African Adventure: Wishing Dr. Cate Safe Travels in Swaziland

Dr. Cate is currently in route to the African country of Swaziland as part of a research project for the University of California, Irvine. The project is titled “Empathy and Altruism in the Face of Chronic Stress, Adversity and Challenge.” Professor Jodi Quas (Dr. Cate’s sister) of the UCI Department of Psychology and Social Behavior is the Principal Investigator for the team. Dr. Cate will be traveling in both rural and urban areas of Swaziland, helping to interview children for the research endeavor. Below is a summary of the project provided by Professor Quas.

Project Summary: In this project, we will be studying how some of the most fundamental processes that make us human—namely those that foster and maintain relationship– operate in youth growing up in chronically deprived, unstable conditions.

We will specifically focus on documenting how culture and high-risk contexts interact to affect children’s ability and willingness to form close relationships with one another, children’s prosocial tendencies, and their empathetic responsiveness to emotions in others. If we can determine how these basic relationship-oriented processes in high-risk children around the globe who are faced with enormous challenges, we can begin to work together to find ways to intervene and promote more positive relationship development, and improve the children’s long-term ability to work together toward a more sustainable future.

The project will be carried out in Swaziland, an ideal pilot field investigation location. The country has an incredibly high rate of AIDs-related deaths. Swaths of the adult population in the country die each month, leaving countless youth growing up with minimal adult supervision, support, and input. The children lack role models who can demonstrate and foster positive emotional relationships, empathy, or compassion. The children are left without resources, education, and opportunities to improve their condition. At the same time, the country is small, and open to assistance from novel, interdisciplinary teams, such as ours, that are focusing on the broader social issues that plague the country.

Dr. Jodi Quas, a developmental psychologist, will be conducting the investigation with approximately 200 youth ages 8-14 in different contexts in the county (orphanages in rural areas, rural areas without orphanages, urban). She will be measuring the children’s relationship behaviors, empathy, compassion, and prosocial tendencies. She will also be examining whether specific processes are linked to different contexts, and are especially amenable to interventions.

The pilot project holds tremendous promise. Not only will we gain clearer understanding of what empathy, emotional understanding, and altruism mean to individuals residing in highly volatile uncertain environments, but we will also identify potential strengths and capacities on which we can build to improve the lives of the vulnerable populations. We will also be able to use the information collected via the pilot as the basis for continued work, in this and other high-risk settings, to identify the best ways of improving relationships and collaborations, thereby improving the lives of the next generation of individuals across the globe.

Learn more about Professor Jodi Quas.

The research team will have limited access to Internet services, but we will do our post to post updates from Dr. Cate if it is possible to hear from her during her travels in Swaziland.

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