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Project ACT (Action & Change in Teens)

This is the major project I am currently leading. It is a longitudinal study involving about 500 teens and parents from across the country. We recruited them online, and are collecting quantitative and qualitative data online every four months for two years (starting September, 2015). First, the primary purpose of the project is to look at the “will” (motivation) and “skill” (competence) necessary for teens to abstain from alcohol and sex. The model we are testing is based on the Self-Determination Theory of motivation. More distally, we are looking at the role of parenting in fostering abstinence will and skill. Second, we are going to see whether all alcohol abstainers are created equal, or if there are in fact some abstainers “at risk” for future alcohol use. Third, we want to longitudinally compare alcohol abstainers to experimenters and abusers, looking at predictors and outcomes. Fourth, we want to look at the ways teens morally evaluate alcohol use and sex. Fifth, we want to look at the role of identity and religion in abstinence. Sixth, we want to examine a model of integrity looking at the virtues that help people successfully link their values and behavior. Seventh, we are looking at specific parenting factors that predict internalization of values about abstinence. Eighth, we are going to do more in-depth qualitative analysis of successful abstainers, and why and how they remained abstinent. Ninth, we want to understand the types of things teens and their parents are working on improving in their individual lives, and as families. Tenth, we want to better understand teen agency.

Other Research

· Morality. I am most known for my work on moral identity. A person has a moral identity to the extent that being a moral person is an important part of his or her identity. A longstanding dilemma in moral psychology is the moral judgment—action gap. Many see moral identity as a potential bridge of this gap in that a person with a moral identity may be motivated to do the right thing because it is an important part of who he or she is, not just because it is the right thing to do. I have published numerous empirical papers on the role of moral identity in adolescent and young adult morality, as well as reviews of moral identity work.

· Identity. I am interested in how identity develops and can motivate engagement in positive behaviors and abstinence from negative behaviors. Much of the research I have conducted on identity has stemmed from my involvement in the MUSIC collaboration (Multi-Site University Study of Identity and Culture), which involves researchers at over 30 universities across the country (we have collected data on approximately 10,000 college students). One publication I led using these data looked at whether identity formation alone predicts health outcomes, or whether that association is dependent on moral identity. Indeed, we found that identity more strongly leads to positive health outcomes when individuals base their identity on being a moral person. This was the first study to assess this interaction.

· Religion. I am interested in the role of religiousness in positive development and functioning. Little work has examined connections between religion, morality, and identity. I have done cross-sectional and longitudinal studies looking at the role of religion in promoting prosocial behavior, empathy, and identity formation, and preventing sex, pornography use, alcohol, and aggression. The last few years I have expanded my methodological expertise to include qualitative and mixed-methods approaches. Much of this work has been in collaboration with David Dollahite in the School of Family Life at BYU.

· Parenting. I also study the family as a context for the development of morality, identity, and religiousness. I have numeroous publications that elucidate the role of parenting in positive adolescent development. Also, I have a chapter with Michael Pratt on the socialization of morality. My new project called Project ACT is looking at the role of parenting in promoting the motivation and competence to abstain from sex and alcohol.

· Theory/Philosophy. Although I have not yet published much in this area, I have great interest in topics such as agency, relationality, hermeneutics, religion and science, and theistic psychology.

· Self-change. This is an emerging area for me. I am interested in how people go about self-improvement, and what strategies are the most effective. Similarly, I am interested in the role people play in directing their own development. This overlaps with my interest in theory/philosophy, particularly agency, relationality, and theistic psychology. ​