“Teaching Makes Me Feel Happy and Young”

Zhidan (Diana) Duan

If you happen to spot someone cruising through campus on a scooter, you may be seeing one of our college’s newest faculty hires, Zhidan (Diana) Duan.  With an extensive background on China and Southeast Asia, Professor Duan is being warmly welcomed into the History Department this fall.

Professor Duan will be teaching both Migration in Modern China (HIST 390R) and World Civilizations from 1800 to Present (HIST 202).  She says, of teaching: “My favorite part is that I don’t age when I teach.  I mean, teaching and the interactions with my students keep me updated with new ideas, knowledge, and young people.  That makes me feel happy and young.”
Being raised in China herself, Professor Duan has an interest in the migration, borderlands, and ethnic economy of China and Southeast Asia.  She received her first PhD degree in Modern Chinese history from Renmin University of China in 2008 and then received another PhD degree in Asian history at Arizona State University in 2015.
Forbidden City, Beijing, China
In addition to her academic pursuits, Professor Duan explains, “I like a lot of outdoor sports and activities.  I like to go on road trips,  watch movies, and take photographs.”  Duan was also baptized into the LDS church in 2006 in Southern California.
Concerning her students this upcoming semester, Professor Duan says:
“I expect them to read, think, and interact.  Coming to the class without reading before and after is the least efficient way of studying because you have to spend a lot of extra time to get to know what is going on and catching up.  Studying without thinking and being creative makes the whole process boring and less effective.  Coming to the class without interacting with others is an inactive way of seeking and internalizing new knowledge.  You become isolated.  You are deprived of the opportunities of team work, teaching, comparing and contrasting your own ideas with others’, and you might improve not as fast as you expect to.”
Pictures courtesy of Flickr.

Media: Does it Cause Social Withdrawal?

3035660201_d2478b7068_bDoes a night at home binge-watching a Netflix series, constantly refreshing your Facebook feed, or trying to advance to the next level of your video game affect your social prowess?  A recent study argues that media choices can affect the likelihood of experiencing social withdrawal.

BYU‘s Drs. Larry Nelson and Sarah Coyne , of the School of Family Life, recently published a study entitled “Withdrawing to a Virtual World: Associations between Subtypes of Withdrawal, Media Use, and Maladjustment in Emerging Adults” in the journal Developmental Psychology.  Their research shows that media could have a direct impact on social withdrawal, depending on the type of withdrawal and media being considered.

Coyne, Sarah
Dr. Sarah Coyne

For this study, researchers distributed an online survey to over 200 undergraduate students at two universities in the United States.  After taking the initial survey, participating students were then given another survey a year later and the results were compared.

The Study

While there has been substantial research published about the effects of media on social withdrawal, Coyne’s study proves unique in that existing work:

  1. examines shyness as an “umbrella category,” rather than multiple forms of withdrawal
  2. has a lack of specificity regarding the types of media use and the breadth of outcome variables being examined
  3. focuses primarily on childhood and adolescence

In the study, Coyne explained, “No empirical work with emerging adults has examined

Nelson, Larry2.jpg
Dr. Larry Nelson

how subtypes of social withdrawal might be related to various forms of media use and how that media use might be related to the stability of withdrawal and its associations with indices of adjustment or maladjustment over time.”

Because of this lack of research, Coyne’s work divided “social withdrawal” into three categories: shyness, unsociability, and avoidance.  It also designated a difference between problematic media (violent video games,  online gambling, pornography) vs. connective media (email, social networking) and internalizing problems (depression) vs. externalizing (illegal drug use, shoplifting).

The Findings

By making these distinctions from former research, the team was able to come forth with new information.  They found that:

  1. all withdrawn individuals, regardless of the subtype, used email more frequently than their non-withdrawn peers
  2. the avoidant group played substantially more video games and violent video games, gambled (online), and viewed more pornography than the other withdrawn individuals
  3. there is evidence of stability of social withdrawal in emerging adults
  4. problematic media has a role in mediating the link between avoidance and externalizing problems in emerging adulthood

3936927326_bbabb1a21d_bWhat’s the impact?

