Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Adriene Beltz

University of Michigan

Research Focus

Adriene Beltz is a quantitative developmentalist who creates and implements time-indexed analyses to understand how sex hormones, neural processes, and social experiences jointly influence gender disparities in psychopathology and cognition across the lifespan. Her work is interdisciplinary, multimethod (e.g., using hormone assessments with genetic controls, daily diaries, cognitive testing, neuroimaging), and utilizes person-specific network modeling. The overarching aim of her research program is to understand the unique biopsychosocial interplay underlying an individual’s gendered behavior in order to ultimately inform personalized prevention, intervention, or treatment efforts that help each person realize their full potential.

My plans for the fellowship period

Does sex matter for education? A fierce debate surrounds this question, and empirical ambiguity is likely due to significant heterogeneity in phenomena related to learning. It is difficult to interpret gender differences in learning because biopsychosocial determinants are rarely studied in concert, and effects do not generalize to every adolescent. Thus, my plan for this fellowship is to conduct and disseminate research that fills these knowledge gaps.

I will conduct a project on individualized biopsychosocial contributors to adolescent academic achievement. In an intensive longitudinal study in which siblings are followed for 100 days, I will use person-specific analyses to demonstrate how daily mental skills, emotions, and interpersonal experiences interact – in ways linked to puberty and academic achievement. I will collaborate with other fellows to accurately measure educational constructs, model sibling data, and eventually translate person-specific findings to the classroom.

I will then work to reduce gender disparities by teaching and disseminating research. I will publish in academic journals, learn and present at international conferences (e.g., ISSBD and Flux), train students in LIFE (a developmental training initiative spanning European and American universities), and provide practical information to parents and teachers about gender development and education (e.g., in blogs)

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

There is evidence for gender differences in specific cognitive skills and in psychopathology, and the differences are linked to adolescent biology, particularly puberty, and to academic achievement. But, gender differences refer to the “mean” girl and boy; they are based on a nomothetic scientific approach that assumes homogeneity across same-sex youth and time. These assumptions permit averaging and generalization, but they are often faulty: Gender is multidimensional, and youth are unique and change daily. This nomothetic approach also characterizes learning, as many youth are educated via uniform curricula and participate in one-size-fits-all interventions; thus, learning may not be maximized when educational plans fail to consider the unique strengths and needs of individual youth.

The alternative idiographic, or person-specific, scientific approach can provide novel insight into learning-related heterogeneity by using intensive longitudinal designs in which each adolescent is considered to be a sample of size 1. My research, including the project to be conducted during the fellowship period, takes this person-specific approach to delineating the biopsychosocial influences on academic achievement. Therefore, it has implications for optimizing development through individualized learning, and for reducing gender disparities by showcasing that average results do not describe – and should not limit – individual youth.