Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Jeanine Grütter

University of Konstanz

Research Focus

Jeanine Grütter’s research focuses on the question: How do positive peer relations develop in childhood and adolescence? 

Because social skills are important for human development and the success of societies, she is interested in better understanding the psychology of social groups in different cultural contexts. For example, she studies how children and adolescents understand social groups and social norms, and how they think and feel about inequality within and across groups. She uses this knowledge to design scalable classroom interventions and teacher trainings that address social learning and can help diverse students engage positively with one another.

My plans for the fellowship period

During my fellowship, I want to better understand how teachers can build on learner heterogeneity and promote social learning and social inclusion. I will develop new empirical methods which can create knowledge on how classroom dynamics evolve at different stages of development and how they can be shaped by adaptive teaching methods.

Moreover, I will examine how augmented/virtual reality and physiological feedback (e.g., heart rate) can be used as tools to help improve children’s social learning and perspective taking in complex social situations. For teachers, I will develop a diagnostic tool to help them better understand children’s social relationships. 

I will then use this knowledge to improve an interactive learning program (Friendship Project). This program provides schools with an interactive learning tool for teachers to be able to identify and help students positively interact with others in group settings. This program also teaches children about group bias, discrimination and how to stop social exclusion. I want to better understand when and why this program is effective and for whom it works best (e.g., for which age groups and populations). Lastly, I will start initiatives to embed successful parts of the program into current educational curricula for students and teachers.

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

During my fellowship, I will identify strategies teachers can use to promote social learning and accepting classroom climates. Social acceptance and positive friendships are important for children’s academics, mental health, and identity development. However, international data show that many children feel like they don’t belong because they are discriminated against and excluded based on their social group membership (e.g., immigrant status). 

Despite the fact that classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse with regards to students’ backgrounds and abilities, relatively little is known about how teachers can actively shape their students’ social group dynamics and promote positive peer relations. Moreover, researchers still need to determine how teachers can prepare students for openness towards learner heterogeneity. 

My research will help answering these questions with the goal of building bridges among students of different social origin and social or intellectual capacities. Moreover, my work aims to provide tools for teachers to identify and guide children’s social group dynamics in the classroom by encouraging perspective taking (i.e., considering how others think and feel) and using new technologies to better understand themselves and others. Developing children’s social skills in group settings will prepare them to become socially responsible members that advocate for equality in their communities.