The research team explained that their findings “may serve as a warning about the mounting problems that might accrue the longer emerging adults engage in shy and avoidant behaviors.”  They suggest that “problematic media not only leads to increases in shy and unsociable behaviors, but also to higher levels of [negative] externalizing behaviors.”

In addition, “there may be reason for concern for [avoidant] individuals in the third decade of life because higher levels of problematic media use appear to be linked to higher levels of externalizing behaviors.”

Better understanding these findings could impact the way that researchers continue to study the negative effects of media on social behavior and how individuals personally choose to engage in potentially harmful media use.

Photos courtesy of Flickr.



How Landscape Affects Fire Recovery

8598789914_1c1055225f_zMany states, including Utah, often experience devastating wildfires.  These disasters are especially prevalent during the hot, dry months of summer.  While environmental restoration from these fires can be a lengthy process, could the landscape of the area increase the recovery rate?

This inquiry was taken on in conjunction with our college’s recent Fulton Conference.  The study was conducted by a team of geography students comprising of Alan Barth, Roxanna Hedges, Kevin Ricks, Ben Seipert, and Dr. Matt Bekker, their faculty mentor.  Their research showed a positive correlation between an environment’s recovery rate and its vegetation and slope.

The Experiment

The team chose to research the 2007 Salt Creek Fire in Utah’s Juab and Sanpete counties.  This site allowed them to study both the effects of the slope aspect and the rates of the maple and scrub oak tree recovery compared to the juniper trees.

Speaking of their research process, the students explained, “We used imagery from 2006, just before the fire, as our control, and imagery from 2014 for visualizing sufficient regrowth time.  We then analyzed this imagery by running landscape metrics…measur[ing] spatial characteristics of patch, classes of patches, or the landscapes…We also used the slope aspect map to analyze the vegetation types based on the slope aspect.”


Following their research, the students found that “the oak and maple scrub vegetation increased after the fire because the oak and maple scrub sprout from roots and grow at a more rapid rate. Juniper took the longest to recover from the fire. This is likely because juniper grows slowly compared to maple and oak scrub.”

The study also discovered that the slope of the hill and its direction affected how fast the environment would recovery.  From their maps, the students founds that the north facing slopes grew back at a quicker rate than the south facing slopes.  They hypothesized that “this is likely explained by the amount of sunlight that these slopes receive. The south facing slopes in this terrain grew back slower due to receiving more sunlight throughout the day and not being in the shade like the north facing slopes. Being in the shade allowed for the north facing slopes to retain water more water while the south facing slope water evaporated more quickly or became run-off.”

Landscape Ecology of Fire Recovery

The Effect

The findings of this study could help ecologists to better understand the timeline and effectiveness of wildfire recovery.  By furthering knowledge in this field, changes could be made to improve environmental recovery as well as potentially wildfire prevention.

To learn more about wildfire prevention, go to the following website.

Pictures courtesy of Flickr.

The Effects of Secular and Sacred Education: a Study

4543531008_f594221c3c_oOne of the distinguishing factors of a BYU education is the integration of spirituality into the secular subjects.  While the combination of a formal education with religion is sometimes viewed as controversial and ineffective in the public education arena, a recent BYU study suggests that, at least in a private university setting, it can have a synergistic effect.

Matt Hiatt, a graduate student in the applied social psychology program, has been studying how incorporating spirituality into teaching affects the learning process.

For his dissertation study, two professors from different departments were trained on how to implement spirituality when teaching in their discipline.  Then, following the  professors’ application of these skills in a classroom setting, their students were asked to measure their experience with the teaching method.

Reflecting on the study’s findings, Hiatt explains, “We found that students perceived their professors as being higher in teaching quality and general teaching skills when they implemented these aspects of spiritual than when they did not…Even implementing it rather minimally paid big dividends for [the professors] as they received considerably higher ratings from the students.”

Many students who experience this type of teaching find it very effective and claim it to be one of the main selling points for attending Brigham Young University. These findings are congruent with BYU’s Mission Statement, which states:

“The mission of Brigham Young University is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.  That assistance should provide a period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued…Any education is inadequate which does not emphasize that [Jesus Christ] is the only name given under heaven whereby mankind can be saved.”

