Nancy Darling

  • Professor of Psychology

Areas of Study


  • BS, Cornell University, 1981
  • MS, Cornell University, 1987
  • PhD, Cornell University, 1990


Adolescent social relations encompass changing relationships with parents and peers, the initiation of romantic relationships, and an expanding social world that includes greater and more unsupervised interactions with the community and a more sophisticated and multidimensional conception of peers. My current work focuses on adolescents' and parents' beliefs about the legitimate authority of doctors and how this predicts adherence and information sharing in the context of chronic pain.

As a developmental psychologist, my research focuses on how adolescents influence and are influenced by these social relationships and how these different social spheres interact to change the course of individual development. Because many of these processes aren't amenable to experimental manipulation (they don't let you randomly assign parental divorce to adolescents to see how it affects them), I have become particularly interested in two different aspects of the study of psychology: contextual variability and research methods. My current work focuses on adolescents' and parents' beliefs about the legitimate authority of doctors and how this predicts adherence and information sharing in the context of chronic pain.

Nancy Darling's lab

Although all scientists work to develop generalizable models, developmental psychologists in particular have focused on looking at lawful variability in basic processes. For example, does severe, strict parenting have the same influence on children living in dangerous urban environments as it does on youth in the suburbs? Does it have similar effects on boys and girls? On youth in the Philippines and the United States?

Natural variability in basic processes across different individuals and in different situations provides critical insight into human development and has in some ways substituted for experimental manipulation in aspects of social development not well suited to laboratory study. Interest in contextual variability has led me to study adolescents in Tanzania, Japan, the Philippines, Chile, Italy, Sweden, and in many different types of communities within the United States. And the complexity of these processes and the need to understand how the development of individuals is embedded in their relationships with others has led to a deep interest in statistics and research methods.

Our science is only as good as our models.

My current research has two foci.

The Continuity of Close Relationships Project combines observational and survey research to better understand healthy friendships romantic relationships in adolescence and middle adulthood.

A second project, Following Doctors Orders, grows out of my work on adolescent obedience and disclosure. 5% of adolescents in the United States live with life-changing chronic pain. This project examines adolescents' and parents' beliefs about the legitimacy of authority with regards to lifestyle changes and pain rehabilitation and how these beliefs influence patient adherence and honesty in the doctor-patient relationship.

  • Darling, N., Salter, R. M., & Burns, I.R.D.* (2020). NOVA: A Novel Tool for Collaborative Agent-Based and Dynamic Systems Modeling. In W. F. Porter, J. Zhao, L. Schmitt Olabisi, & M. McNall (Eds.), Innovations in Collaborative Modeling. Lansing, MI:Michigan State University Press (32-50).
  • Hadiwijaya, H.#, Klimstra, TA, Darling, N., Vermunt, JK, Branje, S. Weeus, WHJ. (2020). The Family Context as Foundation for Romantic Relationships: A Person-Centered Multi-Informant Longitudinal Study. Journal of Family Psychology.
  • Darling, N. & Burns, I.R.D.* (2019). Matching Methods to Theory: Using Dynamic Systems Models To Understand Nested Systems of Adolescent Development. In. S. Kunnen (Eds.) Psychosocial Development in Adolescence: Insights from the Dynamic Systems Approach. Abington:Routledge Press.
  • Darling, N., & Tilton-Weaver, L. (2019). All in the family: Within-family differences in parental monitoring and adolescent information management. Developmental Psychology. 55 (2), 390-402. DOI:
  • Morean, M.E., Darling, N. Smit, J., Wergeles, M., Kurzer-Yashin, D., Custer, K., DeFeis, J., & MacFaden, S. (2018). Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct (PRSM): Preliminary efficacy of a peer-led bystander intervention training program for preventing sexualized violence among student athletes. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1-27. DOI: 1177/0886260518777555
  • Kajula, L.J., Darling, N., Kaaya, S. & Vries, H., & (2016). Parenting Practices and Styles Associated with Adolescent Sexual Health in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. AIDS Care, 28 (11), 1467-1472. DOI: 10.1080/09540121.2016.1191598.

