We are trying to better understand the mechanisms through which specific environmental risk factors influence child and adolescent psychopathology and adjustment.
We are particularly interested in exploring the causes of the following conditions:
We are primarily focusing on the following risk factors:
Because researchers will only be able to identify causal risk factors by using multiple perspectives we are currently utilizing three approaches to study the processes that underlie the association between these environmental risk factors and measures of offspring well-being: (1) genetically informed designs, (2) longitudinal analyses, and (3) intervention studies.
Genetically Informed Designs
First, we use behavior genetic research designs to examine how specific environmental risk and protective factors influence adjustment. We are employing advanced research designs to detail how genetic and environmental influences act and interact. In particular, we use genetically informed approaches because they provide quasi-experimental approaches to the study of specific environmental risk factors. For example, we use the Children of Twins Design to account for confounds that plague all family studies—genetic factors passed down from parents to their children and un-measured environmental influences that vary between families. We also are utilizing the Co-Twin Control Design (the comparison of twins discordant for a risk factor) and the Sibling-Control Design (the comparison of siblings differentially exposed to a risk factor). These approaches provide a more rigorous test of causality than traditional family studies because the designs account for genetic or environmental confounds associated with “environmental” risk factors. We are also analyzing how environmental and genetic factors interact to influence children’s adjustment.
Longitudinal analyses constitute the second major research program that we are using to study causal mechanisms. One of the main limitations of cross-sectional research is the inability to account for reciprocal influences. We, therefore, analyze longitudinal studies to examine the development of children’s adjustment over time and how environmental factors influence and are influenced by individuals. Longitudinal analyses also provide the opportunity to study how risk factors may differentially influence individuals based on their developmental trajectories.
Our third major research approach is the use of intervention studies. We are primarily focused on intervention studies for couples going through divorce. We are currently conducting a randomized controlled study of divorce mediation. We are examining whether different forms of mediation (e.g., having child psychologists interview children and present the information to the parents in mediation) are more helpful to the parents and children. The ability to randomly assign couples to different conditions also provides a powerful approach to the study of causal processes, specifically related to family constructs.
Summary and Future Directions
In summary, our research program enables us to study environmental influences through multiple approaches, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. As indicated by the range of questions addressed in these studies, we enjoy considering research issues from multiple angles and integrating theory from different fields, such as clinical psychology, developmental psychology, epidemiology, sociology, public health, behavior genetics, and molecular genetics. With respect to our genetically informed research and use of longitudinal studies, we are currently collaborating with individuals around the world, including researchers in Richmond, Virginia; Chicago, IL; Brisbane, Australia; and Stockholm, Sweden.