. Cappella and Seidman will conduct background research needed to understand the impact of the timing and structure of middle grade school transitions on disadvantaged youth. Their findings will inform promising middle grades policies and interventions that may support improved academic, psychosocial, and life-course outcomes. Using ECLS-K data, the research team will articulate the precise questions that the data set will allow them to address and conduct preliminary analyses for a subsequent grant proposal submission to NICHD or the Spencer Foundation.

Dr. Lee will employ data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and its mother-child supplement (CNLSY) to examine how distinct patterns of parental influence (i.e. poverty status and home environment) over time impact child educational attainment. Dr. Lee will use the results of this initial research to prepare an R03 application to NICHD to further investigate temporal patterns of other domains of parental influence, including family structure, maternal employment, and parental mental health, and their impacts on child development.

Dr. Rhodes and her co-PI, Dr. Sarah-Jane Leslie (Princeton University) will conduct pilot research on the role of language in the development and stereotyping and prejudice. Their project, which is taking place at Dr. Rhodes’ onsite laboratory at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, will experimentally test whether parent’s essentialist beliefs causally influence their production of generic language for social groups.

Drs. Sharkey and Aronson will use online social networking websites to pilot an intervention using targeted advertising available through Facebook as a way to encourage students to visit a webpage and conduct a series of exercises that have been shown to counteract the effects of stereotype threat.  Using an experimental design, they will then design a rigorous evaluation of the intervention to identify the effects of the intervention on aggregate student academic outcomes.

Drs. Silver and Macinko will conduct background research to better understand the variation in state policy environments and how divergent state policy environments affect children’s health and safety. Seed funds will be used to obtain and code health law data, pilot test a set of measures of the health policy environment for children and families, and perform preliminary analyses as inputs into an R21 proposal to NIH.


IHDSC Seed Funding Fall 2010

Aber and Morris will conduct background research necessary to identify the most promising interventions targeted to low-income infants and toddlers and their parents in order to support a R01 application. The birth to three project is part of a larger, multi-disciplinary, multi-university effort to close achievement gaps through a set of integrated, synergistic interventions that span birth through grade five.

Adolph, Tamis-LeMonda and Karasik propose a short-term longitudinal study that examines multiple measures of infants' interactions following motor transitions in children 5 to 7 months old through 11 to 13 months old in the natural settings of their homes. The study seeks to advance the literature on developmental cascades by examining the interplay between postural and locomotor transitions and changes in specific aspects of infants' object and social engagements.

Morris will work with an inter-disciplinary team to continue her examination of the impact of income volatility on children's academic and behavioral outcomes using three data sets-the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the National Longitudinal study of Youth, and the New Hope evaluation. Specifically, Morris will examine the premise that regularly changing income levels, particularly if unpredictable, may be as or more detrimental to the stress and development of young children than chronically low income.

Wu proposes to work with colleagues to develop and estimate a formal behavioral model of the decision by a young woman to initiate sexual activity and her decisions following sexual onset concerning contraception, abortion, and fertility, including how potential decisions might influence future outcomes. Wu's research is motivated in part by the insight that premarital first births typically occur in a demographic "dense" period of the life course characterized not only by transitions in the domains of schooling and work, but also by changes in sexual behavior, romantic relationships, union status, and fertility.


IHDSC Seed Funding Spring 2010

Wiswall will employ the Panel of Income Dynamics dataset to examine relationships among parental time allocation in wage and non-wage activities, income, household labor choices and child outcomes.


IHDSC Seed Funding Fall 2009

Halkitis seeks to explore the ways in which individual psychological, developmental and contextual processes impact the life experiences, risk behaviors, life perspectives and journeys of HIV-positive MSM ages 50 and over.  IHDSC funding will allow Halkitis to launch a pilot study to explore the individual experiences of these men and the larger public health, economic, and societal implications of this growing population of aging seropositive men.


IHDSC Seed Funding, Fall 2008

Conley is studying the impact of in utero exposure to airborne toxins on the birth, health, educational, and general health outcomes of elementary-aged children during and after the events of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center (WTC) tragedy.  Conley proposes to use econometric approaches in his analyses of EPA and NYCDOE data when estimating the impact of such toxins on child outcomes.

Wu's project seeks to better understand the processes underlying first births to young women that occur prior to a first marriage. His work will be undertaken with the recognition that such pregnancies are resolved in different ways, in heterogeneous social contexts.


IHDSC Seed Funding, Fall 2007

Hughes, in cooperation with the Study Group on Race, Culture, and Ethnicity, will puruse a pilot and data management work for a large-scale pooled data meta-analytic study that examines cultural and contextual influences on important dimensions of parenting and on relationships between parenting and youth outcomes. The group consists of 12 scholars, representing major U.S. universities and a range of disciplines, including psychology, anthropology, and social work, has been in collaboration for over 10 years examining cultural and contextual influences on child and adolescent development.


IHDSC Seed Funding, Summer 2007

Doucet's application outlines the hypothesis that recently immigrated parents' support of children's development in school contexts may be legitimated by school personnel in some cases, and marginalized by school personnel in other cases.

Ellen and O'Regan's research questions focused on families' decision-making regarding entry and exits into and out of neighborhoods, using an important new data set (the internal files of the American Housing Survey). Project marked by strong interdisciplinary foci.

Ginsburg and Rapp's research questions focused on the heterogeneity of cultural, legal, and neurological standards used by school systems to make important educational decisions for children exhibiting learning disabilities. Reviewers were impressed by the multidisciplinary research team and by the team's hypothesis that the very definitions used to classify children in educational contexts are themselves undergoing rapid transformation, due in part to the actions and advocacy of parents, themselves

Reviewers responded very favorably to the interdisciplinary nature of her research questions, examining changes in children's developmental trajectories within a framework that considers changing social contexts of classroom quality.


IHDSC Seed Funding, Fall 2006

The aim of the project is to examine the ways in which the proximal contexts (e.g., family, peers, school, and parent's work) and distal contexts (e.g., economic reforms; changes in health care, education, child care, and residency permit policies) of development are affecting children's development in China.