British Science Week: Encouraging Children to Get Involved in Research

Each year, the British Science Association holds a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering, and maths. In 2023, British Science Week is taking place between the 6th and 19th of March, and the theme of this year is ‘Connections’.

Developmental Psychology 

Developmental psychologists are interested in growth throughout the lifespan, including changes in how people think, feel, and behave at various stages in their life. As such, differences in biological, social, emotional, and cognitive processes are investigated from birth, through infancy, during childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood. To do this, a range of research methods are used, including case studies, observations, longitudinal studies, and experiments.

I am a Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Kent, specialising in child development, and I am primarily interested in how socio-communicative abilities develop in both neurotypical and autistic children. By examining these skills, my research aims to increase our understating of why difficulties in conversation occur in Autism, and how these skills may be improved. 

Kent Child Development Unit

I conduct my research at the Kent Child Development Unit (KCDU) on the University of Kent in Canterbury. At the KCDU, we recruit children aged between 6-months and 13-years to participate in our studies. Our research aims to answer a range of questions, including:

How do children develop conversational skills?

How do children know what others see and believe?

How do children learn to reason logically?

How do babies learn to recognise faces?

How do mothers and children interact during problem-solving activities?

How can potential ‘early markers’ of developmental disorders be identified?

Why get involved in research?

1. Learn more about your child

As a parent, watching your child’s participation in our studies can give you an insight into aspects of their development, personality, beliefs, or skills that you may not typically have the opportunity to observe. For example, during the research process, children may be required to; interact with an unfamiliar adult, solve a problem, play a collaborative game, explain their thought processes, or justify their choices.

In addition, many of our studies involve the use of standardized measures, including tasks relating to core language ability, non-verbal reasoning, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Although researchers are not qualified to provide clinical diagnoses, we can offer a short summary of each child’s performance on these measures. This will include whether they have scored in the ‘low’, ‘typical’, or ‘high’ range. 

2. Increase our understanding of child development

Previous research has established that a child’s early development directly impacts on their socio-emotional wellbeing, long-term health outcomes, school attainment, and future job prospects. As such, developmental psychologists aim to highlight the practical applications of their findings so that this information can be used to enrich the childhoods of all children. For example, by researching parent-child interactions, developmental psychologists can highlight practical ways in which parents can improve the quality of their relationships with their children. Similarly, research on neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Autism, dyslexia, and ADHD, can be used by teachers to better understand how different students may learn, and how they could subsequently adapt their approach to be more inclusive.

3. Contribute to positive change

A key aim of any research project is to publish the results as an article in an academic journal. By disseminating our findings, other professionals can use our research to inform their practice. For example, the results from a study investigating the conversational turn-taking abilities of neurotypical and autistic children could be used by Clinical Psychologists or Speech and Language Therapists to shape interventions that target the specific communicative difficulties often experienced by autistic children. As such, by participating in our research at the Kent Child Development Unit, children can be involved in research that has the capacity to inspire practical or legislative change. 

How can I participate?

Whether you are parent who is interested in getting your child involved in our research, or a teacher willing to advertise the KCDU to the parents/guardians of your students, you can find more information on our website – we are always looking for more ‘Young Scientists’!

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