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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 twice as associate editor of Child Development, was a Senior NIMH Fellow in Law and Psychology at Stanford University in 1989-90, 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.  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), and he is currently working on Early Brain Development, the Media, and Public Policy.  

Research Focus

A developmental psychologist, Professor Thompson studies early parent-child relationships, the development of emotion understanding and emotion regulation, conscience development, prosocial motivation 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, including school readiness and its development, early childhood investments, child abuse prevention, families in divorce and early mental health. He has written in a large variety of public and policy forums about these topics.

Selected Publications

  • 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. 
  • Thompson, R. A., &  Newton, E. K. (2013).  Baby altruists?  Examining the complexity of prosocial motivation in young children. Infancy, 18, 120-133. 
  • 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.
  • Virmani, E. A., Masyn, K. E., Thompson, R. A., Conners-Burrow, N., &  Whiteside-Mansell, L. (2013). Early childhood mental health consultation: Promoting change in quality of teacher-child interactions. Infant Mental Health Journal, 34, 156-172. 
  • 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 2017.  He also received UC Davis Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award in 2011, and the Ann Brown Award for Excellence in Developmental Research in 2007. He has received the Boyd McCandless Award from the American Psychological Association, and the Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award from the University of Nebraska, where he was also a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers while a faculty member there. 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.