This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Yang Qu (firstname.lastname@example.org) as our member in spotlight. Dr. Qu is an Assistant Professor of Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University. He takes an interdisciplinary approach that combines developmental psychology, cultural psychology, and neuroscience to examine how sociocultural contexts shape adolescent development.
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?
When I was at college, I was very interested in how social contexts shape child development, so I was involved in some studies that examined the role of family in Chinese adolescents’ internet addition and suicidal ideation. Despite my strong interests in developmental psychology, I had little experience in the scholarly ways of designing research, analyzing data, and writing manuscript. When I went to New York University for the Master’s program, I was fortunate to work with Dr. Niobe Way for two years. She taught me how to use both quantitative and qualitative methods to conduct cross-cultural research with attention to parent-child and peer relationships. During my PhD training, the support and guidance from my mentors – Dr. Eva Pomerantz and Dr. Eva Telzer – helped me navigate various interesting research topics and become an independent scholar. Later I moved to Stanford University and received postdoctoral training from Dr. Jeanne Tsai and Dr. Brian Knutson, who helped me integrate culture, motivation, emotion, and neuroscience, and study human development with a comprehensive perspective. Looking back, I feel truly honored to have worked with all my mentors who not only teach me to be a rigorous scholar, but also believe in me and encourage me to be persistent and optimistic in the face of challenge with their caring and supportive character. In addition to my mentors, I am also inspired by other role models, such as Xinyin Chen and Gordon Nagayama Hall.
2) What is your current research project? What makes your excited about it?
In recent years, I have been initiating a new field called Developmental Cultural Neuroscience – an emerging interdisciplinary field that combines developmental psychology, cultural psychology, and neuroscience. Advances in this field will help us to understand neural, psychological, and behavioral development through a cultural lens. I am very excited to see that this new field has received some echoes among scholars. For example, Dr. Lisa Crockett promoted this field in her 2018 SRA presidential speech “Moving Toward a Developmental Cultural Neuroscience of Adolescence”.
With more collaborations across disciplines and across cultures, I believe this field will be interesting to our members in Asian Caucus, especially given that no prior study ever examined brain development in Asian/Asian American children and adolescents.
3) Any thoughts about your experiences with the Asian Caucus?
I am currently serving on the Outreach and Communication Subcommittee in Asian Caucus with Dr. Hui Chu, Dr. Jacqueline Nguyen, Dr. Angela Chow, and Dr. Su Wan Gan. As a team, we are dedicated to serve and support our caucus members in any way that we can. For example, to obtain a full picture of the needs of our members and to better serve everyone, we will circulate a membership survey soon to make sure your voices get heard. Also, we highly encourage any researchers who are interested in Asian/Asian American children, adolescents, and families to join the Asian Caucus.
4) Any upcoming talks or presentations?
I am very excited about a paper that was published in Child Development this year, with the title “Youth’s Conceptions of Adolescence Predict Longitudinal Changes in the Prefrontal Cortex Activation and Risk Taking.” My prior research suggests that stereotypes about adolescence is largely shaped by culture. For example, American children often view teens as irresponsible, such as fighting with their parents, acting rebellious, and disengaging from school. In contrast, due to the emphasis on filial piety in Eastern Asian culture, Chinese children view adolescence as a time of fulfilling family and school responsibilities. Such differences in how children view the teen years undergird divergent adolescent trajectories in the two cultures as they navigate this period of development. Building upon this line of research, my colleagues and I conducted a 3-wave longitudinal neuroimaging study to examine whether the stereotypes that youth have about teens modulate the development of their neural activity during cognitive control, with implication for their risk-taking behavior. Of particular significance, we found that the more youth saw teens as irresponsible in middle school, the more their bilateral ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) activation during cognitive control increased over the transition to high school. Such activation can be reflective of dampened cognitive control and indeed was associated with the increase in risk taking (e.g., lying and stealing) among youth over the transition to high school. These findings provide novel evidence that culturally shaped stereotypes of teens play a role in neural plasticity over this phase of development, highlighting that negative stereotypes may undermine youth’s neural and behavioral development.
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