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Dana McCoy

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Associate Professor
United States

PhD, Applied Psychology, New York University, 2013
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Research Focus

Dana McCoy is an applied developmental psychologist whose research uses advanced quantitative methods to measure, understand, and impact the early development of low-income children around the world. In particular, she aims to understand the mechanisms that underlie early developmental inequities, including the role that low-income children’s environmental characteristics (e.g., community violence, caregiver-child interactions) play in supporting or constraining their early outcomes. Building on this knowledge, she also aims to develop and evaluate early educational interventions that promote resilience for disadvantaged children living in a variety of contexts, including the United States, Brazil, Peru, Ghana, and Tanzania.

My plans for the fellowship period

As a Jacobs Fellow, I hope to leverage recent advances in digital technology and artificial intelligence in order to improve both the reach and quality of early childhood development (ECD) services for disadvantaged children around the world.  In particular, my work will explore the role of technology as a means of driving forward (1) the basic science of early learning and (2) the development of more engaging, effective, and efficient ECD interventions. To meet these goals, I plan to conduct a series of “mini experiments” in which I will randomize new users of a parent-focused, mobile phone-based ECD intervention to receive different program features reflecting specific behavioural principles (e.g., customized activity recommendations, virtual incentives for activity completion), and then track their engagement with the intervention and their children’s developmental outcomes. In doing so, my goal is to generate scientific evidence on the specific “building blocks” of behaviour change that can be used to develop more streamlined and scalable ECD interventions in low-resource contexts around the world.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

Recent estimates suggest that nearly one-third of preschool-aged children living in low- and middle-income countries are failing to meet basic developmental milestones. Although countries around the world are increasingly investing in services to support early childhood development, numerous studies have shown that the positive benefits of such services are often not sustained when implemented at scale. The goal of my research is to leverage recent advances in digital technology and insights from behavioural science to generate mobile phone-based interventions that are not only effective, but also substantially more cost-effective than traditional early childhood programs. In particular, by providing rare experimental evidence on the relative impact of specific behavioural principles for supporting children’s learning and development, this work will help to inform how to make early interventions more streamlined and efficient, and therefore more likely to impact larger numbers of children.

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