Affiliated Faculty and Graduate Student Workshop, Spring 2016

Center for the Study of Culture, Health, and Human Development

University of Connecticut

Spring 2016 CHHD Affiliates Workshop

On April 15, 2016, faculty and graduate students affiliated with the Center for the Study of Culture, Health, and Human Development (CHHD) met for a day-long workshop at the Inn at Mystic, in Mystic, Connecticut.  The purpose of the workshop was to share knowledge about affiliates’ current research and interests, to explore possible collaborative projects, and to discuss possible future initiatives of the CHHD in research, teaching and outreach.  The workshop included four sessions of research presentations by affiliated faculty, a poster session highlighting CHHD graduate students’ ongoing research projects, and a wrap-up session for reflections on the day and looking ahead to the future.  A delicious breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea made the workshop a culinary as well as intellectual event!

This report includes summaries and (in some cases) links to PowerPoint slides used in the faculty research presentations, which can be found on our newly re-constituted CHHD website.  At the end of the report, we include reflections and related ideas for future collaborations – a work still in progress.

Session 1: Alaina Brenick, Lisa Eaton

Alaina Brenick focuses her research on developmental intergroup relations.  Specifically she explores social and moral reasoning about intergroup victimization (e.g., discrimination, exclusion, bullying), the association between cultural identity and intergroup relations, and cross- group contact and multicultural environments as facilitators of positive intergroup relations.  Guided by the social cognitive domain model, her recent study investigated children’s perceptions of outgroup stereotypes in the Middle East.  In her study, children were shown picture cards representing different vignettes (e.g., a girl from a different country (outgroup) comes and asks to play on swings).  The children were asked to what extent is it okay to exclude the member of the outgroup.  Children who were exposed to war were more likely to accept retribution.  Results suggest that stereotypes have not yet been internalized; thus, through a process of identity development and positive contact with the outgroup, it is possible to promote pro-sociality among the children.  (Notes by Alexander Reid; see full presentation here)

Lisa Eaton studies race and sexual risk-taking behaviors, with much of her research focusing on black gay men in the U.S.  She has also carried out related research in South Africa.  In collaboration with Robert Brown, Lisa developed a culturally competent intervention for gay men at risk for HIV in Atlanta, one of the major HIV epicenters.  She has also done research on how HIV testing and positive diagnosis relate to social stigma and subsequent use of medical treatment. (Notes by Jia Li Liu and Sara Harkness)

Session 2: Pouran Faghri, Kim Gans, Caroline Mavridis

Pouran Faghri’s research focuses on worksite health promotion program planning, implementation and evaluation, with an emphasis on participation and integration of health promotion and health protection.  In her talk, Pouran spoke about several ways that the workplace can play a role in the development of disease or, in contrast, in promoting and protecting health.  She has designed and evaluated workplace health programs that address both the conditions of work and the health behavior of individual employees.  As an example, Pouran presented a theoretical model of both workplace (e.g. shift work, a sedentary job, stress) and personal factors (e.g. mealtimes and food content, tiredness, leisure activities) that contribute to obesity.  She emphasized the point that in order to address chronic health issues, we need to think beyond the individual. (Notes by Sara.)

Kim Gans carries out research on health promotion and disease prevention, especially in relation to healthy eating, physical activity, obesity prevention and treatment, and the reduction of chronic disease risk factors.  She has worked with populations of all ages, including culturally diverse low income or low literate groups as well as childcare providers, teachers, and health care providers.  Her research has employed randomized control trials and also community engaged research designs, combining environmental and behavioral interventions in many different settings including childcare, home, health care, schools, and worksites.  With many currently funded projects and data sets, Kim invited workshop participants to work with her on writing research papers for publication.  (Notes from Kim’s PowerPoint slides – for the full presentation, see the CHHD website).

Caroline Mavridis: In addition to her work with the International Baby Study, Caroline Mavridis focuses on mixed-methods approaches to studying beliefs and practices of self-care, and related factors like support, in two distinct populations: the first, mothers in the early post-partum; the second, frontline family workers who serve needy families, and are themselves at risk of burnout and job leaving. Her findings so far indicate that for mothers adapting to a new baby, physical needs (such as sleep) and needs for social engagement are quite consistent over the first six months, and factors such as support, work schedules, caring for other children, and even competing motherhood ideals can affect opportunities for self-care. Furthermore, there are positive associations, in the days immediately following birth, between adequate rest and recovery and reports of positive mood.  In contrast, an early return to social involvements is associated with reports of negative mood. Among family workers, Caroline has found that completion of strengths-based training, in particular the Family Development Credential (“FDC”), is associated with increases in workers’ discussions of family- and self-empowerment, empowerment strategies, and workers’ sense of joy and fulfillment in their work roles.  Caroline plans to continue her work related to mothers by doing a cross-cultural comparison of self-care among U.S. and Dutch mothers.  Her upcoming research involving family workers will explore their concepts of stress, self-care and support, with the goal of making tailored interventions to assist workers in developing what Thomas Weisner refers to as “sustainable daily routines” that support well-being, job satisfaction and retention.  (Notes by Caroline Mavridis; see the full presentation here).

