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Research into children, families, aging, and marriage is essential to helping us understand human health and development throughout the lifespan and in diverse environments. Evidence about how individuals develop informs social programs, youth education, and health care treatments. Faculty, students, and staff at the College of Human Ecology are examining individuals and families throughout the lifespan to explain the forces that drive our daily lives. At the college, researchers are investigating how children and teens learn and how childhood affects the transition to adulthood. Psychologists are uncovering how emotions impact wellness. And nutritionists are learning how maternal and early childhood nutrition impact our health and development throughout life.

lifespan development at the college of human ecology

engaging students Deciding to undergo medical treatment can be complex for older adults, who must weigh the risks of a procedure or surgery with the benefits they expect from it. Human Biology, Health, and Society major Shayna Ratner has investigated the factors that influence such decisions in an undergraduate research project. Working in Human Development associate professor Corinna Loeckenoff’s Laboratory for Healthy Aging, Ratner interviewed patients considering joint replacement surgery. Her findings suggest older adults and those who expect a difficult recovery are less willing to have the procedure, whereas younger adults and those who have higher expectations for recovery are more willing to go ahead with joint replacement surgery. “Doing research in a laboratory with so many different perspectives is an amazing experience,” says Ratner, now attending University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. “You meet other people who can teach you a lot. I was blown away by the experience.” Learn more about the Laboratory for Healthy Aging at


in human ecology

Understanding how children develop knowledge and identity As young people develop from toddlers to teenagers, they learn how to gather information from other people and create their own identities, which forms their personalities later in life. Researchers in the Department of Human Development are making discoveries crucial in helping youth grow and learn. Psychologist Tamar Kushnir examines the mechanisms that young children use to learn. She has discovered that babies and young children use statistical evidence and their own social knowledge to learn cause and effect. Her work provides evidence that young children are continually learning by observing and experiencing the world, and that this sort of informal learning is critical to their development. Psychologist Jane Mendle focuses her research on how the timing of puberty and one’s perceptions about the process lay the groundwork for future adjustment or maladjustment. Her work integrates developmental psychopathology, behavior genetics, public health, evolutionary psychology, and epidemiology. Psychologist Anthony Burrow studies similar themes in the teen years of the life spectrum. His work centers around how adolescents perceive the world around them, then use that information to form their self-identities. He also studies the influence of racial identity on psychosocial adjustment, and purpose in life among youth.

The intersection of emotion, cognition, and aging New research demonstrates that emotions have wide-ranging effects on many aspects of our lives—how our bodies handle sickness and disease, our perception and memory, and how we cope with tragic life events. Human Ecology faculty members are making new discoveries at the intersection of emotion, memory, and health outcomes later in life. Among them, associate professor Anthony Ong explores how positive emotions and interpersonal relationships affect the human body and behaviors and ultimately influence health. Assistant professor Corinna Loeckenhoff is investigating how personality traits shape how people cope with stressful life events such as retirement, illness, and trauma. Her research also focuses on how the social relationships of older adults affect their medical decision-making and care.

A nutritious start for mothers and babies Beginning life with proper nutrition is a critical first step that leads to healthy development for years to come. Researchers at the Division of Nutritional Sciences are discovering new information about the health and nutritional status of women and children that guide policies and programs to improve the health of mothers and their children. Professor Kathleen Rasmussen is a leader in this field. Her work has identified ways to increase the volume and improve the composition of human milk, consequently improving infant nutritional status. She also served on the Federal Institute of Medicine Committee that developed guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy. Professor Christine Olson is using technology to help pregnant and postpartum women to develop and maintain behaviors that promote healthy body weights and working with community-based health providers to implement interventions that promote healthy weights in women and their infants. And professor Patrick Stover, chair of the Division of Nutritional Sciences, made discoveries about the nutrient folate that ultimately helps prevent birth defects. Folate allows cells to grow at a rapid rate and is extremely important for pregnant women; insufficient levels are linked to neural tube defects in newborns, such as spina bifida.

lifespan development at the college of human ecology

Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research While research helps us to understand how people grow and develop throughout their lives, putting that knowledge into practice is an important step supporting individuals and communities. Human Ecology’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) is focused on using evidence to design, evaluate, and implement policies and practices that enhance development and well-being. Faculty members from the BCTR work with researchers and educators across Cornell and the state of New York — including Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and The Cornell Office on Research and Evaluation — to develop solutions to problems that impact individuals, communities, organizations, and governments. At the BCTR, social scientists are working with doctors to develop new treatments for people who suffer from chronic pain. Psychologists and sociologists are helping youth avoid risky sexual behaviors, develop new skills through 4-H Youth Development, and create opportunities for young people transitioning to adulthood. And, separately, researchers are working with U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and the Department of Defense to support military families, build resiliency and prevent family violence.

a broad look into the future Research into children, families, aging, and marriage is essential in helping cultivate healthy, prosperous families. At Cornell, a collaborative culture encourages faculty across the social sciences to understand individual needs and help people thrive in every stage of life. Now more than ever, support for this type of interdisciplinary work is essential. With a plan in place to recruit more faculty, staff, and students, high-impact collaborative research will continue to yield important knowledge — fostering innovative research and revolutionary discoveries to improve life for all. You can find more information about the university’s campaign to support these efforts — called Cornell Now — at

Improving lives by exploring and shaping human connections to natural, social, and built environments 2015.08.10 Issue

Lifespan Development  

Faculty, students, and staff at the College of Human Ecology are examining individuals and families throughout the lifespan to explain the f...

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