Cynthia A. Stifter
Professor of Human Development and Psychology
308 Health & Human Development
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park PA 16802
My research is on socio-emotional development in infants, toddlers, and preschool children with an emphasis on the development of, and individual differences in, infant emotional reactivity and the ability to regulate emotion. Specifically, I have been investigating how the child’s temperament, physiological make-up, and parenting environment, each contribute to the emergence of the self-regulation of the emotions of anger and fear. More recently, I have become interested in the application of temperament and emotion regulation to physical health. I am collaborating with others to examine the impact of temperament and parental soothing strategies on childhood obesity. In addition, we are studying how positive affect can reduce the effects of stress on children’s immune system. Below are descriptions of two studies for which data collection is completed but coding and analysis continue and our current longitudinal study.
Emotional Beginnings Project. This ability to control one's emotions is often referred to as emotion regulation. The development of this ability is believed to be a product of the child's temperament and environmental influences, specifically parental socialization. One of the primary purposes of the Emotional Beginnings Project of the Infant and Child Temperament Laboratory is to investigate how infants and toddlers come to regulate their emotions. To accomplish our goals we conducted a longitudinal study that was funded by the National Institutes for Mental Health. In this study children and their parents were seen several times from when the child was 2 weeks of age to 10 years of age. We used home visits, inoculation visits, and laboratory visits to gather our data. We also collected heart rate data as a marker of regulation. In addition, questionnaires and infant cry diaries were completed by parents. At the inception, 150 families had joined the project.
To date, we have published a number of papers that focused on 1) parent regulation of infant crying; 2) the psychophysiology of early social behavior; 3) the impact of excessive crying on emotion regulation; 4) the stability of temperament types; 5) the socialization of emotion; and 6) the relations among behavioral, emotional and cognitive forms of regulation. Most recently, we published a paper that demonstrated that exuberant children who were unable to regulate their disappointment were at greater risk for behavior problems than inhibited and low reactive children. We are continuing to work on papers that based on the rich, complex data of the Emotional Beginnings Project. In addition, doctoral and honors students are continuing to use these data set for their theses.
Family Life Project. The Family Life Project is a collaboration between researchers at Penn State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, designed to study children and families living in rural poverty. The primary goal of the project was to develop an understanding of the unique ways community, employment, family economic resources, parent-child relationships, and individual differences among children influence development and competencies in children during their early years. Our lab has been involved in Project 1 which is concerned with the characteristics of infants and children growing up in rural poverty. We have been focusing on the child’s temperament and physiology including heart rate and cortisol reactivity. We recently published a study comparing the assessments of parents, our home visitors, and behavioral coders on the infants’ negative and positive reactivity. Students have been actively involved in writing papers and theses from this unique data set such as how marital discord affects development and how prematurity affects parents’ perceptions of their young children.
Back to Baby Basics Project. Our aim in this ongoing longitudinal project funded by the NIDDK is to understand how differences in child behavior and parent use of food interact to affect the child’s weight status. Beginning at 4 months of age, we have collected data on infant temperament, parent feeding attitudes and behaviors, parent-child interactions, DNA, and the child’s weight and length. Early research coming from this project suggest that parents are more likely to soothe their highly negative infants with food and that this non-hunger related feeding method puts them at risk for overweight. We are currently testing our participants at 18 months of age and plan to do a follow-up through the preschool years.
B.A., 1975, Sociology, University of Maryland, College Park
M.S.W., 1978, Clinical Social Work, University of Maryland, Baltimore
Ph.D., 1987, Human Development, University of Maryland, College Park
1987-1993: Assistant Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
1994-1995: Visiting Scholar, Harvard University School of Public Health
1994-1995: Visiting Associate Professor, Harvard University School of Medicine
1993-2000: Associate Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
2000-Present: Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Conway, A., & Stifter, C. (in press). Longitudinal antecedents of executive function in preschoolers. Child Development.
Voegtline, K, & Stifter, C. (in press). Late-preterm birth, maternal symptomatology, and infant negativity. Infant Behavior and Development.
Stifter, C., Cipriano, E., & Dollar, J. (2011). Temperament and emotion regulation: The role of autonomic nervous system reactivity. Developmental Psychobiology, 52, 266-279.
Towe-Goodman, N., Stifter, C., Coccia, M., & Cox, M. (2011). Interparental aggression, attention skills, and early childhood behavior problems. Development and Psychopathology, 23, 563-576.
Cipriano, E. & Stifter, C. (2010). Predicting preschool effortful control from toddler temperament and parenting behavior. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31, 221-230.
Stifter, C. A., Cipriano, E., Conway, A., & Kelleher, R. (2009). Temperament and the development of conscience: The moderating role of effortful control. Social Development, 18, 353-374.
Jahromi, L. & Stifter, C.A. (2008). Individual differences in preschoolers’ self-regulation and theory of mind. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 54,125-150.
Stifter, C. A., Putnam, S., & Jahromi, L. (2008). Exuberant and inhibited toddlers: Stability of temperament and prediction to behavior problems. Development and Psychopathology, 20, 401-421.
Stifter, C. A., Willoughby, M., & Towe-Goodman, N. (2008). Agree or agree to disagree: Assessing the convergence between parents and observers of infant temperament. Infant and Child Development, 17, 407-426.
Jahromi, L., & Stifter, C.A. (2007). Individual differences in the effectiveness of maternal soothing on reducing infant distress response. Infancy, 11, 255-269.
Cynthia Stifter vitae