“The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming buzzing confusion”- William James
At the Early Learning Project we have UNSW undergraduates come and help out with our research projects as part of an internship scheme. One of our interns, Georgia, has just finished the third year of her bachelor of psychology at UNSW. Throughout the third year of her degree she has been helping out with our intergenerational study so I caught up with her to find out more about the research she’s been doing.
Tell me about the research project you’ve been doing this year
My research was an intergenerational study with local preschoolers and dementia patients at a nursing home. Once a week the children from the preschool go and have a play session with the residents over the course of 6 months. We wanted to find out if going to visit the residents would have an effect on the children’s social and emotional development.
How did you do this?
We ran several tasks with the kids that measure their emotional and social development before they started going to see the residents. After the 6 month period we had them perform the same tasks again to see if they improved. Naturally as the children grow older they do better on the tasks that we set them, so a second group of children from the centre who didn’t taken part in the intergenerational program do the same tasks and act as the control group . In this way we can see how much of the improvement in children’s socio-emotional skillsis due to just getting older and how much is due to spending time with the residents. We are currently still doing the last few tasks with the children so we don’t have any results yet
Why did you decide to take part in this project?
I wanted to do a developmental psychology project because I’ve always loved working with kids. I took a developmental psychology course last year and loved it, so I decided to pursue it on Jenny’s internship program. When I joined the program Jenny proposed the study for me to help out with. There have been some other research that has shown programs like this improve the dementia patient’s engagement and mood compared to a normal activities like reading and reminiscing, but there has not been much research into how these programs might benefit the children’s development, which is why I found it so interesting.
What were the best and most difficult things about this project?
The most difficult part was the time commitment. It takes about half an hour to finish all the tasks with each child, so I had to go to the preschool a lot, as well as balancing all of this with uni and work. The best thing was learning how to carry out a range of tasks to measure the children’s social and emotional abilities, and also being able to conduct observational research on the residents.
What are you planning on doing next?
Once we’ve finished testing the kids I’m going to analyse the results and write up the research for publication. I’m hoping to get into the honours program next year to carry on with developmental research, and after I finish my thesis I’d like to go on to do a clinical masters.
What are your plans for this summer?
I work at IKEA so I will continue to work there while I’m writing up my research. I’m also planning on going away down south to Bateman’s Bay. I haven’t had a lot of free time this year so I’m going to catch up with my friends and walk my dog.
As the end of the Semester approaches we unfortunately have to say goodbye to some of the students that have been doing research at the Early Learning Project this year. I caught up with our Honours Student, Amelia, to find out about her thesis and what her plans are now that she has finished her degree.
Tell me about the research project you undertook for your thesis
For my thesis I was looking at future thinking in 4-year-olds, and how they understand that their preferences for objects mightchange in the future. In the experiment I showed 4-year-olds two pictures, one of them was something children generally like (e.g. apple juice) and the other something that adults generally likes (e.g. coffee). For each pair of pictures, we asked the child which they like now, and which they will like in the future. For some of the children we asked what they like now first, whereas other children were asked what they will like when they’re grown up first. We also wanted to test whether getting to play with the items that children generally like first, would help children be better able to inhibit their choices for those items when they were asked abuot what they might like in the future so half of the children got to drink apple juice and play with the child-preferable toys and the other half of children got to play with other things before we asked them about their preferences.
What did you find?
In general, all of the children who were asked their current preferences first were subsequently better at saying they might like adult-preferable things in the future in the second part of the experiment. I also found that including a play session did not affect the girls’ responses about their preferences, however, when the boys had a play session before being asked their preferences they were better at identifying that their preferences might change when they are grown up.
Why did you choose to research this topic?
I like kids, I have 7 younger brothers and sisters under the age of 10! So I knew I wanted to do developmental research for my thesis. I find future thinking really interesting and had previously read a paper by some psychologists who had performed a similar study, but I thought that there was a gap in the research for seeing in which circumstances the children’s ability to think about the future might change. I added the play session to the experiment to find out if the children’s future thinking improved after experiencing playing with the toys.
What was the biggest challenge for your research?
Recruiting 4-year-olds is very difficult compared to adults. Because I had chosen to do a developmental project it meant that I was still testing children until about 2 weeks before my thesis was due in! It was worth the effort though to be able to play with some very cute kids, although if I were to do the project again I would definitely try and stick to a specific time frame and not leave writing my thesis until the very last minute!
What are your plans now that you’ve finished?
This summer I’m going to Malaysia for my brother’s wedding which I am very excited about. It’s a traditional Indian wedding so it will go on for a few days! I also currently do applied behavioural analysis therapy with kids with autism. I might carry on to do a masters in a couple of years, or if not I’ll carry on with ABA therapy. For now I’m enjoying going to the beach and spending time with my friends and family.
Congratulations Amelia for completing your Honours degree and we would like to wish you the best of luck in the future.
I was immensely proud to watch our Ph.D. student Amy Datyner walk across the stage today in the Clancy Auditorium to receive her Ph.D. and Master of Psychology (Clinical) degrees. Amy joined the lab in 2012, already a year into her Masters program. Her research interests centre around empathy development in infants and preschoolers and during her Ph.D. she used tiny sensors to record the activity produced by muscles on the face while children were looking at pictures of different emotions (read more about this method here). She was particularly interested to see whether babies and young children automatically "mimic" facial expressions of emotion like we do as adults. Consistent with studies of adults, her results found that when infants and children looked at pictures of happy faces, the muscles in the cheek that would produce a smile contracted. Unexpectedly though, when infants and children looked at pictures of angry faces, she didn't see any activation of the muscles in the brow. Her results show that infants and children mimic some emotional expressions but not others, which has important implications for our understanding of how emotion sharing responses develop. Read more about Amy's work in our blog post here.
Congratulations Amy from all of us!
I am the Director of the Early Learning Project at UNSW. My research interests focus on learning, memory and emotion understanding development in infancy and early childhood
I am currently studying for my undergraduate Psychology degree at Cardiff University in the UK. I am working as a Research Assistant in the Early Learning Project as part of our placement program this year.
I have just finished my thesis for my honuors degree. My research focused on future thinking ability in preschoolers.