June 2016 Spotlight, Yiyuan Xu, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Yiyuan Xu, Ph.D. (yiyuan@hawaii.edu) from the Department of Psychology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Dr. Xu received his Ph.D. from University of Southern California in 2004. His research focuses on understanding cultural variation in children’s social development using a goodness of fit theoretical framework that conceptualizes the developmental trajectories of children’s behavior and social relationships as forms of mutual adaptation, or fit between the behavioral expression of their biological predisposition, and expectations of significant others, such as parents or peers and the limits of their tolerance for deviance from the behavioral norms. He has applied this goodness of fit framework to investigate shyness across cultural contexts and identified and distinguished a regulated form of shyness/withdrawal from anxious shyness in Asian and Asian American children, a finding that has been replicated in various cultural contexts, such as China, South Korea, Turkey, and Hawaii. His current research extends this line of work to understand contextual variations in adjustment of Asian and Asian Americans, including their experiences of early schooling, development of interpersonal perception, and expression of social anxiety.


Personal Spotlight

I did not understand the importance of culture in shaping human development until I moved from China to the U.S. as a graduate student, where I met the most important mentor in my life, Prof. Jo Ann M. Farver at USC. Jo Ann was trained not only as a psychologist, but also as an anthropologist. Her work with diverse cultural groups, as well as my own experiences of acculturation, motivated me to do work with Asian and Asian American families using mixed methods that vary from interviews and observations to physiological measures.

I feel that being a keen observer of one’s own and others’ cultural experiences often helps generate interesting research questions. Many of my own implicit assumptions about adjustment of Asian American families were challenged by my experience moving from California to Hawaii as a “settler” rather than a tourist. This unique experience motivated me to work toward understanding contextual variations in acculturation, ethnic identity, and interpersonal perception among Asian Americans.

Research Spotlight

I am excited about a recent study that examined native language aspects of home environments in relation to Asian immigrant children’s English literacy skills. We found that even with limited English proficiency, Asian immigrant parents’ involvement in reading and teaching in their native language, was positively related to their kindergarten children’s English literacy skills one year later, through the mediation of children’s interest in literacy. We speculate that native language aspects of home learning environment may represent an important “cultural capital” that provides a plausible explanation for the academic success found among Asian immigrant children, even when their parents speak very little English.

Experiences with Asian Caucus

I think Asian Caucus provides an excellent opportunity for doing collaborative work that can help understand how contexts shape diverse experiences of Asian American families. This type of research is often impossible for an individual researcher. Perhaps Asian Caucus can help develop a few initiatives for discussion, and seek collaborators who might be interested in forming research consortium or applying for funding together.

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