Child Development: Unraveling the Mystery with Dr. Mistry

When Dr. Jayanthi Mistry first began her career in child development research, people would tease that she would  be studying her entire life.  Yet, Jayanthi doesn’t mind — studying is something she loves. In fact, it’s precisely why she decided to become a professor. She is able  to learn and extend her education while simultaneously pursuing her own interests. According to Jayanthi, “when you become a professor, you actually become a student for life.”

Dr. Jayanthi Mistry is an associate professor in the Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University. Her work includes comparing of communication across cultures, researching adolescent mothers, and studying the development of children growing up in cross cultural communities. Her goal  is to understand human development as a cultural process through research.

After completing her PhD in moral development in children, Jayanthi conducted research with Barbara Rogoff, a specialist in development across cultures. Jayanthi chose to study communication in children between the ages of one and two in Dhol-Ki-Patti, a village in the Indian state of Rajasthan. She noted that these children were not yet speaking, unlike most Western children of the same age. However, Jayanthi realized that these children  were developing a much richer way of understanding communication non-verbally.  The Indian children used their senses to observe surroundings and develop intimate bonds with the people around them. Jayanthi stressed this difference as uncomparable to Western communication development. In her eyes, neither one is better or worse.

In addition to global research, Jayanthi also conducts research locally. She evaluated the Massachusetts Healthy Families program which provides home-visiting services to parents 20 years old and younger. Jayanthi wanted to determine how the program aligned with the traditions and values of the ethnically diverse groups receiving the services. With that angle, Jayanthi collected data from the young mothers by asking about their stories. She continues to analyze these narratives in the effort to improve the program and understand how young mothers of different ethnic groups respond to it. She has thus published several papers on this topic.

Currently, Jayanthi is spearheading a new investigation that stems from her previous work on navigating development across cultures. Her primary source of data is self reporting of people telling their stories. Analyzing narratives is her way of research. Her recent project aims to collect narratives about developmental transitions in teenagers all around the world. She wants to analyze these narratives in order to answer the question of what causes self-development. Her goal is to figure out a particular circumstance or factor that leads to development of self-identity. She believes that development occurs from within an individual process in circumstances and context.

What’s next for Jayanthi? Her mind is full of ideas for potential research projects. At some point, she would love to write a book that is culturally inclusive with child development. She also hopes to expand her global network through exchanging information and sharing data. For now, she will continue teaching at Tufts, analyzing collected data, and planning her future projects.

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