Jin Li Professor of Education

Dr. Jin Li is professor of education and human development at Brown University. She originally came from China. She received her undergraduate degree in German from Guangzhou Institute of Foreign Languages in 1982 and taught German language and literature there. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1985, she studied first at the University of Vermont, then earned her Master's degree in foreign language education from the University of Pittsburgh in 1988. She received her second Master's degree in administrative planning and social policy in 1991 and her doctoral degree in human development and psychology from Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1997. Dr. Li's research focuses on learning models, children's learning beliefs, and their socialization across different cultures and ethnic groups. Recently, she has been also studying Chinese immigrant children's adaptation to American mainstream culture.

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

scholarly work

Peer-Refereed Articles

Cheah, C., Li, J., Zhou, N., Yamamoto, Y., & Leung, C. (in press). Understanding Chinese immigrant and European American mothers’ expressions of warmth. Revision and resubmit, Developmental Psychology.

Li, J. (in press). Inexhaustible source of water:  The enduring Confucian learning model (有本之水難涸也: 百折不衰的儒家學習模式). Educational Philosophy and Theory.

Li, J. (in press). Play or learn: European-American and Chinese kindergartners’ perceptions about the conflict. British Journal of Educational Psychology.

Li, J. (in press). Humility in learning: A Confucian perspective. Special Issue on Developing virtue: Empirically-informed perspectives from East and West. Journal of Moral Education.

Holloway, S. D., Park, S., Jonas, M., Bempechat, J., & Li, J. (2014). My mom tells me I should follow the rules, that’s why they have those rules:” Perceptions of parental advice giving among Mexican-heritage adolescents. Journal of Latinos and Education, 13, 262–277.

Li, J., Fung, H., Bakeman, R., Rae, K., & Wei, W.-C. (2014). How European American and Taiwanese mothers talk to their children about learning. Child Development, 85, 1206-1221.

Van Egmond, M., Kühnen, U., & Li, J. (2013). Mind and virtue: The meaning of learning, a matter of culture? Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 2, 208-216.

Bempechat, J., Ronfard, S., Mirny, A., Li, J., & Holloway, S. D. (2013). “She always gives grades lower than one deserves:” A qualitative study of Russian adolescents’ perceptions of fairness in the classroom. Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research, 7, 169-187.

Park, S., Holloway, S. D., Arendtsz, A., Bempechat, B., & Li, J. (2012). What makes students engaged in learning? A time-use study of within- and across-individual predictors of emotional engagement. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(3), 390-401.

Yamamoto, Y., & Li, J. (2012). What makes a high-quality preschool? Similarities and differences between Chinese immigrant and European American parents’ views. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 306-315.

Bempechat, J., Li, J., Neier, S., Gillis, C., & Holloway, S. D. (2011). The homework experience: Perceptions of low income youth. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(2), 250–278.

Li, J., Yamamoto, Y., Luo, L., Batchelor, A., & Bresnahan, R. M. (2010). Why attend school? Chinese immigrant and European American preschoolers’ views and outcomes. Developmental Psychology, 46(6), 1637-1650.

Li, J., Holloway, S. D., Bempechat, J., & Loh, E. (2008). Building and using a social network: Nurture for low-income Chinese American adolescents’ learning. In H. Yoshikawa & N. Way (Eds.), Beyond families and schools: How broader social contexts shape the adjustment of children and youth in immigrant families (pp. 7-25). New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development Series. R. W. Larson & L. A. Jensen (Series Eds.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Holloway, S. D., Mirny, A. I., Bempechat, J., & Li, J. (2008). Schooling, peer relations, and family life of Russian adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23(4), 488-507.

Bae, S., Holloway, S. D., Bempechat, J., & Li, J. (2008). Mexican-American students’ perceptions of teachers’ expectations: Do perceptions differ depending on student achievement levels? The Urban Review, 40, 210-225.

Sobel, D., Li, J., & Corriveau, K. (2007). “It danced around in my head and I learned it:” What children know about learning. Journal of Cognition and Development, 8(3), 1-25.

Li, J. (2006). Self in learning: Chinese adolescents’ goals and sense of agency. Child Development, 77(2), 482-501.

Li, J. (2005). Mind or virtue: Western and Chinese beliefs about learning. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(4), 190-194.

Li, J., Wang, L.-Q., & Fischer, K. W. (2004). The organization of Chinese shame concepts. Cognition and Emotion, 18(6), 767-797.  

