families with teenagers, and young adults just out of high school who are part of dating couples. To observe how the various subjects respond to stress, she asks subjects to discuss heated, unresolved conflicts in their relationships. She measures stress through observations of behavior, self-reports, and analysis of stress hormones in saliva samples taken before the conflict task, during the conflict task, and afterward.
Powers focused on consent issues involving rich data, which she defined as data that can be “recoded, reassayed, and retested to yield new information that was not proposed in the original study.” She explained that she was not referring to the reanalysis of existing coded information from large survey datasets, which can produce new insights and interpretations but which usually does not produce new data. Instead, she was specifically referring to datasets that allow researchers to derive new information through new coding, assaying, or testing of the original behavioral or biospecimen data samples.
In the case of biospecimens, for example, Powers explained, there are many different types of information that can be gained through various analyses, and the original researchers are likely to have obtained only a small portion of everything that is possible. In her research, Powers said, she analyzes the biospecimens from her participants mainly for stress hormones because she is interested in stress levels. The most common biospecimen she collects is saliva, which provides an indication of stress levels around the time of the sample, but she also looks at hair samples, which gives her information on stress levels over the preceding months.
An important fact about these biospecimen samples is that over time researchers are able to get more and more information from them. When she began collecting saliva more than a dozen years ago, Powers said, the purpose was to analyze the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Today there are dozens of endocrine molecules, neurotransmitters, immune factors, and other molecules whose levels can be detected in saliva samples, each of which provides a different set of information about the subjects. “We have hundreds of those samples frozen from many, many families,” she said, so she can go back and extract a tremendous amount of information about the subjects from their samples. Furthermore, the amount and types of information that can be extracted from the biospecimens are only going to increase further in coming years.
Behavioral data can also be rich data, Powers said. In her experiments she videotapes subjects in various situations, including conflict situations, and the videotapes can be analyzed to obtain many different types of information. When she carried out her earliest studies, she was focused