I am an Associate Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. I received my PhD in Developmental and Psychological Science from the Stanford University School of Education in 2011. Prior to beginning my career as a researcher, I was a middle school teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I also hold an MEd in Secondary English and a BA in the Program of Liberal Studies from the University of Notre Dame, as well as an MA in Psychology from Stanford University. Examples of social problems our work is trying to address include adolescent bullying, aggression, depression, stress, psychosomatic health, healthy eating, cheating, and academic underperformance.
My work sits at the intersection of developmental, social, personality and educational psychology. I am interested in understanding the processes shaping adolescent development, especially how differences in adolescents’ social cognitions–their interpretations of social events and the beliefs that underlie these–can contribute to positive or negative trajectories for youth. I focus on the life experiences and environments that give rise to social cognitive tendencies, on the interaction between social cognitions and the home or school environment, and on opportunities for redirecting social cognitions during developmental transitions. I primarily conduct randomized experiments, often in school settings, because I believe, as Bronfenbrennar and Lewin did, that a good way to understand the system of forces affecting behavior and development is to try to change it. In addition, in the process of designing experiments, we may create interventions that, with some adaptation, may be useful for addressing important problems facing society. This approach is directly informed by Geoff Cohen, Greg Walton, and Carol Dweck.
I am also deeply interested in problems of scaling innovations in the social sciences. In collaborative field experimental work with Geoff Cohen, we are studying the psychological barriers to the implementation of novel solutions from rigorous experimental behavioral science. With Greg Walton, Mary Murphy and PERTS, we are attempting to create a field of “psychological design,” which refers to a process for contextualizing psychological interventions using user-centered design principles and then evaluating them through large-scale randomized experiments. In projects carried out with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, we are learning how to use the techniques of improvement science, imported from the healthcare industry, to learn how to achieve efficacy with reliability in the scaling of psychological research.
The second half of my research is methodological. I study the psychology of asking and answering questions as well as the implications of these insights for optimizing self-reports. In addition, I study the differences in accuracy in national samples collected through probability methods as opposed to non-probability methods, and the conditions under which these two methods do or do not converge in their estimates. Much of this research is in collaboration with Jon Krosnick. I also have a deep interest in educational measurement and in methods to create and broadly apply measures of psychological factors affecting student outcomes. Because many psychological measures were created for theory development, and not for use by practitioners, I have been involved in developing a theory of “Practical Measurement” with Tony Bryk, as well as collaborating with Sidney D’Mello and Angela Duckworth on the creation of novel, scalable performance tasks to assess the so-called “non-cognitive factors” affecting students.
I frequently collaborate with PERTS. I have an appointment at the UT Dana Center, where I work with Uri Treisman on understanding the psychological influences on math performance at key developmental transitions, such as the start of Algebra 1 in high school or beginning college. In addition, I am a Fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, where I work on their mathematics pathway initiatives. I am a member of the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group and the New Paths to Purpose network, both at the University of Chicago. Finally, I am a Faculty Research Associate at the University of Texas Population Research Center.
Besides conducting experiments, my interests include: providing critical feedback, mentoring graduate and undergraduate students, and karaoke.
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