Child Development, Education and Care Research

Researchers in the Thorpe laboratory seek to understand the effects of early life experiences on trajectories of behaviour, learning, health, and wellbeing across the human life course. Our focus is on the first five years of life, a formative period in human brain development in which the quality of experiences, and particularly social interactions, shape brain architecture. We work with government and non-government agencies to inform child and family policy and practice strategies that improve children’s development and learning. We ask: In what ways can parents, non-parental carers, and support agencies optimise children’s life chances?

The Thorpe group employs a range of approaches to investigate this question. Our team is multidisciplinary. We apply diverse design strategies including large scale longitudinal cohort studies, natural experiments, randomised control designs and data linkage. Our data collections range from continuous physiological measurement and biological sampling through psychological testing, survey, standard observation, and consultation methods.

Work currently being undertaken by the Thorpe team include studies identifying the conditions that promote positive learning experiences in childcare settings located in developmentally vulnerable communities (Thorpe, ARC Laureate Fellowship), the impacts of changing care environments on the timing and regularity of children’s sleep  (Staton, DECRA), and a longitudinal study investigating the developmental significance of nap cessation on children’s learning and health outcomes (ARC Discovery).   Our team leads a flagship study within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families across the Life Course focussing on the early education and care services. This work is conducted in partnership with Goodstart Early Learning, Australia’s largest childcare provider, and Commonwealth and State governments.

Our team has a strong record of research impact seen in legislation and policy change. We also seek to transfer our discoveries to achieve impact through development of information resources for parents and professionals working with young children. Team lead, Karen Thorpe has twice (2013, 2019) been named by the Australian Financial Review as among Australia’s 100 Women of Influence for translation of her research into public policy. She is a board member of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth and chairs Evidence for Learning’s National Early Education Reference group.

Group leader

Professor Karen Thorpe

Professor Karen Thorpe

ARC Laureate Fellow
Queensland Brain Institute, UQ

  +61 7 334 67935
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  UQ Researcher Profile

  • Australian Reserach Council Centre of Excellence 
  • Australian Research Council Laureate
  • Australian Reserach Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award
  • Australian Reserach Council Discovery
  • Social Ventures Australia
  • Health Research Accelerator


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University of Queensland collaborators

Professor John Cairney - Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences

Professor Simon Smith- Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Professor Craig Munns- Medicine/Children's Health Queensland

Professor Honey Heussler, Medicine/Children's Health Queensland

A/ Professor Jasneek Chawla Medicine/Children's Health Queensland


National collaborators

Professor Nick Glozier, Mind and Brain Institute, University of Sydney

Dr Allysa Milton, Mind and Brain Institute, University of Sydney

A/Professor Leah Ruppanner, University of Melbourne

Professor Belinda Hewitt, University of Melbourne

Professor Lisa Kervin, University of Wollongong

A/Professor Steven Howard, University of Wollongong

A/Prof Karen Hazell Raine, Charles Darwin University

Dr Marcus Horwood, Deakin University


International collaborators

Professor Iram Siraj, Oxford University

Dr Yuwei Xu, The University of Nottingham

A/Professor Monique LeBourgeois, University of Colorado Boulder

Professor Peter Blair, University of Bristol

A/Professor Graham Reid, Western University, Ontario

Professor Edward Melhuish, Oxford University

Professor Peter Blair, The University of Bristol

Professor Monique LeBourgeois, University of Colorado- Boulder

Professor Rebekah Coley, Boston College

Dr Yuwei Xu, University of Nottingham,

Professor Tim Curby, George Mason University

Professor Jason Downer, University of Virginia



Industry partners

Goodstart Early Learning

Commonwealth Department of Education

Commonwealth Department of Social Services

Queensland Department ofEducation

Victorian Department of Education

Social Venture Australia

Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority

Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth 

Thriving Kids Queensland

Children’s Health Queensland 

Early Learning and Care Council of Australia 

Early Childhood Australia

Children’s Health Queensland

Health and Wellbeing Queensland

Down Syndrome Queensland

Former Origin Greats


Our Team

Group Leader

Research Members


Research Areas

  • Child learning
  • Child sleep
  • Child nutrition
  • Longitudinal studies