The American Psychological Foundation's (APF) Koppitz Fellowship Program, now in its second year, has awarded three $20,000 2004 fellowships to graduate students for their up-and-coming research in child development.
The goal of the program, which is funded by a more than $4 million bequest from Werner J. Koppitz, PhD, in memory of his late wife, child psychologist Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz, PhD, is to support promising investigators who will likely be tomorrow's leading researchers, says APF Trustee Camilla Benbow, EdD, of Vanderbilt University. This year's winners, she says, are well on their way: Their research has the potential to identify early candidates for developmental disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), improve bullying-intervention programs in schools and inform social policy that aims to reduce family poverty. Here's a look at this year's fellows:
Better antibullying programs
Koppitz fellow Jamila Blake, a fourth-year school psychology doctoral student at the University of Georgia, says she hopes that her dissertation research on peer aggression in fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade girls leads to better school-based programs to prevent bullying.
"There is not much research out on aggressive females in this age group, or in general," says Blake. "But the more psychologists know about what aggression looks like in these age groups, the better the intervention designs will be."
Blake is conducting school-based surveys with 400 children in four elementary schools in northeast Georgia to uncover differences between girls who bully peers physically--such as by pushing and shoving--and those who bully indirectly, such as by spreading rumors and gossiping. Specifically, she will look at whether different types of aggression lead to different outcomes: how different types of aggressors feel about themselves, whether they are accepted or rejected by their peers and how bullying affects their psychological and social adjustment. She'll also test a theory set forth in previous research--that some types of female aggression are universal and do not vary by ethnicity.
"I think the social status of aggressive girls in majority white classrooms will differ from that of aggressive girls in black classrooms," she posits.
Blake says the fellowship will fund her data collection and enable her to attend APA's 2005 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., and meetings of the National Association of School Psychologists and Society for Research in Child Development.
The onset of impulse control
As part of a large-scale twin study of the activity level of 2-year-olds, Koppitz fellow Jeffrey Gagne has carved out a smaller study that looks at possible genetic and environmental influences on inhibitory control in toddlers.
Previous research has linked lack of inhibitory control, or the ability to suppress responses to attractive or exciting stimuli, to behavior problems such as ADHD in children. But most of what is known about inhibitory control, thought to develop around age two, stems from studies of older children, says Gagne, a fifth-year graduate student in the human development program at Boston University. "We don't have a lot of research in the field because operationally it is harder to study [children] when they are so young," says Gagne.
He aims to close that gap by examining inhibitory control at its earliest stage. Knowing more about its onset may help health professionals target children who are at risk for ADHD and other developmental disabilities earlier, he says, and possibly shed light on specific genes related to inhibitory control.
Gagne, who plans to apply for a postdoc in quantitative genetics, says the fellowship is allowing him to focus 100 percent of his time on his twin study and graduate coursework rather than take on an assistantship.
Poverty and policy
Research has shown that lack of food, little maternal warmth, low income and other such poverty-related risks for childhood behavior problems operate cumulatively; that is, the more of these risks children experience the more likely they are to develop behavior problems. What's not known--and what Koppitz fellow Anna Gassman-Pines hopes to discover--is whether social programs that aim to reduce children's poverty level have a direct impact on children's cumulative risk.
To find out, Gassman-Pines, a third-year doctoral student in the community psychology program at New York University, is conducting a secondary analysis on data from New Hope, a Milwaukee-based antipoverty program that in the mid-1990s provided income supplements to needy parents who worked full time. The original data revealed that children whose parents participated were less likely to develop behavior problems five years later than those in control groups. Gassman-Pines says her research will go one step further and look at why participating children were less prone to problems and whether the program actually reduced children's cumulative risk.
"While most studies of risk examine cumulative risk as a predictor of developmental outcomes," says Gassman-Pines, "this study considers cumulative risk itself as an outcome."
She says she hopes her findings can inform social policies that aim to reduce family poverty and improve children's development.
Gassman-Pines completed some of the analysis as part of her master's thesis research and is finishing the analysis for her dissertation. "This fellowship is allowing me to focus explicitly on these research projects," says Gassman-Pines. She plans to present her findings at APA's 2005 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., as well as at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development.