Cynthia A.  Stifter 

photo of Cynthia Stifter

Professor of Human Development and Psychology

Contact Information

236 Health and Human Development Building
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park PA 16802

814-865-2666

(fax) 814-863-7963

tvr@psu.edu

www.hhdev.psu.edu/ebp/

Research Interests

My research is on socio-emotional development in infants, toddlers, and preschool children with an emphasis on the development of, and individual differences in, infant emotional reactivity and the ability to regulate emotion. Specifically, I have been investigating how the child’s temperament, physiological make-up, and parenting environment, each contribute to the emergence of the self-regulation of the emotions. More recently, I have become interested in the application of temperament and emotion regulation to physical health. I am collaborating with others to examine the impact of temperament and parental soothing strategies on childhood obesity. My lab is also studying the importance of positive affect in regulating negative emotions and encouraging exploration of the environment. The role of parents in up-regulating (and down-regulating) positive affect is also a goal of our study. Below are descriptions of one project for which data collection is completed and two ongoing longitudinal studies.

Emotional Beginnings Project. The ability to control one's emotions is often referred to as emotion regulation. The development of this ability is believed to be a product of the child's temperament and environmental influences, specifically parental socialization. One of the primary purposes of the Emotional Beginnings Project of the Infant and Child Temperament Laboratory is to investigate how infants and toddlers come to regulate their emotions. To accomplish our goals we conducted a longitudinal study that was funded by the National Institutes for Mental Health. In this study children and their parents were seen several times from when the child was 2 weeks of age to 10 years of age. To date, we have published a number of papers that focused on 1) parent regulation of infant crying; 2) the psychophysiology of early social behavior; 3) the impact of excessive crying on emotion regulation; 4) the stability of temperament types; 5) the socialization of emotion; and 6) the relations among behavioral, emotional and cognitive forms of regulation. We have also published a number of studies on temperament types – their precursors, physiological and social moderators and their relation to mental health outcomes. We are continuing to work on papers that are based on the rich, complex data of the Emotional Beginnings Project. In addition, doctoral and honors students are continuing to use these data set for their theses.

Back to Baby Basics Project. Our aim in this ongoing longitudinal project funded by the NIDDK is to understand how differences in child characteristics and parent feeding behavior interact to affect the child’s weight status. Beginning at 4 months of age and continuing through 6, 12 and 18 months of age, we have collected data on infant temperament, parent feeding attitudes and behaviors, parent-child interactions, DNA, and the child’s weight and length. Early research coming from this project suggest that parents are more likely to soothe their highly negative infants with food and that this non-hunger related feeding method puts them at risk for overweight. We are currently testing our participants who are now of preschool age (B2BB Kids) and examining the development of self-regulation, both generally and specific to food, as a risk factor for childhood obesity.


Building the Foundations for a Joyful Life: An Investigation of How Children
Learn to Think Positively.
This study, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, is aimed at understanding how children use positive affect to regulate their emotions and what strategies parents use to help them develop these tools. We are also investigating children’s curiosity as a character trait related to positivity and how parents encourage exploration. Positive affect, emotion regulation, and curiosity have been linked to well-being in adults but little work has adopted a developmental perspective. The proposed study will follow a sample of children varying in temperament. This longitudinal study of preschool children will assess their positive emotions, particularly in response to negative emotions, and their curiosity through participation in several tasks. Parents' encouragement of these character strengths will also be observed. The interaction between parenting behaviors and child characteristics is hypothesized to affect the child’s mental and physical health.

Education

B.A., 1975, Sociology, University of Maryland, College Park
M.S.W., 1978, Clinical Social Work, University of Maryland, Baltimore
Ph.D., 1987, Human Development, University of Maryland, College Park

Professional Experience

1987-1993: Assistant Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

1994-1995: Visiting Scholar, Harvard University School of Public Health

1994-1995: Visiting Associate Professor, Harvard University School of Medicine

1993-2000: Associate Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

2000-Present: Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

Selected Publications

Stifter, C. & Moding, K. (in press). Infant temperament and parent use of food to soothe predict weight gain across infancy: Early risk factors for childhood obesity. International Journal of Obesity.

Moding, K., & Stifter, C. (in press). Does temperament underlie infant novel food responses? Continuity of approach-withdrawal from 6 to 18 months. Child Development.

Dollar, J., Stifter, C., Buss, K. (2017). Exuberant and inhibited children: person-centered profiles and links to social adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 53, 1222-1229.

Augustine, M., Moding, K., & Stifter, C., (2017). Predicting toddler temperamental approach-withdrawal: Contributions of early approach tendencies, parenting behavior, and contextual novelty. Journal of Research in Personality (special issue), 67, 97-105.

Willoughby, M., Gottfredson, N., & Stifter, C. (2017). Observed temperament from ages 6-36 months predicts parent and teacher reported attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms in first grade. Development and Psychopathology, 29, 107-120.

Moding, K. & Stifter, C. (2016). Temperamental approach/withdrawal and food neophobia in early childhood: concurrent and longitudinal associations. Appetite, 107, 664-652.
 

Young Na, J., Wilkerson, K., Karny, M., Blackstone, S., & Stifter, C. (2016). A synthesis of the relevant literature on the development of emotional competence: Implications for the design and implementation of augmentative and alternative communication systems. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology (download),

Moding, K.J., & Stifter, C.A. (2016). Stability of food neophobia from infancy through early childhood. Appetite, 97, 72-78.

Stifter, C. & Moding, K. (2015). Understanding and measuring the use of food to soothe infant and toddler distress: A longitudinal study from 6 to 18 months of age. Appetite, 96, 188-196.

Blair, C., Ursache, A., Mills-Koonce, R., Stifter, C., Voegtline, K., Granger, D., and the Family Life Project Investigators (2015). Emotional reactivity and parenting sensitivity interact to predict cortisol output in toddlers. Developmental Psychology, 51, 1271-1277.

Curriculum Vitae

.pdf icon Cynthia Stifter vitae

Strategic Themes

  • Human Development