Spring 2024

Research Methods I — PSYC 200
Development in Cultural Context — PSYC 204
Teaching Assistant — PSYC 500
Teaching Assistant — PSYC 500H
Practicum in Psychology — PSYC 501
Supervised Research in Psychology - Full — PSYC 510F
Supervised Research in Psychology - Half — PSYC 510H
Senior Portfolio — PSYC 599

Fall 2024

Advanced Methods in Adolescent Development — PSYC 304
Teaching Assistant — PSYC 500
Practicum in Psychology — PSYC 501
Supervised Research in Psychology - Full — PSYC 510F
Supervised Research in Psychology - Half — PSYC 510H
Senior Portfolio - Half — PSYC 599H


Nancy Darling and Students Present Research on Adolescents

April 24, 2024

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling and five students presented research at the biennial meeting of the Society of Research on Adolescence in Chicago. Their work on adolescent beliefs about sharing information and lying to parents and doctors about traditional medical procedures and lifestyle changes has important implications for understanding medical adherence. Joining Darling at the April meeting were Sophia Carter, Bridget Duquette, Dante Holland, Xuehan Luo, and Nam Nguyen.

Nancy Darling Talks Parenting on NPR Podcast

January 17, 2024

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling was interviewed about parenting and parenting style on NPR’s Connection podcast with Marty Moss-Coane. She discussed best parenting practices in developmental, cultural, and historical contexts.

Nancy Darling launches 1step2life app

October 2, 2020

Professor and Chair of Psychology Nancy Darling developed and launched the 1step2life app to support people living with severe persistent pain. Based in cutting-edge developmental and rehabilitation science, the app helps people living with pain focus on their progress and functioning rather than their pain. Starting where they are now, it allows them to set goals, log emotions and daily activities, and visualize their progress. It has modes for both patients and caregivers, supporting effective coaching as well as rehabilitation. The app was funded by the college's LaunchU Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition. Darling worked with a team of psychology students on the research and development of the app. Now available on both the App Store and Google Play. 

Nancy Darling Publishes CNN Series

July 17, 2020

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling published the third piece in a CNN series focused on recent graduates. Darling authored two pieces in the series and was mentioned in a third. 

Nancy Darling's Work Featured in Op-Ed

July 16, 2020

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling's work was discussed in an op-ed in the New York Times. 

Nancy Darling Featured in CNN Article

June 27, 2020

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling was featured in a CNN article on the resilience of 2020 graduates.

Nancy Darling Presents, Participates in Roundtables

April 5, 2016

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling made five presentations, participated in two roundtable panels, and presented three research papers at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Adolescence in Baltimore.

For the Editor’s roundtable panel, Darling discussed writing and publication. She discussed professional issues for the roundtable Navigating the Mid-Career Years.

The three research papers Darling presented included:

  • A Dynamic Systems Simulation of the Patterning of Attachment Dyads: Co-authored by student Caitlyn Grubb and alumnus Ian Burns, the work grew out of Darling and Grubb’s work in an advanced methods course last Spring. It used the Nova software developed by Professor of Computer Science Richard Salter to model social networks of dating couples in early adulthood.
  • Seeking and Providing Support: Are There Normative Differences in Adolescent and Adult Romantic Dyads?: Based on observational data coded by teams of Oberlin students, the work was co-authored by Grubb and student Kinsey Denney.
  • Adolescent Information within the Family Context: This work continues Darling’s studies of adolescent disclosure and lying in a longitudinal study of Chilean youth.

