Honey, I’m shrinking the kids

I’ve just discovered a New York Times article from earlier this year about psychologists who are studying their own kids in the service of top flight scientific research.

Studying one’s own kids has a long and proud tradition in psychology. Perhaps the first person to do so formally was Charles Darwin, who in 1877 published his paper A Biographical Sketch of an Infant which was based on observations of his own children.

Freud, of course, studied and analysed his own children (most famously Anna Freud) but perhaps the most influential was child psychologist Jean Piaget who based many of his ideas on observations of his own three children.

Also notable was one of the first women ever to be awarded a PhD in psychology, Milicent Washburn Shinn, who did her research on her own niece.

The New York Times piece covers many modern cognitive science projects that are based on observations of the researchers’ children to get the sort of in-depth data it would otherwise be impossible to obtain.

The ‘human speechome’ project is probably the most well-known where developmental psychologist Deb Roy is recording virtually every sound made by his young child from birth to “observe and computationally model the longitudinal language development of a single child at an unprecedented scale”.

Roy discusses the project and additional audio and video illustrates the article with more detail on the project.

The article also tackles some of the ethical issues of using your own children as research participants. This is an important topic because currently, there are no widely agreed guidelines on this long-established practice.

This exact topic sparked an article in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year to mull over the rights and wrongs of the situation.

The article covers a wide range of studies although is quite US-centric. One of the most notable examples this side of the pond resulted in a book by UK psychologist Charles Fernyhough released as A Thousand Days of Wonder in the US and The Baby in the Mirror in the UK which describes the development of his daughter through her first three years of life.

Link to NYT ‘Test Subjects Who Call the Scientist Mom or Dad’.
Link to JAMA article on ‘Parent investigators: a dilemma’.
Link to PubMed entry for same.

One thought on “Honey, I’m shrinking the kids”

  1. Well, I guess its good its not the 1950s anymore when you could easily scar your children for life all in the name of science.
    There’s a famous professor at Yale, Paul Bloom I believe. I remember hearing he was married to another psychologist, and that they have fun analyzing their kids (in a good way…I guess).
    I wonder what Chomsky would say about the baby sounds?
    (Incidentally, Paul Bloom has a huge book review he did in the NY Times on a new book called the Evolution of God. Waiting to read it.)

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