Daniel A. Briley

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Early Career Research Fellow
Assistant Professor, Psychology
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
United States of America

PhD, Psychology
University of Texas at Austin, 2015
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Research Focus
Daniel Briley is a developmental behavior geneticist. His work focuses on how the interplay of genes and environments across the lifespan produces individual differences in personality, cognition, and academic achievement. In particular, he is interested in the factors that guide the development of student character, broadly defined as behaviors that allow adaptive engagement within the classroom. For example, conscientiousness represents a broad suite of achievement-relevant behaviors, including paying attention, striving for achievement, completing assignments diligently, and finding educational material engaging. Daniel Briley’s work examines the combination of biological and ecological systems to produce psychological characteristics.

My plans for the fellowship period
Student character, such as socioemotional skills, academic attitudes, cognitive ability, and personality, is consistently linked with academic achievement. However, past work suffers from two limitations that my research will address. First, my work will analyze student characteristics as evolving aspects of a whole person, rather than isolating a specific, presumedly unchanging trait. Current evidence supports the idea that an individual’s characteristics change dynamically across time and in response to context cues and other characteristics. Second, most work linking academic achievement to cognitive ability, personality, and socioemotional skills is observational. These results could be interpreted in a few ways. It could be that student characteristics lead to achievement, that achievement causes character to develop in a certain way, or there could be some other variable that causes both. Only in the first case would these student characteristics be particularly relevant for education researchers. I will use cutting edge molecular genetic tools to test for causal relations between these characteristics and academic achievement. Together, accomplishing these goals will move research closer to understanding the causal pathways that produce differences in achievement.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Character development is complex. Character can be thought of as all of the skills, preferences, desires, habits, and knowledge that children are equipped with to navigate the world. Differences in the acquisition of these skills results in economic, health, and well-being inequalities in adulthood. My work will shed greater light on how aspects of character relate to one another and perhaps dynamically guide development. Knowledge of the causal structure of child characteristics in relation to academic achievement can inform the most promising interventions to pursue. These results must be put into the social, ecological, and biological contexts in which children reside. Integrating across these potential causal inputs could allow for interventions that create a virtuous cycle by allowing student strengths to build on one another.

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