Major Projects

Project Competence Longitudinal Study

The Project Competence studies of risk and resilience include a longitudinal study of 205 children and their families recruited from an urban school district and followed for more than 20 years starting in the late 1970's. Publications from this study span many topics, including the development of competence and personality, developmental cascades, the role of protective factors in resilience, the roots of adult happiness and civic engagement, and other themes. We learned that youth who overcome childhood adversity and continue on to adult success have more protections and resources in their lives than peers who do not fare as well. We also observed "late bloomers" whose lives took a dramatic turn for the better in the transition to adulthood, suggesting that new resources, opportunities, and supports converge in this window to promote positive change. An overview of this study can be found in Masten & Tellegen (2012) and also in chapter 3 of Masten's book on resilience in development (2014). Analyses of the extensive data collected in this study continue.

School Success in Motion

Our School Success in Motion research includes a series of studies conducted in collaboration with emergency shelters and schools in the Twin Cities area. These studies aim to understand and address risk and resilience among children experiencing homelessness and poverty. We focus on variables such as academic achievement, school readiness, adjustment, parenting, emotion, and stress among mobile, disadvantaged children and their families. Although we have been collecting data with families experiencing homelessness since 1989, this series of studies began in 2006.

Ready? Set. Go! Intervention Development to Promote Executive Function

Beginning in 2010, in collaboration with local partners from school districts and shelter providers, we have been developing intervention strategies to promote executive functions as a strategy for boosting school readiness and early school success in children from families experiencing homelessness and residential instability due to poverty. This intervention development was funded initially by the Sauer Children’s Renew Foundation and subsequently by the Institute of Educational Sciences. Professor Masten collaborates with Professors Stephanie Carlson and Philip Zelazo in this program of intervention development, together with partners and advisors from the Minneapolis Public Schools, People Serving People, Mary's Place, the Family Partnership, St. Anne's Place, and Simpson Housing Services.

Developmental Extensions of the NIH Toolbox Measures of Executive Function

In collaboration with Stephanie Carlson and Philip Zelazo, as well as the NIH Toolbox team at Northwestern University, we have worked on developmental extensions of the two tasks assessing executive functions in the NIH Toolbox. In our research with diverse, young, urban children, including children staying in emergency shelters, it became clear that the Flanker and the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) tasks were not working well with preschool-aged children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. With support for a formative project from the National Children’s Study, we developed developmental extensions (Flanker-Dext and DCCS-Dext) designed to make these two tasks more accessible to young children with a wider range of skills and experiences.

These extensions are still under development but preliminary versions are available (for iPad) in the iTunes versions of the Toolbox Cognitive battery. Development of the DCCS-Dext was facilitated by prior research of Professor Carlson on the DCCS with preschoolers to create easier levels of the DCCS measure. Her work in collaboration with Professor Zelazo led to the development of the Minnesota Executive Function Scale (MEFS; Carlson & Zelazo, 2014) which is now available from Reflection Sciences. The lower levels of the Flanker-Dext task were created by our formative project team, initially under the auspices of the National Children’s Study.

Our research indicates that these extensions have effectively lowered the floor of the NIH Toolbox Flanker and DCCS tasks. The tasks show very promising reliability and validity, including short-term predictive validity as early childhood screening tools for school readiness. We are continuing to validate these extensions of the NIH Toolbox measures for longer-term predictive validity and as indicators of effective interventions to boost executive function skills in young children.

Studies of Immigrant and Refugee Youth

Over the years, the PCR3 team has studied the adaptation of immigrant youth in Minnesota and collaborated with teams investigating risk and resilience of immigrant youth in Greece and other countries. This work includes studies of Cambodian war survivors who migrated to Minnesota after experiencing the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge), the Athena Studies of Resilient Adaptation (described below), and more recently work with colleagues in Turkey to study resilience in Syrian refugees.

AStRA: Athena Studies of Resilient Adaptation

Professor Masten collaborates with Professor Frosso Motti-Stefanidi from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA) on studies of immigrant youth in Greece. Professor Motti-Stefanidi directs the Athena Studies of Resilient Adaptation, which are focused on understanding processes of risk and resilience in the context of migration and acculturation. Additional collaborators include Professor Jens Asendorf of Humboldt University in Berlin, Associate Professor Vassilis Pavlopoulos (NKUA), and Jelena Obradović of Stanford. This group has conducted two major longitudinal studies of immigrant youth in Greece, before and after the Great Recession. Recent work examines the effects of the economic crisis in Greece on immigrant and nonimmigrant youth adaptation and well-being. This group also is partnering with the European Commission Horizon 2020 Program for a project focused on civic and political engagement of youth in Europe.