Li, J., & Wang, Q. (2004). Perceptions of achievement and achieving peers in U.S. and Chinese kindergartners. Social Development, 13(3), 413-436.

Li, J. (2004). Learning as a task or virtue: U.S. and Chinese children explain learning. Developmental Psychology, 40(4), 595-605.

Li, J. (2004). “I learn and I grow big:” Chinese preschoolers’ purposes for learning. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 28(2), 116-128.

Li, J., & Yue, X. -D. (2004). Self in learning among Chinese adolescents. In M. F. Mascolo & J. Li. (Eds.), Culture and developing selves: Beyond dichotomization. New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development Series (pp. 27-43). W. Damon (Series Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Li, J. (2003). The core of Confucian learning. American Psychologist, 58, 146-147.

Li, J. (2003). U.S. and Chinese cultural beliefs about learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2),258-267.  

Wang, Q., & Li, J. (2003). Chinese children's self-concepts in the domains of learning and social relations. Psychology in the Schools, 40 (1), 85-101.

Li, J. (2002). A cultural model of learning: Chinese “heart and mind for wanting to learn.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 33(3), 248-269.

Li, J., & Li, J.-M.. (2002). "The cow loves to learn:" The hao-xue-xin learning model as a reflection of the cultural relevance of Zhima Jie, China's Sesame Street. Early Education and Development, 13(4), 379-394.

Li, J. (2002). Models of learning in different cultures. In J. Bempechat & J. Elliott (Eds.), Achievement motivation in culture and context: Understanding children's learning experiences, New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development (pp. 45-63). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Williams, W. M., Blythe, T., White, N., Li, J., Gardner, H., & Sternberg, R. J. (2002). Practical intelligence for school: Developing metacognitive sources of achievement in adolescence. Developmental Review, 22, 162-210.

Li, J. (2001). Chinese conceptualization of learning. Ethos, 29, 111-137.

Li, J. (1997). Creativity in horizontal and vertical domains. Creativity Research Journal, 10(2-3), 107-132. 

Li, J., & Gardner, H. (1993). How domains constrain creativity: The case of traditional Chinese and Western painting. American Behavioral Scientist, 37(1), 94-101.



Li, J. (2015). 文化溯源方与西方学习理念 [Cultural Foundations of Learning: East and West] (S. Chang, Trans. from English into Chinese). Shanghai, China: Eastern China Normal University Press.

Li, J. (in press). Russian translation of my book Cultural Foundations of Learning: East and West. Higher School of Economics, National Research University, Russia.

Li, J. (2012). Cultural foundations of learning: East and West. New York: Cambridge University press. [This book’s Chinese translation will appear in Spring, 2015; its Russian translation is in progress].

Williams, W., Blythe, T., White, N., Li, J., Sternberg, R. J., & Gardner, H. (1996). Practical intelligence for school. New York: HarperCollins. 



Li, J. (in press). How culture influences the learning beliefs of Chinese, Chinese-American, and European-American children. In U. Kim & Y.-S. Park (Eds.) Asia’s educational miracle: Psychological, social, and cultural perspectives (pp.). Hong Kong: Springer Asia.

Li, J. (2015). Rediscover Lasting Values: Confucian Asian Cultural Learning Models in the 21st Century. In G.-P. Zhao & Z.-Y. Deng, (Eds.), Re-envisioning Chinese education: The meaning of person-making in a new age. UK: Routledge.

Li, J., & Fung, H. (2014). 由親子對談窺探關於學習信念的文化詮釋框架: 台灣與美國學童之比較 [Cultural interpretive frame for mother-child conversations about learning: Comparing European American and Taiwanese dyads. In F.-W. Liu (Ed.), 同理心、情感、與互為主體 [Empathy, affect, and intersubjuctivity]. Taipei, Taiwan: Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica.

Li, J., Fung, H., & Chen, E. C.-H. (2013). Taiwanese parent-child conversations for moral guidance: Uncovering the ubiquitous but enigmatic process. In C. Wainryb & H. Recchia (Eds.), Talking about right and wrong: Parent–child conversations as contexts for moral development (pp. 71-97). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Li, J. (2013). Cultural models, children’s beliefs, and parental socialization: European American and Chinese learning. In L.-X. Jin & M. Cortazzi (Eds.), Researching cultures of learning: International perspectives on language learning and education (pp. 267-284). Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Yamamoto, Y. & Li, J. (2012). Quiet in the eye of the beholder: Teacher perceptions of Asian immigrant children. In C. Garcia Coll (Ed.), The impact of immigration on children’s development. Contributions to Human Development, Vol. 24. (pp. 1-17). Basel, Switzerland, Karger.

