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Postdoctoral Trainee Natasha Duell Receives Grant to Study How Emotions Impact Adolescent Learning

Natasha Duell

Postdoctoral Trainee Natasha Duell Receives Grant to Study How Emotions Impact Adolescent Learning

October 19, 2020

Natasha Duell, PhD, a postdoctoral trainee at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, has received a Jacobs Foundation Young Scholars Grant for her project "Effects of Feedback Sensitivity and Emotion Regulation on Learning and School Performance in Adolescents from Multiple Countries."

This $87,500 grant will allow Duell to work with co-principal investigator Laura Di Giunta, PhD, at Sapienza University of Rome on two studies that examine cross-cultural patterns in feedback sensitivity, emotion regulation, and learning in adolescence.

Duell says that adolescents are highly sensitive to rewards, but their self-regulatory capacities are still in the process of maturing. In the classroom, they experience a continuous stream of successes and failures—namely, rewards and punishments.

"We know from prior literature that reward sensitivity can facilitate learning, but we know less about the role of punishment sensitivity in learning. Further, adolescents with poor emotion regulation strategies may struggle to cope with the various rewards and punishments that are inherent in the learning environment, such as receiving praise from a teacher or failing an exam," she says. "This research brings these areas of inquiry together to examine the intersection of emotion regulation and feedback sensitivity on learning."

One study will use longitudinal data collected from adolescents participating in the Parenting Across Cultures study in Colombia, Italy, and the United States to explore how emotional reactivity and emotion regulation impact the association between adolescents' reward and punishment sensitivities and their academic performance. Another will use ecological momentary assessment (EMA) and an experimental learning paradigm to examine the association between Colombian adolescents' school-related emotion-regulation processes and learning across contexts that differ in the amount of positive and negative feedback given on adolescents' performance.

"We wanted to design a study that would have practical relevance to educators. We merged our respective expertise and interests to design two studies assessing how individual differences in emotion regulation strategies and feedback sensitivity influence adolescent learning," says Duell. "Further, to address the biases in current research on adolescent development, which is based heavily on individuals from 'WEIRD' (white, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) countries, we chose to examine our research questions in a cross-national sample."

Duell says the study findings can help scientists, practitioners, and policy makers make scientifically informed decisions when studying, working with, or advocating for children, adolescents, and their families.

"Findings may have practical applications to the classroom and could inform interventions for bolstering students' academic performance. For instance, findings could provide educators with information that helps them work with students struggling with emotion dysregulation and cultivate a successful learning environment," says Duell.