Scott D. Gest 

photo of Scott Gest

Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, and Professor-in-Charge of the HDFS Undergraduate Program

Contact Information

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


(fax) 814-863-7963

Research Interests

My research focuses on (1) clarifying the developmental processes linking children’s school-based peer experiences with their academic competence and problem behaviors from middle childhood through adolescence and (2) exploring how teaching practices and intervention efforts may modify these peer experiences in ways that support better individual adjustment. I draw upon theories from developmental, educational and social psychology and methods from social network analysis to explore these issues in both non-intervention and intervention studies. Relevant research projects include:

Classroom Peer Ecologies Project. We are studying teaching practices, peer social networks and student adjustment in a sample of 3,500 youth attending 208 1st, 3rd and 5th grade classrooms. One goal of this project is to identify features of classroom peer networks (e.g., status hierarchies, behavioral norms) that are related to academic and behavioral adjustment (e.g., achievement-related beliefs, perceptions of school, experiences of victimization). Another goal is to identify ways in which teachers may influence peer network processes through generally supportive interactions with students and through specific practices such as seating arrangements and direct attempts to manage students’ peer relationships. Results from this project will inform our efforts to develop of a professional development intervention for teachers that will support their use of more effective strategies for managing classroom social dynamics. (Funding from the William T. Grant Foundation and Spencer Foundations, 2008-2010; and Institute of Educational Sciences, 2010-2014.)

PROSPER Peers. This study of friendship networks and the emergence of substance use uses data from the PROSPER community-level randomized evaluation of evidence-based substance use prevention programs. Over 11,000 youth provided reports of their friendships and substance use patterns over five occasions between 6th grade and 9th grade. I am a member of the multi-investigator team testing hypotheses regarding the role of peers in the emergence of substance use, and the impact of universal prevention programs on school-level peer networks. (PI, Wayne Osgood. Funding from William T. Grant Foundation and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.)

Head Start REDI (REsearch-based, Developmentally Informed)
. The original REDI randomized control trial tested the impact of a pre-kindergarten classroom-based program that was designed to enhance children's school readiness. The program featured specific learning activities and general teaching strategies to promote language/literacy and social-emotional skills. A second randomized trial tested whether a new home-visiting component added to the benefits of the classroom program. Participants in both randomized trials are currently being followed up through middle school and high school to determine the long-term impact of the classroom and home-visiting programs. (PI, Karen Bierman. Funding from National Institute of Child Health and Development).


B.A., 1987, Interdisciplinary Studies, UNC- Chapel Hill
1994-1995, Medical Psychology Intern, Duke University Medical Center
Ph.D., 1995, Developmental-Clinical, University of Minnesota
Postdoctoral Fellow, 1995-1997, Center for Developmental Science, UNC-Chapel Hill

Professional Experience

  • 2014-Present: Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University
  • 2006-2014 : Associate Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University
  • 2000-2006: Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University.
  • 1997-2000: Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University.  

Selected Publications

Gest, S. D., Madill, R. A., Zadzora, K., Miller, A., Rodkin, P. C. (2014). Teacher management of classroom social network dynamics: Associations with trajectories of student adjustment. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 22(2), 107-118.

Madill, R. A., Gest, S. D., & Rodkin, P. C. (2014). Students' perceptions of relatedness in the classroom: The roles of emotionally supportive teacher-child interactions, children's aggressive-disruptive behaviors, and peer social preference. School Psychology Review, 43(1).

Rulison, K. L., Gest, S. D., & Osgood, D. W. (2014). Adolescent peer networks and the potential for the diffusion of intervention effects. Prevention Science, 16, 133-144.

Gest, S. D., & Kindermann, T. (2011). Analysis of static social networks and their developmental effects. In Little, Laursen & Card (Eds.), Handbook of Developmental Research Methods. New York: Guilford Press.

Gest, S. D., Osgood, D. W., Feinberg, M. E., Bierman, K. L., & Moody, J. (2011). Strengthening program theories and evaluations: Contributions from social network analysis. Prevention Science, 12, 349-360.

Gest, S. D., & Rodkin, P. C. (2011). Teaching practices and elementary classroom peer ecologies. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 32, 288-296.

Molloy, L., Ram, N., & Gest, S. D. (2011). Development and lability in early adolescents' self- concept: Within- and between-person variation. Developmental Psychology, 47, 1589-1607.

Bierman, K. L., Domitrovich, C. E., Nix, R., Gest, S. D., Welsh, J. A., Greenberg, M. T., Blair, C., Nelson, K., & Gill, S. (2008). Promoting academic and social-emotional school readiness: The Head Start REDI program. Child Development, 79(6), 1802-1817.

Center Affiliations

  • Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development

Strategic Themes

  • Human Development
  • Contexts and Social Institutions