A Rush of Participants at the Semester’s End

In this last week of classes, my calendar is adorned with different colors. Each one signifies a specific subject that needs attention—work, classes, fundraisers, etc. Sprinkled throughout is a theme of turquoise, a color that reminds me that the Healthy Beginnings Project will be seeing many family participants in the days ahead! Our flyer distribution in the Williamsburg area proved successful; our email inbox, Tribe Responses interest form, and our phone voicemail were met with many mothers who wanted to learn more about the study and sign up with their children. Thanks to funds from the Vice Provost Grant, I was able to ensure that we would have enough gift cards to compensate all of the upcoming participants.

Like most research studies, the Healthy Beginnings Project’s current study—often referred to as “The Glass Task”—compensates its participants. Whether participants see this compensation as an incentive to sign up for the study, mother participants receive a $15 gift card and child participants receive a $5 gift card, some stickers, and a small toy. Our sticker collections include dinosaurs of various kinds, and stars and smiley faces of different designs and colors. The toy box offers toy cars, glow-in-the-dark slime, and stuffed animals.

Which ones would you choose?

             Which ones would you choose?

The Toy Box

While I would personally choose stegosaurus stickers and blue slime as my compensation, it is fun to see child participants make careful decisions when choosing their prizes. Their preferences for toys and stickers could be a study by itself! As a researcher in thought, I wonder about the variables that affect each child’s toy and sticker choices. Do their personal preferences motivate their decisions? And if so, were these preferences learned? More importantly, will child participants use their gift cards to purchase more toys? Who knows what motivating factors are at play during the compensation process.

Though studying toy preference is not pertinent to the focus of our research (except when we need to order toys on short supply), I enjoy considering all the variables at play in the world around me. My work in the Healthy Beginnings Project over this semester has allowed me to better identify these variables, especially those in the study. Having repeatedly read all the measures in the study while coding collected data, I am aware of many variables that relate to parenting practices and home environments. These are not only of interest in this study, but in many past and present studies within various fields of inquiry. They are also of interest to me, as I navigate psychology courses that explore topics of parenting and child development.

My work as a research assistant has helped me develop a better understanding of what goes into a study design and how to control for extraneous variables. I also have had the opportunity to apply my coursework in statistics to the data coding process using SPSS. It is fascinating to know I am a part of the process that could possibly isolate the variables that motivate decisions of thought and action. Hopefully the study, in accordance with the goal of the research, may discern some ways in which families would be able to better communicate.

For me, every semester’s end comes with a reflection, followed by an envisioning of the semester ahead. I will be studying abroad in the spring semester and will not be on campus to see the study to its completion; however, I am excited for the lab to complete the study and analyze data that we have been coding throughout the semester. Upon return from studying abroad, I intend to resume research with the Healthy Beginnings Project. Currently, there are plans to continue research with a goal of discerning ways in which some families may better communicate. The process of answering a research question does not always have a quick turn-a-round, but the process is necessary. I certainly hope that this study will provide some clear answers to our questions.