F. Stuart Chapin Distinguished Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Research interests & goals:
Peter A. Ornstein is the F. Stuart Chapin Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A developmental psychologist, Dr. Ornstein’s research concerns cognitive development, especially the development of young children’s memory. Two of his programs of research focus on social factors – such as interactions with parents and teachers – that influence developmental changes in children’s abilities to remember. In the first of these programs, Dr. Ornstein works with Dr. Jennifer Coffman to examine the ways in which teachers in the early elementary school years facilitate the emergence and refinement of children’s deliberate memory skills. Incorporating both longitudinal and experimental methods, the focus of this work is on linkages between teachers’ “memory talk” during instruction and children’s changing deliberate memory and study skills. In the second research program, Dr. Ornstein collaborates with Dr. Catherine Haden on a longitudinal study of the development of children’s memory over the first six years of life, focusing on transitions from early expressions of nonverbal memory to later uses of language to make reference to past experiences to still later facility in the deliberate deployment of strategies for remembering. Particular emphasis is placed on parent-child social interaction as it impacts children’s developing skills in talking about previously-experienced events. Moreover, in a third program of research, Dr. Ornstein works with Dr. Lynne Baker Ward (and previously with their late colleague, Dr. Betty Gordon) to examine the abilities of 3- to 7-year-olds to remember salient personal experiences – such visits to the doctor – over extended periods of time. These studies are designed to contribute to an understanding of the major factors (e.g., prior knowledge, stress) that influence children’s memory performance and its development, but they also have implications for assessing the abilities of young children to provide accurate testimony in legal situations.