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 networks?

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 (UC Irvine), I examine associations between hormones, markers of immune system activity, and human social networks. Through a combination of network and salivary bioscience methods, we study the activity of these environmentally sensitive biological systems in an ecologically valid setting 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 links social relationships to various immunological mechanisms, but this work has only focused on personal (and not complete) networks. We examined associations between indices of mucosal immunity and friendship networks. 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. 

 
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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 during adolescence, while controlling for how youth selected their friendship networks.

 
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How do social networks promote and hinder physical health?

My ongoing work examines the role of personal networks for women's health in the context of international migration (funded by NICHD in collaboration with Dr. Victor Agadjanian, University of Kansas). Using a sample of Central Asian migrant women in Russia, I am now investigating how network composition and structure are associated with emotional and instrumental dimensions of social support, physical and psychological health, and health-risk behaviors. I will examine the role of personal network structure and composition as serving protective role for psychological and physical health of women who encounter a high volume of stressful events.

 
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How do peer networks protect against or exacerbate adverse effects of ethnic-racial discrimination?

I will continue to examine risk and protective factors, which make minority youth to be more/less likely to select risky peer contexts and more/less susceptive to peer influence on health-risk behaviors. Specifically, I will focus on identifying whether perceived discrimination serves as a risk factor for a selection of high-risk friends and a greater susceptibility to peer influence on risk-taking behaviors. Additionally, I will examine whether dimensions of ethnic-racial identity serve a protective role in buffering youth against forming high-risk friendships and being susceptible to the negative peer influences on depressive symptoms, school detachment, and risk-taking behaviors. I will study these dynamics using longitudinal data in a sample of ethnically diverse middle school students.

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

I am now collaborating with Dr. Thomas Dishion (ASU) to examine the role of peer rejection 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., substance use, delinquency). I am pursuing these questions through a secondary analysis of a dataset collected on a sample of ethnically diverse adolescents who participated in a randomized-control trial of a family-based intervention.