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2019 Mary Ainsworth Award Winner

Elena Grigorenko, PhD, describes her research on the various dimensions of diversity in developmental science.
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By Elena L. Grigorenko, PhD

elena-grigorenko I am honored and humbled to receive an award named after Mary Ainsworth — a woman scientist who contributed to shaping developmental science as we know it today. These are big shoes to fill, and all I can do is to keep trying, both by myself and with members of my laboratory, who all are co-recipients of this award.

The main thread of the research carried out in my laboratory is diversity. Diversity is multidimensional. Its first dimension that we study pertains to geography. As is well-known, today’s scientific literature on child development is absolutely dominated by research carried out in high-income countries of North America and Western Europe. Yet, out of the approximately 2.2 billion children on Earth, nearly two billion live in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). Since its inception, my laboratory has been focused on improving the representation of LMIC kids in the scientific literature. We have been fortunate to work in a number of countries around the world, including Ghana, the Gambia, India, Kenya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and Zanzibar and Zambia. All of these countries have large numbers of children who are minimally represented in scientific research in general and scientific literature in particular, and we have been trying to change this. We have engaged children and their families from these countries in research, reflected on our findings in publications and disseminated our findings to the communities where we did our work.

Diversity’s second dimension is captured by the notion of “atypical.” Although less biased than when reflecting geographical diversity, the literature is dominated by the typically developing child. My laboratory has shed light on the developmental trajectories of children with language and learning disabilities, conduct disorders and autism spectrum disorders. We are also interested in the development of gifted and talented children, especially children known as twice-exceptional children, with gifts and talents as well as disabilities.

Yet another dimension of diversity is linguistic diversity. We have conducted research with children who speak, think and live in minority languages (e.g., Dholuo, Ewe, Gonja, Mandinka, Nyanja, Tonga, Twi, Wolof). In working with these children, we are sensitive to the fact that they cannot be assessed representatively by instruments developed in majority languages and spend time and effort adapting the relevant existing instruments and developing new ones.

We are also interested in representing the children whose developmental contexts are different from the contexts in which the majority of children grow. We have worked with children growing up without their biological parents due to social factors (e.g., loss of parents or removal of parental rights), devastating diseases (e.g., the HIV/AIDS pandemic) or being in custody of the juvenile justice system.

Our work is traditionally multidisciplinary, bringing together various perspectives on human development. We use a variety of methods, including traditional, as well as linguistic, genetic, neuroimaging and neurophysiological approaches. We blend methodologies together and cross traditional boundaries of knowledge, as this is how we understand developmental science, as a multidimensional inquiry into human development.

Clearly, my laboratory studies only a few dimensions of diversity among the many to be considered. Although limited in number, these dimensions, we believe, enhance the representation of more children and of different types of their developmental trajectories in the scientific literature. And representing diversity, we believe, makes developmental science not only fairer, but also more precise.

 

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