Gender & Sexuality
Some of my first research projects were in the early days of SNSs when MySpace was popular among young people. Qualitative research I conducted with colleagues at the Children's Digital Media Center @ Los Angeles indicated that young women and also young men were preoccupied with constructing themselves as physically attractive “brands,” incorporating popular media images for sex and gender into their self-definitions on social networking sites that are marketable to their audience of peers. My more recent research with Dr. Monique Ward's lab at the University of Michigan has shown that Facebook involvement among U.S. college students is associated with greater objectified body consciousness (greater focus on appearance in one's self-worth, more frequent body surveillance, and enjoyment of self-sexualization), body shame, and in turn, decreased sexual self-confidence (i.e., feeling comfortable communicating one's sexual desires and boundaries).
Identity & Values
While earning my PhD at UCLA, I had the good fortune to be invited by Dr. Patricia Greenfield to conduct field research on sociocultural change and values in an indigenous Maya community in southern Mexico called Zinacantán. I published a series of studies showing how shifts away from a rural subsistence agriculture toward a market economy with formal schooling can result in psychological change away from family obligation and toward increasing values for personal choice, personal fulfillment, and gender equality. In 2015, I returned to Zinacantán after seven years away to explore the impact of a new communications tower in the community on young people's social networks and their values. Analysis are currently underway. I also have been studying sociocultural change and intergenerational value change among Arab families in Israel with Michael Weinstock at Ben Gurion University.
Like many other researchers, my colleagues and I have found positive correlations between young people’s social media use, their social connectedness, and well-being. In contrast to concerns in the 1990s that the Internet would replace face-to-face relationships, many researchers now find that social media augment offline relationships. Communication technologies enable greater opportunities for relatedness—in terms of perpetual social contact and support from a distance—but also greater autonomy in terms of customizability in the ways one can connect. My students and I have been examining the implications of these technological affordances. In one study, we used a hidden camera to examine whether close friends use their mobile devices during a face-to-face interaction and the consequences for their feelings of closeness. In another study, we examined how a diverse sample of adolescents used mobile devices to manage closeness and independence in their relationships with parents. Some of my international collaborations include work with Japanese and French colleagues examining cross-cultural differences in masspersonal (one-to-many) communication on social media and bridging social capital (social resources gained from "weak" ties such as access to diverse perspectives, new information, and feelings of belongingness to large and amorphous communities).