Robert Duncan, PhD

Research Interests

Early and middle childhood development, interventions, and policies, language environments, executive function, academic achievement, socio-emotional learning, fine and gross motor skills


I joined the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and the Department of Public Health at Purdue as an Assistant Professor in the fall of 2017. Prior to joining Purdue, I received a Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies and a M.P.H. (in Biostatistics) from Oregon State University in 2015, and completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. I have an interdisciplinary background (i.e., lifespan psychology, life course sociology, family studies, public health, and education) and extensive quantitative training that inform my research. Broadly, my research focuses on understanding children’s development of academic skills, executive function, social-emotional skills, and fine/gross motor skills. I am particularly interested in the role of environments, interventions, and policies for fostering academic success and wellbeing, especially in children facing increased levels of socio-demographic risk. My quantitative interests are primarily in longitudinal and multilevel modeling, structural equation modeling, and causal inference.

Selected Publications

  • Westerberg, L., Litkowski, E., Finders, J. K., Gerde, H. K., Duncan, R. J., Schmitt, S. A., & Purpura, D. J. (2021). Concurrent predictors of science core knowledge in preschool. Cognitive Development, 57, 100981.

  • Bryant, L. M., Duncan, R. J., & Schmitt, S. A. (2020). The cognitive benefits of participating in structured sports for preschoolers. Early Education and Development,

  • Duncan, R. J., Duncan, G. J., Stanley, L., Aguilar, E., & Halfon, N. (2020). The kindergarten Early Development Instrument predicts third grade academic proficiency. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 53, 287-300.

  • Duncan, R. J., King, Y., Finders, J. K., Elicker, J., Schmitt, S. A., & Purpura, D. J. (2020). Prekindergarten classroom language environments and children’s vocabulary skills. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 194, 104829.

  • King, Y., Duncan, R. J., Posada, G., & Purpura, D. J. (2020). Construct-specific and timing-specific aspects of the home environment for children’s school readiness. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 1959.

  • Litkowski, E. C., Duncan, R. J., Logan, J., &Purpura, D. J. (2020). Alignment between children’s numeracy performance, the kindergarten common core state standards for math, and state level early learning standards. AERA Open, 6, 1-11.

  • Litkowski, E. C., Duncan, R. J., Logan, J., & Purpura, D. J. (2020). When do preschoolers learn specific mathematics skills? Mapping the development of children's early numeracy knowledge. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 195, 104846.

  • Lougheed, J. P., Duncan, R. J., Keskin, G., & Marceau, K. (2020). Longitudinal associations between mother-child conflict and child internalizing problems in mid-childhood. Development and Psychopathology.

  • Schmitt, S. A., Duncan, R. J., Budrevich, A. & Korucu, I. (2020). Benefits of self-regulation in the context of high classroom quality for preschoolers’ mathematics. Early Education and Development, 31, 323-334.

  • Cameron, C. E., Kim, H., Duncan, R. J., Becker, D., & McClelland, M. M. (2019). Bidirectional and co-developing associations of cognitive, mathematics, and literacy skills during kindergarten. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 62, 135-144.

  • Duncan, R. J., Rolan, E., Marceau, K., Lewis, K. M., Bavarian, N., DuBois, D. L., & Flay, B. (2019). Childhood protective factors and a prevention program reduce later problem behaviors. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 65, 101063.

  • Duncan, R. J., Schmitt, S. A., & Vandell, D. L. (2019). Additive and synergistic relations of early mother-child and caregiver-child interactions for predicting later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 55, 2522-2533.

  • Marceau, K., Abel, E., Duncan, R. J., Moore, P. J., Leve, L. D., Reiss, D., … & Ganiban, J. M. (2019). Longitudinal associations of cortisol, sleep duration, and body mass index during childhood: An adoption study. Obesity, 27, 645-652.

  • Nguyen, T., Duncan, R. J., & Bailey, D. H. (2019). Theoretical and methodological implications of associations between executive function and mathematics in early childhood. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 58, 276-287.

  • Duncan, R. J., Schmitt, S. A., Burke, M., & McClelland, M. M. (2018). Combining a kindergarten readiness summer program with a self-regulation intervention improves school readiness. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 42, 291-300.

