Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development Professor Jacqueline V. Lerner, in collaboration with Tufts University Professor Richard M. Lerner, has received a two-year, $1-million grant from the National 4-H Council and the Altria Group, Inc., to extend and replicate the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, landmark research conducted by the husband-and-wife team more than a decade ago.

Richard Lerner is the Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science and the director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University.

Jacqueline Lerner

Jacqueline Lerner

The original 4-H study followed more than 7,000 adolescents of diverse backgrounds in 42 states between 2002-2012 in an effort to define and measure positive youth development, or PYD, resulting in the formulation of the “Five Cs” model, which stresses the importance of competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring in the emotional, social, and moral growth of youth, and the development of a sixth “C”: contribution. The research been characterized as the first longitudinal study of the nature and bases of thriving across the adolescent years.

“The primary findings of the initial study indicated that when PYD was promoted by youth development programs, adolescents would positively contribute to their communities, and by the end of the high-school years, they would become active and engaged citizens,” said Lynch’s Lerner, a member of the department of Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology. “These interactions were particularly true for youth— and especially girls—enrolled in 4-H programs.”

With the new grant, the Lerners and their research team will re-contact as many of the original study participants as possible, and assess, in the middle-to-end of their third decade of existence, the life and work activities, well-being, and, especially, the family, community, civic engagement, and national contributions of these young people.

In addition, to evaluate the continuing impact of 4-H programs on the current generations of American youth, the research team will conduct a small replication of the original 4-H study. Using current methods that enable the integration of data across individuals and groups to discern common developmental pathways across life, the researchers will assess the paths of youth from Grades 6 to 11, and link these new data with the original data. There will be a matched sample from youth not involved in 4-H, as also executed in the original study, to compare PYD, contribution, and active and engaged citizenship.

“We will capitalize on refinements of measurement that have advanced in the current decade, principally in regard to indexing constructs central to the original 4-H Study,” said Lynch’s Lerner.  “Growth mindset, empathy, and purpose have been suggested additions to the set of influences on PYD, which will be measured in the extension and replication study in addition to the former measures.”

“The most inspired aspect of the 4-H study is that it was designed not only to examine whether and how 4-H participation affects youth development but also to explore a wide range of youth development issues unrelated to 4-H,” wrote Cornell University’s Emeritus Professor Stephen F. Hamilton in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, addressing the original 10-year research. “At the same time that the study serves as an evaluation of 4-H, it contributes to our understanding of multiple influences on youth development and of the concept itself.”

Phil Gloudemans | University Communications | June 2020