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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Seedcorn Grant Report by Sara Hagá

10.06.2017, by Sibylle Classen in grant report

University of Lisbon, Portugal; Project: Children as Perceived by Adults

At the risk of sounding too informal, I cannot help saying that the EASP made my day by recently awarding a ‘seedcorn’ grant to my research proposal. I am a postdoc researcher at the University of Lisbon, Portugal, mainly interested in how children make sense of their social world. Broadly speaking, my research usually focuses on how children think about themselves and others and how this might inform social cognitive theories. In the last couple of years, however, a different yet related interest began to take shape in my mind – How are children, as a social category, perceived in our societies? What might the consequences of those perceptions be?

In a context, such as in Portugal, where funding opportunities are rather scarce, particularly for early career researchers and for exploratory research, the EASP ‘seedcorn’ research grant presented itself as a providential funding scheme. I used the award to collect data that will valuably inform my future studies on this line and, importantly, build a more solid platform on which to ground a grant proposal for a larger scale funding call.

In my research proposal, I put forward a particular hypothesis concerning to how children as a social category are perceived by adults and proposed three studies to test this hypothesis. Hopefully I will share the specifics of this project’s conceptual framework and empirical findings with the scientific community in the near future. For now, I would like to share how far this ‘seedcorn’ grant allowed me to delve into the three proposed studies, each of which using an entirely different methodology. The grant supported participant recruitment and compensation, as well as the acquisition of three tablets, which were of great assistance in collecting data outside the lab.

One of the proposed studies (N = 64) employed a mouse-tracking technique. Although the focal hypothesis did not gather empirical support in this study, I learned a great deal from the experience. Moreover, I was invited to teach a workshop on the mouse-tracking technique by another lab in my department, thus sharing some of what I had learned. I plan to follow up on this study by using the same paradigm with slight modifications and by using a different implicit measure, such as an IAT or a lexical decision task.

In another study (N = 60), participants saw photos of children and adults and assigned a word from a list to each photo. This time the focal hypothesis obtained tentative support, and once again I drew useful insights from this preliminary study. I had previously pretested the photos on four dimensions with a different sample of participants (N = 30). After the study was ran, I ‘posttested’ (N = 31) the same photos on four other dimensions to gather empirical evidence on some of the insights (e.g., that the photos might have looked a bit foreign to Portuguese participants). A second version of this study, with more fitting (e.g., more ‘Portuguese-looking’) stimuli, is already in place.

The third proposed study (currently ongoing) uses a very explicit measure, with participants rating children, adults, and other social groups along a couple of dimensions, as well as rating their agreement with a set of statements.

In addition to the studies included in the proposal (and the already mentioned pilot tests), I completed two extra studies: one collecting correlational data (N = 30) and another collecting stereotypical attributes of children, adults, and two other groups (N = 61). A follow-up study based on the most consensual attributes is currently underway. The results of the completed ‘extra’ studies strongly support the focal hypothesis, encouraging further work on the topic.

Beyond running the studies, the proposal contained other intended outcomes. I will shortly address the progress made on each of those outcomes, but I would like to highlight the one that pleased me the most (alongside with the research studies themselves, of course) – this grant gave me the opportunity to engage young researchers in the project. I was lucky to find the precious collaboration of a master’s student and two undergraduate students. Together we formed a ‘minilab’, with our own weekly meetings, devoted to this research project. The students helped with a number of tasks (e.g., participant recruitment, data collection, literature review) and, in turn, received mentoring, not just on this project, but also on their own research interests and careers. The opportunities for undergraduates to be involved in ongoing research projects at my department are rather sporadic. The EASP ‘seedcorn’ grant enabled this experience for us and, considering its success, I will strive to keep providing young researchers with this kind of mutually beneficial opportunities.

Concerning the other intended outcomes: (a) I am preparing a manuscript, in collaboration with my master’s student, sharing the normative data we obtained for a vast set of stimuli (namely, words) we used in the aforementioned studies. These data will make it easier, and faster, for researchers working in Portuguese-speaking countries to conduct research using this kind of stimuli. (b) I do not think the results we obtained from the studies so far are consistent enough to warrant publication. Moreover, we are currently running a few follow-up studies. Thus, I decided against submitting a manuscript with this set of studies at this stage. However, my master’s student is writing his thesis on this set of studies, and we will at some point prepare a manuscript for submission in an international journal, making this research project available to the scientific community. (c) I did not submit this work for a conference oral presentation for the above mentioned reasons. Nonetheless, I encouraged my master’s student to participate in a couple of scientific meetings, presenting the studies there. He presented an oral communication at a scientific meeting organized by our department to share undergraduate, master’s, and graduate students’ research projects and ideas. He also presented two posters, one at a national conference organized by the Portuguese Association of Experimental Psychology (APPE) and another at a graduate students’ scientific meeting organized by the doctoral program at ISCTE-IUL. Moreover, I presented by invitation the research project at a ‘brown bag’ meeting organized by the cognitive area at my department. (d) This year the large-scale project call by our national funding institution (FCT) was launched earlier than usual and has already closed. I plan to keep running studies on this research line and use them as preliminary evidence supporting a research project to be submitted in the coming year. In the meanwhile, my master’s student, who grew very fond of this project, is planning to apply for a doctoral grant expanding on this research line.

In sum, I believe that this ‘seedcorn’ grant, which the EASP so generously awarded to me, has germinated in many fruitful directions. It allowed me to develop a new research line, which both me and my collaborators are passionate about. This line combines fundamental research on social perception with meaningful application potentialities, for the way children are perceived as a social category certainly has a strong impact on parenting, educational, and clinical practices, just to name a few. As such, this ‘seedcorn’ granted me the opportunity to start applying my fundamental research skills to issues that might get to inform and shape policies in meaningful ways. I believe that this line is promising in terms of attracting further funding, for the same reasons. This ‘seedcorn’ also helped me create my own lab, kick-started the involvement of young researchers at various stages of a research project (not just as experimenters), and encouraged me to further develop my mentorship skills, particularly towards undergraduate research assistants.

I could not have asked for more. My whole-hearted thank you to the EASP executive committees for creating and sustaining this very useful grant scheme, to the EASP grant officers for working so diligently and quickly, and to Sibylle Classen who has a magical ability to turn even grant administrative procedures into something pleasurable and to make everything run ‘nice and easy’.