My research examines interpersonal models psychopathology in childhood and adolescence. I am especially interested in interpersonal experiences with peers, including peer stress, peer influence, peer status (likeability, popularity), peer victimization, friendship, etc. I am most interested in understanding how these interpersonal experiences and stressors are related to the development 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.
I am interested in why some adolescents, particularly girls, are at high risk for depressive symptoms, and self-injurious behaviors. Recently, I have been studying the predictors of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) and suicidal behavior. The focus of this work is on how adolescents vary in their biological and cognitive responses to interpersonal stressors. Our work on stress responses has included the study of several psychophysiological measures as I move closer to a neuroscientific approach for understanding stress and self-injury. Most girls who engage in self-injury report that an immediate precipitant was an interpersonal stressor, but we know so little about what specific physiological, epigenetic, cognitive, and behavioral responses to interpersonal stress may predict self-injury. This is a current focus of the lab.
We know that one of the most powerful predictors of adolescents’ engagement in health risk behavior is the belief that their 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). Some of this research is motivated by theories and methods in social psychology and increasingly I am becoming interested in how biological factors may be relevant for understanding peer influence susceptibility, social reward sensitivity, and behavioral inhibition.