Knowing how integrating spirituality and secular knowledge in the classroom can help professors teach students more effectively.  Hiatt says, “I hope to take this learning and research with me to the future and implement it to help students wherever I go as a teacher.”


Pictures courtesy of Flickr.



Does Utah’s Poor Winter Air Quality Hurt School Attendance?

Northern Utah’s unique geographical situation leads to periods of crippling inversion during certain times of the year, primarily the month of January.  With this poor air quality causing many negative health effects, young children are frequently kept inside for recesses during times of inversion.  But, could the inversion be affecting more than just recreation?  What if the existence of inversions altered school attendance in general?
In conjunction with our college’s recent Fulton Conference, a team of economics students including Nicholas Hale, Ryan Allen, and John Cannon, researched this concept.  Their research found a positive correlation between elementary school absences and air pollution.

The Results of the Study

The team studied four different Utah school districts: Alpine, Provo, Salt Lake City, and Park City.  Using Park City School District as a quasi-control district because of its higher elevation and subsequent lower exposure to poor air quality, they were able to track school attendance and then compare those numbers to the fluctuating inversion levels.
Previous research showed that an increase in air pollution was associated with a 1.5 to two percent increase in elementary school absences.  Researchers predicted that, during an inversion episode, the percentage of absences could triple to six percent or higher.
Though this may sound like an unfavorable statistic, the research shows that air quality, and thus the correlated attendance levels, has actually been improving when compared with decades past.
Courtesy of Flickr.

The Impact of the Study

Nicholas Hales, one of the student researchers, explained, “In 1992, Dr. Pope [a faculty mentor for the project] published a paper that explored a positive association between air pollution exposure and elementary school absences in Utah Valley.  This study was conducted during a time when air pollution levels were much higher in Utah Valley due to the operation of a large steel mill.  Our more recent study was conducted to see if this association persisted at today’s lower levels of air pollution.”
Because the research shows a continued correlation today, the findings could help resolve problem in the future.  Says Hales: “[The research] may be evidence that, if air pollution were further reduced in Utah Valley, elementary school attendance might increase marginally. I think this research would be interesting and potentially helpful to parents, teachers, and others involved in elementary education.”
The details of Hale, Allen, and Cannon’s study are presented in their winning poster below:
A Quasi-Experimental Analysis of Elementary School Absences and Air Pollution.jpg
The purpose of the conference at which Hales and his co-authors presented their poster was to provide an opportunity for students, both undergraduate and graduate, to participate in and present meaningful research in their field of study. Looking back on his experience, Hales stated: “I loved being involved in the Fulton Conference.  It was a great opportunity for me to explain the research I participated in to a wider audience.  I really appreciated the opportunity to prepare my poster and present it.  I would definitely encourage other students to participate in the future.”

Thinking About a Graduate Degree? Why Get it at BYU?

7658272558_aebe55277f_oWith all of the choices out there for graduate school, how are you possibly supposed to choose the right one for you?

Many prospective graduate students have found Brigham Young University to be an excellent selection for furthering their education.  BYU Graduate Studies recently spotlighted Kara Duraccio, a clinical psychology doctoral student from the Family Home and Social Studies college.

Kara has found her graduate experience at BYU to be very rewarding.  She explains, “I chose BYU because, when it came time to make a decision, I knew I was compatible with the people here.”

However, more than experiencing the notoriously positive and uplifting culture and atmosphere at BYU, Kara has also found great possibilities academically.  Speaking of her decision to attend BYU for graduate school, Kara says, “I knew the incredible research that was going on.  For me, it was a no-brainer.  I just knew I wanted to come here and continue the research I had already been working on.”

Since enrolling in her doctoral program, Kara has had the opportunity to work with Dr. Chad Jensen in researching childhood obesity.  In one of their most recent studies, they were able to explore how diet and physical reactions to food are affected by sleep deprivation.

The work that this research team has done in the labs could have a large impact on future practices for decreasing childhood obesity.  Kara explains that these studies have shown that “when we’re sleep deprived, we make unhealthy dietary decisions [and] we have a harder time controlling our impulses around high-calorie foods.”  The research group plans on tailoring their future interventions for helping kids lose weight to include more sleep recommendations because of these findings.

