Brittany Bearss’ 20 shares how being part of a long-term study of relationships has changed her perspective and inspired her future.
Do you learn things from your siblings that you carry over into your friendships? It’s one of the big questions that Geneseo students are helping Ganie DeHart, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Psychology, understand about siblings and friends through a research study now heading into its 28th year.
“No one else has followed the same children’s sibling and friend relationships all the way from early childhood (age 4) through early adulthood,” said DeHart. “How sibling relationships shape behavior over time is important to understanding family influences on development and well-being.”
DeHart has been studying siblings from the Geneseo region since 1992, using the data to interpret things like conflict, aggression and positive social behaviors.
The study has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation and The Geneseo Foundation. Over the years, the project has provided nearly 400 Geneseo students with research experience and opportunities to present at conferences.
The experience has inspired DeHart’s students to become research assistants, lab managers and professors, including Gregory Fabiano ’97, associate dean for interdisciplinary research and professor of counseling, school and educational psychology at the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education.
“It brought to life all the concepts and theories I was learning in class,” he said, “igniting a lifelong focus in applied child psychology.”
Psychology major Brittany Bearss ’20 has found her niche while working in the lab. Now one of three head research assistants for 2019-20, she trains new members and organizes monthly meetings.
Q. What are some ways you have studied sibling behavior?
A. Last summer, I worked on a project that looks at the prosocial behavior of 4-year-old pairs of children working together on building activities using blocks. From video-recorded sessions, I studied their social behavior, such as when they use manners or laugh with each other. I also interview and code data for siblings who are Geneseo students who identify themselves or their parents as first-generation African immigrants.
Q. What new insights have you gained?
A. Some siblings we interviewed have very little conflict, and family harmony is super important to them. It makes me take a look at my own relationships because some of our participants will say, “Why would I stay mad at my siblings or how could I stay mad at them? That’s my family.” It made me realize how valuable my sibling relationships are.
Q. What have you learned about yourself through this experience?
A. I am capable of more than I gave myself credit for. I never imagined being one of the head research assistants, managing 60 students and organizing and running a laboratory. Nor did I think it was possible for me to learn the complex coding schemes and framework while taking a full course load and being involved in Greek life and working at Milne Library.
Q. What was it like to present your research at a conference for the Society for Research in Child Development?
A. I met one of the only other researchers in this field from the University of Zambia, who studies African sibling relationships. It was so nice to get our Geneseo research out there and validate our findings with someone else in the field. It’s important to think about relationships in different cultural contexts.
Q. Why has your research experience inspired you to pursue a career in developmental psychology?
A. Developmental psychology inspires me because there’s always so much more to discover; it’s a never-ending body of science. There are always more behaviors to look at or a different way of approaching a research question to uncover new results, which then lead to more questions of the why and how of human behavior.