Laboratory for Social-Emotional Development and Intervention


The Development of Children’s Attention, Physiology, and Emotions (PACE)

Why do some children feel guilty when transgressing norms, such as situations involving physical harm, while others do not show any remorse? Understanding how children learn to be kind to others is important because it motivates them to behave prosocially and avoid behaving aggressively.


In this project, we examine how children attend to different cues in hypothetical social conflicts from 4 to 12 years of age. By studying children’s eye movements, we can examine how the cues to which they attend impact their self-reported emotions, facial expressions, and physiology. With this, we hope to better understand how children move from being self-centered and selfish, to other-oriented and kind.


One of our central research themes focuses on the foundations, pathways, and promotion of kindness from early childhood through adolescence.

Below you will find our ongoing research projects on kindness.






Illustration PACE project, by Erinn Acland

Intergroup Membership and Emotional Responding Across Social Encounters (IMERSE)

In a highly diverse society, understanding the development of children’s prosocial orientations can help generate knowledge on how to encourage kindness among individuals from different backgrounds. Promoting self-conscious and-other-oriented emotions, such as guilt and sympathy, may be one way to foster kindness, as they have been found to encourage children’s prosocial responding and discourage harmful behaviour. In this study, we examine how guilt, sympathy, and other social emotions relate to children’s prosocial and antisocial responses toward peers who are similar (e.g., familiar peers) or different from them (e.g,  peers from an unfamiliar, marginalized community). Using a multi-method framework, we investigate the links between emotions and social behaviours across ages and settings with our collaborators in Canada, Japan, and Italy. The findings will provide us with insight into how emotions may contribute to the development of children’s kindness in diverse settings.

Illustration IMERSE project, by Erinn Acland

Study of Prosocial Development and Resilience in Newcomer Transitions (SPRINT)

With many refugees arriving in Canada, it is important to understand how to best help these children and families successfully integrate and resettle into society. What are the refugee children’s and caregivers’ experiences surrounding support, prosociality, and challenging situations during their transition? What personal characteristics and interpersonal experiences make the transition easier for some than for others? How do these factors affect the children’s resilience, development, and health? SPRINT is a community-based project that addresses these questions. In a sample of  newcomer children ages 5 to 12, and their caregivers, we collect information on the children’s emotional and behavioural characteristics, social interactions, and psychological well-being using questionnaires. We also interview them about some of the challenges and positive experiences they have had (such as receiving support and helping others) during their transition. We aim to understand how refugee children and families deal with their transition to Canada and the factors that contribute to their resilience and health, helping them to adjust and thrive. To better comprehend the information gathered from working with the refugee families, we also collect information from a comparison group of age-matched non-refugee Canadian children and families using the same measures and procedures. This comparison can help identify unique challenges and strengths in refugee children and inform systems of support tailored to the needs of the children and families in a developmentally and culturally sensitive way. The findings from this project will inform the development and implementation of practices designed to help with the social adjustment and integration of refugee families in Canada.




Illustration SPRINT project, by Erinn Acland

Adversity and the Development of Affective and Prosocial Trajectories (ADAPT)

How do kind emotions and behaviours develop across the early years? Do early emotional experiences affect behaviour trajectories? How does exposure to adversity, such as poverty, family conflict, or community violence, affect pathways of kindness?

These are the core questions of ADAPT. They are timely because our understanding of the origins and antecedents of kindness is limited. Simultaneously, we live in times of increasing adversity, such as exposure to conflict, disagreement, and violence. The development of kindness is foundational for children’s and adolescents’ wellbeing, positive relationships, and peace in our communities. Our previous research has shown that prosocial emotions, such as sympathy, motivate kindness. In this study we adopt a longitudinal design to study the trajectories of kind emotions and behaviours in children 2 to 6 years of age, and how pathways and their relations differ for children facing adversity in the family (e.g., parental conflict) and/or in the community (e.g., neighborhood violence). We use a multi-method, multi-informant approach including observations, behavioural tasks, physiological assessments, questionnaires, and semi-structured interviews. Ultimately, this study will help us understand the emergence and predictors of kindness in humans. Working in partnership with community leaders and practitioners, findings from our research will inform developmentally-sensitive strategies that will nurture kindness in children with diverse needs.



University of Toronto Mississauga