Home | People |

Ross Thompson


  • Ph.D., Psychology, University of Michigan, 1981
  • M.A., Psychology, University of Michigan, 1979
  • B.A., Psychology, Occidental College, magna cum laude, 1976


Ross Thompson is distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and is director of the Social & Emotional Development Lab.  He has served three times as associate editor of Child Development, is immediate Past President of the Board of Directors of Zero to Three (a national nonprofit devoted to the healthy development of young children and their families), and served on the Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development (1998-2000) and the Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8 (2013-15) of the National Research Council/Institute of Medicine.  He served for many years on the executive committee of the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis, and on the boards of several national nonprofits.  His books include Preventing Child Maltreatment Through Social Support: A Critical Analysis (Sage, 1995), The Postdivorce Family (Sage, 1999), Toward a Child-Centered, Neighborhood-Based Child Protection System (Praeger, 2002), Socioemotional Development (Nebraska Symposium on Motivation; University of Nebraska Press, 1990), and Infant-Mother Attachment (Erlbaum, 1985).  His most recent books are Attachment: The Fundamental Questions (Guilford, 2021) and The Brain Development Revolution: Science, the Media, and Public Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2023). 

Professor Thompson is not currently inviting new students to join his lab group.

Research Focus

A developmental psychologist, Professor Thompson studies early parent-child relationships, the development of emotion understanding and emotion regulation, conscience development, prosocial motivation, early moral development, and the growth of self-understanding in young children.  He is broadly concerned with the development of constructive social motivation early in life.  Recent studies have examined, for example, how the content and structure of early parent-child conversation shapes young children's developing understanding of emotion, morality and self.  Professor Thompson also works on the applications of developmental research to public policy concerns such as early childhood mental health, the effects of early care and education policies, and families in adversity.  He has spoken and written in a large variety of public and policy forums about these and related topics.


Selected Publications

  • Thompson, R. A., & Rowe, S. E. (2023).  Developmental dynamics of positive and negative emotion in infancy.  Emotion, advance online publication March 2023    https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0001219
  • Thompson, R. A., Simpson, J. A., & Berlin, L. J. (2022).  Taking perspective on attachment theory and research: Nine fundamental questions.  Attachment & Human Development, 24, 543-560.
  • Thompson, R. A., & Baumrind, D. (2019).  Ethics of parenting.  In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting (3rd Ed.), Vol. 5.  The practice of parenting (pp. 3-33).  New York: Taylor & Francis.
  • Thompson, R. A. (2019).  Emotion dysregulation: A theme in search of definition.  Development and Psychopathology, 31, 805-815.
  • Schachner, A. C. W., Newton, E. K., Thompson, R. A., & Goodman, M. (2018).  Becoming prosocial: The consistency of individual differences in early prosocial behavior.  Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 43, 42-51.
  • Newton, E. K., Thompson, R. A., & Goodman, M. (2016).  Individual differences in toddlers’ prosociality: Experiences in early relationships explain variability in prosocial behavior.  Child Development, 87, 1715-1726.
  • Waters, S. F., & Thompson, R. A. (2016).  Children’s perceptions of emotion regulation strategy effectiveness: Links with attachment security.  Attachment & Human Development, 18, 354-372. 
  • Thompson, R. A. (2015).  Social support and child protection: Lessons learned and learning.  Child Abuse & Neglect, 41, 19-29
  • Thompson, R. A. (2014).  Stress and child development. The Future of Children, 24, 41-59. 
  • Raikes, H. A.,  Virmani, E. A.,  Thompson, R. A., & Hatton, H. (2013). Declines in peer conflict from preschool through first grade: Influences from early attachment and social information processing. Attachment & Human Development, 15, 65-82.
  • Thompson, R. A. (2012).  Bridging developmental science and the law: Child-caregiver relationships.  Hastings Law Journal, 63, 1443-1468.
  • Thompson, R. A. (2012). Wither the preconventional child? Toward a life-span moral development theory. Child Development Perspectives, 6(4), 423-429. 
  • Thompson, R. A. (2011).  Emotion and emotion regulation: Two sides of the developing coin.  Emotion Review, 3, 53-61. 


Professor Thompson teaches in the area of developmental psychology. He currently teaches courses in General Psychology, Social and Personality Development, a graduate course in Developmental Psychology: Social/Emotional/Personality and topical graduate courses on various issues related to social and personality development.


Professor Thompson received the Urie Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contributions to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society in 2018.  He received UC Davis Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2019, and the Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award in 2011.  He was also recognized with the the Ann Brown Award for Excellence in Developmental Research in 2007. He has been a Visiting Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin, a Senior NIMH Fellow in Law and Psychology at Stanford University, and a Harris Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago.  He received the Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lectureship (Brigham Young University, 2011), and was the Hansen Lecturer (Iowa State University, 2013) and the Lapsley Lecturer (Notre Dame, 2016).