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Luthar Lab (Luthar)

Keywords:  resilience; affluence; motherhood; prevention; parenting

Lab Research Area:

Conducted within a developmental psychopathology framework, research by our group revolves around the construct of resilience and positive youth development. Core questions of interest are: What are the processes that help some children do well in spite of diverse stressors in their lives?  Across various spheres of development -psychological, emotional, interpersonal, and academic- how can children maximize their potentials and achieve competent, productive trajectories over time? 


Child & adolescent development in poverty vs. wealth: Research in schools. This program of research has its roots in a 1999 study involving two samples of 10th graders: those from low-income, urban families and high-income, suburban families.  Findings showed that on several fronts the wealthy children fared more poorly than did their low-income counterparts.  Specifically, they reported much higher levels of cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use as well as significantly greater anxiety; in addition, suburban girls reported startlingly high levels of depression (Luthar & D'Avanzo, 1999).

We are currently focused on longitudinal analyses of the New England Study of Suburban Youth cohort to illuminate trajectories of maladjustment and competence, as well as major risk and protective processes, from middle childhood through young adulthood.  Of special interest are (a) pathways in alcohol and drug misuse, and (b) gender-specific processes, such as pressures for “effortless perfectionism” among the women. 

Children of mothers with major mental illnesses. A second area long-term, longitudinal study involves resilience and vulnerability among children of mothers with major psychiatric disorders such as drug abuse, and depressive or anxiety disorders.  In current longitudinal analyses, our goals are to (1) determine whether maternal drug abuse, vs. affective/anxiety diagnoses, is linked with greater offspring pathology during adulthood; (2) elucidate risk/protective mechanisms underlying links between maternal disorders and offspring outcomes; and (3) examine the degree to which offsprings’ psychopathology presages psychological and physical illness among mothers. 

Motherhood: Developmental phenomenology. In developmental research, women are typically considered in terms of their behaviors as mothers - rarely in terms of their own personhood.  In an internet-based survey we have explored how women feel about their different roles -- not only as mothers, but also as spouses, friends, workers (in and out of the home), individuals with various hopes and fears -- and how they cope with the challenge of balancing multiple roles.  We obtained data from over 2,200 mothers, with excellent completion rates and high reliability and validity of the data.  These data reveal significant risk and protective processes among well-educated, upper-middle class mothers as compared to others.   

Authentic Connections: Fostering resilient adaptation among professional mothers. Drawing upon previous work and in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic,  we are examining the effectiveness of a relationship-based intervention for another group of at-risk mothers: physicians with young children. Between 30% and 40% of US physicians reportedly experience professional burnout, with women at significantly greater risk than their male counterparts.  For women physicians in particular, a major factor implicated in burnout is depletion from multiple caregiving responsibilities.  The Authentic Connections intervention is aimed at the development and crystallization of close, supportive, and dependable relationships for these women, both within the professional setting as well as in everyday lives outside of work.  The program involves group sessions for one-hour per week, across a three-month period, with session topics described in a detailed manual.

Lab Director and Principal Investigator:  Suniya Luthar, PhD. Professor of Psychology

Suniya S. Luthar is Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University and Professor Emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College. After receiving her PhD (Distinction) from Yale University in 1990, she served on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and the Child Study Center at Yale.  Between 1997 and 2013, she was at Columbia University’s Teachers College, where she also served as Senior Advisor to the Provost (2011-2013). Dr. Luthar's research involves vulnerability and resilience among various populations including youth in poverty, children in families affected by mental illness, and teens in upper-middle class families (who reflect high rates of symptoms relative to national norms).  Her recent research is focused on motherhood, with exploration of factors that best help mothers negotiate the challenges of this life-transforming role, and applying these research-based insights to foster their resilience through supportive group-based interventions. For more information about Dr. Luthar's work, please see her curriculum vitae or visit her website at www.SuniyaLuthar.org. 

Post-doctoral Fellow

Lucia Ciciolla, PhD

Dr. Ciciolla received her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from Arizona State University in 2014 with a focus on children and families and quantitative science under the mentorship of Dr. Keith Crnic and Dr. Stephen G. West. She completed her APA predoctoral psychology internship at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill where she focused on early childhood mental health, women’s mental health, and childhood trauma. She graduated with her B.A. in Psychology and Italian Studies from Wellesley College in 2005. Lucia is an active member of Postpartum Support International and volunteers as a coordinator for the state of Arizona. She is also an active member of the Infant-Toddler Mental Health Coalition of Arizona. In Fall 2016, Dr. Ciciolla will be starting her tenure-track career as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Oklahoma State University.

Graduate Students

Phil Small, Doctoral Student, Clinical Psychology, Department of Psychology

Alexandria Curlee, Doctoral Student, Clinical Psychology, Department of Psychology


If you're interested in joining the lab, please contact Dr. Luthar.

Select Publications 

Below are a sample of publications from Dr. Luthar's research and lab. A more complete listing may be found in Dr. Luthar's curriculum vitae.

In Press

Infurna, F., & Luthar, S.S.  (In press).  Resilience to major life stressors is not as common as thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science.


