KU Child Behavior Lab

Members of the KU Child Behavior Lab-- September 2013


The KU Child Behavior Lab is interested in the etiology and development of child and adolescent problem behavior, with a focus on aggression, delinquency, and substance use. Consistent with social learning theory, which posits that behavior is learned and further exacerbated through socialization processes (i.e., modeling, conditioning, and reinforcement), our research has and will continue to examine the impact of social context (e.g., neighborhood, parents, and peers) and child characteristics (e.g., temperament, biology) on the developmental progression of child and adolescent problem behavior.


Several current projects in the lab involve the topic of peer relationships in schools. Bullying is a pervasive problem among peer groups across the school-age years. Unfortunately, many schools are not clear on how to handle these issues and have yet to develop an effective anti-bullying policy. Moreover, bullying has been associated with a host of negative social and psychological outcomes among children and adolescents, including substance use. In this vein, one large ongoing project involves data collection at a local elementary school to examine what individual and contextual factors correlate with or are predictors of children’s thoughts and behaviors regarding bullying, victimization, and substance use.

Our lab is also currently leading a project within the KU Child and Family Services Clinic to empirically track: 1) therapist behavior, 2) session content, and 3) change in client symptomatology in order to help evaluate clinical competency and adherence to empirically supported treatments among graduate student in the Clinical Child Psychology Program, as well as client improvement with the use of evidence based practice.

Additionally, the lab is assisting a juvenile detention facility to identify survey items that could be used to predict intervention responses within their facilities, specifically within a juvenile detention center and detention day school. In accordance with this request, our research team has composed a comprehensive measure of individual characteristics that may be associated with intervention outcomes. The goal of this project is to help the Center better identify youth who may be resistant to positive behavioral supports interventions and are at increased risk for lockdowns and restraints. This data will facilitate the acquisition of critical resources needed to meet the needs of these youth.

Finally, aggression is associated with a range of problem behaviors, including substance use. Although research has consistently indicated that substance use is related to the occurrence of aggression, the pathophysiology of this relation remains unclear. The lab is currently involved in a project examining the gene (e.g., MAOA) by environment (e.g., childhood trauma and negative life events) interactions that influence the comorbidity of aggression and substance use in emerging adults and in animal models as a part of the Consortium for Translational Research on Aggression and Drug Abuse (ConTRADA).


Together with Dr. Anne Williford in the KU School of Social Welfare, we recently completed a state-funded project that providing workshops on anti-bullying policies for school districts across the state of Kansas. We developed materials to disseminate this information and collected data to evaluate the attitudes, perceptions, and knowledge of school personnel (e.g., teachers, administrators, counselor, support staff) about bullying as well as the utility and helpfulness of the workshops. Please see additional information about the dissemination project on the Kansans Against Bullying Project website. 

There are many social and contextual factors that can protect individuals from adjustment difficulties associated with negative life circumstances, while other factors can further exacerbate problems. However, many questions about risk and protective factors remain, particularly in disadvantaged (e.g., low SES) and at-risk populations (e.g., living in unsafe neighborhoods). To this end, we collected data to further understand how social relationships and contextual factors impact associations between negative life circumstances and different adjustment problems (e.g., sexual activity, substance use, depression, delinquency) among samples of predominantly Latino, inner city adolescents.

Although evidence suggests that social relationships influence child development, the role of siblings is often overlooked. We recently completed a study to better understand the unique influences of parents, siblings, and peers on child adjustment. We also collected information regarding individual (e.g., impulsivity, callous/unemotional traits) and environmental (e.g., neighborhood safety) characteristics in order to evaluate how relationships with parents, peers, and siblings impact different adjustment outcomes (e.g., substance use, aggression, depression, and delinquency). 


Graduate and undergraduate students in the KU Child Behavior Lab frequently collaborate on manuscripts and conference presentations. Recent publications from the lab include:

*Cooley, J. L., & Fite, P. J. (in press). Peer victimization and forms of aggression during middle childhood: The role of emotion regulation. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

*Cooley, J. L., Fite, P. J., *Rubens, S. L., & *Tunno, A. M. (in press). Peer Victimization, Depressive Symptoms, and Rule-Breaking Behavior in Adolescence: The Moderating Role of Peer Social Support. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment.

*Evans, S. C., Fite, P. J., *Hendrickson, M. L., *Rubens, S. L., & *Mages, A. (in press). The Role of Reactive Aggression in the Link between Hyperactive-Impulsive Behaviors and Peer Rejection in Adolescents. Child Psychiatry and Human Development.

Fite, P. J., *Gabrielli, J., *Cooley, J. L., *Rubens, S. L., *Pederson, C. A., & Vernberg, E. M. (in press). Associations between physical and relational forms of peer aggression and victimization and risk for substance use among elementary school-age youth. Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse.

Fite, P. J., *Poquiz, J., *Cooley, J., Stoppelbein, L., Becker, S. P., Luebbe, A., & Greening, L. (in press). Risk Factors Associated with Proactive and Reactive Aggression in a Child Psychiatric Inpatient Sample. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment.

*Frazer, A., & Fite, P. J. (in press). Maternal Psychological Control, Use of Supportive Parenting, and Childhood Depressive Symptoms. Child Psychiatry and Human Development.

*Rathert, J., *Pederson, C. A., Fite, P. J., Stoppelbein, L., & Greening, L. (in press). Associations between Proactive and Reactive Aggression, Parenting Styles, and Externalizing Symptomatology in Children Admitted to a Psychiatric Inpatient Unit. Journal of Child and Family Studies.

Fite, P. J., Becker, S. P., *Rubens, S. L., & *Cheatham-Johnson, R. (2015). Anxiety Symptoms Account for the Link between Reactive Aggression and Sleep Problems among Latino Adolescents. Child and Youth Care Forum, 44, 343-354.

Fite, P.J., *Brown, S. *Gabrielli, J., *DiPierro, M., *Pederson, C., *Blossom, J. B., *Cooley, J. L., & Bortolato, M. (2015). The role of negative life events in comorbid reactive aggression and marijuana use among Latino Adolescents. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma, 24, 552-568.   

Williford, A., Fite, P. J., & *Cooley, J. L. (2015). Student-teacher congruence in reported rates of physical and relational victimization among elementary school-age children: The moderating role of gender and age. Journal of School Violence, 14(2), 177-195.

Fite, P. J., *Evans, S. C., *Cooley, J. L., & *Rubens, S. L. (2014). Further evaluation of the associations between Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity and Oppositional Defiant Disorder symptoms and bullying-victimization in adolescence. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 45(1), 585-597. doi: 10.1007/s10578-013-0376-8

Fite, P. J., *Hendrickson, M., *Evans, S., *Rubens, S. L., Johnson-Motoyama, M., & *Savage, J. (2014). Associations between proactive and reactive subtypes of aggression and lifetime substance use in a sample of predominantly Hispanic adolescents. Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse, 23(6), 398-406.

Fite, P. J., *Rubens, S. L. & *Cooley, J. L. (2014). Influence of contextual factors on academic performance in a sample of Latino adolescents: The moderating role of school attachment. Journal of Community Psychology, 42(8), 924-936.

*Rubens, S. L., Fite, P. J., *Cooley, J. L., & *Canter, K. S. (2014). The role of sleep in the relation between community violence exposure and delinquency among Latino adolescents. Journal of Community Psychology, 42(6), 723-734.

*Denotes student authors

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