Research Interests

My research examines cognitive and interpersonal models of depression, self-harm, and health risk behaviors (e.g., substance use, sexual risk behavior) among children and adolescents. This work is based on a developmental psychopathology framework emphasizing the reciprocal nature of associations between children’s behaviors and their environment, and the interplay between normative and atypical developmental processes. My work specifically examines peer experiences that can be contributors to or consequences of maladaptive behavior. This general framework is used to guide two programs of research.

Cognitive-Interpersonal Models of Adolescent Depression and Self-Injury

My work on adolescent depression and self-injury examines associations between interpersonal experiences (often peer experiences, such as peer rejection, victimization, friendship quality), cognitions, depressed mood, depression-related behaviors, non-suicidal self-injury, and suicidality. I am interested in examining peer precursors to depressogenic attributional style, depression, and self-injury, as well as the effects of depressed mood on adolescents’ social behavior. Much of this work is aimed towards understanding gender differences in the prevalence adolescent depression, and peer predictors of self-injurious (non-suicidal self-injury and suicidal) behavior. Recent work has examined the specific responses (interpersonal, cognitive, and biological responses) to social stressors to understand the exact processes by which such experiences lead to adolescents’ decisions to engage in self-injurious behavior. Understanding of these processes also may help to understand why only some adolescents experiencing severe psychopathology are at heightened risk for self-injury or suicidality, and why trajectories of psychological symptoms (e.g., depression) increase for some, but not all adolescents Publications in this area 

Peer Influence and Adolescent Health Risk Behavior

Adolescents’ engagement in health risk behaviors (including alcohol, cigarette, drug use, sexual risk behaviors, and weight-related behaviors) represents a serious public health concern. Substantial research indicates that one of the most powerful predictors of adolescents’ engagement in health risk behavior is the belief that peers are engaging in similar behaviors. Yet, despite decades of research examining the presence of peer influence effects, little work has helped elucidate how peer influence works, or which adolescents may be most susceptible/resilient to conformity pressures. My research on adolescent health risk behaviors examines peer influence processes (i.e., mechanisms) and vulnerabilities (i.e., moderators). I investigate peer status and popularity as factors that may motivate adolescents to engage in risk behavior. Past work has examined the influence of social norms among adolescents, and adolescents’ perceptions of social reinforcement that is associated with risk behavior engagement. Some of this research is motivated by theories and methods in social psychology.
Publications in this area