First impressions can be overrated. During his first semester at UMBC, transfer student Kristofer Castro decided that he disliked a student from a lab on campus that came to present to their psychology class. He thought to himself, ‘I don’t want to work with that guy.’ Over a year later, he’s found himself in that very lab with an Undergraduate Research Award scholarship, a complex research project and big post-graduation plans. On top of all that, the two are now friends.
Castro’s research involves the factors that influence parenting styles of Asian-American families in the Cultural Child and Adolescent Development Lab under psychology professor Charissa Cheah. Specifically, the researchers use data points from Korean and Chinese-American women and their children.
Castro’s initial interest in psychological research with a specialization in immigrant communities comes from his own ethnic background: he is half Hawai’ian and half Puerto Rican.
“For me, my interest in research in my communities is because I think I can do useful research in those communities,” he said. “I specifically focus on minority communities and marginalized communities.”
Castro’s model looks at how acculturation to American society and strength of ethnic identity affects parenting styles. Specifically, the model describes parenting styles in two ways: as ‘authoritative — warm and nurturing’ and ‘authoritative — strict and cold.’ Castro has found that stronger ethnic identity, higher levels of psychological well-being and greater acculturation to American society predicted greater usage of authoritative (warm) parenting.
Previously, Castro’s project investigated the association between racial discrimination and perception of social standing with psychological well-being of Asian-American mothers. After finding that the association was not significant, Castro was advised by Cheah to alter his project.
Due to the breadth of data in the CCAD Lab, students propose projects that examine the relationship between existing data points. Students engage in research projects are oftentimes already involved in the lab as research assistants.
Prior to his project, Castro worked in the lab for a year in data collection as a research assistant. He assisted in interviewing 197 families and collecting thousands of data points over a span of four years using four different time points. Several of the research assistants in the labs are members of these ethnic communities and reach out to their peers to find participants for the project.
Gathering data points typically involves home visits with the families. This often consists of sit-down interviews with mothers and psycho-educational testing and behavioral coding for the children. Castro mostly worked with children, since they often knew some English. Other research assistants, given their language abilities, will work with the mothers, who are typically first-generation immigrants.
“We want to provide the families with as much comfort [as possible] and meet them where they’re at,” he said.
At the end of the study, researchers give parents a report of their child’s developmental state and keep them updated with research coming out of the lab. According to Castro, parents are motivated not only by the monetary reimbursement, but also by the opportunity to learn about their children.
After finishing his bachelor’s at UMBC, Castro hopes to earn a Ph.D. in Community Psychology. Going forward, he is particularly interested in community-based participatory research, which involves bringing in research participants from the community to join as researchers throughout the study.
“The myriad skills that he gained from conducting an independent research project are all crucial to his success in graduate school and as a researcher,” said Cheah. “…I believe this project is of publishable quality. Thus, we intend to continue to work together on disseminating this work after Kris graduates.”