A new child-friendly psychology laboratory at the University of Regina will make it possible for researchers to conduct research they hope will lead to a deeper understanding of how stress affects children and how best to help them cope.
The Child Health Learning and Development Lab (CHLD) is one of three psychology laboratories located in the University's Research and Innovation Centre and will provide state-of-the-art workspace for psychologists Kristi Wright, Heather Price and Katherine Robinson.
The new lab has an interview room that's designed to be child-friendly, with soundproofing and child-size furnishings so children will feel comfortable. It also has an observation room, and cameras and other audiovisual equipment to facilitate recording of interviews.
"This setting allows us to interview children and to train interviewers in an environment that's perceived as safe and comfortable for kids," Wright says, which is especially important when the interviews concern sensitive topics. It's also important to be able to record interviews without having a microphone or camera right in front of the child.
Development of the lab was made possible in part by a grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation of approximately $73,000.
The new lab will allow the researchers to collect more and better data. It is also expected to be ideal space for training psychology students and providing courses in interview techniques to others such as police officers, social workers and health care providers.
Wright says each of the three researchers concentrates on a particular area - her own focus is health, while Price focuses on development and Robinson on learning. But the three are tied together by their common interest in the impact of stressful experiences on children.
Wright studies the stress children may feel when facing surgery. She is trying to develop strategies that can be used to prevent pre-operative anxiety and result in more positive experiences for children.
"We are hoping this lab will help us provide a capacity for those sorts of intervention strategies," she says. "We wouldn't be providing the strategies there but developing them, then executing them in the hospital setting."
While Wright looks at helpful intervention for stressful events, Price examines memory of stressful events such as medical procedures or possible abuse. A child's memory of an event can, for example, affect what they convey in court proceedings.
"We don't want to impact their memories so she's learning a lot more about their memories and how to best train people to interview children who have had these experiences," Wright says.
Robinson looks at memory of stressful events in terms of its impacts on learning, focusing on math concepts. She also looks at how the effects of stressful events on academic skills might be minimized, and hopes to work with school boards, teachers and parents to help them understand how stressful events might affect learning.
"Again, it's stress that's tying all this together," Wright says. "Children are exposed to lots of stresses throughout their lifetimes and it can impact learning in a school setting."