Bempechat, J., Mirny, A., Li, J., Wenk, K.A., & Holloway, S. D. (2011). Learning together: The educational experiences of adolescents in Moscow. In McInerney, D.M., Walker, R.A., Arief, G., & Liem, D. (Eds.), Sociocultural theories of learning and motivation: Looking back, looking forward (pp. 283-307). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Press.

Li, J. (2010). Cultural frames of children’s learning beliefs. In L. A. Jensen (Ed.), Bridging cultural and developmental psychology: New syntheses in theory, research and policy (26-48). New York: Oxford University Press.

Cheah, C. S. L., & Li, J. (2009). Parenting of young immigrant Chinese children: Challenges facing their social emotional and intellectual development. In E. L. Grigorenko & R. Takanishi (Eds.), Immigration, diversity, and education (pp. 225-241). New York: Routledge.

Li, J. (2009). Learning to self-perfect: Chinese beliefs about learning. In C. Chan & N. Rao (Eds), Revisiting the Chinese learner: Psychological and pedagogical perspectives (pp. 35-70). Comparative Education Research Centre (CERC), University of Hong Kong and Springer Press.

Li, J. (2009). Self -development. In R. A., Shweder, T. R. Bidell, A. C. Dailey, S. D. Dixon, P. J. Miller, & J. Modell (Eds.), The child: An encyclopedic companion (pp. 873-876). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Li, J., & K. W. Fischer. (2007). Respect as a positive self-conscious emotion in European Americans and Chinese. In J. L. Tracy, R. W. Robins, & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), The self-conscious emotions: Theory and research (pp. 224-242). NY: Guilford. 

Li, J. (2006). Respect in children across cultures. In D. W. Shwalb & B. J. Shwalb (Eds.), Respect and disrespect: Cultural and developmental origins. New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development Series (No. 114) (pp. 81-89). R. W. Larson & L. A. Jensen (Series Eds.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mascolo, M. F., & Li, J. (Eds.). (2004). Culture and developing selves: Beyond dichotomization. New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development Series. W. Damon (Series Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mascolo, M. F., & Li, J. (2004). Editors’ notes. In M. Mascolo & J. Li (Eds.), Culture and developing selves: Beyond dichotomization. New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development Series (pp. 1-7). W. Damon (Series Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Li, J., & Fischer, K. W. (2004). Thoughts and emotions in American and Chinese cultural beliefs about learning. In D. Y. Dai & R. Sternberg (Eds.), Motivation, emotion, and cognition: Integrative perspectives on intellectual functioning and development (pp.385-418). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Li, J, & Yue, X. -D. (2004). Self in learning among Chinese adolescents. In M. F. Mascolo & J. Li. (Eds.), Culture and developing selves: Beyond dichotomization (New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development Series No. 104) (pp. 27-43). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Li, J. (2004). A Chinese cultural model of learning. In L.-H. Fan, N.-Y. Wong, J.-F Cai, & S.-Q. Li. (Eds.), How Chinese learn mathematics: Perspectives from insiders (pp. 124-156). Singapore: World Scientific.

Li, J. (2004). High abilities and excellence: A cultural perspective. In L. V. Shavinina & M. Ferrari (Eds.), Beyond knowledge: Extracognitive aspects of developing high ability (pp. 187-208). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Mascolo, M. F., Fischer, K. W., & Li, J. (2003). The dynamic construction of emotions in development: A component systems approach. In N. Davidson, K. Scherer & H. Goldsmith (Eds.), Handbook of affective science (pp. 375-408). New York: Oxford University Press.

Mascolo, M. F., Li, J., Fink, R., & Fischer, K. W. (2002). Pathways to excellence: Value presuppositions and the development of academic and affective skills in educational contexts. In M. Ferrari (Ed.), The pursuit of excellence in education (pp. 113-146). Mahwah, JN: Erlbaum.

research overview

I mainly study how children across cultures and ethnic groups develop learning beliefs, how they are socialized in this development, and how their beliefs influence their actual learning and achievement. My research involves preschoolers, schoolchildren, and college students. I have studied children in the U.S., China, Taiwan, UK, and Russia.

research statement

1) Project Title: European American and Chinese Immigrant Children's Learning Beliefs and Related Socialization at Home
Project Period: March, 06-May, 2013
Principal Investigator: Jin Li, Ed.D. Jin_Li@Brown.edu, 401-863-9326
Funding Agencies: The Foundation for Child Development ($163,570) and the Spencer Foundation ($670,186) with a total of $833,756

The purpose of this longitudinal study (following children from 4-6) is to document (1) what learning beliefs (BLs) European American (EA) and Chinese immigrant (CI) children develop and how children are socialized at home in this development, (2) how they come to hold their learning beliefs, (3) how CI children adapt to both home and mainstream socialization, and (4) how children's beliefs influence their actual learning and achievement.

