Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

New faculty member researches influences of social environment

Julia Dmitrieva grew up in Moscow at a time when there were major political and economic changes in the country. She saw dramatic changes in her high school classmates.

“I saw good students turn to drugs and alcohol and vice versa,” says Dmitrieva, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Denver. “They were so strongly affected by their social environment.”

It’s the reason she became a psychologist and continues to study how people are affected by their environment.

Her most recent research, published in Psychological Science (2007), looks at how classrooms are affected by children who were in child care.

“Children who are in child care early on and for many hours tend to have more behavioral problems, but perform better academically,” Dmitrieva says. “Additionally, the children who weren’t in child care but are in the same class as those child-care-exposed children ‘catch’ the effects and also have more behavioral problems and higher academic performance.”

The study also showed that the effects don’t linger. So, as children change classrooms and their peers change, their behavior and performance change as well.

Dmitrieva conducted the research with Professor Jay Belsky of Birkbeck University of London and Professor Laurence Steinberg of Temple University.

“Julia is one of those collaborators who is a lot of fun to work with because she is not only bright and methodologically sophisticated, but she is also very clever,” Steinberg says. “By that I mean that she has a facility for looking at a problem in an unusual way and coming up with a solution that is original and innovative — and that is the best part of being a scientist.”

As a new faculty member at DU, Dmitrieva is starting new research into how social environments influence adolescents and at-risk youth.

“I’m looking forward to building on these ideas,” she says. “Any undergraduate or graduate students interested in research projects are welcome to contact me.”

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