The Berger Institute at Claremont McKenna College provides the intellectual and experiential home for research and programming focused on contemporary social issues. The Berger Institute produces and disseminates high quality research with implications for policy, practical applications, and theory.
The central theme for our research and programming is How We Thrive. Our research focuses on understanding risk and resilience factors, while our programming emphasizes the development and cultivation of skills that are necessary for successful adaptation in a rapidly changing society. We focus on individual and social factors that impact how children develop, how families thrive, and how people navigate major transitions and milestones. Examples of our work include understanding how to nurture the well-being of individuals from a wide range of social-economic and demographic backgrounds (including gender, culture, race, age), the changing nature of gender and family roles, and understanding the demographic, technological, financial, and political changes impacting our society today.
Current Pandemic Research
Changes in Maternal Depression and Children’s Behavior Problems: Investigating the Role of COVID-19 Related Stressors, Hair Cortisol, and Dehydroepiandrosterone
In collaboration with Dr. Smiley (Pomona College) and Dr. Liu (Brigham and Women’s Hospital), researchers from the Berger Institute collected data on COVID-19-related life stressors, mothers’ depressive symptoms, children’s behavioral problems, hair cortisol (a measure of chronic stress exposure), and hair dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA, a hormone which can act as a stress regulator). Through hair samples and questionnaires one and a half years before the pandemic and online questionnaires during the first few months of the pandemic, the researchers found that pandemic-related stressors were linked to increases in mothers’ depression. They also found that chronic stress exposure prior to the pandemic (measured through hair cortisol) also predicted mothers’ depression in relation to the current chronic stress of the pandemic. This relationship between chronic stress and mothers’ depression also impacts children’s behavioral problems.
A Relational Savoring Intervention Predicts Higher Levels of Health Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Berger Institute researchers collaborated with Dr. Smiley (Pomona College), Dr. Kerr (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Dr. Borelli (University of California-Irvine) to look at the effects of a pre-pandemic positive emotion intervention on health behaviors during the pandemic. 3-5 years before the pandemic, the researchers had mothers perform relational savoring, a type of positive emotion intervention in which the mother recalls times of positive connection with their child and expands on the memory by finding meaning in it. A control group of mothers recalled a positive memory that did not involve another person. The exercise was performed once per week for 4 weeks. During the later pandemic, many of these mothers volunteered to fill out an online questionnaire about their health behavior (such as how much they washed their hands), their anxiety, and the perceived threat they felt during the pandemic. The researchers found that those who had participated in the relational savoring intervention years earlier engaged in more health behavior during the pandemic, regardless of their education level, their perceived threat, and their anxiety.
How We Thrive at Work: Understanding the Needs of Minoritized Employees
Students and staff working at the METRICS lab and the Berger Institute over the summer were able to take part in a thrilling panel that discussed “How We Thrive at Work: Understanding the Needs of Minoritized Employees” led by four distinguished panelists: Dr. Alicia...
The Problem of Conflicting Goals: A Philosophical Approach
In the 2nd segment of a 3-part series on Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Happiness, Dr. Valerie Tiberius (University of Minnesota) spoke about the philosophical perspective of conflicting goals and well-being. What are our main motivations as goal-oriented human...
Are Negative Emotions Bad for Our Health? Not as Much as We Think
From the angry CEO in the movies who has a heart attack to the numerous articles on WebMD suggesting why people should control their anxiety, negative emotions are commonly seen as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). While research has shown this is indeed...
When Aggression is Protective: The Health Benefits of Destructive Behavior During Adversity
Behaviors such as bullying or stealing are usually considered destructive. Moreover, these types of behaviors are more likely to be seen in children who grow up with more adversity. Once thought as maladaptive, recent research suggests there may be some important...