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.
Money Matters: CMC Alum Shares Finance Strategies That College Students Need to Know
College students were able to learn how to manage money and make smart choices with the help of CMC alum and Certified Financial Planner, Mari Adam (CMC ’80). Adam has worked at several wealth management firms specializing in financial planning and portfolio...
The Pursuit of Happiness: What Science Can Tell Us
There’s a reason we’re all chasing happiness all the time. According to Dr. Todd Kashdan (George Mason University), happy people are more successful and creative, have more meaningful relationships, are more resilient, and even have stronger immune systems. In last...
Resilience and Connections with Sleep and Health
Despite the fact that many children grow up in poverty, many exhibit resilience, or successful adaptation and competence. Recent data, however, has also shown that adaptation in the face of adversity often comes at a health cost. At the same time, there is much we do...
How Early Conversations with Kids Affects Their Emotional Understanding
According to new research from the Berger Institute, the way mothers of different cultures talk to their children may affect kids’ understanding of emotions. In the past, research has shown that early conversations with children about emotions and mental states are...