Current Studies

We study the development of self-esteem from early childhood to adolescence. Using interviews and survey methods, our research examines typical and atypical development of the mechanisms underlying the ability to construct a global sense of self-worth. This construct is important for many life outcomes, such as academic achievement, career success, and mental health. Thus, it is crucial to understand how self-esteem develops. Click the links to find out more about our projects!
children circleEarly Childhood
We are interested in the cognitive construction of a global sense of self-worth. Current theory suggests children younger than 8 communicate their self-views differently than older children. However, little research has been conducted on children’s global self-views before age 8. Thus, we are exploring the nature and function of self-views for younger children compared to older children and adults. By comparing responses from individuals of different ages, we will be able to understand how thoughts about one’s self-worth develop over time.
We are finishing the first wave of data collection for a school-based study in which children complete surveys during one class period at school and parents complete an at-home survey about themselves and their child. An additional goal of this project is to examine the extent to which parents help construct children's self-views.
We are analyzing an existing dataset of 451 adolescents who grew up in rural Iowa in the 1990s. Data collection is ongoing and began when participants were in the 7th grade. We are analyzing responses that these children gave about their self-esteem and relationship with their parents in grades 7 through 10. Theory suggests children learn about who they are through messages from significant others in their lives. We are examining how parent-child relationship quality predicts change in child self-esteem across adolescence. For this project, we are collaborating with a research team at the University of Zurich in Switzerland to examine their similar data on German adolescents. After completing the project on parent-child relationships, we plan to examine adolescents' reports of peer interactions to see how peers contribute to adolescents' self-esteem over time.
Adolescents with Autism
We are working with researchers at the MIND Institute to study the development of self-evaluations in adolescents with autism. We are interested in examining whether the deficits experienced by children who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) explain the mechanisms behind a typically developing self-concept. Currently, we are analyzing responses these adolescents gave to the prompt, "We want to know your thoughts and feelings on what it is like to be you." We are also planning a study to assess self-evaluations before and after a social skills intervention.

Positive Youth Development

We are working with the State 4-H office to evaluate the 4-H Thrive! curriculum currently being delivered to youth ages 9 to 19 who are participating in California 4-H programs.  4-H Thrive! includes training for volunteers and curriculum that can be delivered in conjunction with leadership training.  The program is based on years of research focused on understanding how best to help youth thrive and grow up to be caring, successful, contributing members of their communities.

The key components of the program include youth working with a caring adult to (a) discover his/her spark  (or passion, something that “fires” youth up), (b) develop a growth mindset about his/her intelligence and personality, and (c) improve his/her goal management skills.  Expected outcomes are increased positive youth development, such as their character, confidence, and self-esteem and decreased stress and depression. 

We also expect the training and experience of delivering 4-H Thrive! will help volunteers develop their leadership skills and in turn enhance youth outcomes. 

Go to the 4-H website for more information

Institute of Education Sciences Evaluation of Brainology

We are conducting a cluster randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of Brainology, a blended curriculum designed to increase students' motivation and achievement in school by teaching them what a growth mindset of intelligence is. Brainology teaches youth that intelligence is a malleable trait that can be developed through effort. Our evaluation focuses on the effectiveness of Brainology for students in 6th and 8th grade.

Previous research conducted in our lab and others have shown that having a growth mindset of intelligence can foster positive outcomes such as motivation and success in school. Thus, we predict that Brainology will improve long-term student achievement by helping children adopt more of a growth mindset and by increasing their challenge-seeking and effort.

This research is funded by a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences.