Research big and small

We always get really excited by research and we know that some of you now will be thinking about designing studies for dissertations. In the past, we’ve always had to encourage students not to think ‘too big’ in terms of research, however it is always interesting to hear about what big research teams are doing to find out about children. Catching up with the weekend newspapers, we noticed there were some interesting articles about Jean Golding and her work with ALSPAC; but what is ALSPAC exactly? Some of you may never have even heard of it even though its work has been so important.

The title ALSPAC stands for the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children; this was a research study set up to track the lives of children born in the Bristol area between April 1991 and December 1992; it also included their parents in this tracking. The sample included 14, 000 pregnant women, any children they gave birth to and any partners of these women. Golding’s intention was to collect as much data as she could and to make the data available to other researchers in order to increase the potential of interesting and useful findings. It was intended that the findings could then influence policy.

Jean Golding’s discipline is epidemiology; an epidemiologist is a person who studies health issues and the spread of disease in specific populations. As such, she was interested in how both the environment and a child’s genes might impact on a child’s health; to put it simply, she was interested in questions of nature AND nurture and how they relate to children’s health. Furthermore, she was interested in how knowledge gained could influence practice. So how did she, and her team, go about designing the research?

As you can imagine, such a large-scale piece of longitudinal research, with such a considerable sample, has a complex and extensive methodology. A mixed methods approach has been adopted which includes questionnaires, medical and educational records, environmental measures, interviews and biological samples such as blood tests. Golding and her team state that the research has been designed in such a way ‘to determine how the individual genotype combines with environmental pressures to influence health and development’ (Golding et al., 2001, p. 75). So, what have they found out so far?

Certainly, many things that are of interest to those of us who work with or study young children and certainly too many things to list here. For example if you look at the research’s news page you will see that in 2019 findings established links between anxious mothers to be and hyperactive teens, in 2018 links between trauma in childhood and later psychotic experiences, then back in 2013 links between premature birth and low achievement at school. This is just a tiny snap shot of work they have done, it is such an interesting read we would really encourage you to have a look.

You might get some ideas for your own research however small scale that is going to be. We’d love to hear from those of you undertaking a research study and the ideas you have. Remember also to look at our book for inspiration; do let us know!


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