top of page

Cait Cavanagh, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor with appointments in the School of Criminal Justice and the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University. She is also a Core Member of the MSU Youth Equity Project, and the Associate Director for Undergraduate Education in the School of Criminal Justice. After completing her B.A. in Psychology at the University of Rochester, Dr. Cavanagh worked in the European Union Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. Through this experience, she learned first-hand how high-quality social science research can affect public policy. As a result, she shifted her interest in studying adolescent development broadly to producing policy-applicable research to improve interactions between youth, their families, and legal actors. In 2016, she received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at UC Irvine, with specializations in Psychology and Law and Quantitative Methods.


Broadly, Dr. Cavanagh's research focuses on the intersections of psychology, social policy, and criminology to explain how social contexts shape adolescent behavior. As a developmental psychologist, she is particularly interested in the dynamic parent-child relationship. Specifically, Dr. Cavanagh is interested in marginalized families, including mixed-status or undocumented families; families facing housing instability; and families facing discrimination. Dr. Cavanagh examines how the family and sociopolitical contexts contribute to the etiology of, and desistance from, juvenile offending, as well as the effects of justice involvement on the family. To develop more effective prevention and treatment strategies for youthful offenders, we must first understand how individual, familial, and environmental factors interact with the justice system. Her goal is to use this research to inform legal decision-making. In this way, she hopes to guide decision makers with limited resources toward programs that are most likely to be effective. 


655 Auditorium Road, Room 532
East Lansing, MI 48824



Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice

What is the dynamic, reciprocal relation between adolescent development and contact with the juvenile justice system? 

2013 - 2016

University of California, Irvine

Ph.D., Developmental Psychology:

Psychology and Law, Quantitative Methods

Legal Socialization

How do youth develop attitudes about the law, legal actors, and the government?

Families and Social Policy

How can our laws and policies better support families when their children come into contact with the justice system?

Callous-Unemotional Traits

How do CU traits manifest and develop across adolescence and early adulthood?

2011 - 2013

University of California, Irvine

M.A., Social Ecology

2006 - 2010

University of Rochester

B.A., Psychology (Highest Distinction and Honors) and Spanish (Highest Distinction)

bottom of page