Current Research and Scholarly Interests
My research focuses on developmental, cognitive and psychosocial factors involved in adolescents’ and young adults’ health-related decision-making, perceptions of risk and vulnerability, health communication and risk behavior. My research has focused on understanding and reducing health risk behaviors such as tobacco use, alcohol and marijuana use, risky driving, and risky sexual behavior. An early study, funded by California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, involved a prospective cohort design in which 400 male and female adolescents of varying racial/ethnic background were followed from 9th grade through one-year post high school. The ultimate goal of this longitudinal study has been to determine the extent to which adolescents’ perceptions of smoking-related long- and short-term risks and benefits influence adolescents’ and young adults’ initiation, continuation and cessation of smoking. Another study, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH), used a prospective cohort design in which over 600 ethnically and socioeconomically diverse male and female adolescents were followed for five years, the aims of this study were to: (1) examine whether the onset of adolescent sexual activity, both with and without condom use, is associated with previous and/or subsequent changes in judgments concerning STD and HIV/AIDS risk; (2) examine whether adolescents’ personal experiences with negative outcomes related to sexual behavior (or lack of such experiences) influence subsequent risk judgments and sexual behavior; (3) determine the extent to which perceived benefits of sexual behavior are related to adolescent sexual behavior, over and above perceived risks; and (4) determine whether knowledge of peers’ experiences with sexual behaviors and related positive and negative outcomes play a role in adolescents’ risk judgments and subsequent sexual behavior. I received additional funding to continue following the sample into young adulthood. The results of this research provides valuable information concerning the relationship between risk judgments and behavior that is expected to be useful to researchers and health practitioners concerned with developing programs to reduce adolescents’ sexual risk. With funding from the William T. Grant Foundation, we conducted qualitative studies on adolescent decision-making, one focusing on sexual decision-making and the other on decisions to use tobacco. These qualitative studies provide for a larger, adolescent-driven perspective on decision-making not always captured by quantitative surveys. We have also completed interviews with 40 adolescents participating in the tobacco study, and are completing additional manuscript shortly. In 2012, I received funding from California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program and the California Department of Education to translate my research findings to the development of novel school-based interventions to prevent tobacco use. Most recently, I received funding from the NIH/FDA (Center for Tobacco Products) to examine adolescent and young adults’ use of and perceptions related to current conventional and new tobacco products, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookahs, and so on. I have also expanded and extended my research to understanding risk behaviors in a larger context of adolescent development as well as within the emerging adult population, as this is a developmental period most often characterized by exploration including health-compromising behaviors. My research and committee work have been instrumental in setting policy at the local, state, and national level.