Bonanno, Brooks-Gunn Headline TC Presentations at APS Annual Meeting | Human Development

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Human Development

Human Development

Bonanno, Brooks-Gunn Headline TC Presentations at APS Annual Meeting

George Bonanno and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn headlined a group of Teachers College psychologists who presented new findings at the annual convention of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), held in New York City in late May.

With 26,000 members, APS is the leading organization devoted to scientifically oriented psychology in research, teaching and application to human welfare.  

In four presentations, Bonanno, Professor of Clinical Psychology, added to past work in which he has demonstrated that, contrary to what had previously been thought, the vast majority of people recover very quickly from loss or trauma, while a much smaller percentage experiences more difficulty and a still smaller group does not recover.  

In an invited lecture titled “Trajectories of Resilience” – part of panel on “The Effects of Development across the Human Lifespan” – Bonanno presented new evidence that these trajectories apply in the same proportions to people at all stages of life, including children.

In a closely related presentation titled “Heterogeneity in Threat Learning in Humans and Animals,” co-authored with  Isaac Galatzer-Levy, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine (and Adjunct Professor at TC) Bonanno shared evidence that following exposure to immediate traumatic threat resilience is, again, the norm.

In two other papers, in which his doctoral students, Zhuoying Zhu and C.L. Burton where among the co-authors, Bonanno introduced two new paradigms: first, that the ability to modulate how much emotion one experiences or expresses is an important tool for coping well with emotional loss or trauma, and, second, that effective regulation is enhanced by a broader suite of a flexible abilities, including the ability to read contextual cues and to respond to feedback from the body.

Brooks-Gunn, TC’s Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Child Development and Education and Co-Director of the College’s the National Center for Children & Families, organized an invited symposium to introduce psychologists to the national Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, to which, as a developmental psychologist, she has contributed extensively. Along with her colleagues, Brooks-Gunn presented information on the psychological, contextual,  biological, and neuroscience information that has been collected on a birth cohort of almost 5,000 children (and their mothers and fathers) who have been followed through age 15. 

In addition, Brooks-Gunn, together with Anne Martin, Senior Research Scientist and Coordinator at NCCF, and Rachel Razza, an Assistant Professor in the departments of Child & Family Studies and Teaching & Leadership at Syracuse University’s School of Education, presented new findings suggesting a positive relationship between young children’s motor control and their development of adaptive classroom behaviors.

In a paper titled “Specifying the Links between Motor Control and Classroom Behaviors,” the researchers investigated whether children who were at risk for being less “behaviorally competent” because of either “negative emotionality,” low birth weight or being male benefited more, less or the same from having better motor control. Drawing on data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study, the researchers found that motor control was significantly associated with better approaches to learning and fewer behavior problems, but not fewer attention problems.  Children who were low birth weight benefited more from better motor control with respect to their approaches to learning and had fewer attention problems.  The findings suggest that “motor control follows a compensatory model of development for low birth weight children and classroom behavior.” 

John Black, TC’s Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Telecommunications & Education, and his students made four presentations that contained new findings about grounded cognition – mental or perceptual simulation of a concept or process that deepens the learner’s understanding.  

In one presentation, Black and students Alison Lee, Benjamin Friedman and Lenin Compres found that multimedia environments that allow users to manipulate their exposure to new content – as opposed to more traditional environments in which content is presented at a pre-set pace – promoted better science learning and attention in elementary school students. Specifically, when youngsters could control the simulated formation of a hotspot volcano by swiping their fingers on a screen, they were more engaged and performed better afterwards in making inferences based on what they learned than children could only watch the simulation.

Two papers derived from Black’s work to develop prototypical mobile games to teach fractions to children ages 8-11 years old by incorporating stories, characters, math content and research of Cyberchase, WNET's Emmy Award-winning math television series and multimedia project. In one paper, Black and students Michael Swart, Benjamin Friedman, Sorachai Kornkasem, Jon Vitale, Sandra Sheppard and Kristin DiQuallo found that when children used gestures that were “congruent” with the concept of fractions – for example, a finger swipe along part of a bar, representing how much energy would be needed to charge up a robot – their estimations of fractions became more accurate.  In the other paper, Black and students Jing Zhao, Yaoli Mao and Xiao Zhong found that smaller gestures are no less effective in improving cognition than larger gestures, and may be preferable because they divert less energy from problem-solving.

And in a fourth paper, Black and student Sorachai Kornkasem found that students often performed better on tasks such as building a structure from blocks when using on-screen simulations with labeled component parts than when using actual blocks.

In a presentation titled, “Some Effects of Diagram Hints in Probability Problem Solving,” TC doctoral student Chenmu Xing and James Corter, Professor of Statistics & Education, presented evidence that the use of appropriate diagram “hints” (for example, a blank table or a tree diagram) can be used to steer students toward the most effective reasoning and problem-solving approaches in mathematics problem solving.

TC’s Stephen Peverly and students Karli Zuckerman, Ami Wolf, Vivian Song and Dina Kappengut shared new evidence that writing speed, strong verbal skills and the ability to sustain attention over a long period all are essential to taking high-quality notes.  In previous research, Peverly, Professor of Psychology & Education and chair of the Department of Health & Behavior Studies, has shown that students’ ability to take accurate, nuanced notes can make all the difference in their ultimate mastery of material presented in class. Research with college students indicates that the quality of notes is one of the better predictors of test performance.  Previously Peverly also has shown that children’s handwriting speed is related to fine motor speed and the speeded access to verbal codes. 

Caryn Block, Associate Professor of Psychology & Education, and students Ginevra Drinka, Duoc Nguyen, Jennifer Kim and Hong (Eccho)Yu presented a study in which they used focus groups and interviews to identify incidents of microaggressions experienced by Asians and Asian-Americans in the workplace. In the study by Block and her students, Asians and Asian-Americans reported experiences in predominantly white organizations they worked for that demeaned their cultural values, invalidated individual differences between them and their coworkers, asserted the values of the dominant white culture, treated Asians as lesser persons and stereotyped Asians as highly intellectual and skilled. While the latter microaggression might seem positive, the participants in the study felt that it contributed to their consistently being assigned to roles that are data-intensive or highly technical and being overlooked for roles that require interpersonal skills.

In two related studies, two TC Ph.D. students, Anahid Modrek and Toi Sin Arvidsson, and Deanna Kuhn, Professor of Psychology & Education, assessed the relative importance of two distinct aspects of “self-regulation” – the process individuals use to control aspects of their cognition and behavior – in predicting students’ success in tasks that require “deep learning.”  Defining “deep learning” as constructing an understanding that goes beyond absorbing knowledge strictly as presented, the researchers found that the ability to cognitively self-regulate – dismiss a distracting thought, shift attention from one task to another – better predicted deep learning than behavioral self-regulation, such as controlling an impulse to push a fellow a student who has cut to the front of a line.

“If students are to be able to learn what they want to know and to learn well, they must have the necessary tools,” the authors write. “To the extent some of these tools lie within the individual, they deserve our close investigation” and “there exists evidence that cognitive self-regulation can be fostered.” 

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