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Channel 4 psychologist Dr Sam Wass seeks volunteers for research on impact of noise on young children

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UEL academic aims to measure stress levels of children growing up in urban environment

University of East London (UEL) academic Dr Sam Wass is building on his work as an expert psychologist on Channel 4’s The Secret Lives of 4-Year-Olds by embarking on some ground-breaking research of his own.

Dr Wass is one of three psychologists who provide expert analysis on the TV show as a group of four, five and six-year-olds interact in front of hidden cameras – often with hilarious results. 

This series, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, looks at early development in children. Last year it attracted an audience of 3.5 million viewers, received a Broadcast Award for Best Popular Factual Programme and was nominated for a BAFTA.

Dr Wass is also appearing in a spin-off mini-series, The Secret Life of Siblings, which will be screened on Channel 4 on 14 and 21 July.

He says the experience of working on last year’s series, which was Channel 4’s highest rated documentary of 2015, helped suggest future lines of research.

Now Dr Wass has been awarded a grant to do his own research to measure how noisy living environments affect development in children from low socio-economic status backgrounds. 

Dr Wass said,  “There’s so much we don’t understand about early development, but one thing we do know is how sensitive babies and children are to things around them.

“So many children nowadays are growing up in urban environments, and one of the things about urban environments is that they tend to be very cramped, with lots of noise. We know that noise is stressful, but we don’t know much about how different levels of long-term exposure to noise can affect children’s development.

“Research suggests that, overall, children who grow up in a chaotic living environment find it harder to concentrate when they start school. But we don’t understand why this is – and what exact aspects of the living environment are causing these problems.”

In his study, children will wear sensors (microphones and cameras) to record their home environment over week-long periods and they will have their internal stress levels (heart rate, movement patterns) monitored at the same time. The same children will also come into the laboratory at UEL to conduct further tests and have their brain activity measured. 

But despite receiving the necessary funding, there is still something that Dr Wass needs to carry out the research – participants. 

If you are pregnant or have a young child aged 24 months or less and would like to take part in a study at the UEL Babylab, he would love to hear from you.

At the moment, UEL is recruiting volunteer research participants for this study, and for a number of others as well.

If would like to find out more, please email your name and your due date or the date of birth of your child to dev@uel.ac.uk.