Melanie Killen

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Dr. Melanie Killen

Melanie Killen is a developmental psychologist and Professor of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology, and Professor of Psychology (Affiliate) at the University of Maryland, as well as Honorary Professor of Psychology at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK She has conducted extensive research on social and moral development, social exclusion and the origins of prejudice, moral reasoning and group dynamics, peer relationships, social-cognitive development, and children's understanding of social inequalities and social mobility. She is supported by funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) for her research. In 2008, she was awarded Distinguished Scholar-Teacher by the Provost's office at the University of Maryland. She is the Director of the Social and Moral Development Lab at the University of Maryland.


Killen obtained her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she was a NIMH Predoctoral trainee, and her B.A. in Psychology from Clark University, where she was awarded a New England Psychological Association undergraduate Honorary Fellow.


Killen has developed with Adam Rutland a theoretical framework, referred to as the Social Reasoning Developmental (SRD) model which identifies three factors, morality, group identity, and psychological assessments that bear on how individuals evaluate intergroup contexts. Morality includes fairness, equality, and rights; group identity includes group dynamics, in-group preferences and outgroup distrust, group advantaged and disadvantaged status, and group functioning; psychological assessments include attributions of intentions and mental state knowledge.

Killen has served as an expert witness in a federal school desegregation case and helped prepare two Supreme Court briefs regarding the impact of school desegregation on children's social development. She has consulted for the U.S. Government in the area of peer conflict resolution as well as for Sesame Workshop and Teaching Tolerance. She has also served as a consultant for a federal initiative on interventions designed to reduce prejudice and to promote inclusion in U.S. elementary schools.

In 2011-2012, Killen and her research team were commissioned by Anderson Cooper at CNN AC360 to conduct a study on children's racial biases which aired in April, 2012, and won an Emmy Award for Outstanding News and Analysis, October 1, 2013. Killen serves on the expert advisory panel for the new National Children's Museum in Washington, D.C., and her research has been profiled in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Examiner, The American Scientist, The Chronicle of Higher Education, American School Board Journal, Teaching Tolerance Magazine,,, Parenting, Parent-Wise Magazine, Redbook, Baby Journal, as well as other print and media outlets.


  • University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents’ Faculty Award in Mentoring, 2018.
  • Ronald B. Lippin Lecturer in Ethics, Rock Institute for Ethics, Pennsylvania State University, 2014.
  • Fellow, Society for the Study of Psychological and Social Issues, 2013- on.
  • Outstanding Graduate Director of the Year Award, University of Maryland, 2012.
  • Funded study on children's intergroup biases was selected as featured research for "NSF Highlights: Social Factors in Bias and Stereotyping" by the National Science Foundation Office of Legislative and Public Affairs.
  • Graduate Mentor of the Year Award, University of Maryland, 2010
  • Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award from the Provost for Academic Affairs, University of Maryland, 2010.
  • Honorable Mention, Otto Klineberg Intercultural and International Relations Prize, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), for Intergroup attitudes and relations in childhood through adulthood (Eds. S. Levy & M. Killen), Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Full member, Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, 2009
  • Allen Edwards Endowed Lecturer in Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 2007.
  • Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year Award, University of Maryland, 2004
  • Fellow, Association for Psychological Science, 2003.
  • Recipient, James McKeen Cattell Sabbatical Award from the James McKeen Cattell Foundation, Duke University, 2000.
  • Winner, Outstanding Book Award for 1997, Moral Development and Education Special Interest Group (SIG) of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Morality in everyday life: Developmental Perspectives, Cambridge University Press.
  • Fellow, American Psychological Association (Division 7, Developmental Psychology), 1997.
  • Visiting Faculty Fellow, Yale University, Yale/Mellon Visiting Faculty Program, 1990.
  • NIMH Predoctoral Traineeship, National Research Service Award, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, 1979-1984.
  • Chancellor's Patent Fund Award for Dissertation Research from the University of California, Berkeley, 1984.
  • Soroptimist International of America, Founder Region Fellowship for Dissertation Research, 1984.
  • Psi Chi Honorary Society, 1978
  • Undergraduate Honorary Fellow, New England Psychological Association, 1978
  • Jonas Clark Scholarship, Clark University, 1974.


Edited journals, special issues[edit]

  • Killen, M., Rutland, A., & Yip, T. (2016). Discrimination, social exclusion, and intergroup attitudes: Equity and justice in developmental science. [Guest Editors]. Child Development. Doi: 10.1111/cdev.12593.
  • Abrams, D., & Killen, M. (Eds.) (2014). The social exclusion of children. [Guest Editors]. Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 70, Number 1.
  • Killen, M. (Ed.). (1996). Children's autonomy, social competence, and interactions with adults and other children: Exploring connections and consequences. (New Directions for Child Development Vol. 73). S.F., CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
  • Killen, M. (Ed.). (1995). Conflict resolution in early development [Guest Editor]. Early Education and Development, Volume 6.
  • Killen, M., & McKown, C. (Ed.) (2005). Children's intergroup attitudes about race and ethnicity [Guest Editors]. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Volume 26.

