Sara Harkness, PhD, MPH

Director, Center for the Study of Culture, Health and Human Development (Affiliate)

Research Overview

My research interests center on the cultural construction of children’s environments of daily life, and how these promote various aspects of development. With the assumption that there are many paths for healthy development, I have sought to understand the ways that parents’ cultural belief systems (or ethnotheories), practices of care and education, and the settings of daily life work together as a system to direct children along various developmental pathways. In addition, I am particularly interested in how children’s individual differences (temperament) interact with the child’s culturally organized developmental niche, resulting in various kinds of challenges for children of varying dispositions. Finally, I am committed to the application of these approaches to solving issues in health and education for children and families of diverse cultural backgrounds in a variety of contexts around the world. At present, I am involved in three major research projects: 1) data analysis and writing (including a book) for a comparative study of parental ethnotheories, practices, and the transition to school, involving samples of children from infancy to middle childhood in seven Western countries; 2) Data analysis and writing journal articles for a comparative study of parental ethnotheories and practices and their relationship to infants’ development of state regulation and reactivity; in four Western countries and 3) a new pilot study of daycare environments for preschool aged children in the US and the Netherlands, and their relationship to patterns of diurnal cortisol. This last project may lend itself particularly well to a close collaboration with InCHIP.


Brown University – BA with major in Comparative Literature and minor in Music. Harvard University – PhD in anthropology. Harvard University – postdoctoral fellowship in the psychology of women. Harvard School of Public Health – MPH.

Featured Publications

Harkness, S., Zylicz, P. O., Super, C. M., Welles-Nyström, B., Ríos Bermúdez, M., Bonichini, S., Moscardino, U., & Mavridis, C. J. (2011). Children’s Activities and Their Meanings for Parents: A Mixed-Methods Study in Six Western Cultures. Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 6, 799-813.

Super, C. M., Harkness, S., Barry, O., & Zeitlin, M. (2011). Think locally, act globally: Contributions of African research to child development. Child Development Perspectives, 5(2), 119-125.

Raghavan, C., Harkness, S., & Super, C. M. (2011). Parental ethnotheories in the context of immigration: Asian Indian immigrant and Euro-American mothers and daughters in an American town. In “The Contributions of Beatrice and John Whiting to the Cross-Cultural Study of Children and Adolescents” (C. P. Edwards & T. S. Weisner, guest editors), Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology, 41(4), 617-632.

Super, C. M., Axia, G., Harkness, S., Welles-Nyström, B., Zylicz, P.O., Ríos Bermúdez, M., Bonichini, S., Parmar, P., Moscardino, U., Kolar, V., Palacios, J., & McGurk, H. (2008). Culture, temperament, and the “difficult child” in seven Western cultures. European Journal of Developmental Science, 2(1-2), 136-157.

Harkness, S. (2008). Human development in cultural context: One pathway or many? (Essay review of Heidi Keller, Cultures of infancy). Human Development, 51:283-289.

Harkness, S., Super, C. M., Sutherland, M. A., Moscardino, U., Axia, V., & Blom, M. J. M. (2007). Culture and the construction of habits in daily life: Implications for the successful development of children with disabilities. Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, 27 (Supplement 1), 33-40.

Harkness, S., Super, C. M., Moscardino, U., Rha, J.-H., Blom, M. J. M., Huitrón, B., Johnston, C., Sutherland, M., Hyun, O.-K., Axia, G., & Palacios, J. (2007). Cultural models and developmental agendas: Implications for arousal and self-regulation in early infancy. Journal of Developmental Processes, 2(1), 5-39 .

Harkness, S., Blom, M., Oliva, A., Moscardino, U., Zylicz, P. O., Rios Bermudez, M., Feng, X., Axia, G., & Super, C. M. (2007). Teachers’ ethnotheories of the ‘ideal student’ in five Western cultures. Comparative Education, special edition on “Western psychological and educational theory in diverse contexts” (Guest Editors, J. Elliott & E. Grigorenko), 43(1), 113-135.

Harkness, S., Moscardino, U., Rios Bermudez, M., Zylicz, P.O., Welles-Nystrom, B., Blom, M., Parmar, P., Axia, G., & Super, C.M. (2006). Mixed methods in international collaborative research: The experiences of the International Study of Parents, Children, and Schools. Cross-Cultural Research, 40(1), 65-82.

Parmar, P., Harkness, S., & Super, C. M. (2004). Asian and Euro-American parents’ ethnotheories of play and learning: Effects on pre-school children’s home routines and school behavior. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 28(2), 97-104. Reprinted in P. Mohite & L. Prochner (Eds.) 2009, Early childhood care and education: Theory and practice, pp. 122-143. New Delhi: Concept Publishing.

Super, C. M., & Harkness, S. (2003). The metaphors of development. Human Development, 46(1): 3-23.

Harkness, S., & Super, C. M. (2002). The ties that bind: Social networks of men and women in a Kipsigis community of Kenya. Ethos, 29(3), 357-370.

Harkness, S., & Keefer, C. H. (1999). Contributions of cross-cultural psychology to research and interventions in education and health. Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology, 31, 92-109.

Harkness, S., & Super, C. M. (1994). The “developmental niche”: A theoretical framework for analyzing the household production of health. Social Science and Medicine, 38(2), 217-226.

Harkness, S. (1991). A cultural model for the acquisition of language: Implications for the innateness debate. In C. Dent & P. Zukow (Eds.), The idea of innateness: Effects on language and communication research. Developmental Psychobiology, 23(7), 727_740.

Harkness, S. (1987). The cultural mediation of postpartum depression. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 1, 194-209.

Super, C. M., & Harkness, S. (1986). The developmental niche: A conceptualization at the interface of child and culture. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 9, 545-569.

Contact Information
Mailing AddressCenter for the Study of Culture, Health and Human Development
348 Mansfield Road, Unit 1058
(Family Studies Building, FSB)
Storrs, CT 06269-1058