Families and Development Lab

                 Rachel Lucas-Thompson, Ph.D.



How do characteristics of the family environment during childhood and adolescence influence physiological stress responding, future relationships, and health?


In the Families and Development lab, we are dedicated to understanding and improving the lives of families and children from diverse backgrounds. Through research, we investigate many factors that affect child and adolescent development. In particular, we examine the links between exposure to marital conflict, the quality of family relationships,  stress physiology (including cortisol and cardiovascular responses to stress), relationships with peers and romantic partners, and physical as well as mental health (such as depression, anxiety, and problem behaviors).  Of particular interest is the mechanisms (i.e., mediators) by which family relationships influence child and adolescent outcomes, as well as protective and risk factors (i.e., moderators) of the associations between family relationships and later development.

Research assistants (RAs) demonstrating the social-evaluative stressor.

An RA hooked up to the BioPac and blood pressure machines, answering an ACASI questionnaire.

An RA demonstrating the procedures used to collect salivary cortisol.

RAs demonstrating one of the interaction tasks that parents engage in, in which they work together to solve a puzzle.

We conduct research with families in the community (see the recruitment website at: www.macalester.edu/psychology/faculty/familylab.html), in which two-parent families with a child between 10 and 17 come to the lab; parents engage in two interaction tasks (which are videotaped and later coded for positive and negative communication  behaviors) and answer questionnaires; teens also answer questionnaires, engage in a standardized social-evaluative stressor, and watch an episode of marital conflict. We also take physiological measurements from the teens, including saliva samples to measure cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate variability, skin conductance, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia.


The development lab consists of several rooms each equipped with 2 computers with Audio Computer Assisted Self Interview (ACASI) software that is used for gathering information from children,  adolescents, and adults of varying reading levels.  In addition, the lab is equipped with BioPac equipment and AcqKnowledge software that allows for acquisition and analysis of aspects of physiology such as electrocardiogram, heart rate variability, skin conductance, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Also utilized are DinaMap Pro blood pressure machines that allow for manual and automatic assessment of cardiovascular functioning. In addition, the lab is equipped with digital audio and video recording equipment.


Rachel Lucas-Thompson, Ph.D.

Links to:
Faculty webpage
Lab recruitment website
Curriculum vitae

Email: rlucasth@macalester.edu
Phone: 651-696-6462

Office: Olin Rice 323
Labs: Olin Rice 356 and 357

Current Research Assistants

Ella Bandes, a senior Psychology and Art major

Julianna Carlson, a senior Psychology major with a concentration in Community & Global Health

Ellen Fitzharris, a senior Psychology major

Faith Kwon, a senior Psychology and Education Studies major with a Dance minor

Kristina Vlahovicova, a senior Psychology major with minors in Sociology and Theatre

Amanda, Wenzel, a recent Psychology graduate