Wednesday, April 11, 2012

in which I farm my children out as test subjects

I like research, particularly about child development. So when the Duke cognitive development lab called us when Jocelyn was a baby, I was more than willing to bring her over to their lab for a research study.

Nevermind that she was the worst test subject ever and completely refused to cooperate. 

Evidently, that initial performance didn't eliminate us from consideration for future studies. We've been over to Duke four times since then, including today's visit. Three of her visits have been with the Brannon lab, which focuses on the "development & evolution of numerical cognition." And two others were at the Child Learning Lab.

Why do we do it? Well, most of us like hearing the results of research, even if we wouldn't word it that way. What parent isn't interested in how kids learn? Or what's healthy to eat for growing kids? Or how much TV is recommended for each age (even if we just want to know so that we can ignore that guidelines when we see fit)? If other parents hadn't been willing to let their kids be studied, then we wouldn't know the answers to those questions and others.

Our first visit, that one ending in failure, was part of a study published in the journal Infancy, Changes in the Ability to Detect Ordinal Numerical Relationships Between 9 and 11 Months of Age. How was Jocelyn described? "Data from an additional 9 infants were discarded because of fussiness resulting in failure to complete at least four test trials." Yep, that's a fitting description!

However, the next couple of visits were successes:
Our latest two have been this calendar year, so I can't share any links with you. I can, however, share a sweet story with you: As part of the study today, some participants were given a variation of the classic immediate vs. delayed gratification test, in which a child is asked to choose between receiving a small quantity of some goodie (in this case, Skittles or M&Ms) right away or getting a larger quantity of the goodie after waiting. Jocelyn was with the grad student in a different room, and while I could see her through a window, Robbie and I were busy reading and rereading the three dinosaur books and two snake books they had. (Over and over and over again. The study lasted an hour, so if you want me to recite any of the books, I bet I could!) As a result, I wasn't sure if they did that task.

When we got to the car, the following conversation ensued:
Me: Did you do anything today with Skittles or M&Ms?

Jocelyn: No. [pause] Why, Mommy?

Robbie: Please, I have some M&Ms, Mommy? Please?

Me: No, Robbie, I don't any M&Ms. Sorry, buddy!

Robbie: I not Buddy. Buddy is a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Me: Yes, Buddy is a T.Rex on Dinosaur Train. Jocelyn, some of the kids in this study were given a choice of getting a little bit of candy right away or waiting a little longer but getting more candy. Which do you think you would have chosen?

Jocelyn: To wait and get more candy.

Me: Are you sure? You would be willing to wait for more candy?

Jocelyn: Yeah, because if I just got a little candy, then I would eat it all, but if I waited and got more candy, then I would have some to share.

Robbie: Please, Jocy, you share candy with me, please?

Jocelyn: Sure!
Oh, how I love my precious lab rats!

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