Linking childhood aggression to family and culture
When a child is labeled as aggressive, many times pieces are missing from the whole story. Jennifer Lansford, CCFP researcher, is looking at both domestic and international child development projects that might explain why certain children develop into aggressive individuals.
Lansford, a Duke undergrad who majored in psychology and cultural anthropology, returned to Duke in 2000 to continue her research at the Center for Child and Family Policy (CCFP), an affiliate of the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI). As a newly promoted Research Professor, Lansford stays extremely busy with two research projects focusing on the development of aggression and other behavior problems in youth, with an emphasis on how the family structure and peer groups contribute to character development. Lansford also fulfills leadership roles with three professional journals and a consultant to UNICEF’s evaluation of parenting programs in developing countries.
Serving as the principal investigator for the study “Parent Behavior and Child Adjustment across Cultures,” Lansford focuses on parenting styles in different cultures. The study is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
“One of the projects I am working on is looking at parenting across cultures,” Lansford said. “We are studying how culture affects parenting in nine countries. For example, teenagers in different cultures have different behavior opportunities. Adolescents in one culture may be exposed to risky behavior while in others, the risky behavior is limited and frowned upon. ”
Lansford explains that studying aggression and child development in different countries allows a broader picture to be formed when discussing aggression within the United States. For example, in Jordan the use of alcohol by teens or adults is against cultural norms for religious reasons. In comparison, the majority of teenagers in the United States have tried alcohol by high school graduation, often encouraged by peer pressure.
With her international experience, Lansford was able to lend her expertise to UNICEF during its evaluation of parenting programs in developing countries. She worked with parents and children in 40 countries to study parental discipline. This experience related directly back to Lansford’s research about how cultural contexts moderate links between parents’ discipline strategies and children’s behavior problems.
A second, domestic study Lansford is involved with is “Development of Antisocial Behavior in Early Adulthood.” The study is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
“Five-hundred-and-eighty-five kids have been followed in three sites within the United States since 1987 from Pre-K to their late 20s,” Lansford said. “We are looking for triggers for behavior problems, family relationships and behavioral adjustments made by the subjects.”
Lansford’s research in child development and aggression may take her across the globe, but she continues to come home to CCFP to digest everything she has learned through her research.