September 2018 Spotlight, Yan Li, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Yan Li ( as our member in spotlight.  Dr. Li is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at DePaul University. Her research  focuses on children’s and adolescents’ social development and family studies, particularly in three areas: peer relations and interactions, familial socialization, and cultural-contextual influences on social development, mental health outcomes, and academic performance.

Yan Li 1) what drew you to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? who was an important mentor to you in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field?

Coming from China to the U.S. for graduate school was a big change in my life, which prompted me to reflect on the cultural differences. I became interested in cross-cultural psychology and cultural issues in developmental psychology. I remember I really enjoyed reading Harry C. Triandis’ work.  Such reflection and curiosity coupled with reading about parenting research, particularly Ruth K. Chao’s work, led me to conduct my first research project examining socialization goals and parenting behaviors in Chinese and American cultures. During my graduate school years, I had the opportunity to work with Martha Putallaz and Hongling Xie, who motivated me to incorporate the peer relations dimension into my cross-cultural research inquiries. I have been particularly inspired by Xinyin Chen’s pioneering work examining Chinese children’s peer relations and gradually developed my research program to investigate the cultural construction of peer relations and familial socialization.

2) What is your current research project? What makes your excited about it?

I am excited about my recent research on the social-cognitive aspect of peer status, particularly social status goals and social status insecurity. Although there is an extensive literature on the behavioral correlates of popularity and social preference, there are much fewer investigations on how children and adolescents cognitively construe peer status and the impact of such thinking on their behaviors and social standing. What we have found is that social status insecurity and the two social status goals, popularity goal and social preference goal, have different implications for aggressive and prosocial behaviors among American adolescents (Li & Wright, 2014; J Youth Adolescence). Yet, these cognitive to behavioral connections may be culturally constructed. For example, my recent research shows that Chinese early adolescents’ popularity goal was indirectly related to aggression, academic performance, and prosocial behaviors through the mediation of the corresponding popularity determinant perceptions. However, these adolescents were more likely to attain their popularity goal, as reflected by their future increased popularity status, through the prosocial pathway, which is valued in the Chinese cultural context and also perhaps more so in early adolescence (Li & Hu, 2018; J Youth Adolescence). Among several other topics, I am currently working on research that enriches our understanding of the role of social status insecurity in adolescents’ lives, such as its precursors and implications for behavioral development, peer relationships, and mental health.

3) Any thoughts about your experiences with the Asian Caucus?

The Asian Caucus has provided great research, social, and professional support to me and my fellow researchers who do research among Asian and Asian American populations. I would love to contribute my service to this important caucus in the future.

4) Any upcoming talks or presentations?

I will give a talk at a research event, called Showcase, hosted by the Department of Psychology at DePaul University. In this talk, I will present some cross-cultural findings on the social-cognitive processes of aggression and peer status and the related behavioral correlates. I will synthesize the various social-cognitive processes (e.g., attribution, popularity determinants, popularity goal, and social status insecurity), theorize their relations, and discuss their implications on adolescents’ social development.

5) A preferred weblink

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