Department of Psychology
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Research Program



Overall Research Program

In our lab, we do research in the domains of both social competence and youth engagement, as well as assessing the impact of programs designed to promote positive development.

Social Competence

For many years, I have been interested in how children and young people develop social competence  - the behaviours, emotions, and beliefs that help them to function effectively in their social worlds and have positive relationships with those around them.  We have been examining the roles of parents (e.g., parenting style, attachment security), friendships, and temperament in the development of social competence across a wide age range, from preschoolers to emerging adults.  Much of our work has been focused on shyness and social withdrawal.  Representative recent projects include a study of children’s and parents’ beliefs about the nature of shyness (e.g., can shyness be changed?); a project comparing the quality of friendship in shy/withdrawn, aggressive, and average children; and an examination of the use of psychological language in children who are both aggressive and withdrawn.

Youth Engagement

There is rapidly increasing evidence that involvement in high quality, structured activities (e.g., youth groups, sports, band) is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes for children and youth. However, there is relatively little research examining individual differences in the factors that initiate and sustain such involvement, as well as understanding why some individuals have good experiences in activities and others have more negative experiences. Further, some young people get involved in a wide range of activities, while others tend to be intensively involved in just a few activities. What are the developmental implications of these different patterns of involvement? This is a question that we have addressed in recent studies. We also are involved in several large program evaluations, in which we are assessing the impact of youth engagement initiatives on the young people, as well as on adult attitudes and organizational climate.

I am the Research Director of the federally-funded Centre of Excellence for Youth Engagement, which is a national collaboration of academic and youth-serving organizations. The goals of the Centre are to research, develop, implement and assess models of youth engagement, as well as disseminating information about youth engagement to government, organizations, and the community. Students in my laboratory have the opportunity to work with youth and adults on Centre-based projects.

And combining the two.... We are particularly interested in the overlap between these two general areas!  For example, we are studying the quality of activity-related experiences of shy/withdrawn children and youth, as well as testing the idea that involvement in some activities may reduce some of the negative outcomes sometimes associated with social anxiety in childhood.   Recently, we also have explored coaches’ attitudes toward shy athletes and their beliefs about the best ways to help shy youth do well in team sports.
To address the above questions, we use a wide range of methods, including surveys (written and on-line), interviews, observational analyses of videotapes, and focus groups.  My students and I also are fortunate to have access to several large, longitudinal databases of survey and videotape data, which allows us to investigate a wide variety of multivariate developmental questions.










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