For Kara, the research that she has been able to do through the clinical psychology program has been very impactful.

Many other graduate students have also found BYU programs to offer an enriching and fulfilling experience for their graduate studies.  BYU Graduate Studies explains the unique opportunity that BYU holds for potential graduate students:

“We offer world class instruction from faculty mentors who genuinely care about both your professional and personal development as they challenge and expand your academic intellect using cutting edge pedagogical practices and technologies. Share your unique perspectives and engage in diverse dialogue with our faculty, university administration, and our student population who are represented from all across the nation and from all over the globe from more than 160 countries.”

Reflecting on her decision to attend BYU for graduate school, Kara concludes, “I haven’t regretted [the] decision.”


Pictures courtesy of Flickr.


Research-Based Tips for Successful Marriages

MarriagePart of the purpose of our School of Family Life  is to explore the current societal perceptions of marriage and divorce, and ways that strong marriages can be encouraged and protected. Through the offering of three undergraduate degrees in human development, family studies, and consumer sciences, various graduate and doctoral degrees in marriage and family therapy, and numerous research projects exploring the various challenges to and facilitators of successful family life, faculty in that department strive to enhance the quality of life of individuals and families within the home and communities worldwide.

Their research, as explained in part in two recent essays entitled “Capstones vs. Cornerstones: Diverging Blueprints for Modern Marriage” and “Permanence vs. Divorce: Finding a Safe Place to Keep Our Hearts,” provide solid tips for marital success. In a time when the societal value and definition of marriage are in a state of flux, these tips are that much more important.

A Successful Marriage is Based on a Sound Foundation

In explaining the importance of premarital decisions, professors Dean Busby, Jason Carroll, Alan Hawkins, and Brian Willoughby point out that “when the bricks that build families are placed awkwardly, the structure is rickety.”

“We can do more to teach young people,” says Busby and his co-authors, “to give them the knowledge and skills and motivations needed to form a healthy marriage. This teaching needs to start in adolescence when ineffective relationship skills and patterns are already forming. And it needs to continue in young adulthood, when risky relationship trajectories often are set.

Pre-engagement cohabitation can cause those marital bricks to be placed awkwardly, according to Busby et-al’s research, as it “appears to be a risk factor for future marital problems.”

Busby continues:

When couples commit to marriage, we can provide better premarital education to build a stronger foundation for a healthy, enduring marriage (or help a couple realize they are about to make a mistake). The reality is that the relational seeds of most divorces are present even before the marriage begins,39 so we need to improve couples’ skills at dealing with those issues from the start. Once couples marry, more educational services could help them fight off the inevitable forces of marital entropy and keep their relationships vital.

Overall, we can build a smart marriage culture, with a strong understanding that healthy, stable marriages are built on a known foundation of correct knowledge and motivations, as well as a set of effective skills that can be learned, practiced, and improved.

A Long-Term Mindset Makes All the Difference

While it may sound cliche, the importance of positive mindsets in successful marriages cannot be understated. Couples have to choose to not make divorce an option.  Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development at Cornell University, says that couples avoided divorce when they “really had the mind-set they wanted to stay married.”

entrepreneur-1340649_960_720Busby states: “couples can approach a marriage like seasoned, long-term investors who ride out the frequent market undulations knowing the likelihood that a good investment will pay off in the long run.  Marriage, like financial markets, is no place for the short-sighted or impatient.”

Grow Together

It may easily be argued that today’s individualistic society often corrupts the principle that marriage is the unification of two individuals. Interestingly, research conducted by Busby and other School of Family Life faculty states that

The capstone model of marriage emphasizes achieving certain milestones and getting your life together before making the big commitment to a life-long union. But what about those who struggle to get it all together? Among the educated and well off, marriage rates are high and divorce rates are low. But this is not the case among the disadvantaged.11 Nearly 25% of U.S. men and 20% of U.S. women ages 40–44 have never married. Thirty percent of men and nearly 25% of women with juspictures-of-couples-1139024_960_720t a high school diploma have never married by the time they reach their 40s. And more than a third of Black men and women have never married by age 44.12 One research organization projects that 25% of today’s young adults will never marry by about age 50.13

Conversely, the “cornerstone” model of marriage emphasizes “a mutual growing together beginning in the more formative, soft-clay years. A cornerstone model of marriage emphasizes molding a “we-dentity” rather than connecting “I-dentities.” In mathematical terms, a cornerstone model of marriage is closer to 2 ÷ 2 = 1 than 1 + 1 = 2.”


