Welcome to USC CCF!
We are an interdisciplinary group of USC faculty and students who study family systems, close relationships, and mental and physical health across the lifespan. We have members at USC main campus, USC Keck, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Founded in 2020, we have grown to include over 40 faculty members and over 30 students, staff and trainees. Collectively our centers spans across 19 disciplines.
Why we matter:
What is “family”?
As a diverse group of scholars spanning multiple fields, we define “family” broadly. Families can vary in size and structure, and are dynamic, reconfiguring as couples make the transition into parenthood or an empty-nester phase; separate or divorce; and experience illness and bereavement. These transition points, or “hinge moments,” can be windows of both vulnerability and opportunity.
Why does family research matter?
The family profoundly shapes health and well-being from cradle to grave. Increasingly, social connection has been recognized as a public health priority and a buffer against stress and disease, just as social isolation has been found to carry a greater mortality toll than smoking, obesity, and alcoholism. In infancy and childhood, consistent caregiving supports survival and the development of self-regulatory capacities. In adulthood, marriage has been linked with both health and economic benefits, although dysfunctional or abusive relationships can carry significant costs. Among older adults, late-life caregiving demands are often borne by the family unit. Family caregiving can be protective for older adults, but can also place significant emotional and economic strains on partners and adult children.
What can we learn?
Families typically cohabitate, pool resources, share ties of kinship, obligation, and commitment, and coordinate communication, emotions, and behaviors. Other social groups also exhibit these characteristics, but rarely with the same intensity or duration. Family members therefore have greater potential to get under each other’s skin, not just figuratively but literally, as families may share genes, microbiota, and interlinked patterns of brain and biological activation. For children, the family environment also has primacy: That is, the family typically constitutes the first social environment into which a child emerges, and offers a template for the larger world.
Family research across generations.
Families are not necessarily harmonious, but can also be settings for abuse, neglect, and trauma. And the family’s influence can extend beyond the lifespan, across generations. Much recent research has elucidated the mechanisms of intergenerational transmission across multiple domains, from the transmission of incarceration risk and educational attainment, to family aggression and psychopathology, to physical health and neurodevelopment.
Meet our core team and committees!
Founder and Director
Darby Saxbe, Associate Professor of Psychology, is the founder and director of the USC Center for the Changing Family. She works to bridge different disciplines and members of USC and CHLA studying the same topics from different lenses to provide new insights to family research and beyond. She studies how close family relationships get under the skin to affect stress and health. Her current work focuses on the transition to parenthood and follows couples from pregnancy into the first year postpartum. A related study examines the “fathering brain,” using neuroimaging to scan fathers both prenatally and again postpartum. She has studied the transformative impact of new parenthood on the brain, body, and mind, as well as the enduring legacy of early family environments on child well-being. Dr. Saxbe has also examined physiological synchrony within families and has published multiple studies that find hormonal linkage within couples and parent-child dyads.
Melissa Reyes is currently as well as the lab manager for the NeuroEndocrinology of Social Ties Lab (NEST Lab). In this role, she coordinates the behind the scenes efforts needed to host our center’s events and handles the communications efforts for our center. She received her M.S. in Communication Data Science from USC in 2023 and her B.A. from UC Berkeley in 2017 in Cognitive Science and Art Practice. She is interested in the intersection between data science and social justice work as well as making data science and research accessible to the larger community outside of academia.
PhD Programming Committee
Public Outreach Committee
Social Media Assistant
Jasmine is an undergraduate senior double-majoring in Psychology and Business Administration. She is interested in studying the connections between close relationships and associations with mental health. She is also greatly interested in speech and language’s intersection with mental health, particularly with special education students. After graduating this upcoming year, Jasmine hopes to pursue a graduate degree as well.
Partner with us!
Are you interested in partnering with us? Would you like to fund our center’s research? If so or if you would like more information, please reach out to us at email@example.com
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