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University of Cambridge
Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Development Study

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PADS+ methodologies have been carefully designed to ensure the quality and accuracy of the study’s data. PADS+ uses four main methodologies to collect individual, environmental and exposure data.Methodology Diagram

  1. Questionnaires
  2. Psychometric exercises
  3. Peterborough Community Survey
  4. Space-time budgets

Participants have also provided active consent for researchers to obtain data from official sources such as schools and social services (other data sources).

1) Questionnaires

Questionnaires are used to collect data on individual and neighbourhood factors. PADS+ questionnaires have been designed by Principal Investigator Per-Olof Wikström, with input from the research team. They include Likert scale variables, multi-item composite scales, and self-report behavioural and attitudinal measures. All answers were coded quantitatively.

A Parents’ Questionnaire was used to collect data on family life, childhood events, peer relationships and school experience. This was administered through a one-to-one retrospective interview with a parent of guardian of each young person. These interviews were administered in caregivers’ homes using response cards to ensure questions and answers were clear. Responses were recorded directly onto field laptops to minimize inputting errors.

A Young Persons’ Questionnaire is used to collect data on a number of topics, including a young person’s family life, school experience, peer relations, moral values and emotions, generalized self-control, perception of risk and consequences, temptations, offending and use of drugs and alcohol. New age-relevant topics are introduced yearly. From 2004-2006 the young person’s questionnaire also included scenarios which evaluated young people’s situational decision making in the face of varying degrees of provocation and temptation.

This questionnaire is administered in small groups. Confidentiality is ensured and participants are unable to see each other’s answer sheets. Participants are led through each section of the questionnaire by a trained researcher who provides definitions and instructions, answers questions and ensures that questionnaires are fully and accurately completed. This reduces nonresponse, increases reliability by immediately resolving participants’ queries, and increases validity by ensuring participants perceive key concepts, and consequently answer related questions, as intended.

The parents’ questionnaires were administered in 2003 and composed the first data sweep.

The young persons’ questionnaires have been and will be completed by participants during each data sweep.

Key Constructs from Questionnaires

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2) Psychometric exercises

PADS+ has introduced a number of psychometric exercises over the course of the study. Each has been carefully chosen for its robust and often multidisciplinary theoretical base and its empirically evidenced relevance to adolescent decision making. Each has been specifically designed or adapted to appeal to adolescents and for administration in a non-clinical research setting.

Psychometric exercises were conducted during one-to-one interviews with PADS+ participants.  They assessed various cognitive capacities, including memory, emotion, reasoning, intuition, reward-sensitivity, moral reasoning, information processing, habituation, attention, multitasking and concentration.

Count Span Screen ShotThe Count Span (CSPAN) task is a measure of working memory – the number of informational units a person can actively maintain at one time. Social situations involve many disparate clues about different alternatives for action and their possible outcomes. How many of these clues a person can take into account may affect his/her action decision making.



Dual TaskDual Task Performance (DTP) requires participants to perform a simple visual search task while taxing their working memory. Not only do people need to gather information in a social situation, they need to then apply that information to their choice of action. Dual Task Performance measures differences in participants’ performance on an attention task while they handle a large amount of information.


IGTThe Iowa Card Sorting Task (ICST) is a measure of intuitive decision making. Participants are asked to select cards fromdecks which present different schedules for losing and winning points. Their task is to win as many points as possible by determining which decks schedules are the most advantageous. Because of the complexity of the task, participants must rely on intuitive reasoning which they develop through experience with gains and losses from each deck throughout the task. This task provides a measure of intuitive (or emotional) decision making, reward and punishment sensitivity, and habituation.

The Trail Making Task (TMT) is a complex visual search task which also measures working memory. Successful completion of the task requires maintaining and applying specific information during the task. Performance is timed to provide a measure not only of capacity but also efficiency.

The Coin Toss Exercise (CTE) is a pilot measure of moral reasoning. It compares the traditional utilitarian version of moral reasoning with the Situational Action Theory’s rule-use version. The purpose of the task is to determine if certain individuals rely on utility to guide their decision making in morally ambiguous situations, or if they rely on moral rules.

The Road Delivery Task (RDT) is a measure of habituation. Participants are asked to perform a task repeatedly. Subtle changes are introduced across the duration of the task and participants are measured on their perception of and response to these changes and the patterns of their behaviour over time.

These psychometric exercises provide PADS+ with a wealth of information on participants’ cognitive capacities and approaches to social decision making.

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3) Peterborough Community Survey (PCS)

Although some data on environments (i.e., neighbourhoods) is collected in the one-to-one parents’ interviews and interviewer-led, small group young persons’ questionnaires, the bulk of environmental data used by PADS+ has been collected through the Peterborough Community Survey (PCS). This 2005 postal survey collected detailed data on the social-environmental characteristics of small, geographically identifiable areas spanning Peterborough and several surrounding villages. Over-sampling techniques were used to ensure an even distribution of responses, even from disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

PCS data includes information on formal and informal social control, social cohesion, general disorder, youth presence, youth problems, fear of crime and intergenerational closure. These data have been validated through comparison with other data sources, including police data, and information reported by PADS+ participants in the space-time budget.

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4) Space-time budgets

The space-time budget is one of the most novel methodologies used in PADS+; it has been designed to collect data on individuals’ exposure to different environments through a one-to-one interview. Participants are asked about their hourly activities over four days during the week prior to interview. This included the last Friday and Saturday and two other most recent school days. For each hour, participants provided data on the setting (e.g., home, school, shopping centre), their companions (e.g., peers, parents, siblings) and their main activity (e.g., socialising, studying, playing football). Their geographic location was identified using geo-coded maps. This geo-coded data could then be linked to data from the PCS.

Space-time budgetThe space-time budget technique is unique to PADS+ and in combination with PCS data, it informs on individuals’ exposure to different settings unlike that of any other longitudinal study in its breadth and detail.

Alongside developments in ecometrics (the measurement of social environments; see, e.g., Raudenbush & Sampson, 1999), the space-time budget is a powerful instrument which has greatly enhanced our ability to measure the influences of the exposure to different social environments on consequent behaviour. The technique was developed to resolve the problematic tradition of using the neighbourhood (the social environment surrounding a participants’ home) to represent a participants’ social environment. Individuals spend a considerable portion of their time in environments other than their neighbourhoods (a trend which changes with age, with older participants spending more time away from home). Consequently, their neighbourhoods do not encompass all, and perhaps not even most of, the environmental influences on their behavioural development. The space-time budget resolves this issue by introducing a geographical component to a detailed time diary, enabling researchers to track participants’ geographic movements in the area of interest.

Combining this method with the small area data collected from the PCS, PADS+ researchers are able to measure the amount of time (in hours) which participants spend in particular types of social environments (for example, those with poor collective efficacy or weak informal social controls). Moreover, researchers are able to identify the social settings in which participants takes part (e.g., unsupervised socialising with peers). This allows PADS+ researchers to conduct geographical analyses of young peoples’ social behavioural patterns and the relationship between these patterns and specific environmental features in a way which has not previously been possible.

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