NSF 2016 research statement

Here is my research statement for my 2016 NSF graduate fellowship proposal.

Hopefully 2nd time’s the charm!


SES ranges

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about SES (socioeconomic status) ranges for participants in cognitive and developmental psychology research. I’d like to know more about SES-based differences in language and cognitive development, but I’ve only begun to scratch the surface with a literature review in this regard. In the long-term, I’d really like to do a review paper on this topic.

It seems likely that we usually draw upon “convenience samples.” These are families who live near a major research institution, and who have time to volunteer. Working at Harvard, I found it difficult to get a normal distribution on a number of standardized assessments of verbal and nonverbal abilities (e.g., MCDI, PPVT, CELF, TROG, KBIT). This raises the important question as to whether our results are generalizable to a broader population. Moreover, small samples from low-SES populations might make it a bit difficult to interpret SES effects.

For example, I was reading this article this morning that described large SES effects:

“Toddlers came from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, as indexed by mother’s education level gathered by parent report. Participants’ mothers’ educational attainment fell into the following ordered categories: 1) less than high school degree (n = 1), 2) high school diploma (10), 3) some college (8), 4) college degree (16), and 5) advanced degree (41). One parent declined to provide this information.” (Bergelson & Swingley, 2013).

Here’s what that range looks like:


The authors found: “Mother’s education has a significant and graded effect on toddlers’ overall word-comprehension performance. These effects were large, as Figure 4 shows.” However, discussing why these effects exist is outside the scope of this particular paper: “Our data do not speak to the origins of performance differences correlated with socioeconomic status; based on the work of previous authors, differences in the children’s language environment are plausible causes.”

These effects were indeed very large, and the pattern is strikingly clear, but I do wonder what would happen if more children from low-SES groups were included in the sample. In this study, 75% of the mothers had a college degree or a graduate-level degree. More research is surely needed to better understand SES effects and their origins.

For now, back to literature review!