Scott D. Gest 

photo of Scott Gest

Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, and Professor-in-Charge of the HDFS Undergraduate Program

Contact Information

303B Health & Human Development East
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park PA 16802


(fax) 814-863-7963

Research Interests

My research focuses on (1) clarifying the developmental processes linking children’s school-based peer experiences with their academic competence and problem behaviors from middle childhood through adolescence and (2) exploring how teaching practices and intervention efforts may modify these peer experiences in ways that support better individual adjustment. I draw upon theories from developmental, educational and social psychology and methods from social network analysis to explore these issues in both non-intervention and intervention studies. Relevant research projects include:

Classroom Peer Ecologies Project
. We are studying teaching practices, peer social networks and student adjustment in a sample of over 3,500 youth attending over 200 1st, 3rd and 5th grade classrooms. One goal of this project is to identify features of classroom peer networks (e.g., status hierarchies, behavioral norms) that are related to individual students’ academic and behavioral adjustment (e.g., achievement-related beliefs, perceptions of school, experiences of victimization). Another goal is to identify ways in which teachers may influence these peer network processes through practices such as seating arrangements and direct attempts to manage students’ peer relationships. Results from this project will inform our efforts to develop of a professional development intervention for teachers that will support their use of more effective strategies for managing classroom social dynamics. We are in search of undergraduate research assistants for this project: please contact our Project Coordinator, Gwen Davis ( to apply. (Funding from the William T. Grant Foundation and Spencer Foundations, 2008-2010; and Institute of Educational Sciences, 2010-2014.)

PROSPER Peers. This study of friendship networks and the emergence of substance use uses data from the PROSPER community-level randomized evaluation of evidence-based substance use prevention programs. Over 11,000 youth provided reports of their friendships and substance use patterns over five occasions between 6th grade and 9th grade. I am a member of the multi-investigator team (PI, Wayne Osgood; Investigators, Mark Feinberg, Derek Kreager, Jim Moody) testing hypotheses regarding the role of peers in the emergence of substance use, and the impact of universal prevention programs on school-level peer networks. (Funding from William T. Grant Foundation and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.)

Head Start REDI (REsearch-based, Developmentally Informed). The original REDI randomized control trial tested the impact of a pre-kindergarten classroom-based program designed to enhance children's school readiness through specific learning activities and general teaching strategies to promote language/literacy and social-emotional skills (Karen Bierman, PI). After documenting significant intervention effecs on children’s outcomes and teaching processes, we secured funding to follow these youth through 5th grade and to recruit a new sample to test whether a new home-visiting component added to the benefits of the classroom program. (Funding from National Institute of Child Health and Development, 2003-2012).

Middle School Transition Project. This 5-year longitudinal study of 427 children across the elementary-to-middle school transition is now complete, but we continue to publish papers from it occasionally. The design included twice-yearly assessments of three consecutive grade cohorts (recruited in grades 3, 4 and 5) until each cohort completed 7th grade. Our measures focused on students’ peer experiences (friendships, groups and reputations), relationships with adults at school and perceptions of the school environment. A unique feature of this study was the relatively complete data on friendships and peer groups across multiple assessments.


B.A., 1987, Interdisciplinary Studies, UNC- Chapel Hill
1994-1995, Medical Psychology Intern, Duke University Medical Center
Ph.D., 1995, Developmental-Clinical, University of Minnesota
Postdoctoral Fellow, 1995-1997, Center for Developmental Science, UNC-Chapel Hill

Professional Experience

■2006- : Associate Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University

■2000- 2006: Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University.

■1997-2000: Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University.  

Selected Publications

Gest, S. D., Madill, R. A., Zadzora, K., Miller, A., Rodkin, P. C. (in press, 2014). Teacher management of classroom social network dynamics: Associations with trajectories of student adjustment. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders.

Rulison, K. L., Gest, S. D., & Loken, E. (2013). Dynamic peer networks and physical aggression: The moderating role of gender and social status among peers. Journal of Research on Adolescence.

Osgood, D. W., Feinberg, M. E., Gest, S. D., Moody, J., Ragan, D. T., Spoth, R., Greenberg, M., & Redmond, C. (in press). Preventive intervention and adolescent friendship networks:
Effects of PROSPER on the influence potential of prosocial versus antisocial youth. Journal of Adolescent Health.

Gest, S. D., Osgood, D. W., Feinberg, M. E., Bierman, K. L., & Moody, J. (2011). Strengthening program theories and evaluations: Contributions from social network analysis. Prevention Science, 12, 349-360.

Molloy, L., Ram, N., & Gest, S. D. (2011). Development and lability in early adolescents' self- concept: Within- and between-person variation. Developmental Psychology, 47, 1589-1607.

Gest, S. D., & Rodkin, P. C. (2011). Teaching practices and elementary classroom peer ecologies. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 32, 288-296.

Gest, S. D., & Kindermann, T. (2011). Analysis of static social networks and their developmental effects. In Little, Laursen & Card (Eds.), Handbook of Developmental Research Methods. New York: Guilford Press.

Davidson, A. J., Gest, S. D., & Welsh, J. A. (2010). Relatedness with teachers and peers during early adolescence: An integrated variable-oriented and person-oriented approach. Journal of School Psychology, 48, 483-510.

Rulison, K. L., Gest, S. D., & Loken, E. (2010). Rejection, feeling bad, and being hurt: Sex differences in the developmental sequelae of affiliating with aggressive peers. Journal of Adolescence, 33, 787-800.

Bierman, K. L., Domitrovich, C. E., Nix, R., Gest, S. D., Welsh, J. A., Greenberg, M. T., Blair, C., Nelson, K., & Gill, S. (2008). Promoting academic and social-emotional school readiness: The Head Start REDI program. Child Development, 79(6), 1802-1817.

Center Affiliations

  • Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development

Strategic Themes

  • Human Development
  • Contexts and Social Institutions