Children's capacity to learn develops early on, as do their BLs. BLs concern children's ideas about why they need to learn, how they should learn, whether they like learning, and who can help them learn. However, traditional research focuses much more on children's ability, school readiness, and teaching while paying little attention to children's own beliefs. BLs must also be studied in order to improve children's learning.

Children's BLs are not innate but develop as a result of their interactions with their social world. Because of caregivers' cultural/ethnic backgrounds, this socialization process also differs from group to group. Research shows that EA and Chinese children develop very different BLs. For example, when asked to talk about learning, EA children focus much more on the mind such as thinking, exploration, creativity, and verbal communication. Chinese children emphasize social and moral self-improvement along with developing personal virtues such as diligence, persistence, and concentration. Children from both cultures start to express such beliefs as young as four years of age. The older they are, the stronger their beliefs become.

Despite this research, we know little about how children come to hold different BLs during the crucial preschool years. Neither do we know how their caregivers socialize them at home. Moreover, virtually no research exists on CI family socialization in this area. Yet, CIs are the largest and fastest growing Asian American group. CI children are growing up in America, a culture that is vastly different from their parents' culture. In their socialization process, CI parents are likely to face acculturative challenges, and their children are also likely to experience cultural clashes. Finally, most research on CIs focuses on well-educated and middle-class population; little research exists on low-income families. Available research indicates that low-income CI preschoolers are far less prepared for school than their middle-class peers. This study seeks to address these research gaps. Our intention is to identify factors that promote positive development as well as factors that hinder such development in these two cultural and SES groups of children.

This study uses a longitudinal design. We follow three groups, middle-class EA, middle-class and low-income CI children (100/group with a total of 300) as well as their mothers for three consecutive years starting with children at age 4. We collect data with ten sets of instruments from the children themselves, their mothers, mother-child interactions, teachers, and children's school records. Empirical methods include children's achievement tests, story completion, parent interviews, mother-child conversations, mother-teaching-child, mother diary, mother survey, and teacher ratings of children's learning and social adjustment. We analyze our data with mixed methods.

2) Project Title: The Meanings of Learning, Achievement, and Motivation: A Study of Achievement Beliefs and Behaviors in Three Cultural Contexts
Project Period: May, 03-April, 06
Principal Investigator: Janine Bempechat, Ed.D., Wheelock College, Co-PIs: Jin Li, Ed.D. and Susan Holloway, University of California, Berkeley
Funding Agencies: William T. Grant Foundation ($470,000)

The purpose of this collaborative project was to understand how low-income high school students from European-, African-, Latino-, and Chinese-American backgrounds as well as their peers in England and Russia make meaning in their daily home and school life, how they interact and learn from their parents, teachers, and peers. We interviewed each of the 352 students three times. The first time they were interviewed about their daily home life including educational aspirations their parents convey to them, family-child communication, peer interactions outside school, and home monitoring for schoolwork. The second interview was on students' perceptions of key concepts such as "good student," "poor student," "good teacher," "not so good teacher," "smartness/intelligence," and "hard work." The third interview consisted of focus group discussions with 3-5 students per group about students' experiences at school. In addition, we used the experience sampling method (randomly signaling each student 7 times a day with a preprogrammed watch) to collect data on their daily activities in and outside school, their preference for activities, and their emotions. We also collected students' achievement data from school.

Currently, we focus our data analyses on variations within each ethnic group between high and low achieving students with mixed methods. We have analyzed a portion of the data and have three journal articles in press, one on Mexican American low versus high achieving students' perceptions of high achievement (the Urban Review), one on Russian high school students' family relationships and school learning (Journal of Adolescent Research), and one on Chinese American students' family social networks that support their learning (New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development). As we analyze more data, we will publish more research results.

