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Human Nature, Observed

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Human Nature, Observed

For decades, two psychologists have kept watch over 1,000 New Zealanders, teasing out factors that shape a life’s course.


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How much of your life could have been predicted by neurological testing at age 3?

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Since 1972, more than 1,000 New Zealanders have donated their time and data to the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, helping researchers disentangle the influences that touch a human life. Violence, mental disorders, poor health and early aging: Have the forces that predispose people to these fates been jogging invisibly beside them since the beginning? If so, can they outrun the demons that inhabit their DNA? getAbstract recommends this article to legislators, those who make public policy and anyone who wants a better understanding of human health, behavior and destiny.


Researchers have followed the lives of Dunedin study participants for over 40 years.

Phil Silva began following the lives of 1,037 children born between April, 1972 and March, 1973 at the Queen Mary Maternity Centre at Dunedin Hospital in New Zealand. Thus began the long-running Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. Retaining longitudinal study participants can be difficult, but the Dunedin study has managed to track an astounding 95% of their original participants over more than 40 years. Researchers have conducted interviews, collected DNA, assessed mental health and cognition, and gauged physical fitness in diverse settings, even in prisons and hospital rooms. The research follows two hard and fast rules: Strict confidentiality must be maintained, and there...

About the Author

Douglas Starr is the co-director of the Graduate Program in Science Journalism at Boston University. He has covered science, medicine and crime in diverse publications and several books, including The Killer of Little Shepherds.

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