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Genes, Behavior, and the Social Environment: Moving Beyond the Nature/Nurture Debate
The Family Research Consortium III
The Family Research Consortium (FRC) III was a multisite, 3-year postdoctoral training program that promoted interdisciplinary collaborative research and training for the study of ethnic/racial diversity, family process, and child and adolescent mental health. Research partners and postdoctoral students came from a variety of disciplines. Trainees attended yearly Summer Institutes designed to bring together members of the consortium as well as approximately 100 scholars from various universities worldwide. Students also attended a 6-week intensive summer training program during their first year, winter meetings focused on particular topics, and worked with one of the consortium faculty at his/her home institution. During their 3-year term, students were required to collaborate with at least two faculty members at different sites. The success of this effort led to funding for FRC IV which includes scholars from sociology, demography, developmental psychology, anthropology, economics, statistics, public health, and pediatrics.
One example of a dataset that could be useful for the kind of transdisciplinary research described in this report is the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and Child Supplement. This dataset includes extensive information on social factors, developmental measures of children, data on family members (for a subset of participants), and a host of other measures. It does not, however, include biomarkers (Bureau of Labor Statistics et al., 2002). Therefore, NIH could explore the possibility of enhancing health measures and adding biomarkers. The large size, the representativeness of the sample, its longitudinal nature, and the wealth of existing data in this survey argue for a careful review of its potential regarding the impact of interactions on health.
It could be valuable to collect biologic samples at any point in time during the course of a longitudinal study when the markers are stable over time, such as is the case with the HapMap. If the biologic measure is quite variable over time—and especially if the time sensitivity is associated with other behaviors of interest—then it would be necessary to collect the specimens at specific times. Similarly, social measures that are stable (e.g., parental education) can be collected at virtually any point, but some measures are subject to considerable recall error, which makes the timing of their collection important.
The development of complex datasets must involve careful consideration of the stability of measures, the importance of different levels of stability, and the patience of research subjects to continue participation, among other factors.