Ellen Skinner, Ph.D., Professor of Human Development & Psychology Chair, Department of Psychology

Department of Psychology
317 Cramer Hall
Portland State University
P.O. Box 751
Portland,OR 97207-0751
phone (503) 725-3966
fax (503) 725-3904

Research Interests
Selected Publications
Classes Taught
Psy 311 Waivers





Research Interests

  • Life-span developmental psychology. Developmental systems theory.
  • Dynamics of motivational development during childhood and early adolescence.
  • Development of coping.
  • Study of how self-system processes promote engagement and become motivational resources for children's coping with obstacles and setbacks.
  • Special focus on how social contexts and close relationships make it easier (or harder) for children to cope adaptively.
  • Interest in theory development and measurement construction.

Background. I was trained as a life-span developmental psychologist at the Pennsylvania State University, teaching at the laboratory preschool and focusing on the study of "curiosity and "enthusiasm." After four years, I received my Ph.D. in Human Development in 1981. I spent the next seven years as a Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin, Germany, where I was part of a research team, including Michael Chapman and Paul Baltes, that developed a new conceptualization of children's perceived control (confidence and efficacy), studied the differential development of its components during elementary school, and investigated its role in children's achievement in school; I received tenure there in 1983. In 1988, I moved to the University of Rochester to work with the Motivation Research Group (MRG) in the Department of Psychology and the College of Education and Human Development, where I received tenure in 1990. Through working with the other members of the MRG, including Edward Deci, Richard Ryan, and James Connell, my perspective broadened to elaborate the components of "engagement" and to incorporate key self-system processes in addition to perceived control or competence, specifically perceived autonomy and a sense of relatedness. These constructs became critical ingredients as we developed our motivational theory of coping (with James Wellborn). I moved to Portland State University in the Fall of 1992, where I was promoted to Full Professor in 1996. Here at PSU, I have continued to work with teams of faculty, post-docs, and graduate and undergraduate students, pursuing empirical and theoretical questions about motivation, the self, engagement, and coping during childhood and adolescence.