Session 3: Linda Halgunseth, Sara Harkness, Stephanie Milan

Linda Halgunseth has three primary research interests.  Her first interest is to examine sociocultural influences on parenting values and practices and their implications for young children.  For example, in a recent study, she explored the role of mothers’ and fathers’ religiosity in African American adolescents’ religious practices and beliefs.  Her second research interest revolves around developing culturally grounded measures of parenting.  Using a mixed methods approach, she has developed culturally sensitive self-report parenting measures, (i.e., Mexican Parenting Questionnaire, Mexican Parenting Questionnaire for Adolescents).  Her third area of interest focuses on identifying evidence-based practices for engaging culturally, ethnically, linguistically, and economically diverse families in educational settings.  (Notes by Alexander Reid)

Sara Harkness has carried out research on culture, parenting, and child development in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, and the U.S., much of it in collaboration with international colleagues.  Her work focuses in particular on parental ethnotheories – culturally shared beliefs that parents hold about themselves as parents, and about their children’s development.  She uses mixed methods, including observations, interviews, and questionnaires to explore parents’ beliefs and practices in cultural context.  In her presentation, Sara illustrated how she has used this approach in cross-cultural research to analyze themes and practices of infant care in mother interviews, measure the level of stimulation in children’s days based on time allocation logs, and examine diurnal patterns of salivary cortisol in young children and their mothers.  Sara concluded her talk with a call for increasing recognition of culture’s role in human development in the global context, and for building multi-disciplinary research teams who can “speak each other’s languages” to address both basic scientific questions and the pressing social challenges of our time. (Notes by Sara Harkness; see full presentation here)   

Stephanie Milan

(to be added)

Session 4: Charles Super, Noel Card

Charlie Super describes his research interests as ‘measuring development in culture.’ The field of developmental psychology (his original training) has crafted a variety of good measures of infant and child development; it has not been very sophisticated in measuring the environment of development, particularly as that environment is (always) a cultural product.  The “developmental niche” is a theoretical framework he and Sara Harkness created that directs attention to measureable features of the culturally structured environment: settings of daily life, customs of care, and parental psychology (especially ethnotheories). In his presentation to the workshop, Charlie demonstrated the use of this framework for the ‘mixed methods’ study of normal and at-risk development in Kenya and Bangladesh. (See the full presentation here.)

Noel Card addressed key questions related to sampling and measurement in research on diverse populations.  Although large datasets enable powerful comparisons, it is also important to break them apart for smaller sub-group analyses.  In addition, a first step is to carry out smaller studies which can then be aggregated in meta-analyses.  In relation to measurement, Noel talked about the issue of whether scales perform equivalently across groups; however, he pointed out that this is not enough, as fundamental nuances can be missed.  He put the question to the group: How can we conduct important studies to move the field forward but not wait five years to publish?  Collaboration is useful here.  Noel proposed several next steps:

  • Develop innovative ways to measure constructs, such as using videos. Be more culturally universal by moving beyond paper and pencil measures.
  • Collectively develop a repository of measures used in different settings and techniques of integrative data analysis to make comparisons across data sets.
  • Promote dyadic and longitudinal studies in order to study change over time (keeping in mind what kind of change to expect when).
  • Culture is transmitted through dyadic relationships (e.g. parents’ friendships). These relationships are more complex, but they move beyond psychology and embeddedness.

(Notes by Jia Li Liu, edited by Sara)


Reflections on the day and looking ahead

            Over afternoon tea and cookies in our sunny meeting room at the Inn at Mystic, we gathered to reflect on the day’s presentations and think about possible future roles that the CHHD could play, in addition to our current involvement in graduate training through the CHHD Graduate Certificate program.  Kim Gans put the question directly to the organizers: “How can we help you?”  She had several ideas that we discussed at the time, and which she and Sara have since revisited.  Here is the list so far:


  • In publications and presentations, we can list the CHHD as an affiliation, along with our department and any other affiliations.
  • Collaboration by graduate students or faculty on each other’s projects can be recognized by co-authorship or acknowledgements, as appropriate.
  • We can engage members of the CHHD as co-investigators on research projects of mutual interest.
  • We can give guest lectures in each other’s classes.
  • We can help each other with informally reviewing manuscripts for publication and advising on technical questions related to methods and analytic strategies.
  • We can include a link to the CHHD website on our faculty pages and under our signatures in correspondence.
  • On the CHHD website, we can include “headshots” and brief (bullet point) summaries of our research interests and contact information.
  • We can continue our efforts to build an academic community of ideas, in which we expand our own intellectual boundaries through cross-disciplinary communication and collaboration.