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Glenn Roisman furthers the field of child development

Popular culture can’t seem to push theories on parenting forward fast enough to meet public demand, perhaps because the typical folk wisdom and how-tos can’t satisfy. But researchers like professor Glenn Roisman (Ph.D. ’02) are hoping for a better result. In search of a more detailed and reliable picture, he tracks the lives of 1,000 children as they mature, discovering the connections between the nurturing received in early years and the adult self.  

“I’m interested in the impact early care-giving experiences have over the life course,” says Roisman. “And you can only ask these questions if you follow a sizable group of kids through maturity.”  

Examining these lives through a longitudinal study, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, gives him that crucial perspective. And he credits his time at Minnesota with giving him the foundation needed to manage longitudinal investigations.  

After completing his undergraduate degree at New York University, Roisman recalls, “I wanted to wind up at an elite East Coast institution. But people said, ‘You have to go to Minnesota if you get the opportunity.’”

“I visited and fell in love intellectually. The Institute of Child Development is such a superior institution, and it wound up being a very good fit, as well as where I met my wife.”  

After completing his Ph.D. in 2002, Roisman became a tenured associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In 2012, he and his wife, Chryle Elieff (Ph.D. ’04), returned to the Institute of Child Development, where Roisman is now a professor and Elieff a lecturer. The couple has a seven-year-old son, Nathan.  

Roisman favors a broad approach to research methodologies that includes personal narratives. “We study the legacy of early care-giving experiences by bringing in people to talk about those early experiences and how those experiences are reflected in their current relationships,” he says.  

And sometimes the answers he finds rankle those with incompatible agendas. “We’ve demonstrated that same-sex couples have relationships of comparable quality to opposite-sex couples, and we’ve written a paper that demonstrated the equivalence,” he says, recalling a more controversial finding. It’s a discovery that shows why such research is critical.  

Roisman has published extensively and earned recognition for his research, including the Early Scientific Contributions Award from the Society for Research in Child Development. The American Psychological Association’s Developmental Psychology division gave him the Boyd McCandless Award, which recognizes a young scientist who has contributed to the field of developmental psychology through theoretical development, research, or the dissemination of developmental science.

Story by Sarah Askari | February 2011; updated in 2012

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