Daiqing “Iris” Zhao, a third-year Developmental Psychology doctoral student at Penn State, received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and her master’s degree in psychology one year later from Boston University. At these institutions, Iris participated in a variety of research projects, which sparked her interest in behavioral genetics, personality, and temperament development during childhood. Her research aspirations led her to Penn State, where she found common interests with Dr. Jenae Neiderheiser and the resources that would allow her to grow and thrive as a researcher.
Iris is interested in understanding how genes and the environment interact in the development of personality, temperament, and psychopathology. She would like to investigate how the interplay between internal factors, like temperament, and environmental factors, like parenting, contribute to the development of personality and psychopathology, especially internalizing problems. Her research has been guided by two primary questions: First, how do genetics and the environment interact in the development of adolescent temperament and adult personality? Second, how does temperament change alongside environmental factors, like parenting behaviors, across early and middle childhood, especially with respect to internalizing symptoms? Iris has used data collected from twin studies to address the first question in her master's thesis, focusing on the unique contributions of genes, shared environments, and non-shared environments in the development of personality. Iris’ thesis suggests that the association between temperament and personality is predominantly accounted for by genetics, with a small portion explained by non-shared environment. For the second line of research, Iris has used time-varying effects modeling and confirmatory factor analysis to understand how childhood temperament might change across development.
As her research career progresses, Iris would like to continue studying gene-environment interaction to better understand the unique effects of nature and nurture in childhood psychopathology. She would also like to explore how depression and anxiety co-develop alongside temperament, especially in the context of different parenting behaviors. She hopes this research will translate to the development of interventions addressing child psychopathology.