by Laura Donnelly-Smith
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean Peg Barratt has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award to spend six months in Japan. She will conduct research on the impact of Japanese policies on early childhood practices, as well as other factors that influence Japanese parents when making child-rearing decisions.
Dr. Barratt, who holds a doctorate in developmental psychology, will be hosted by Kyoto University, where she will work with faculty members in cross-cultural psychology.
The work builds on earlier research Dr. Barratt has conducted. She has studied policy areas that affect early childhood in the United States, including prenatal care, breastfeeding, income support, childcare and child safety. Her Fulbright-supported research will include investigations into similar topics in Japan, as well as an empirical study of the factors that affect childrearing choices for parents of young children.
“Japan is a country that, objectively, is a lot like ours,” she said. “But there are deep cultural differences that I find fascinating…. I’m interested in finding out how those cultural traditions and policy contexts influence the decisions families make. For example, with regard to breastfeeding, to what extent is your decision to do so influenced by your husband, your mother-in-law, your doctor or what you’ve read? How do these influences weigh in?”
Dr. Barratt has conducted research in Japan twice before, in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the Osaka University. One of the features that encouraged her to apply for the Fulbright award is the fact that the program is built on the idea of cultural exchange.
“While I’m there to do my scholarship, I’m also there as a cultural ambassador,” she said. As such, she is looking forward to interacting with people in many different ways, including through informal discussions and presentations about her work to non-research audiences.
Dr. Barratt will begin by interviewing families, public health nurses and other practitioners, and will later work on developing questionnaires that could be used to gather data from a larger sample.
Developing an effective questionnaire in a language other than English is a challenge, she explained. The questions must be translated to Japanese by a person fluent in both languages, and then back-translated to English to make sure that meaning is not lost. In previous research she conducted in Japan, the word “spoiled”—as used to refer to coddling children—posed a challenge. In Japanese, there is no similar word, and “spoiled” when translated literally refers to food that has gone bad. But working through challenges like this is part of the appeal of field research, Dr. Barratt said.
Dr. Barratt announced in May 2012 that she would leave her position as dean of the Columbian College in June 2013. She will begin her Fulbright award tenure on July 1.
“I’ve been very committed to moving Columbian College forward, but I’m stepping aside for the next dean to take the reins and move us the next distance,” she said.