Douglas Barnett, Ph.D. 
Professor, Department of Psychology
Director, Child and Family Study Group Director, WSU Psychology Clinic

Statement of Research & Scholarship

I characterize my research, scholarship, and teaching as applied developmental psychopathology. Central to this approach is the integration of empirically based knowledge from clinical and developmental psychology to address questions more directly relevant to social policy, preventive interventions, and psychotherapy. (Please see figure below). I believe that by converging these three lenses, the scientific understanding of humans in action can be brought into sharper focus. Each of these filters (i.e., the study of normal development, psychopathology, and intervention) by itself polarizes crucial details of human functioning within social contexts. Together they project a sharpened image that should yield more viable and ecologically valid theories.

For example, research on attachment with normally developing infants has provided a paradigm sensitive to detecting the psychological effects of child maltreatment and birth defects that illuminates the mechanisms through which these risk factors undermine development. In a reciprocal manner, research on the attachment relationships of children who have been maltreated (an extreme form of socialization) and who have cerebral palsy (an extreme biological disruption of the nervous system) help to clarify the combined roles played by social experience, and neurology in organizing the formation and expression of human attachment relationships, an important thread of the social fabric. Research on interventions to serve these populations can further show whether components of attachment relationships are mere correlates or actually processes that play a key role in regulating psychological development.

Consequently, I have conducted research primarily in areas where these circles overlap. Examples of the questions my work has addressed include: What forms of parenting are associated with the development of emotional, social, and academic success? Do these parenting practices depend on characteristics of the child (e.g., temperament; birth defects), family (e.g., poverty; violence), or community (school characteristics; urban crime)? How does testifying in court relate to the mental health of children who have been sexually abused? To answer these questions, applied developmental psychopathology requires successfully mastering research and theory on normal and pathological development as well as on intervention, therapy, and behavior in applied and naturalistic settings such as the classroom and courtroom.

In regards to "normal" developmental processes, I have examined questions pertaining to the relation between cognitive and emotional development (e.g., Barnett & Ratner, 1997). Empirically, I have examined how emotional and cognitive factors are coordinated in competent children and children at risk for maladjustment. For example, I have conducted research on how judgements about oneself (self-concept) and feelings about oneself (esteem) organize children's motivational orientation in school (e.g., Barnett, Vondra, & Shonk, 1996).

Another question about normal/atypical development my research addresses is how parenting is associated with social and emotional health among children. For instance, I have examined how child factors and parenting are related to the development of attachment security in infants, toddlers and preschoolers (e.g., Barnett, Ganiban, & Cicchetti, 1999; Barnett, Hunt, Butler, McCaskill, & Kaplan-Estrin, 1999; Barnett, Kidwell, Leung, 1998). By investigating children with a birth defect or high reactive temperament, this work examines the influence of child factors on the development of attachment relationships. For example, Barnett, Ganiban, and Cicchetti present data on a longitudinal investigation of child emotional reactivity, maltreatment, and attachment when the infants were 12-, 18-, and 24-months of age. The study examines stability and change in attachment, particularly in regard to the relative influences of child reactivity and parenting. The results suggest how parenting and child temperament might interact or transact to influence the formation of attachment relationships. Examining these extreme child factors (e.g., birth defects) and parent variables (e.g., child abuse and neglect) can contribute to teasing apart the relative roles played by nature and nurture in adjustment.

Studies such as these have implications for designing intervention programs to promote optimal family wellbeing under conditions of internal and external stress. For instance, work form my laboratory has examined what parenting practices promote resiliency in stressed, urban, Black families (McCabe, Clark, & Barnett, 1999). My research also provides much needed data to extend the validity of attachment theory and measurement to African American families and families with a child who has a birth defect. The applicability of attachment theory to these two populations in particular has recently been topics of theoretical debate in the developmental literature. The work from my laboratory addressed these and related issues. For example, our work on attachment among African Americans required our examining shared caregiving and its influence on parent child relationships. Our research on children with a birth defect required careful methodological consideration to sort out confounds among symptoms of neurological disorder from symptoms of relationship problems. Our initial work emerging from both of these studies suggests that we are beginning to successfully address these factors that have been controversial in the literature.

In the more applied realm, I have been interested in the question of how research can inform the public policy debate over how child maltreatment should be defined (e.g., Barnett, Manly, & Cicchetti, 1993; Barnett & McGee, 1993). I also recently have completed a longitudinal investigation of sexually abused children testifying in court (e.g., Barnett, 2000). My interests are expanding in the direction of developing and evaluating intervention programs for maltreating families (e.g., Barnett, 1997), and families who have a child with a birth defect.

Google Scholar Citations Profile

My Curriculum Vitae

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