Anything that is worthwhile requires effort.  Busby says: “soul mates are created more than they are found.”

Have Faith

Another School of Family Life research project, American Families of Faith, demonstrates that “marriage benefits not merely from sharing the same faith, but from sharing similar levels of involvement and commitment.” Through various presentations and publications, the project endeavors to teach families of all faith how to:

  • avoid and resolve marital conflict
  • strengthen youth
  • have meaningful conversations about religion
  • learn from (and emulate) other faiths
  • balance faith and family

The Benefits are Plentiful

Marriage, while entailing much effort, also provides great benefits, not the least of which are better health, wealth, according to Liscombe. Greater still, though, are the emotional and spiritual benefits: a happier life with greater hope for the future.





Do Preschoolers Bully?

mad child via Flickr Daniela Hartmann

“Bullying” is a term usually applied to older children and teenagers, but it can apply to younger ones as well. While preschoolers are known to have their occasional tantrums, for some, it can become a behavioral pattern. Some researchers have assumed that those who do tend to bully or act out are socially neglected. Some have also theorized that such tendencies are a predominantly Western trait. However, a recent study completed by three BYU School of Family Life professors found that children that often acted out aggressively were as much liked by their peers as disliked.

Doctors David Nelson, Sarah Coyne, and Clyde Robinson, recently published a study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, in which they examined the patterns of behavior of 221 Russian preschoolers. Those that were identified as “controversial” by their teachers and peers did not necessarily do so out of reaction to perceived neglect. They were, in fact, more likely to be the targets of aggressive acts themselves. And they were more like American and Italian children than previously realized.

Why Russia?

“The purpose of the current study,” explained Nelson, “is to assess…[current findings] in Russian preschoolers.  A key question driving such research is whether the behavioral reputation of the controversial child is unique to Western samples.”

Because of Russia’s history with the promotion of values consistent with citizenship in a totalitarian socialist society (such as conformity, group-mindedness, and unquestioning obedience to authority), researchers were interested to see whether or not their findings would be “consistent with the individualism that predominates many Western cultures.”

The Study9284060929_43d17ab218_b

For this study, researchers polled 15 classes. Students and teachers were asked a series of questions regarding sociability and physical/relational aggression among students in their class.

The questions divided children into one of five groups (sociometric statuses).  Depending on how much the child was liked/disliked and how well known the child was in the peer group, each child was categorized as either: popular, rejected, controversial, neglected, or average.

The findings for this study were very similar to those in another study conducted several years ago.  The results were as follows:

  • Popular children: social, cooperative, engage in pleasurable peer interactions
  • Neglected children: withdrawn, unsociable
  • Rejected children: aggressive, disruptive, few appropriate social overtures
  • Controversial children: usually as sociable as popular children; equally or more aggressive than rejected children, particularly with relational aggression

Nelson explains, “In regard to the findings, the Russian preschoolers generally paralleled the findings of earlier studies with [Western] preschoolers.  Of particular interest is the pattern of findings for controversial status children, who are generally perceived as adequately sociable yet highly aggressive, particularly in regard to relational aggression.”

Why it Matters

This study can provide further illumination on a pattern of reaction and behavior that can cause some children to develop into socially marginalized people who might act out more violently, causing more damage. Says David Nelson, primary author of the study: “victimization likely leads to greater withdrawal from social interactions. Accordingly, interventions that involve social skills training may be useful in helping victimized peers to be more demonstrative in social situations and build confidence to engage positively with others and to avoid social isolation.”

Nelson concludes, “Addressing these issues early in the preschool years is particularly important as these are the years of greatest neurological and psychological malleability. This may lead to welcome change and better peer opportunities for all children.”

