Emerging Scholar Spotlight: Sophia Choukas-Bradley

January 2016

Sophia Choukas-Bradley (“Sophie”) is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She currently is completing her predoctoral clinical internship year at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and she expects to receive her Ph.D. in 2016. Sophie’s research examines psychosocial influences on adolescents’ and young adults’ health risk behaviors, mental health symptoms, and wellbeing, with a focus on adolescent girls and young women. Her dissertation examined the roles of peer factors and gender in adolescents’ development of sexual behavior. She is passionate about understanding the complex intersection of sociocultural influences (e.g., gender and racial socialization; the changing social media landscape), interpersonal influences (including peers, romantic partners, and parents), and intrapersonal factors (e.g., gender; pubertal timing) on adolescent and young adult development.

Sophie’s educational trajectory has been shaped by research collaborations with investigators across multiple disciplines, including clinical, developmental, health, and social psychology, as well as public health and communication studies. She was introduced to psychology research during her undergraduate years at Brown University, where she worked with Dr. Jack Wright and Dr. Audrey Zakriski (of Connecticut College) on a longitudinal study of children’s and adolescents’ changes during short-term residential treatment for behavioral problems.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Mitch Prinstein at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Sophie’s research in graduate school has focused on interpersonal influences in adolescent development. More specifically, Sophie has used multiple methods to examine how peer influences shape adolescents’ development of health risk behaviors and mental health symptoms. Using both experimental and longitudinal study designs, Sophie has studied the roles of peer norms, peer status, and communication processes in adolescents’ sexual behaviors, substance use, disordered eating, prosocial behavior, and symptoms of depression.

Sophie defended her dissertation in the spring of 2015. This project used methods from social, developmental, and clinical psychology, to examine peer factors in the development of sexual behaviors, in a community sample of early adolescents in rural North Carolina. Pairing an experimental paradigm with a multi-year study design, the project examined gender and peer influence susceptibility as moderators of the longitudinal associations between peer norms and adolescents’ trajectories of numbers of coital and noncoital sexual behaviors. Sophie is fortunate to have had the support of dissertation grants from the American Psychological Foundation (Henry David Research Grant) and the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention (Doug Kirby Adolescent Sexual Health Research Grant).

Committed to a multidisciplinary approach to understanding psychosocial factors in adolescents’ and young adults’ development, Sophie also collaborated with several other labs at UNC. For example, she has worked with Dr. Carolyn Halpern and her colleagues in the Gillings School of Global Public Health and Carolina Population Center, using the Add Health dataset to examine psychosocial predictors of adolescents’ and young adults’ sexual behaviors and romantic relationships. She also has collaborated with researchers in psychology and the School of Media and Journalism to examine adolescents’ sexual communication with parents and peers. Additionally, with several colleagues in the psychology labs of Dr. Mitch Prinstein and Dr. Anna Bardone-Cone, she has studied the roles of self-objectification processes in young women’s body image, disordered eating, and sexual behaviors.

Sophie’s research has been published in Child Development, Developmental Psychology, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, and Journal of Adolescence. She also is co-author on publications in Health Psychology, JAMA Pediatrics, Journal of Adolescent Health, Pediatric Psychology, Journal of Sex Research, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, International Journal of Eating Disorders, and Advances in Eating Disorders.

Sophie also is passionate about teaching, mentorship, and clinical supervision. She has greatly enjoyed teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, and serving as a supervisor and mentor to other students. She is grateful to have been recognized with several awards for teaching, research, and citizenship at UNC, and with a national award for teaching from the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology. Following her current clinical internship year at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, she plans to pursue postdoctoral training and then a faculty position in psychology. She currently is working with Dr. Stephanie Stepp and colleagues in psychology and psychiatry at UPMC, and is examining adolescent girls’ and young women’s development of health risk behaviors and mental health symptoms in the Pittsburgh Girls Study, a community-wide project that has followed over 2,000 girls for fifteen years, with over-sampling in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Her current project focuses on the co-development of borderline personality disorder symptoms and sexual risk behaviors in adolescent girls and young women.

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