  • Schmitt, S. A., Lewis, K. L., Duncan, R. J., Korucu, I., & Napoli, A. (2018). The effects of Positive Action on preschoolers’ social-emotional competence and health behaviors. Early Childhood Education Journal, 46, 141-151.

  • Duncan, R. J., McClelland, M. M., & Acock, A. C. (2017). Relations between executive function, behavioral regulation, and achievement: Moderation by family income. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 49, 21-30.

  • Duncan, R. J., Washburn, I. J., Lewis, K. M., Bavarian, N., DuBois, D. L., Acock, A. C., … Flay, B. R. (2017). Can universal SEL programs benefit universally? Effects of the Positive Action program on multiple trajectories of social-emotional and misconduct behaviors. Prevention Science, 18, 214-224.

  • McClelland, M. M., Tominey, S. L., Schmitt, S. A., & Duncan, R. J. (2017). SEL interventions in early childhood. Future of Children, 27, 33-48.

  • Schmitt, S. A., Geldhof, G. J., Purpura, D. J., Duncan, R. J., & McClelland, M. M. (2017). Examining the relations between executive function, math, and literacy during the transition to kindergarten: A multi-analytic approach. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109, 1120-1140.

  • MacDonald, M., Lipscomb, S., McClelland, M., Duncan, R. J, Becker, D., Anderson, K., & Kile, M. (2016). Relations of preschoolers’ visual motor and object manipulation skills with executive function and social behavior. Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport, 87, 396-407.

  • Bavarian, N., Duncan, R. J., Lewis, K. M., Miao, A., & Washburn, I. J. (2015). Adolescent substance use following participation in a universal drug prevention program: Examining relationships with program recall and baseline use status. Substance Abuse, 36, 359-367.

  • Becker, D., Miao, A., Duncan, R. J., & McClelland, M. M. (2014). Behavioral self-regulation and executive function both predict visuomotor skills and early academic achievement. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 29, 411-424.

  • McClelland, M. M., Cameron, C. E., Duncan, R. J., Bowles, R. P., Acock, A. C., Miao, A., & Pratt, M. (2014). Predictors of early growth in academic achievement: The Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1-14.


  • 2015-2017, Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of California, Irvine

  • 2015, Ph.D., Human Development and Family Studies, Oregon State University

  • 2015, Master of Public Health (Biostatistics), Oregon State University

  • 2012, M.S., Human Development and Family Studies, Oregon State University

  • 2009, B.S., Psychology, University of Florida

Courses Recently Taught

  • Core Knowledge in Early Childhood Education (HDFS 590)

  • Introduction to Quantitative Methods of Public Health (HK 510)

  • Child and Family Health Policy (HDFS 590)

  • Linear Regression (HDFS 590)


  • 2021-present, Associate Director for Policy with the Center for Families

  • 2019-2020, Teaching for Tomorrow Award – Junior Fellow

  • 2019-2021, Family Impact Scholar with the Center for Families

  • 2017-2018, AERA-SRCD Early Career Fellow in Early Childhood Education and Development


  • 2020 – 2023, New Schools Venture Funds, My Math Stories: Taking My Place in Our Mathematical World. (David Purpura, PI)

  • 2020 – 2023, National Science Foundation, Examining Potential Causal Connections and Mechanisms between Children's Block Play and Mathematics Learning. (Sara Schmitt, PI)

  • 2020 – 2021, Purdue Research Foundation Research Grant, Childcare Language Environments and Children’s School Readiness.

  • 2020, Purdue Research Foundation Summer Faculty Grant, Early Childhood Language Environments and Children’s Skill Development

  • 2019 – 2020, Purdue Clifford B. Kinley Trust, Childcare Language Environments and Children’s School Readiness

  • 2018 – 2023, State of Indiana, Evaluation of the On My Way Prekindergarten Expansion. (Sara Schmitt, PI)

  • 2014 – 2015, James N. Morgan Fund for Complex Interactions, Early Childhood Predictors of Later Academic and Socio-emotional Success: Using a Complex Interaction Framework

Professional Service

Ad hoc reviewer for Child Development, Developmental Psychology, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Early Education and Development, and Assessment for Effective Intervention

Robert Duncan
Assistant Professor

(Pronouns: he/him/his)

Human Development & Family Studies/
Department of Public Health

Faculty Associate:
   Advanced Methods at Purdue,
   (AMAP), Core Faculty Member

(PhD, Oregon State University)

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