Date published: 11/14/2014

My goal is to identify conditions that affect the development of peer relationships because positive social ties promote well-being. Children learn unique social skills (e.g., how to negotiate conflicts, how to provide support) through their friendships, and teens who are accepted by their peers become happier and healthier adults than those who are ignored, rejected or bullied by their classmates.

To understand why and how peer relationship problems arise, I focus on group (rather than individual) characteristics and the fit between the group and the individual. For example, we have learned that bullied youth feel greater emotional distress in schools where bullying is rare as opposed to prevalent.  This finding is important inasmuch as most promising anti-bullying programs are designed to reduce the number of incidents of bullying. When the program is successful by reducing the rates of bullying, the few who continue to get bullied are especially distressed. Thus, collective gains may undermine individual benefits even when prevention programs are rigorous and evidence-based.  

Another principle directing my research is that the group norms (e.g., who and what types of behaviors are accepted) are more narrow and rigid in homogenous settings. Guided by this premise, my current collaborative research with Dr. Sandra Graham in the Department of Education at UCLA focuses on the positive effects of ethnic diversity in urban middle schools. Funded by the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, this research documents that societally marginalized ethnic groups (African-American and Latino) feel safer, less bullied and less lonely in ethnically diverse classrooms and schools. 

We also find that youth who are able to take advantage of the diversity of their school (a) by forming friendship across racial lines and (b) by identifying with a wide range of extracurricular activities and social groups, develop accepting racial attitudes.  These findings highlight some of the possible psychosocial benefits of diversity. We continue to examine other ways in which the diversity of the student body might promote multiple or more flexible social norms and help all youth “fit in” and form positive peer relationships.

My Ph.D. is from the Department of Education at UCLA, where I began my research on peer relationships.  In addition to University of Delaware, I worked at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica. At UCLA I am enjoying to mentor a diverse group of students. 

I am originally from an ethnically homogenous Finland, where I received my undergraduate and Master’s degrees. I am married and have a daughter in college. I much enjoy exercise, and time allowing, would like to learn another language and do art.