Skip directly to: Navigation for this section | Main page content

The Center for Child and Family Studies

Recent and Ongoing Research at CCFS

The Early Childhood Laboratory at the CCFS is a lab school, and one of the primary functions of a lab school is to provide opportunities for research. Described here are summaries of some recent and current research projects that have used space at or recruited participants from the CCFS.

Developmental and adaptive function of childhood chase play in relation to ecological refuge site choice. (M. J. Penkunas, Psychology graduate student)

The study focuses on obtaining an in-depth understanding of refuge-site choice and perceptual biases for threat relevant stimuli exhibited by children between 3 and 5 years of age. The first goal is to study the behavioral responses enacted by children when encountering animals of high and low potential risk using realistic looking models of animals. The refuge-site choices made by the children (captured with a helmet-mounted video camera) will reveal their perceived preferences of particular sites in their play area and will uncover the areas of the environment in which children feel safest from specific ecologically relevant risks. The second goal is to investigate children’s perceptual biases for threat relevant stimuli through the presentation of animal photographs and further test predictions concerning children’s refuge site choice when faced with various animals. Children are presented with a series of animal photographs on a touch screen monitor and asked to find a target animal in a matrix of distracter animals. Refuge site choice will be assessed by presenting children with video vignettes of various animals on the monitor and asking them to choose a refuge site using the touch screen.

An Investigation of Brand Awareness and Associative Learning in Young Children Via Eye-tracking Paradigm (A. Palchuk, Human Development graduate student)

This study is being conducted by a Human Development doctoral candidate, Aleksandra Palchuk, under the supervision of a Human Development faculty member, Dr. Zhe Chen. This research being done at the Eichhorn Family House will provide us with currently missing information in overall understanding of brand consciousness and associative learning in young children using a new and highly efficient eye-tracking paradigm. The aims of this project are to (1) examine whether young children recognize logos and make appropriate links between logos and products at both implicit and explicit level; (2) explore how children come to learn associations between artificial logos and products and investigate an effect of more frequent or less frequent exposure to artificial logo-product pairing on associative learning; (3) consider how each logo feature (dimension such as shape, color, pattern) affects associative learning and whether some act as potentially more salient cues in forming association; and (4) observe whether there are developmental differences present in logo recognition and associative learning. The trends that so far have been seen in the pilot data as well as those expected with the future participants will further extend our knowledge regarding what brand names mean to children and what mechanisms drive them to make consumer judgments. The results of this study may inform parents, educators, and policymakers on the influences of advertising and the necessity to provide the appropriate safeguards against its potentially negative effects.

Reflective Supervision and Training in Child Care Settings (E.A. Virmani, Human Development graduate student)

This study was carried out in partial fulfillment of the Master of Science degree in Child Development at U.C. Davis. The goal of this study was to explore the effects of reflective and traditional supervision and training on caregiver insightfulness. Caregiver insightfulness, or caregiver ability to understand “motives underlying the child’s behavior in a complete, open, and accepting way” (D. Oppenheim, D. Goldsmith, & N. Koren-Karie, 2004, p. 352) was assessed at two time points with 21 new caregivers at the CCFS and at another university-based childcare site. Trends suggest that caregiver insightfulness was relatively stable while increased levels of components of caregiver insightfulness over a period of approximately 2.5 months were positively associated with reflective supervision and training used at the CCFS. These findings suggest that encouraging caregivers to reflect on their interactions with the children in their care fosters caregivers’ ability to see from the child’s perspective in an open and accepting way.

Virmani, E. A. & Ontai, L. L. (2010). Supervision and training in child care: Does reflective supervision and training foster caregiver insightfulness? Journal of Infant Mental Health, 31, 16-32.

The Early Literacy Environments Study (ECL Staff)

Recently, CCFS staff collected data in the preschool rooms (afternoon Red Room and morning Green Room) to measure how different preschool early literacy environments affected children's language and literacy skill development over the year. The Red Room and the Green Room chose to implement different room environment styles and to encourage pre-literacy skills in different ways. (Both rooms scored high on a measure of the literacy environment, the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation Toolkit, but did so in different ways.) The quality of the literacy environments was tested twice during last year as were children's pre-literacy skills. Data from this study are currently being analyzed. We will look to see whether the different literacy environments are associated with different pre-literacy skills and whether improvements in the literacy environments are associated with improvements in pre-literacy skills over time. We hope to expand this study to include more preschools and also to include follow-up measurement of children's skills to see if differences last into the grade school years. This study will give us information about what types of improvements in the literacy environment are worthwhile for preschools to make.