Selected publications (past three years) in peer reviewed journals[edit]

For a complete list of Melanie Killen's recent publications, please visit her lab website.

  • Cooley, S., Burkholder, A. & Killen, M. (2019). Social inclusion and exclusion in same-race and interracial peer encounters. Developmental Psychology. Doi:10.1037/dev0000810.
  • Hitti, A., Elenbaas, L., Noh, J., Rizzo, M.T., Cooley, S., & Killen, M. (2019). Expectations for cross-ethnic inclusion by Asian American children and adolescents. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations. Doi: 10.1177/1368430219851854
  • Burkholder, A., Elenbaas, L., & Killen, M. (2019). Children’s and adolescents' evaluations of intergroup exclusion in interracial and inter-wealth peer contexts. Child Development. 10.1111/cdev.13249
  • Noh, J., Jambon, M., Smetana, J., & Killen, M. (2019). Children’s evaluations of necessary harm: The role of authority messages and relationship status. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly.
  • McGuire, L., Elenbaas, L., Killen, M., & Rutland, A. (2019). The role of ingroup norms and group status in children’s and adolescents’ decisions to rectify resource inequalities. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12274
  • Noh, J., D’Esterre, A., & Killen, M. (2019). Effort or outcome? Children’s meritorious decisions. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 178, 1-14.
  • D’Esterre, A.P., Rizzo, M.T., & Killen, M. (2019). Unintentional and intentional false statements: The role of morally-relevant theory of mind. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 177, 53-69. Doi: 10.10.1016/j.jecp.2018.07.013
  • Rizzo, M.T., Li, L., Burkholder, A., & Killen, M. (2018). Lying, negligence, or lack of knowledge? The case of the claimant in a hidden inequality context. Developmental Psychology. Online.
  • McGuire, L., Rizzo, M.T., Killen, M., & Rutland, A. (2018a). The role of competitive and cooperative norms in the development of deviant evaluations. Child Development. Doi: 10.1111/cdev.13094
  • McGuire, L., Rizzo, M.T., Killen, M., & Rutland, A. (2018b). The development of intergroup resource allocation: The role of cooperative and competitive in-group norms. Developmental Psychology, 54, 1499-1506. Doi: 10.1037.dev0000535
  • Killen, M., Elenbaas, L., & Rizzo, M.T. (2018). Young children's ability to recognize and challenge unfair treatment of others in group contexts. Human Development, 61, 281-296. Doi: 10.1159/000492804.
  • Killen, M. (2018). The origins of morality: Social equality, fairness, and justice. Philosophical Psychology, 31, 767-803.
  • Killen, M., & Mulvey, K. L. (2018). Challenging a dual-process approach to moral reasoning: Adolescents' and adults' evaluations of trolley car situations. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development: Commentary. 110-123. Doi: 10.1111/mono.12380
  • Elenbaas, L., & Killen, M. (2018). Children's perceptions of economic groups in a context of limited access to opportunities. Child Development. Doi: 10.1111/cdev/13024.
  • Rizzo, M.T., & Killen, M. (2018). How social status influences our understanding of others’ mental states. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 169, 30-41. Doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2017.12.008.
  • Rizzo, M. T., Cooley, S., Elenbaas, L., & Killen, M. (2018). Young children's inclusion decisions in moral and social-conventional group norm contexts. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 165, 19-36. Doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2017.05.006
  • Meidenbauer, K.L. Cowell, J., Killen, M., & Decety, J. (2018). A developmental neuroscience study of moral decision-making regarding resource allocation. Child Development, 89, 1177-1192. doi:10.1111/cdev.12698
  • Rizzo, M.T., & Killen, M. (2017). Theory of mind is related to children's resource allocations in gender stereotypic contexts. Developmental Psychology. DOI: 10.1037/dev0000439
  • Elenbaas, L., & Killen, M. (2017). Children's perceptions of social resource inequality. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 48, 49-58.
  • Killen, M., & Verkuyten, M.J.M. (2017). The importance of social-cognitive development and the developmental context for group dynamics. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations. DOI: 10.1177/1368430217711771
  • Li, L., Rizzo, M.T., Burkholder, A., & Killen, M. (2017). Theory of mind and resource allocation in the context of hidden inequality. Cognitive Development, 43, 25-36. doi: 10.1016/j.cogdev.2017.02.001
  • Mulvey, K.L., & Killen, M. (2017). Children's and adolescents' expectations about challenging unfair group norms. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. DOI 10.1007/s10964-017-0671-y
  • Cooley, S., Elenbaas, L., & Killen, M. (2016). Social exclusion based on group membership is a form of prejudice. Advances in child development and behavior, 51, 103-129. doi:10.1016/bs.acdb.2016.04.004
  • Elenbaas, L., & Killen, M. (2016). Age-related changes in children's associations of economic resources and race. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, PMID 27378981
  • Elenbaas, L., & Killen, M. (2016). Children rectify inequalities for disadvantaged groups. Developmental Psychology, 52, 1318-1329. doi: 10.1037/dev0000154
  • Elenbaas, L., & Killen, M. (2016). How do young children expect others to address resource inequalities between groups? Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 150, 72-86. Doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2016.05.002
  • Elenbaas, L., Rizzo, M.T., Cooley, S., & Killen, M. (2016). Rectifying or perpetuating resource disparities: Children's responses to social inequalities based on race. Cognition, 155, 176-187.
  • Killen, M., Elenbaas, L., & Rutland, A. (2016). Balancing the fair treatment of others while preserving group identity and autonomy. Human Development, 58, 253-272. doi: 10.1159/000444151
  • Killen, M., Rutland, A., & Yip, T. (2016). Discrimination, social exclusion, and intergroup attitudes: Equity and justice in developmental science. [Guest Editors]. Child Development. Doi: 10.1111/cdev.12593
  • Meidenbauer, K.L. Cowell, J., Killen, M., & Decety, J. (2016). A developmental neuroscience study of moral decision-making regarding resource allocation. Child Development. doi:10.1111/cdev.12698
  • Mulvey, K.L., Hitti, A., Smetana, J., & Killen, M. (2016). Morality, context, and development. In L. Balter & C. Tamis-LaMonda (Eds.), Child psychology: A handbook of contemporary issues, 3rd edition (pp. 285-304). NY: Psychology Press.
  • Rizzo, M. T., Elenbaas, L., Cooley, S., & Killen, M. (2016). Children's recognition of fairness and others’ welfare in a resource allocation task: Age related changes. Developmental Psychology, 52, 1307-1317.
  • Rizzo, M.T., & Killen, M. (2016). Children's understanding of equity in the context of inequality. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 34, 569-581. Doi.10.1111/bjdp.12150

