The KU Child Behavior Lab

Lab Students Photo

The KU Child Behavior Lab is interested in the etiology and development of child and adolescent problem behavior, with a focus on aggression, peer victimization, 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.


A common theme in the lab has involved the topic of bullying and victimization in multiple school settings. 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 several schools (Pre-K through 12th grade) 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 two juvenile detention facilities 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 Centers 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.


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 has 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 completed a state-funded project that provided 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. 

Although evidence suggests that social relationships influence child development, the role of siblings is often overlooked. We have 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:

*Tampke, E. C., Blossom, J. B., & Fite, P. (invited revision under review). The role of sleep quality in associations between peer victimization and internalizing symptoms. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment.

*Pederson, C. A., Fite, P. J., Bortolato, M. (in press).  The role of functions of aggression in associations between behavioral inhibition and activation and mental health outcomes. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma.

Fite, P. J., *Pederson, C. A., *Tampke, E., *Díaz, K. I., & *DiPierro, M. (under review). Links between perceived containment and reactive and proactive functions of aggression among detained youth: Does behavioral inhibition and/or activation matter?

Fite, P.J., *Pederson, C.A., & *DiPierro, M. (2018). Individual risk factors associated with increased levels of restricted housing in detained youth. Residential Treatment for Children & Youth, 35(2), 139-154. DOI: 10.1080/0886571X.2018.1467812

*DiPierro, M., Fite, P.J., Johnson-Motoyama, M. (2018). ­­­­­The role of religion and spirituality in the association between hope and anxiety in a sample of Latino youth. Child and Youth Care Forum, 47(1), 1018-114. DOI:10.1007/s10566-017-9421-2

*Brown, S., Fite, P.J., *DiPierro, M., & Bortolato, M. (2017). Links between stressful life events and proactive and reactive functions of aggression. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, & Trauma, 26(6), 691-699.

*Denotes student authors