My research in the Memory and Social Cognition Lab examines constructive processes in children's memory in social contexts. Much of the research on children's memory currently focuses on examining the factors that promote accuracy in children's memory. Although this is an important research topic, given the constructive nature of memory, I think it is equally important to examine how a memory of an event can change over time given new information. Research on constructive memory processes has shown that memories are rarely verbatim reproductions of an original stimulus; rather condensation, elaboration, and invention are common as memories are dynamic and change over time (Tsethlikai & Greenhoot, 2006; Tsethlikai, in press). I am primarily interested in modeling the factors that promote constructive memory processes in children using dynamic systems theory to inform my experimental design. According to dynamic systems theory, an individual's functioning and development result from the interactions and dynamic relationships of numerous variables derived from multiple levels of organization (e.g. intrapersonal factors such as cognitive abilities; interpersonal factors such as peer relationships; and contextual factors such as culture) occurring in real time (Thelen & Smith, 2006, Smith & Thelen, 2003). Accordingly, my research examines constructive memory processes in relation to individual differences in basic cognitive skills (e.g., working memory, inhibition, and verbal ability), cultural contexts and social competence.
In addition to understanding constructive memory processes in relation to social cognition, I am also interested studying self-regulation. This work involves examining the development of basic cognitive processes such as working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility (commonly referred to as executive functions) as mechanisms of self-regulation in different contexts. I am linking this work to my memory research by examining the relations among individual differences in basic cognitive skills, how children recall events involving conflict or trauma, and indicators of well-being.
As a member of the Zuni Nation, I am dedicated to improving our understanding of the development of children from understudied populations with much of my research conducted in American Indian communities. The broad nature of my research has allowed me to explore smaller pieces of the developmental puzzle such as the cultural validity of mainstream testing methods and the development of basic cognitive skills in American Indian children. For example, my paper - An exploratory analysis of American Indian children's cultural engagement, fluid cognitive skills, and standardized verbal IQ scores – was written from a dynamic systems perspective in that I looked at the transactional nature of development by exploring variations in AI children's cognitive development in relation to cultural engagement within one AI community. Additionally, I have a number of other manuscripts either currently under review (Tsethlikai & Rogoff, 2010) or in preparation (Tsethlikai & Kalvesmaki; Tsethlikai, Correa-Chavez, Silva and Rogoff) that examine American Indian children's cognitive development. My work with American Indian children has led to two other publications: a book chapter (Calhoun, Goeman, & Tsethlikai, 2007) and an invited piece submitted to Child Development Perspectives (Galliher, Tsethlikai, & Stolle, resubmitted 7-2010). Finally, I am an active part of the Native Children's Research Exchange (NCRE), hosted by the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health. Through my involvement with the NCRE, I am currently working with Michelle Sarche (P.I.) and Paul Spicer (P.I.) on a research project examining the impact of tribally controlled Head Start programs on AI/AN children's cognitive development.
All of my research is guided by a strong theoretical foundation in dynamic systems theory which has allowed me to publish my research on memory and social cognition and my research on American Indian children's cognitive development in Developmental Psychology. The ability to work with both mainstream and American Indian populations is a unique asset that I am proud of as it allows me greater flexibility in applying for grants and forging new collaborative relationships in other departments.