Research

My research program investigates how social networks promote and constrain psychological adaption, development, and health among ethnically diverse youth in the US and international populations

 
 
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How are biological processes, which underpin stress, social status, and immunity, associated with social network structure and dynamics?

Decades of research in behavioral endocrinology reveal that the expression of hormone-behavior associations is socially regulated, but this research has only given a limited attention to social networks.  Together with Dr. Douglas Granger, I examine associations between hormones, markers of immune system activity, and human social networks. Through a combination of network science and salivary bioscience methods, we have been studying how social network structure and dynamics are associated with the activity of these environmentally sensitive biological systems in naturalistic settings for social groups. Our results suggest that individual differences in cortisol and testosterone are associated with the structure and dynamics of social networks. These findings are among the first to document hormone-network associations in human samples.

Research in psychoneuroimmunology has linked social relationships to various immunological mechanisms, but this work has only focused on personal (and not complete) networks. To address this gap, we examined associations between friendship network structure and an indicator of mucosal immunity. Our results suggest  that secretory-immunoglobulin A, which provides the first line of defense against infections, is higher among individuals who have more friends in their networks. This finding is consistent with social integration theories linking social relationships to better health. 

My ongoing research examines: (a) interactive associations among loneliness and cortisol as contributing to how individuals form their social ties, (b) the role of individual differences in empathetic concern as a moderator of social network dynamics and associations between friends' perceived stress levels and focal individual's cortisol levels, and (c) physiological attunement on hormones in social networks.

 
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How do peer networks serve as a dynamic social context for child and adolescent development? 

Developmental research has long viewed peers as key agents of socialization. Theoretical work underscores multiple mechanisms through which peers may influence gender development and ethnic-racial identity, with a common theme suggesting that they develop through a dialectical process of children and youth making sense of their group membership in light of experiences with others. Whereas these theories presuppose dynamic processes of development, empirical work has relied on static or oversimplifying depiction of the peer context (e.g., group composition). My work has advanced this research through introduction of longitudinal social network analyses to study how peer influence on various developmental outcomes operates in networks. My research has shown significant peer socialization effects on gender-typed behaviors in early childhood, as well as gender and ethnic-racial identity development during adolescence, while controlling for how youth formed their friendship networks. 

My ongoing research examines the role of peer networks for development and adaptation of ethnically diverse youth in samples of adolescents from the U.S. (in collaboration with Drs. Carlos Santos and Kimberly Updegraff) as well as immigrant and Greek adolescents from Greece (in collaboration with Drs. Frosso Motti-Stefanidi and Adriana Umaña-Taylor).

 
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How do peer networks amplify the detrimental impact of peer rejection for the emergence of health risk behavior?

I am collaborating with Drs. Thomas Dishion and Thao Ha to examine the role of peer rejection and other network dynamics as an antecedent of selecting high-risk deviant peer networks, who subsequently influence one another, leading to an escalation of risk-taking behavior (e.g., antisocial and violence behavior, substance use). I am pursuing these questions through a secondary analysis of a dataset collected on a sample of ethnically diverse adolescents from the U.S. who participated in a randomized-control trial of a family-based intervention.