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Youth Development Lab

Our lab conducts research on risk and protective factors for psychosocial adjustment in adolescence and young adulthood. We conduct longitudinal studies where we follow youth and their parents over time, and we study how factors from individual, family, peer, neighborhood, and school domains contribute to youth emotional and behavioral problems, substance use, and health outcomes. For example, we have published extensively on the effects of youth exposure to violence including the issue of desensitization to violence, factors that increase or decrease adolescents’ susceptibility to peer influences, and the role of spiritual coping in adjustment to illness.

Our projects focus on two populations:

  1. urban African American youth who experience high rates of poverty and community violence, and
  2. youth coping with chronic illness, especially cystic fibrosis.

Current and Recent Projects

  • Birmingham Youth Violence Study — This study has followed youth from early adolescence (age 11) to young adulthood, with a main focus on risk and protective factors for youth violence and substance use. We are currently conducting fourth wave of data collection that will examine the impact of early life stress on DNA methylation and health outcomes.
  • Healthy Passages — A three-site study that followed adolescents and their parents from age 11 to age 16, studying a variety of risk and protective factors for adolescent health. We recently completed fourth wave of data collection (age 19) at the Birmingham site that focused on racial differences in internalizing problems and stress reactivity. In collaboration with Dr. David Knight, a subset of participants from the larger study completed neuroimaging assessments allowing us to study neural reactivity to stress and threat.
  • Coping with Violence — A recently completed four-wave study that followed a small sample of urban youth and their parents from age 13 through age 18, focusing mainly on how youth cope with different types of violence they encounter in their communities, schools, and homes.
  • Individual Intervention for Violence — An ongoing pilot project that conducts a randomized clinical trial of an adapted version of the Aggression Replacement Training for young African American men at high risk for violence.
  • Spiritual Coping Intervention for Youth with Cystic Fibrosis — Another pilot project of a web-based intervention we developed to enhance positive spiritual coping in adolescents with cystic fibrosis. We are testing the effects of the intervention on the adolescents’ coping skills, mental health and well-being, and physical health.
  • Coping in Adults with Cystic Fibrosis — A recently completed short-term 3-wave study that investigated the role of coping and other cognitive and psychosocial factors in treatment adherence and health outcomes of adults with cystic fibrosis.

Student Research Opportunities

Our lab offers many opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as recent graduates seeking additional research experiences before applying for graduate school. All lab members learn about the process of research, contribute to data collection, and develop mentored research projects that they present at local and national conferences. We typically have strong presence at national developmental conferences (Society for Research on Adolescence, Society for Research in Child Development) where we also have fun with lab dinners and escape games. Our lab is very inclusive and supportive, and our lab members have gone on to attend graduate programs in psychology and related fields, and to pursue research, teaching, clinical, and community service careers.