Luthar, S.S., & Ciciolla, L.  (2015).  What it feels like to be a mother: Variations by children’s developmental stages.  Developmental Psychology. http://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/dev0000062

Luthar, S.S., & Ciciolla, L.  (2015).  Who mothers Mommy?  Factors that contribute to mothers’ well-being. Developmental Psychology, 51, 1812-1823.  http://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/dev0000051

Luthar, S.S. (2015).  Mothering mothers. Research in Human Development. 12, 295–303.  doi: 10.1080/15427609.2015.1068045

Luthar, S. S., Crossman, E. J., & Small, P. J.  (2015). Resilience and adversity.  In R.M. Lerner and M. E. Lamb  (Eds.).  Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science (7th Edition, Vol. III, pp. 247-286).  New York: Wiley.


Luthar, S. S., Barkin, S. H., & Crossman, E. J. (2013). “I can, therefore I must”: Fragility in the upper-middle classes.  Development and Psychopathology, 25th Anniversary Special Issue, 25, 1529-1549. PMCID: PMC4215566

Barbot, B., Hunter, S.R., Grigorenko E. L., & Luthar, S. S. (2013). Dynamic of change in pathological personality trait dimensions: A Latent Change Analysis among at-risk women. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 35, 173-185. PMCID: PMC3661293


Bick, J., Naumova, O., Hunter, S., Barbot, B., Lee, M., Luthar, S., Raefski, A., Grigorenko, E. L. (2012). Childhood adversity and DNA methylation of genes involved in the HPA axis and immune system: Whole genome and candidate gene associations. Development and Psychopathology, 24, 1417-1425. PMCID: PMC3755948

Luthar, S. S., & Barkin, S. H.  (2012).  Are affluent youth truly “at risk”?  Vulnerability and resilience across three diverse samples.  Development and Psychopathology, 24, 429-449.


Luthar, S. S., Suchman, N. E., & Altomare, M. (2007). Relational Psychotherapy Mothers Group: A randomized clinical trial for substance abusing mothers. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 243-261. PMCID: PMC2190295


Luthar, S. S., & Latendresse, S. J. (2005). Comparable “risks” at the SES extremes: Pre-adolescents’ perceptions of parenting. Development and Psychopathology, 17, 207-230.

In the news and more!

Luthar's work on parents, pressure, kids and affluence hits the media outlets and continues to raise awareness.

ASU Now, How parents' ambitions for kids can backfire (28 Nov, 2016).

Phys.Org News, Parents should avoid pressuring young children over grades, study says (29 Nov 2016).

Free Press Journal, Pressuring kids over grades hinders their success later in life (1 Dec 2016).

AZ Central, Pushy parents who prioritize GPA are actually hurting their kids, says ASU study (2 Dec 2016).

From the Wall Street Journal, "When to Let Children Quit. Over-scheduled lives lead to questions of whether to stop an activity; teaches decision-making and relieves family tensions"  “It’s hard for children,” says Suniya Luthar, Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. “Harder for parents.” (24 Aug 2016). 

The influence of affluence

Bloomberg Business Week, Affluenza Anonymous: Rehab for the Young, Rich, and Addicted (21 Nov 2016).

Dr. Suniya Luthar speaks in Wilton, CT about "affluenza" and the elevated anxiety levels in affluent teens (16 Aug 2016).

Suniya Luthar talks about her research with adolecents from affluent families in Money: wealth and expectations, 612 ABC Brisbane (29 July 2016).

 Reuters. Sometimes ‘poor little rich kids’ really are poor little rich kids. (5 Jan 2016).


Media seeks Luthar's expertise for understanding high profile affluenza case!

Recent stories on resilience

The New York Times,  When a Spouse Dies, Resilience Can Be Uneven  by Department of Psychology faculty Frank J. Infurna and Suniya S. Luthar using a unique data set gathered annually for 13 years in Australia (26 Sep 2016).

On KJZZ, Why our resilience may rely more on relationships than personal fortitude : an interview with Dr. Suniya Luthar (posted 20 Sep 2016).

Moms and stress

Inside Higher Ed: Academic Minute. Mothers of Tweens with Dr. Suniya Luthar. Posted online 7 july 2016.

Wall Street Journal, Moms’ Middle-School Blues: Mothers feel most stressed about parenting when their children are in middle school, new research shows. Posted online 17 may 2016.

ASU Now. Moms, you think babies are tough? Wait until middle school. Posted online 21 jan 2016.

Who Mothers Mommy? Factors That Contribute to Mothers' Well-Being Luthar, S.S. & Cicciola, L.

 The Atlantic: The Silicon Valley Suicides. Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?  Posted online dec 2015.

 ASU Now. Holiday stress have you pulling your hair out? ASU experts save the day with some insight into what causes stress and how to cope. Posted online 10 dec 2015.

National Academies on Science, Engineering and Medicine; Institute of Medicine. Committee on Supporting the Parents of Young Children: Fragility in Affluent Families and Implications for Parenting Research and Practice. Posted online 4/9/15.

New York Times. Growing Up on Easy Street Has Its Own Dangers. Posted online 1/9/15.

American Psychological Association Podcast. Episode 18, Speaking of Psychology: The mental price of affluence.