Students in consultation with faculty advisors develop an area of study appropriate to their professional goals and research interests. The breadth of research in the department is illustrated in the following programs, from which students draw courses appropriate to their PhD research.

Comparative Behavioral Biology

This area of study investigates behavioral and mental processes at the social, psychological and biological levels of organization in both humans and nonhuman animals. Current research is concentrated in three main areas. In the area of behavioral and social endocrinology, research conducted with rodents and humans investigates the social and behavioral control of stress, reproduction and health and the role of hormone-behavior interactions in development throughout the life span. Specific topics of interest include mechanisms and functions of kin selection, cognition, reproductive senescence, and the social-behavioral modulation of aging and illness. In the area of comparative development, we use nonhuman primate and rodent models of parenting and development to investigate social, emotional, and endocrine aspects of mother-offspring interactions and development across the lifespan. Other topics of interest include affiliative and aggressive behavior, mating strategies, nonverbal communication and social cognition in rodents, primates and humans. In the area of evolutionary psychology, research examines human behavior from an adaptive perspective, in relation to life-history mating strategies, competition and cooperation, risk taking and decision making. Throughout, the research approach is characterized by the integration of social and biological levels of analysis.

Socialization, Learning, and Life Course Development

The Department has a long tradition of examining “development” not just in childhood, but over the entire life course. A basic premise of our approach is that how people change over their lives is shaped by, and also shapes, social institutions, cultural and linguistic practices, material circumstances and biological potential. We are also interested in how normative models of human development become institutionalized, materialized, and potentially contested as they travel across different cultural or economic settings. Some current areas of research include the influence of families, peers, schools, and neighborhoods on individual trajectories and outcomes; the influences of cultural, social, cognitive, and linguistic variation on the development of communication and interactional practices; the role of youth   and generational change in contemporary social life; and how early exposure to social and psychological deprivation or privilege due to educational and economic inequality contributes to subsequent vulnerability or resilience. A particular strength of the Department is the study of how children learn in school settings and the role of gesture and language environment in learning and cognition.

Culture, Self and Society

The Department has long been a leading center for training in psychological anthropology, cultural psychology, culture and mental health, and the cross-cultural study of the life course, with special attention to what the anthropologist Clifford Geertz once called “the force and durability of ties of religion, language, custom, locality, race, and descent in human affairs.” Faculty and students investigate the heterogeneous contexts created by national and transnational migration, cultural pluralism, structural inequality, and globalization as these impact human development and functioning. We attend to the political, economic, as well as ethnic and cultural sources of diversity in self and subjectivity, sexuality and gender identity, moral evaluation, and social and linguistic cognition. We particularly seek to understand the psychological and institutional interplay of social difference, hierarchy, and power in multicultural contexts and in periods of rapid social change. Students and faculty use multiple methods to understand these social and psychological processes, including qualitative fieldwork, quantitative analysis, as well as observational, clinical and experimental methods.

Health, Vulnerability and Wellbeing

The Department maintains a tradition of examining health, illness, disability, and vulnerability from a variety of social science perspectives, including medical anthropology and sociology and disability studies. We understand health, illness, disability, and vulnerability as experiences that are deeply shaped by inter-related social, political-economic, and psychobiological processes. We are also committed to the idea that how human beings experience distress is inextricable from the ways in which we recognize, represent and respond to it. We are thus equally concerned   with the biosocial mechanisms through which health, illness, disability, and vulnerability become embodied in particular persons, as we are with the cultural and linguistic processes through which concepts such as “health,” “illness,” “disability,” and “vulnerability” are produced, enacted, institutionalized and contested. A particular strength of our program is the study of mental health and illness and of psychiatry as a social institution. Current areas of research include culture and mental health; the comparative study of medical and healing systems; psychopathology and resilience across the life course; disability and vulnerability as conditions of ethical and political life; colonialism and traumatic social memory; the social consequences of the neurosciences and genetics; and illness, subjectivity, and embodiment.



An optional specialization will be available in methods. This specialization is meant to be in addition to a student's main area of study, and cannot substitute the prior program areas as a student's main area of study.

Methods in Human Development Research

Research on human development over the life span and across social and cultural contexts thrives on multiple theoretical perspectives. This research requires creation and improvement of a wide range of research methods appropriately selected for and tailored to specific human development problems. Faculty in the department employ research methods that span the full range from primarily qualitative to primarily quantitative and to strategic mix of both. Across all the substantive domains in Comparative Human Development, theoretical understanding is greatly advanced by methodology; therefore the Department pays serious attention to research design, data collection, analytic strategies, and presentation, evaluation, and interpretations of evidence. The Department has contributed some of the most influential work on psychological scaling on the basis of the item response theory (IRT), multivariate statistical methods, analysis of qualitative data, modeling of human growth, and methods for cross-cultural analysis. Current research interests include (a) assessment of individual growth and change in important domains of development that are often intertwined, (b) examination and measurement of the structure, process, and quality of individual and group experiences in institutionalized settings such as families, schools, clinics, and neighborhoods, and (c) evaluation of the impact of societal changes or interventions on human development via changes in individual and group experiences, with particular interest in the heterogeneity of growth, process, and impact across demographic sub-populations and across social cultural contexts.