Volk Developmental Science Lab

Welcome to the Volk Developmental Science Lab at Brock University, in the Department of Child and Youth Studies Department. In a lot of ways, the word “Volk” (synonymous with “Folk”) is a good description of my research interests. I am interested in studying people. In particular, I am interested in understanding and promoting the wellbeing of infants, children, adolescents, and their parents.

I’m technically a developmental psychologist, but I feel (and act) more like a developmental scientist. I have degrees in developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and biology. I’m also deeply interested in anthropology and history. The common thread is an honest curiosity about our world that leads me to science – the very best tool we have for understanding our world. Within science, and within my lab, we use whatever methods or theories that are most helpful in understanding the questions we ask about why everyday “folk” behave like they do and how we can use that knowledge to promote health and wellbeing.

Currently, my research falls into four separate, but related, topics: parenting, bullying, personality, and evolutionary history. My work on parenting is largely split between understanding the influence child facial cues on adults and learning about positive parenting influences on adolescents across cultures. My work on bullying focuses on using an adaptive perspective to help understand the causes, costs, and even benefits of bullying across countries (mainly Canada and China)- including bullying outside of traditional school settings. That includes bullying in sports and extra-curricular activities, as well studying bullying in a remote Caribbean rural village. Finally, I am interested in understanding the evolutionary environment in which children evolved. Children in particular were shaped by an evolutionary history of illness and death. But also a history of play, exploration, and growth. Only by better understanding how children and childhood were been shaped by evolution in to response to past environments can we hope to completely understand childrens’ development today.

Overall, my goal is to understand how to promote healthy child development. That’s a big goal. As a parent myself, I can empathize with the difficult struggles and decisions that accompany child development. But I feel very strongly that without basic scientific research, we can’t answer the questions that we need to regarding child development. That doesn’t mean science is always right, or that we always have the answer(s). What it means is that science is the best way of finding out possible answers and testing if they are right or wrong. Because science doesn’t require that you take answers on faith. Anyone with the time and interest can recheck and retest the results, making it the best tool for learning about the world around us. Ironically, it’s also very similar to how children learn. Curiosity and experimentation are natural tools that children use to learn, science refines them by adding a few extra layers (e.g. falsifiability). Otherwise, as I once told a Grade 1 class, my job is to think of questions I’d like answered, then to go out and find those answers.  It’s a great job!

If you have any specific questions or comments regarding parenting or child development problems, I am always eager to help, but I am not a clinical psychologist. Further, I don’t believe that the Internet is an appropriate venue for complex diagnoses and interventions, and I would strongly suggest that you instead seek out local professionals in your own community. Some good places to start are: in Canada: Child and Family Canada and in the US: Department of Health and Human Services.

That said, please feel free to explore my lab research! If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me.

I am always interested in working with curious, motivated graduate and undergraduate students. If you fall in that category and are interested in working with me, please visit my lab page for further details.