Pictures courtesy of flickr.


Do You Treat Each of Your Children Differently?



“That’s not fair,” is a complaint many parents often hear. Handling the sentiment expressed by a child that their treatment is not the same as a sibling’s is a common conundrum of parenthood. But while the frequency of such instances might suggest their triviality, a recent study provides evidence that differential treatment employed by parents might not be just a petty claim and that its effects might be more significant than expected.

Dr. Alexander Jensen, a professor in the School of Family Life at BYU, recently published the study in The Journal of Gerontology. JenseJensen, Alexn found that the practice of differential treatment by parents is correlated  with how their parents currently treat them.


To be Like or not to be Like, That is the Question

In other words, Jensen hypothesized that current parents who experience  preferential treatment of one sibling over another, or who perceive such treatment, would either:

  • treat each of their children differently
  • treat each of their children the same, in contradiction to their own experience or perceptions. In other words, those who are exposed to preferential treatment would, in contrast, use little to no preferential treatment with their own children.


Jensen found that some parents do, in fact, treat their children differentially. Not only that, he found that such treatment often correlated with the age of the current parent. In other words:

  • Middle-aged parents tended to model the patterns of differential treatment that their fathers exhibited.
  • Middle-aged men who experienced differential treatment from their parents in recent years tended to exhibit lower differential treatment toward their own children.
  • Differential treatment tended to be more evident when it was done tangibly (e.g., financially) as opposed to intangibly (e.g.: emotionally).

adult familyPast research done by other scholars indicated that when parents treated each of their children differently, they fostered feelings of injustice, competition, and comparison among siblings, with both favored and less favored offspring exhibiting poorer mental health and experiencing less supportive familial relationships as a result.

“Because of these longstanding implications,” says Jensen, “it is critical to discover the reasons why parents treat their children differently.”

Additionally, he says: “It is possible that as families develop and grow and siblings move into middle adulthood, their individual and separate lives pull them in different directions and thus they may be less aware of discrepant treatment based on communication or emotional closeness. But, differences based on money and practical support may still be apparent despite their diverging lives from their siblings. Alternately, it is possible that parents truly may be trying to meet the divergent needs of their offspring who are sometimes in seemingly different life stages and in need of varying levels of support.”

Why does it matter?

While many previous studies have looked at other causal factors, Jensen’s research was the first to look at the cross-generational aspects of preferential treatment in parenting. Understanding the causes of differential treatment could help to better decrease its usage and the negative effects it will on children and families in the future.

Featured photos courtesy of Flickr.


Sculpted by the Creator



“As Michelangelo saw the potential within the block of marble, God sees the divinity within us,” said one our newest Brigham Young University FHSS graduates Ashley LeBaron at our recent graduation ceremonies. Her comparison of slabs of marble with graduating students who now have their ” hammers and chisels” in hand, so to speak, and who are seeking direction in their lives, was very apt.

When students graduate from college, they’re often surrounded by choices and changes. She encouraged graduates to seek heavenly help in determining the direction of their futures. “God has the power to direct and perfect [your] lives,” Ashley reminded them, saying that it is [your] duty to “hand over the hammer and chisel to [Him]. Consecration, [or the act of dedicating service or worship to God], is the key to sanctification. Graduates need to make a conscious choice to “relinquish control of [their] lives and offer [themselves] to His care.”

To some, her advice may seem self-evident. Indeed, it can be easy to forego control of one’s life and simply react to the obstacles thrown across one’s path. But doing so while truly submitting oneself to the process of becoming a work of art requires more than passiveness, it requires a “faith-filled consecration.”

Sometimes the careful chisels of the Creator can be painful. Just as with Michelangelo, the production of treasured works of art would often take time and great effort.  “It is very probable that our lives will not go according to our plan. If consecrated, though, they can go according to God’s perfect plan.”

Indeed, her comments echoed those of C.S. Lewis, another great artist, whom she quoted:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.


As a family history major, art history minor, and valedictorian who once struggled to decide her direction, she bore witness to the many times in God had sanctified her life-changing choices. He was able to “make much more of my life than I ever could,” she said.


Feature photo courtesy of flickr.