Two psychologists followed 1000 New Zealanders for decades. Here’s what they found about how childhood shapes later life
In 1987, Avshalom Caspi and Terrie Moffitt, two postdocs in psychology, had adjacent displays at the poster session of a conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Caspi, generally not a forward man, looked over at Moffitt's poster and was dazzled by her science. "You have the most beautiful data set," he said. Not one to be easily wooed, Moffitt went to the university library after the meeting and looked up Caspi's citations. Yep, he'd do. "It was very nerdy," Caspi recalls. "We fell in love over our data."
It's been a personal and scientific love affair ever since. For nearly 30 years, Moffitt and Caspi have been collaborating on one of the more comprehensive and probing investigations of human development ever conducted. Launched in 1972, the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study is as fundamental to human development as the Framingham Heart Study is to cardiovascular disease and the Nurses' Health Study is to women's health. From detailed observations of the life courses of about 1000 New Zealanders, Dunedin has spun out more than 1200 papers on questions from the risk factors for antisocial behavior and the biological outcomes of stress to the long-term effects of cannabis use. Moffitt, who joined the study in 1985, and Caspi, who followed, have led much of the work. They "have done so much it's impossible to pigeonhole them," says Brent Roberts, a psychologist at the University of Illinois in Champaign who has collaborated with the now-married couple.