Mid-Semester Milestones & Meditations

It is hard to believe that midterms have come and gone and that Homecoming Weekend is almost history already—the semester truly is flying by. However, it all seems a little more real when I think about all that we have accomplished in the Social and Emotional Development lab this semester. When I began working on our current project at the very end of last school year, the conceptual idea for our study was just taking shape. It has been such a thrilling learning experience to watch how a psychological research question can become a true experimental study.

First, a little bit about what our work, which is also the subject of my Honor’s thesis, involves. Currently, we are in the data collection phase of a study in the best friendships of middle school-aged children. My particular interests involve interactions between maternal and peer socialization of children’s emotions, specifically in the context of this best friendship. Socialization of emotion refers to the process by which children learn when, where, and how to express their feelings through their interactions. My goal is to investigate how a mother’s emotion socialization practices with her child can influence a child’s emotional development in their social world.

This semester, we have been conducting interviews with best friend pairs, which involve self-reports on aspects of friendship quality, friendship behavior, emotion regulation, emotion socialization, and adjustment. Each friend is interviewed separately and reports on their own behavior, their emotional behavior within their friendship, and their friend’s emotion regulation. Then, the friends come together for a discussion task (that we film) in which they discuss a problem together. We also have mothers complete a questionnaire assessing the emotional expressivity in their homes, maternal emotion regulation, and the behaviors of their child.

Recruitment has been our greatest hurdle, but such a great learning experience in itself. From handing out flyers at Girl Scout meetings, to calling people in contact databases, to sending hundreds of consent letters to families in the area, we have cast a wide net and done a lot of work.

But we have so much to celebrate! A couple weeks ago, we reached 100 participants. Professor Zeman had us over to her house for a Mexican-themed potluck, where all the lab members could toast the impact of their hard work and we took time to learn more about our own goals and plans.

Sitting around the table that night, I realized how valuable the lab team experience would have be for me even if we hadn’t accomplished these exciting things. I have learned a lot from my fellow lab members. There has been bonding time in the car on the way to interviews in Newport News, lab meetings, and coffee with fellow researchers; I have been so inspired and impressed by the other undergraduates in the lab. A lab member, Brittany Hopkins (Class of 2015), wrote me the other day and said: “The most interesting part of the lab is that we can have so many different people doing different of tasks and yet we still manage to have a successful environment and produce results…I couldn’t ask for a better group!” Sarah Borowski, our lab manager and a second year master’s student, has been an invaluable mentor, an unfailingly reliable source of information and assistance. Docia, another master’s student, has been helping me work on my SPSS skills so that I can have a poster presentation ready by the end of the semester. And, of course, there is Professor Zeman, who has been an empowering advisor rich with insight and direction and who has put so much time into making sure I am going to be prepared for the steps ahead.

The interviews we do with the children are very rewarding. It is so exciting to have real contact with the subjects of our study and be able to see patterns forming in our areas of interest. As Zoe Trout, a fellow researcher (Class of 2015), put it so well: “I really enjoy the interviews, they’ve changed my perspective on middle school kids…I’ve interviewed so many who have been sweet and compassionate, not to mention in touch with their feelings!” This hands-on research is making me all the more excited to start data analysis.

This week, we have made exciting headway with recruitment. We have sent out over 1000 consent forms and interest letters to families we are hoping to have in our study. I recently connected with a youth group leader who would be willing to have us in to talk about our study during their meeting. I am confident that these efforts, both big and small, will add up! I have learned that getting participants is all about taking advantage of every opportunity possible to get the word out there.

I am excited to post again soon, hopefully with some wonderfully good news about a successful start to the second half of our data collection. 200 participants may have sounded tough at first, but it’s looking realer every day!


  1. Martha and Martin Ryle says:

    Hannah, your enthusiasm is infectious. We are curious what sort of frustrations and discouragements are you experiencing, other than the problems of recruiting? When your recruiting efforts are rebuffed, what reasons do you get?