Committed to Promoting Healthy Child & Adolescent Development

Michael McGarrah is a PhD candidate at Harvard whose work spans two relatively disparate topics in developmental psychology: (1) Early-onset substance use (i.e., prior to, and just after middle school entry), with a special focus on the devleopment of emotion regulation during childhood and early adolescence, and the subsequent interplay between internalizing and externalizing symptomatology; (2) The psychology of curiosity, exploration, and learning, including its normative development across middle childhood and early adolescence, as well as the contextual and pedogogical factors that may either promote or inhibit curiosity-related behaviors. To explore these topics, Mr. McGarrah uses psychometric methods that leverage Classical Test Theory and Item Response Theory to better define and measure the nature of psychological consturcts such as curiosity, and he uses advanced strucutral equation modelling (SEM) methods, including Parallel Process Growth Mixture Modelling, Latent Trajectory Models with Structured Residuals, and Multilevel Path Modelling. Using the latter SEM methods enables the kind of variable-centered and person-centered analyses that best illustrate critical theories of developmental psychology, such as equifinality and multifinality in normative and psychopathological outcomes, and the developmental cascades that characterize the genesis or etiology of those outcomes. 

Mr. McGarrah is both an accomplished, specialized academic researcher, as well as a generalist social science research consultant with both domestic and international consulting experience. He enjoys presenting and distilling complex insights for diverse audiences, in both academic and non-academic settings, at home and abroad. Recently, he received the “Best Paper of the Year” award from the American Psychological Association, Educational Psychology Division, alongside his advisor, Stephanie Jones, and colleague Jennifer Kahn, and his theoretical work on curiosity received an honorable mention from the National Science Foundation. Current and past clients of his consulting service include MIT, IDinsight, and Global Citizen Year. Mr. McGarrah is also a Doctoral Researcher at the Ecological Approaches to Social and Emotional Learning Lab and a Teaching Fellow at Harvard. Before pursuing doctoral studies, Mr. McGarrah worked for the Aspen Institute, where he advocated for evidence-based education policies in Washington, DC, and he worked at the American Institutes for Research conducting large-scale program evaluations and managing multi-million-dollar government-funded research and technical assistance contracts.

Throughout his work, Mr. McGarrah is committed to promoting healthy child and adolescent development. Interested potential clients or academic collbaborators may contact him directly at

Recent Publications

Stephanie M. Jones, Michael W. McGarrah, and Jennifer Kahn. 2019. “Social and Emotional Learning: A Principled Science of Human Development in Context.” Educational Psychologist, 54, 3, Pp. 129-143. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Decades of research and practice in social and emotional development have left us with a

body of knowledge that tells us that (1) social, emotional, and cognitive development are

intertwined in the brain and in behavior and influence school and life outcomes; (2) social,

emotional, and cognitive skills and competencies grow in supportive relationships and are

influenced by experience and context; and (3) there are programs and practices that have

been shown to be effective in supporting these skills and competencies. The science of

social and emotional learning is distinct in that it represents a blend of the developmental

and applied sciences. In this article, we summarize a key framework that has guided much

of the research and practical work of social and emotional learning, and we synthesize the

major areas of research that have propelled the field forward. We then turn to what’s next,

describing and illustrating 4 essential principles that should guide work in the future.