Nancy Darling Presents

November 13, 2015

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling presented an invited workshop on dynamic systems modeling at the prestigious Theory Construction and Research Methodology pre-session of the National Council of Family Relations in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The three-hour session introduced dynamic systems modeling as a complement to more traditional statistical techniques in the study of human development and the family. The hands-on component of the workshop focused on using Nova, a software product developed by Richard Salter, professor of computer science, for dynamic systems, agent-based, and spacial modeling (

Models of teacher-adolescent interactions and romantic attachment grew out of work done with students in Darling's upper-level course on advanced methods for the study of adolescent development. Additional models of longitudinal change in romantic pairings were developed with Ian Burns ’10. Other models presented include Excel models developed with Elizabeth Lockman ’12.

Richard Salter, Nancy Darling Give Demonstration

June 11, 2015

Richard Salter, professor of computer science, and Nancy Darling, professor of psychology, gave the 70-minute demonstration "Nova: A New Tool for System Dynamics, Agent-Based, and Spatial Modeling” at the Innovations in Collaborative Modeling conference held at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, on June 4. Drawn from Darling’s research, the demonstration applied the Nova modeling system to an example of social contagion of problem behavior in the classroom. Salter described how Nova, which he designed and implemented, was used to create that and other computational models.

At the same time, Wayne M. Getz, A. Starker Leopold professor of wildlife ecology at UC Berkeley, presented at the DIMACS MPE 2013+ Workshop on Management of Natural Resources about joint work with Salter. The paper, entitled “A Nova Model and Web App for Sustainable Harvesting and Population Viability Analyses in Teaching and Research,” discusses the application of the Nova software platform to constructing models and web applications for both harvesting and population viability analyses of African wildlife—particularly issues concerning rhino conservation.

Salter, Darling, Getz, and modeling expert Tony Starfield will all be at Oberlin College June 15-19 for the Workshop on Quantitative Reasoning Pedagogy & Computational Modeling with Nova Software, held in collaboration with the CLEAR center.

Nancy Darling Interviewed on South African Radio

May 5, 2015

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling was interviewed on Capetown South African radio by Abongile Nzelezele about her work on adolescent lying.

Darling has done research on adolescent lying and their decisions to share information with their parents in the U.S., Chile, Italy, Uganda, and the Philippines. She recently blogged about this work for Psychology Today in her piece “Why You Lied to Your Parents (and Whether They Believed You).” This work caught the eye of Nzelezele, who interviewed Darling about how accurate parents are at detecting lies, why and when adolescents lie, and what kind of parenting helps teens open up.

Nancy Darling Presents Results of Research Projects

March 30, 2015

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling presented the results of three research projects at the Society for Research in Child Development 2015 Biennial Meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her work involved collaborations with colleagues from Canada, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Tanzania. 

Darling co-authored a paper on parents' sexual socialization of their adolescent children in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with Lusajo Kajula, Sylvia Kaaya, and Heinz De Vries. This qualitative paper focused on the marked differences in parents' attitudes toward girls and boys as they enter adolescence. 

She also presented a poster on differences in how adolescents interact with their romantic partners during socially supportive and conflictual conversations. These data involved intense codinga of videotaped interactions. This paper was co-authored with Andrew Burns and four Oberlin undergraduates: Akensheye Daniels, Elena Gold, Will Lynch, and Caitlyn Rodgers.

Finally, Darling served as discussant for a panel of papers on the juncture between adolescents' right to privacy and parents' socialization goals and privacy invasion. Work included a discussion of parenting in Sweden, the Netherlands, and Canada.

Darling (March, 2015). Privacy and Parenting During Late Childhood and Adolescence: Exploring Links Among Cognitions and Behaviors. Discussant for symposium presented at the Society for Research on Child Development Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Darling, N., Burns, A., Daniels, A., Gold, E., Lynch, W., & Rodgers, C. (March, 2015). Continuity in Observed Adolescent Behavior During Conflict and Social Support Interactions with Romantic Partners. Poster presented at the Society for Research on Child Development Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Kajula, L., Kaaya, S., Darling, N. De Vries, H. (March, 2015). Parenting practices and styles associated with adolescent sexual health in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Poster presented at the Society for Research on Child Development Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Nancy Darling Appointed Editor-in-Chief

February 18, 2015

Nancy Darling, William and Jeannette Smith chair of psychology, has been appointed editor-in-chief of the Journal of Adolescence, a leading journal in developmental psychology that focuses on age-related change in the second decade of life.