The Young Children's Map Use Skills and Learning Study (Y. Tsubota, Human Development Graduate Student & Dr. Z. Chen, Professor Human Development)

This study is was conducted by a Human Development graduate student, Yoko Tsubota, under the supervision of a Human Development faculty member, Dr. Zhe Chen. In this study, 2 ˝- to 3 ˝-year-olds used different types of maps to find hidden toys. Then, they explain to the researcher why they chose to look for the toy in the location they did. Typically, children learn first that things that are similar shapes on the map and in the three-dimensional world correspond to each other. They do not learn that locations on the map and in the three dimensional world can correspond to each other regardless of whether or not they look the same until later. Ms. Tsubota is interested in whether younger children can be taught the location correspondence earlier and if so, how can they learn it and what changes take place in children's thinking as they learn the correspondence. The results from this study are currently being analyzed.

The Effects of Home and Childcare Environments on Infants' Social and Cognitive Development Study (L. Ontai, CE Specialist Human Development & A. Mastergeorge, Associate Research and Adjust Professor Human Development)

This study was conducted by Drs. Ontai & Mastergorge along with a number of graduate students studied CCFS children and parents at CCFS as well as from other childcare centers. The study looked at how home and childcare environments interact to affect infants' cognitive and social development. Analyses have focused on how interactions in both the home and child care environments predict changes in children’s social and cognitive development between 12 and 18 months of age. The study involved parents and childcare providers filling out questionnaires, video taped observations of children interacting with their mothers or caregivers in home, childcare, and laboratory settings, and completion of tasks designed to measure children's social and cognitive development during laboratory visits. Results to date reveal patterns of social competence development in infancy that include a range of both positive and those commonly considered negative interactions, and that both parenting and child care provider interactions play unique roles in facilitating different areas of these behaviors. Analysis continues to explore the development of children’s regulation abilities and parenting behaviors that contribute to trajectories of this development.

Williams, S. T., Mastergeorge, A. M., & Ontai, L. (In Press). Caregiver involvement in infant peer interactions: Scaffolding in a social context. Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Ontai, L. L. & Virmani, E. A. (2010). Predicting elements of early maternal elaborative discourse from 12 to 18 months of age. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25, 98-111.

Williams, S. T., Ontai, L. L., & Mastergeorge, A. M., (2010). The Development of Peer Interaction in Infancy: Exploring the Dyadic Processes. Social Development, 19, 348-368.

Williams, S. T., Ontai, L. L., & Mastergeorge, A. M. (2007). Reformulating infant and toddler social competence with peers. Infant Behavior & Development, 30, 353-365.

Infant use of “Baby Signs” to promote regulation and influence their environments. (C. Vallatton, Human Development Graduate Student)

This study examined infants and caregivers in the ECL over the course of an academic year to examine infants’ use of baby signs and how it related to infant development and caregiver-child interactions. Results from the study revealed that infants use signs to communicate their emotional states to caregivers and request comfort, indicating that pre-verbal infants have some understanding of regulatory strategies and will seek them out when appropriate. Their use of signs also appears to influence how caregivers respond to them with infants who used more signs or gestures receiving more responsive care than infants who used fewer such gestures.

Vallotton, C. D. (2009). Do infants influence their quality of care? infants’ communicative gestures predict caregivers’ responsiveness. Infant Behavior & Development, 32(4), 351-365.

Vallotton, C. D. (2008). Signs of emotion: What can preverbal children "say" about internal states? Infant Mental Health Journal.Special Issue: The Infant's Relational Worlds: Family, Community & Culture, 29(3), 234-258.

Vallotton, C. D., & Harper, L. V. (2006). Why don't they just let it go? Infant Behavior & Development, 29(3), 373-385.

Vallotton, C. D. (2008). Infants take self-regulation into their own Hands. Zero to Three, September.