Cornelia Brentano

Cornelia BrentanoCornelia Brentano, PhD

Department Chair/Associate Professor 

Contact Information

(310) 243-2527
Welch Hall A-310E

Professional Background

I received my Ph.D. at the University of California in Irvine. During my education and training I journeyed through different areas of psychology: Cognitive Psychology (B.A.), Social Ecology (M.A.), and Human Development (Ph.D.). These different areas reflect both my broad interests and also my progression toward an applied and policy oriented approach.


  • CDV 150 - Child Development
  • CDV 366 - Parenting
  • CDV 380 - Stress, Risk and Resiliency
  • CDV 423 - Child Development and Social Policy
  • CDV 498 - Directed Research


My research focuses on the contributions of the socio-cultural context to the healthy and positive functioning of youth and families. I apply a contextual and social policy perspective. Within this framework, my interests are broad and include the following:

  • Impact of contextual factors (e.g., culture, social institutions, family and community environment, parent personality) on family dynamics, parenting, and child and adolescent outcomes. This includes my present research on:
    • The impact of procedural and distributive justice on families in child-custody litigation.
    • Cross-cultural patterns in marriage and divorce trends.
  • The impact of parenting practices and community influences on positive development.

Project on Child Custody and Family Adjustment

The objective of this interdisciplinary research is to advance current understanding of how legal procedures affect families who are in child custody litigation. This research connects psychological and legal dimensions to investigate individual and family adjustment processes during and after child custody litigation. Currently, the research is focused on understanding the impact of procedural justice and distributive justice on families in child-custody litigation. This means, I examine whether and how fair court procedures matter to families in terms of their psychological adjustment, their health, their compliance with court orders, and their re-litigation rates. Because justice has been found to be important to people's motivation when dealing with others, my work uses the social psychology of procedural justice - the fairness of rules and processes – as a conceptual framework. The ultimate objective of this work is to contribute to an improvement of the policies and practices that govern the design and delivery of court services to families. This research has been funded by the National Science Foundation.

Project on Cross-cultural patterns in marriage and divorce trends

The objective of this cross-cultural research is to advance current understanding of how important social variables (e.g., economic conditions, religion, political stability and freedom, literacy rates, gender equality) influence prevailing patterns in the marriage and divorce trends of 70+ nations. Over the past century, the probability of divorce or separation among married or cohabiting couples has increased. However, such changes are more pronounced in some countries than others. Concurrently, marriage rates have decreased or marriage has been delayed to older ages in many countries. The present study offers a systematic presentation of the variables that influence the differences in trends among countries.

What I am looking for in students who are interested in joining the Lab:

  • Students should have a social science background, strong verbal and analytical abilities, good organizational skills, a strong work ethic, and personal reliability. Students must demonstrate initiative, independent follow-through, and resourcefulness. Specific research experiences are a plus but not required. Student researchers will be trained on all tasks and should be eager to develop their skills in all research related tasks.
  • Students should be both, willing to learn and work in a collaborative setting, and capable of working independently once they have been trained at a task.
  • Students should be prepared to work 10 hours per week on this research including regular meeting times.

Student tasks may include:

  • Library research, reading, analysis, and synthesis of relevant material; participant recruitment, data collection, data management, data entry, and preliminary analyses; and as students skills grow, they are encouraged to participate in the conceptualization of research and in writing sections of manuscripts and conference presentations.

Benefits to Students:

  • Acquiring research experience is essential if you consider graduate studies. It is also very beneficial if you want to hone practical, analytical, and organizational skills. Such skills transfer into any professional context. Prior students report that their experiences on the project were valuable for obtaining employment and succeeding in jobs in community and government agencies, businesses, and educational settings.
  • I offer mentorship and training to advanced students who wish to conduct their own research in relation to my expertise.

Prof. Brentano’s Books