I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota and I received by B.A. from Carleton College in 2001. I chose Carleton because I wanted a liberal arts education and small, discussion-oriented classes. As an undergraduate at Carleton, I was immediately drawn to the questions that psychologists were asking: Is spanking children harmful? What makes someone popular or rejected? How do people make moral decisions? To me, psychology asked the right questions and provided the tools to begin answering these questions. It wasn't enough to have opinions or anecdotal evidence; instead, it was necessary to conduct empirical research. I wanted hands-on experience, so I became a research assistant for Psychology Professor Kathie Galotti.
My sophomore year, I assisted with data collection and data management for a study examining pregnant women's decision-making. I worked with Dr. Galotti for my remaining three years at Carleton, and, as a senior, I completed an independent research study examining moral reasoning about aggression in 2nd and 5th graders.
I enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, and received my Ph.D. in 2006 under the supervision of Dr. Nicki Crick. I had spent a summer working with Dr. Crick, and I was fascinated by her research examining the development of aggressive behavior patterns in girls. There are many different ways to be aggressive; some kids hurt or harm others using physical means - for example, by threatening to beat up a peer. Others manipulate relationships as a means of inflicting harm. These behaviors, termed relational aggression, include gossip, social exclusion, and using the "silent treatment."
Most aggression research has focused on physical behaviors; however, evidence suggests that when girls are aggressive, they tend to engage in relationally aggressive behaviors. I believe that the focus on the development of physical aggression, to the exclusion of relational forms of aggression, leads researchers to overlook at-risk girls. In addition, understanding the factors that may lead children to engage in relational aggression will allow for early prevention and intervention efforts.
My research focuses on the harmful consequences of relational aggression and explores factors that may contribute to the development of such conduct. For example, I am currently studying whether physiological reactivity (e.g., increases in heart rate and blood pressure) to interpersonal stress is associated with relational aggression in children and adults (see photo at left). In this photo you can see me attaching these leads to measure sympathetic nervous system activity so that the participant's physiological reactivity to stress can be assessed.
One of my favorite aspects of conducting research is working with undergraduate and graduate students. Research experience provides undergraduates with hands-on training and mentorship regarding research in psychology and is valuable experience for students interested in pursuing an advanced degree in psychology or related fields. Students with interests in developmental psychology, peer relationships, gender, and aggression are especially well-suited to work in my lab.