For the past 44 years, researchers have been following the lives of 1037 people born in Dunedin between April 1972 and March 1973.
The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, also known as The Dunedin Study, saw researchers at Otago University investigate what factors determine personality, health, wealth and happiness.
There have been a staggering 1150 publications from this longitudinal study, many of which have assisted policy makers in New Zealand and abroad.
Documentary made about study
The Dunedin Study was relatively unknown to the wider public but that changed when documentary maker Mark McNeill received funding from New Zealand On Air to film a four-part documentary on the study.
TVNZ recently screened the documentary, aptly named Why Am I? as it looks at the age-old question of nature versus nurture. How does a mix of our genetics, personality and life events impact on our physical and mental wellbeing?
The first episode of the documentary focuses on a child's early years and how their mannerisms and behaviour may indicate what sort of adult they may become.
The second deals with the teenage years; the third looks at what happens when nature clashes with nurture; and the final episode looks at how modern life is affecting people's health and wellbeing.
Global interest in study
The study has been described as the broadest and most in-depth study of human beings in the world. The study’s director, Professor Richie Poulton, has said the success is partly due to participants being flown home regularly from wherever they are in the world to undergo tests and answer questions. An amazing 96 per cent of the original participants, whose identities are kept secret, are still taking part.
What struck me was how down-to-earth the researchers were as they passionately guided the audience through their work.
There is great interest in the documentary series by overseas networks, and the study is now receiving additional funding from abroad, as more countries can see the gains from the research.
The producers and researchers were reportedly hopeful that the documentary would get people talking.
I’ve had several people mention the documentary series to me and talk about what they found most fascinating – so I think the researchers’ and participants’ years of dedication has impacted positively on many lives.
Why Am I? Available now at TVNZ on Demand
Reviewed by Kim Higginson, Information Resources Specialist at the Mental Health Foundation