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Families, Development and Health

Health concerns are central to family life across the developmental spectrum. Parents of young children often closely monitor their children's health. Youth gradually develop greater responsibility for managing their healthcare. Families become increasingly important as adults face health care changes in old age. Faculty who work in this area are guided by the bio-psychosocial model. Particular areas of study are well-being and physical health in later-life, family functioning and coping with cancer.

The Center for Families serves as a catalyst for initiating and integrating activities that support families. It facilitates collaboration among professionals, policymakers, employers, and human service professionals regarding the vital roles of children and families in society.

The Military Family Research Institute was created in 2000 with funding from the Department of Defense. The institute conducts basic and applied research on the quality of life of military families and its implications for job satisfaction, performance, and retention.

Faculty Research

  • Melissa Franks
    Dr. Franks' research focuses on the ways in which a spouse's involvement in the day-to-day management of her or his partner's chronic illness affects the health and well-being of both married partners. In her research, Dr. Franks also investigates correspondence in health behaviors between married partners, and the influence of this correspondence on their marital interactions and on their individual health and well-being.
  • Elliot Friedman
    Links between both positive and negative aspects of familial and other social relationships and biological and behavioral processes related to health are central to Dr. Friedman’s research.
  • Blake Jones
    Dr. Jones examines child obesity and health in relation to family processes and daily routines in the home. His research is built on family systems and ecological systems theories that emphasize the collaborative influences of family members on one another. The family and home environment directly influence child development and health on a daily basis. Dr. Jones seeks to understand how the daily choices of parents and children affect their health and well-being over time.
  • Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth
    Stressful experiences at work have been linked to a variety of health-related behaviors. Dr. MacDermid Wadsworth is interested in connections between work stressors and psychological and physical well-being.
  • A.J. Schwichtenberg
    Optimal sleep is a critical element of development for all children. Dr. Schwichtenberg's research addresses several aspects of infant sleep development including child physiological regulation, parent-child bedtime settling behaviors, and family sleep choices. Dr. Schwichtenberg also has a strong interest in the sleep behaviors of children with and at-risk for autism spectrum disorders.

    Early Autism identification is the primary goal of Dr. Schwichtenberg’s current research project. Using new technologies to assess infant development across a number of domains (e.g., physiological regulation, sleep, language, social skills), Dr. Schwichtenberg and the Developmental Studies Laboratory team are following a cohort of infants from 6 to 36 months of age to identify the earliest behavioral signs of autism spectrum disorders.
  • Cleveland Shields
    Health concerns are central to family life across the developmental spectrum. Dr. Shields' research examines how couples and families manage the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Along with his students, he studies family communication and its effect on adjustment. They also study how patients' and family members' communication with healthcare providers affects their mental health and quality of life.
  • Zoe Taylor
    Dr. Taylor is interested in biological, environmental, and individual processes that are related to positive adjustment and psychological health in families and their children. Her work explores how factors such as social support, dispositional optimism, and family relationships, contribute to psychological and physiological adjustment.
  • Shawn Whiteman
    One of Dr. Whiteman's emerging interests is how siblings influence one another's health risk behaviors in adolescence and early adulthood. Specific attention is paid to processes by which older siblings influence their younger brothers' and sisters' alcohol and substance use.