CLAS psychology professor receives $3.2 million NIH grant

Grazyna Kochanska, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, was awarded a $3.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to further her research on early parent-child relationships.
Friday, March 1, 2024

By Charlotte Brookins 

Grazyna Kochanska, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was recently awarded a $3.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for her research on the impact of parent-child relationships on the social-emotional development of children.  

Kochanska has worked at the University of Iowa since 1991 and conducts her research as a Stuit Professor of Developmental Psychology. 

Grazyna Kochanska
Grazyna Kochanska

“I conduct research to understand why some children embark on positive trajectories toward prosocial, internalized, and well-regulated conduct, whereas others enter maladaptive paths toward callousness, disregard for conduct rules and others’ feelings, and impoverished social competence,” says Kochanska on her research. “We study multiple factors that influence children’s development, including the parent–child early relationship formed in the first years of life.” 

Kochanska says she takes a special interest in the ability of children to comply with their parents’ requests and eventually regulate their own behavior. When conducting her research, Kochanska uses a variety of data collection methods, such as observations, interviews, and questionnaires. 

“We observe parents and children in naturalistic contexts that resemble daily situations in their lives, such as playing together, having a snack, and performing chores,” Kochanska explains. “Our approach involves long-term longitudinal designs, in which parents and children are followed over time for several years, typically beginning in infancy and continuing up to middle childhood or even adolescence.” 

The current study, Children and Parents Study (CAPS), is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and involves 200 children and their mothers and fathers, who have been followed since infancy. This most recent grant will allow the study to continue to observe them up to age 10. 

According to Kochanska, the ultimate goal of her research is to promote positive pathways in children while simultaneously preventing negative ones. 

"Although most of the families we study are typical and well-functioning, and the children mostly follow positive developmental pathways, we nevertheless see a large range of individual differences in our observations. Therefore, our studies can potentially inform our understanding of less-than-optimal development as well as prevention and intervention programs for parents,” Kochanska adds. “In fact, based on my past studies, I have designed a randomized experimental intervention that successfully improved early mother-child relationships in families at risk. 

Kochanska, who cites the welcoming, collaborative nature of Iowa as her reason for taking a position here, shows her extreme gratitude for the support she has received from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the university, and CLAS. 

“I am immensely grateful for the continuous federal funding for our research, as well as for the support by the University and the Stuit Professorship,” says Kochanska. “I also greatly appreciate my amazing lab team, my colleagues, and thousands of wonderful parents and children from Iowa who have committed their time and effort to participate in our research.” 

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.