Book chapters[edit]

  • Burkholder, A. R., D’Esterre, A. P., & Killen, M. (in press). Intergroup relationships, context, and prejudice in childhood. In Fitzgerald, H., Johnson, D., Qin, D., Villarruel, F., & Norton, J. (Eds.), Handbook of children and prejudice: Integrating research, practice and policy. NY: Springer Press.
  • Killen, M., & Dahl, A. (2018). Moral judgment: Reflective, interactive, spontaneous, challenging and always evolving. In K. Gray & J. Graham (Eds.), The atlas of moral psychology (pp. 20-30). NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Killen, M., Rutland, A., Rizzo, M.T., & McGuire, L. (2018). Social exclusion in childhood and adolescence. In W. Bukowski, B. Laursen, & K. H. Rubin (Eds.), Handbook of peer relationships, interactions, and groups (2nd edition). New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 9781462525010
  • Dahl, A., & Killen, M. (2018). Moral reasoning: Theory and research in developmental science. In J. Wixted (Ed.), The Steven's handbook of experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience, Vol. 3: Developmental and social psychology (S. Ghetti, Vol. Ed.), 4th edition. New York: Wiley.
  • Killen, M., Elenbaas, L., Rizzo, M. T., & Rutland, A. (2017). The role of group processes in social exclusion and resource allocation decisions. In A. Rutland, D. Nesdale, & C. Spears Brown (Eds.), Handbook of group processes in children and adolescents (pp.101-123). New York, NY: Wiley. ISBN 9781118773161
  • Killen, M., & Smetana, J.G. (2015). Origins and development of morality. In R.M. Lerner & M.E. Lamb (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology and developmental science, Vol. 3, 7th edition (pp. 701-749). Editor-in-Chief, R. M. Lerner. NY: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Killen, M., Hitti, A., Cooley, C., & Elenbaas, L. (2015). Morality, development, and culture. In M. Gelfand, C.Y.Chiu, & Y.Y. Hong (Eds.), Advances in culture and psychology (pp. 161-220). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Killen, M., Hitti, A., & Mulvey, K.L. (2014). Social development and intergroup relations. In J. Simpson & J. Dovidio (Associate Eds.), APA Handbook of personality and social psychology, Vol.2, Interpersonal relations and group processes (pp. 177-201). Washington, D.C.: APA Press


Killen, M., & Rutland, A. (2011). Children and social exclusion: Morality, prejudice, and group identity. New York: Wiley/Blackwell Publishers. Doi: 10.1002/9781444396317

External links[edit]