Advancing the study of human development with 21st century technologies

This funding supported an interdisciplinary team of scholars from economics, electrical and computer engineering, medicine, psychology, public policy and sociology in developing the capacity to embed ‘intensive measurement bursts’ into two of the most widely accessed and cited cohort studies in the world that, collectively, have assessments spanning from birth to the fifth decade of life. The Add Health and Dunedin studies each have produced rich archives of data on individuals’ social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development from childhood through adulthood. And, these data have been used, generating over 3,000 publications, with countless applications to policy and practice across the fields of education and human development.

The leaders of these studies were intrigued by the promise that 21st century technologies offered in terms of promoting scientific discovery and gathering data at a higher resolution and frequency than previously possible. However, in order to successfully implement these methods, ‘proof of principle’ was required to establish that these approaches were feasible and provided added scientific value. To accomplish this aim, the study team field tested ecological momentary assessment (EMA) protocols, measuring individuals’ behavior, cognitions, health and experiences in real time using smartphones among a local sample. Streaming information on physiology, activity levels, sleep and other indicators of health, cognition and wellbeing collected with wireless sensors were also integrated. If successful, these data and findings were planned to be used to secure extramural funding to test novel scientific questions related to health and human development.