3) Project Title: Beliefs About Learning Among Children and Parents in Taiwan and the United States
Project Period: May, 03-April, 06
Principal Investigator: Jin Li, Co-PI: Heidi Fung, Ph.D., Academia Sinica, Taiwan
Funding Agencies: Chang Ching-Kuo Foundation ($51,000)

This study focused on early elementary schoolchildren with three components: (1) children's learning-related self-concepts, (2) parental socialization of learning beliefs, and (3) parents' emotional reactions to children's learning attitudes, behavior, and achievement. For (1), we collected children's stories about themselves at home vs. at school. For (2) we recorded mother-child conversations about good learning attitudes/behavior vs. less desirable attitudes/behavior. For (3) we assessed emotional reactions to children's learning attitudes and achievement by mothers and fathers and their respective socialization strategies. Currently we have completed some data analyses of all three components. We have found that children's self-concepts are constructed in the nexus of three key dimensions: domain (home life vs. school learning), self-construal orientation (autonomy vs. relatedness), and cultural values (e.g., emphasis on social competence vs. moral self-improvement in school). We have also found the two cultures' mothers socialize their children differently. European American (EA) mothers focus on fostering their children's self-confidence and pride; Taiwanese mothers emphasize continuous self-improvement. Finally, EA parents' affects are pride for their children's good learning attitudes/achievement, but sadness and anger at teachers for poor attitudes/achievement. Taiwanese parents' affects are relief for good attitudes/achievement but shame/guilt at themselves and anger at their own children for poor attitudes/achievement. We are in the process of publishing these results.

4) Project Title: Teaching as a Natural Cognition: Chinese Mothers and their Young Children
Project Period: December, 03-November, 05
Principal Investigator: Sidney Strauss from Tel Aviv University, Co-PI: Jin Li
Funding Agencies: The Spencer Foundation ($35,000)

Our goal was to investigate how indigenous (less influenced by the West) children (ages 3-8) from rural China develop their natural cognitive ability of teaching and how their mothers engage in teaching their young children household skills. We were interested in children's emergent understanding of other children's minds and their mothers' assumptions about their children's cognitive capacities. We taught each child a novel board game and asked the child to teach a peer. We then asked each child's mother to teach her child a household skill. Both sessions were videotaped. We have transcribed and translated all data. We have also developed our coding schemes and analyzed some data. Our findings show that Chinese rural children are similar to Israeli children with regard to the developing sequence of their teaching cognition. However, differences in the styles of teaching were observed in both the children and their mothers.

4) Project Title: Culture and Speaking
Project Period: 2007-2012
Principal Investigator: Jin Li

This project aims at understanding how culture may influence people's speaking. The West emphasizes verbal communication and self-expression, but East Asia values action more than speaking. We have collected words and phrases from adults that refer to speaking in English and Chinese. These terms are rated by participants for their degree of positivity and negativity. We also present people with different types of persons juxtaposing speaking and action. People from different cultural backgrounds indicate the degree to which they like each type of person. Finally, we present participants with scenarios that occur routinely in daily life. Some scenarios depict characters who are self-expressive whereas other scenarios show characters who are not. We use mixed methods to analyze our data.

funded research

Major grant from the Spencer Foundation for a 4-year longitudinal study on European American and Chinese immigrant children's learning beliefs and socialization. 2007-20013. $670,186.

Young Scholars Award from the Foundation for Child Development for a 2-year longitudinal study on Chinese immigrant children's learning beliefs and related home socialization. 2006-2008. $163,570.

Grant from Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for a 2-year collaborative research project on beliefs about learning among school children and parents in Taiwan, China, and the U.S. 2003-2005. $51,000.

Small Grant from the Spencer Foundation for a 1-year collaborative research research project on how Chinese rural mothers spontaneously teach their preschool children and how young children teach each other. 2003-2004. $35,000.

Major Grant from William T. Grant Foundation for a 2-year collaborative research project on adolescents' meaning making of learning and achievement in the U.S., UK, and Russia, 2002-2004. $470,000.

Salomon Faculty Research Award from Brown University for two research projects on children's beliefs about learning among U.S. and Chinese college students and young children, 2002. $6,000.

Small Grant from the Spencer Foundation for a 1-year project on U.S. and Chinese preschoolers' understanding of learning (PUL), 2001-2002. $35,000.

Salomon Faculty Research Award from Brown University for a 2-year research project on conceptions of learning among U.S. college students, 1999- 2001. $10,000.

Student Research Grant based on merit for dissertation from Harvard Institute for International Development and International Education Office of Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1996. $3,000.