Embracing a new world of research

With the world turned upside down by the pandemic, academics and research teams have had to adapt to a mainly online world. The Faculty of Arts and Science Child and Adolescent Development Group was no different.

With a goal of understanding how infants and children reason about the people and the world around them, the research team, comprised of seven faculty members and a number of graduate and undergraduate students, have had close ties to the Kingston community for over 20 years. Along with research projects involving local families, they team has been active in community events including Science Rendezvous and the Kingston Teddy Bear Picnic.

“For over two decades, we’ve been running our studies in-person at our labs on the Queen’s University campus,” says Valerie Kuhlmeier (Psychology). “Families in Kingston have always been involved, generously volunteering their time. With the pandemic, we had to change our way of working. We had to develop new ways of doing our research online, over Zoom and other platforms.”

“As you can imagine, transitioning to online testing presents many challenges, particularly when participants are younger than five years of age. We had to find ways to adapt in-lab measures to keyboard and mouse clicks, all the while making it seem naturalistic.  Much of our research is about social interaction so we had to figure out effective ways of creating these interactions online.”

To explore the active research studies, visit the Department of Psychology website.

Dr. Kuhlmeier says pre-pandemic, the research team attended in-person events like Science Rendezvous, where they interacted with children of all ages around the theme “Think Like a Scientist”. This past year, they took part in the first ever Virtual Science Rendezvous which has led to another popular online event.

“The skills we’ve learned from developing online studies and participating in events like the virtual Science Rendezvous have recently been put to use in one of our new outreach endeavors, Circle Time, a free weekly Zoom event for children with science-themed activities,” says Dr. Kuhlmeier. “We realized that we might be able to help families during this strange time by offering some diversion and interaction. Each week, there is a combination of story time, songs, arts-and-crafts, or mini science projects. Afterwards, we often send families activity books over email, and occasionally we raffle off prizes.”

Visit the website to register for Circle Time.

The pandemic has also pushed the research team to develop new means of showcasing the science of psychology over social media – two of the labs are actively posting on Instagram: @socialcognitionlab and @earlyexperiencelab.

With more of the population receiving their vaccinations, Dr. Kuhlmeier says they are excited to start running research projects face-to-face but the online component will still be a viable part of their research.

“There can be many advantages, like reaching a more diverse participant sample, offering flexibility for scheduling, and removing the need for travel,” she says. “We are excited at the prospect of reaching families all over the world. In fact, we’re in the process of translating one of our online studies to Portuguese so that we can work with our collaborators in Brazil to test children there.”

Learn more about the group on the Child and Adolescent Development Group Facebook page.