The Journal is unique in its international perspective. It is operated by the Foundation for Professionals in Services to Adolescents, a UK based organization, and publishes research related in adolescent health and development from researchers in psychology, biology, sociology, epidemiology, economics, medicine, and related fields. Darling had served as an associate editor for the Journal for the past eight years.

Nancy Darling Continues Her Work Internationally

November 19, 2014

She will be traveling to the Netherlands to attend a course on computational modeling in adolescent development and to present work on the Nova software platform at the University of Grotenburg. She was interviewed for a piece on Les Racines de L'Obeissance in the November/December issue of the magazine, Le Monde de L'intelligence. In addition, a new version of her measure of parenting style was published in the Chilean journal Psykhe.

Nancy Darling Advisor to Consortium of Prevention Researchers

May 16, 2014

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling recently was in Bergen, Norway, to work with a consortium of European and African prevention researchers. Darling was invited to serve as a scientific advisor to Prepare, a European Union funded program to prevent HIV and sexual risk behaviors in adolescents. The program has fielded prevention efforts in Limpopo and Capetown, South Africa, Dar Salaam, Tanzania, and Kampala, Uganda. It includes researchers from each of those countries, as well as a team of European researchers from the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK. Pilot programs developed by Prepare have involved more than 5,000 adolescents as well as teachers and parents. The Kampala program is aimed at increasing knowledge of sexuality and safe sex practices and fostering positive parent-adolescent communication around physical safety and sexuality. The theoretical basis for this research is rooted in Darling's work in the US, Philippines, and Chile.

Nancy Darling Quoted in Chicago Tribune

April 30, 2014

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling was quoted in the Chicago Tribune article, “Creating support when you're raising kids away from family.”

Nancy Darling Coauthors Award Winning Paper

March 18, 2014

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling is a coauthor of a paper that was awarded the Albert Bandura Award For Excellence for graduate research by Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology, and the American Psychological Society. The award was given for the paper “Rejection sensitivity and (mis)perceptions of romantic ” which will be presented at the Society for Research on Adolescence’s biennial meeting, taking place March 20 to 22 in Austin, Texas. A collaborative research project with Jerika Norika, Joe Salvatore (a graduate student at the University of Tennessee), Deborah Welsh, and Nancy Darling, the paper began as Jerika’s master's thesis project. Jerika traveled to Oberlin last spring to learn some advanced statistical techniques and consult on the project, completing the work over the summer.

Nancy Darling Cited in New York Magazine

February 12, 2014

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling’s work was cited in the January 12, 2014, New York Magazine feature article, “The Collateral Damage of a Teenager.” Exploring the idea that what adolescence does to teens is nowhere near as brutal as what it does to their parents, the author cited Darling’s “nuanced analysis of what, precisely, makes the adolescent struggle for autonomy so contentious. Most kids, she notes, have no objections when their parents try to enforce moral standards or societal conventions. ... What children object to are attempts to regulate more personal preferences, matters of taste: the music they listen to, the entertainments they pursue, the company they keep. ... The problem, says Darling, is that during adolescence questions of preference start to bleed into questions of morality and safety, and it often becomes impossible to discern where the line is.”

Nancy Darling Recognized, Published

January 29, 2014

Professor of Psychology Nancy Darling has received two recent honors. She was elected to the executive council of the Society for Research in Adolescence, an international, multidisciplinary society fostering the study of youth during the second decade of life. She also was awarded an honorary doctorate from Orebro University in Sweden for lifetime achievement. Darling’s most recent paper, “What’s in a name? Distinguishing between routine disclosure and self-disclosure,” was published in October in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.


2022 Winter Term Recap

March 11, 2022

More than 2,290 students explored projects and research opportunities outside of their normal course of study during Winter Term. In this wrap-up gallery we look back at some of the group projects students performed.