Projects in Developmental Psychology

Supervised by Rachel White


Professor White will supervise research projects in developmental psychology. One-semester projects will consist of a literature review and a research proposal. Two-semester projects will involve conducting an experimental or observational study and writing an empirical paper on one of the following topics:

Imaginative Play

The preschool years have been described as “the high season” of pretend play. Children, who still have a lot to learn about the real world, spend much of their time immersed in fantasy. Why do they do this? What are the benefits of pretend play and other imaginative activities? My recent work shows that pretending to be a character, such as Batman, improves children’s self-control. Future studies could address the mechanisms underlying these improvements. Other research projects in this area could investigate how imaginative behaviors, like role play or creating imaginary companions, are related to children’s cognitive and social development.

Psychological Distancing

We can psychologically distance ourselves from our personal experience of the here and now. For example, instead of dwelling in our own negative emotions, we can take a mental “step back” and think about our situation from someone else’s perspective. Doing so helps us to be less emotional and more objective in our responses. My research shows that taking an outsider’s perspective helps children exert self-control, and that adolescents who spontaneously view negative experiences from a distanced point of view are better able to control their emotions. Research in this area could also investigate how psychological distancing strategies impact emotion regulation in young children, or risk taking in adolescents, for example. Students not interested in self-control might consider applying psychological distancing to other domains such as creativity or problem-solving.


The ability to actively control our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions influences nearly every aspect of our lives. How can we improve self-control across childhood and adolescence? What strategies are most effective in various contexts? Projects could investigate interventions to help individuals– from children to adults–effectively use self-control in domains ranging from academic achievement to emotion regulation.