Birth to Five is a local agency that serves Richmond children, ages birth to five, and their families. One of their programs is Parents as Teachers (PAT), a national program that promotes kindergarten readiness, including literacy skills as well as social and emotional skills. The Peer Lab partnered with Birth to Five to assess the success of this program for Richmond children.
Student researchers conducted interviews with kindergartners from the local community (including those who have and have not participated in Parents as Teachers) regarding their school readiness. Parents and teachers also completed surveys. Children's literacy skills, vocabulary, social problem-solving skills, classroom behaviors, and general social skills were measured.
Additionally, while children were in the Parents as Teachers program, we tracked how much parents are reading to their children. Children who are read to regularly have more skills and are more successful than children who are read to less frequently. We compared national rates of reading to young children to the Parents as Teachers participants and found that PAT participants read to their children more often and for longer periods than national averages.
Praise in Fixed and Growth Mindset
Children: In our Fixed Mindset child study, student researchers gathered information on 8- to 12-year-old children from the local community. Children participate in challenging puzzle tasks and are given process-focused effort praise ("You worked hard") or person-focused intelligence praise ("You're smart"). Previous research has shown that praising children for their effort ("You worked hard") is more effective in the long-term, promoting a "growth mindset" over a "fixed mindset". Children with a growth mindset tend to believe that they can improve their skills and ability whereas children with a fixed mindset tend to believe that people are limited by the intelligence/ability they are born with, and can't improve. Children with a growth mindset are more willing to take on challenges, cope better with setbacks, and generally perform better. We investigated the effects of a third type of praise that we called person-focused effort praise ("You're a hard worker"). Children completed questions about their performance on the task and their willingness to do similar tasks in the future. We thought that children who received “hard worker” praise would demonstrate more of a growth mindset and would show more positive responses to failure, but we did not find support for this hypothesis.
Adults: We conducted similar studies with college students and with adults recruited online. We found mixed results, but in general, there was not support for the hypothesis that “hard worker” is effective praise.
In collaboration with our colleagues from the CUB Lab at the University of Mississippi, we collected data to help us learn about children's understanding of disgust. Adults tend to have reactions of disgust to both physical disgust and moral disgust. Physical disgust might be felt upon tasting spoiled milk or touching squishy worms. Moral disgust might be felt upon learning that someone stole medicine from someone too poor to buy more medication. We were interested in understanding at what age children start to identify situations as morally disgusting.
The Living Lab
For several years, we had a Living Lab exhibit at the Joseph Moore Museum, on Earlham's campus. The Living Lab model connects the public more directly to the research process. Visitors to the museum were invited to participate in our studies. We conducted studies about fixed mindset and praise (see above, for children ages 8- to 12-years-old) and about understanding of disgust (see above, for children ages 2- to 5-years-old).
Our exhibit, designed by Earlham students, taught visitors about the scientific method, the purpose of the living lab, and about disgust. The disgust exhibit is still up and teaches visitors about some purposes of disgust (to keep us safe from things that could harm us), the difference between physical and moral disgust, and our body's response when we feel disgust. Visitors then get to smell a variety of smells, some of which are nice and some of which are, well, disgusting! There is a mirror so that visitors can look at their facial expression when they find the gross smells!
thoughtful friends study
Children: The Thoughtful Friends Study was a collaboration with the CUB Lab at the University of Mississippi. We examined how the ability to control behavior was related to social understanding and friendships. Second graders played games related to control (e.g., remembering items in a list, using rules to sort cards). Children then answered questions about their friends and how they would feel in different friendship situations (e.g., if their friend was unreliable). Finally, children played several games related to perspective taking. This study provides information about how control and problem solving may relate to social interactions and friendships.
Adults: We extended this study to college students enrolled at the University of Mississippi. The design was similar to the child study, but tasks were appropriate for adults.
the peer project
The Peer Project was a study conducted with 5th grade children. We examined the role of friends in bullying (also known as peer victimization). Children were contacted through Richmond Community Schools. Families interested in participating were contacted via phone and completed interviews for seven days. Children answered questions about their mood and described both positive and negative peer experiences that occurred each day. We found, not surprisingly, that children had more negative mood on days they were teased or bullied, particularly if no one intervened (tried to stop the bullying, consoled the child, etc.) However, children who had generally helpful friends were less affected by bullying, even if their friends were not present to intervene. The results of this study highlight the importance of bystanders taking action when they see instances of bullying. It also highlights the importance of high-quality friendships in children’s social and emotional lives.
Friendship, Bullying, and Pain Tolerance
In collaboration with Earlham professor Beth Mechlin, we examined whether experiences of friendship and bullying affect college students' pain tolerance. Support from friends is associated with better health and coping, whereas negative peer experiences like exclusion and bullying can contribute to poor health and cardiovascular disease. We tested whether these effects extend to pain tolerance, but did not find support for the hypothesis.