In this issue
Urie Bronfenbrenner Award Recipient for Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology
E. Mark Cummings, PhD, is professor and Notre Dame endowed chair in psychology at the University of Notre Dame. He is the director of the Family Studies Center and co-founder of the Shaw Center for Children and Families. Informed by a developmental psychopathology perspective, Cummings' work is concerned with transactional relations over time between adaptive and maladaptive processes in multiple biopsychosocial contexts and pathways in children's trajectories of development. He focuses on relations between family and community contexts and numerous processes of children's development between early childhood and later adolescence, guided for more than two decades by Emotional Security Theory (EST).
Cummings began work in developmental psychology as an undergraduate research assistant in Mary Ainsworth's laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. From an early point in his career, he was interested in extending conceptualizations of emotional security as a regulatory system affecting children's development beyond the specific context of mother-child attachment to also include broader family contexts, including father-child relationships and more recently, social-ecological contexts beyond the family. Cummings' initial articulation of the Emotional Security Theory in 1994, with co-author Patrick T. Davies, provided a cogent framework for investigating and understanding links between marital conflict and children and adolescents' adjustment and guided the focus of his subsequent research on family factors, especially socioemotional processes, associated with normal development and the development of psychopathology in children. EST has informed over two decades of rigorous, longitudinal research with families in various contexts, including fathers as well as mothers in the study of emotional security processes, and it has more recently been extended to families and children in countries experiencing political violence (e.g., Northern Ireland). The EST model has received robust empirical support in all of these instances. Over the past decade, Cummings' work has also been concerned with the translation of the findings of rigorous, longitudinal process-oriented research into the development and assessment of large-scale prevention and intervention programs.
Thus, in recent work, Cummings has maintained his focus on investigating the influences of marital conflict and family processes on children's adjustment over time and expanded his research model to include the role of community, family and children's emotional security in relations between political violence and child adjustment. He has also committed much of his recent research efforts toward the development and testing of translational research programs designed to improve family functioning, especially the quality of interparental and parent-child relationships and children's adjustment and well-being in both low- and high-risk US samples and international samples of families exposed to community violence.
For example, Cummings' ongoing preventive intervention programs are designed to support couples and families by increasing constructive conflict behaviors and improving communication among family members. The Family Communication Project, a recently completed program for community families with an adolescent child, used brief interactive psychoeducation sessions and communication coaching to enhance family processes and encourage constructive communication. The program was effective, with families who participated in all conditions reporting high satisfaction and families who received the program reporting improved knowledge about conflict, decreased family conflict and increases in adolescents' emotional security. Based on that successful model, subsequent programs are underway that are designed to intervene on behalf of families who are at higher risk for increased conflict and stress, including families with a child who has intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and families who have recently welcomed a new baby.
Cummings has authored several books, including “Marital Conflict and Children” (with Patrick Davies, the Guilford Press, 2011), “Children and Marital Conflict” (with Patrick Davies, the Guildford Press, 1994) and “Developmental Psychopathology and Family Process” (with Patrick Davies and Susan Campbell, the Guilford Press, 2002). In 2017, he authored “Political Violence, Armed Conflict and Youth Adjustment” (with Christine E. Merrilees, Laura K. Taylor, and Christina F. Mondi; Springer International Publishing), which critically reviews the status of the worldwide literature on political violence, armed conflict and children and outlines future directions for more informative basic research and more cogent prevention and intervention approaches based on translational research principles. He has published more than300 peer-reviewed articles, chapters and other publications. He has also served on the editorial boards of numerous journals and as a regular and ad hoc reviewer for National Institute of Health Integrated Review Groups panels. Cummings is the principal investigator or co-principal investigator of numerous National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and National Institute of Mental Health-funded research programs examining prospective, longitudinal relations among conflict, family processes and development in childhood and adolescence, as well as translational research programs designed to improve communication in families and enhance family relationships to support couples and promote adaptive development in children and adolescents.