1. Children prenatally exposed to alcohol more likely to have academic difficulties

    March 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism:

    Despite greater awareness of the dangers of prenatal exposure to alcohol, the rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders remain alarmingly high. This study evaluated academic achievement among children known to be prenatally exposed to maternal heavy alcohol consumption as compared to their peers without such exposure, and explored the brain regions that may underlie academic performance.

    Researchers assessed two groups of children, eight to 16 years of age: 67 children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (44 boys, 23 girls) and 61 children who were not prenatally exposed to alcohol (33 boys, 28 girls). Scores on standardized tests of academic areas such as reading, spelling, and math were analyzed. In addition, a subsample of 42 children (29 boys, 13 girls) had brain imaging, which allowed the authors to examine the relations between the cortical structure (thickness and surface area) of their brains and academic performance.

    The alcohol-exposed children performed significantly worse than their peers in all academic areas, with particular weaknesses found in math performance. Brain imaging revealed several brain surface area clusters linked to math and spelling performance. The children without prenatal alcohol exposure demonstrated the expected developmental pattern of better scores associated with smaller brain surface areas, which may be related to a typical developmental process known as pruning. However, alcohol-exposed children did not show this pattern, possibly due to atypical or delayed brain development, which has been observed in other research studies. These results support previous findings of lower academic performance among children prenatally exposed to alcohol compared to their peers, which appear to be associated with differences in brain development, and highlight the need for additional attention and support for these children.


  2. Disruptive children do not inspire similar behavior in their siblings

    March 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Friends of Tel Aviv University press release:

    A new Tel Aviv University study published in Child Development finds that the disruptive behavior of an individual child does not encourage similar behavior in their brothers and sisters.

    On the contrary, Dr. Ella Daniel of TAU’s Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education finds that siblings, predominantly older siblings, of disruptive children tend to exhibit less disorderly behavior over time. The research, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Jenkins and colleagues at the University of Toronto and funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, examines the role of sibling training on disruptive behavior during early childhood and concludes that disruptive behavior produces greater disparity — rather than resemblance — among siblings.

    “The development of disruptive behavior in early childhood is extremely important, as disruptive behavior starts early in life and behavioral patterns may become stable and resistant to influence later on,” Dr. Daniel says. “We found that in early childhood, children do not learn from each other how to be disruptive, violent or disobedient.

    “In fact, they are more likely to learn what not to do, or how not to behave. The older siblings of young children who are disruptive tend to become less disruptive themselves over time, creating a polarizing effect on their behaviors.”

    Focusing on younger children

    Existing research on disruptive behavior is largely focused on adolescents. The new study harnessed data assessing the rate of disruptions as witnessed by both parents to track 916 toddlers and their preschool- and school-aged siblings in some 400 families in and around Toronto.

    The families examined had given birth to an infant between 2006 and 2008, and had at least one other child (younger than four years of age) at home. The researchers conducted observations and interviews with the family, including all the siblings in the family, every 18 months.

    The scientists collected information when the youngest child in the family was 18, 36 and 54 months old. On these three occasions, both parents reported the disruptive behaviors of each of their children. Using advanced statistical models, the researchers were able to identify the role of siblings in the development of each child’s disruptive behavior over time, taking into account heredity, parenting, social environment and shared history.

    “The study teaches us that we have little to worry about one sibling being ‘a bad influence’ on their brothers or sisters,” says Dr. Daniel. “Instead, we should be more worried of pigeon holing: that one child will be labeled as a ‘black sheep,’ and that all children in the family will develop based on pre-assigned roles. We should let each child develop his or her individuality, which naturally changes over time.”

    The researchers are currently examining the role of siblings in the development of childhood depression and anxiety.


  3. Too much TV can impact primary school readiness for some kids

    March 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Concordia University press release:

    We interrupt this program for an important message: Watching television for more than a couple of hours a day has been linked to lower school readiness skills in kindergarteners.

    That’s according to a new study by researchers from Concordia’s PERFORM Centre and New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, which shows the particular impact on children from low-income families.

    The findings, published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, reinforce the need for limits on screen time, such as those laid out by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organization recently changed its norms to recommend that children between two and five watch no more than one hour daily — down from its previous recommendation of two hours.

    Given the current prevalence of smartphones and tablets, screens play a bigger role in many families’ lives now than ever before.

    “Research has shown that watching TV is negatively associated with early academic skills, but little is known about how socio-economic status influences viewing,” says study co-author and PERFORM Centre researcher Caroline Fitzpatrick.

    “We wanted to examine whether the negative relationship between watching TV and school readiness varied by family income.”

    Lower math skills and executive functioning

    Fitzpatrick and NYU Steinhardt co-authors Andrew Ribner and Clancy Blair looked at data from 807 kindergarteners of diverse backgrounds. Parents of participants reported family income, as well as the hours of TV their children watch on a daily basis. Video game, tablet and smartphone use was not included in the measurement.

    To determine school readiness, the study measured the children’s math skills and knowledge of letters and words.

    The researchers also assessed executive functions, which are key cognitive and social-emotional competencies, including working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control. Executive functions are essential for everyday problem-solving and self-control of behaviours and emotional responses.

    “We found that the number of hours young children watch TV is related to decreases in their school readiness, particularly when it comes to math and executive function,” confirms Ribner, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.

    “This association was strongest when children watched more than two hours daily.”

    Poorer families take the hardest hit

    As family incomes decreased, the link between TV watching and school readiness grew.

    Those at or near the poverty line — an annual income of around $21,200 for a family of four — saw the largest drop in school readiness when children watched more than two hours of TV a day.

    The study noted a more modest drop among middle-income families, measured as $74,200 per year for a family of four. And researchers found no link between school readiness and TV viewing in high-income homes, which were measured as around $127,000 per year for a family of four.

    “Our results suggest that the circumstances that surround child screen time can influence its detrimental effects on learning outcomes,” says Fitzpatrick, who also teaches at Université Sainte-Anne.

    “We recommend that pediatricians and child care centres help parents limit the amount of TV children watch to less than two hours a day, especially those from middle- to lower-income families.”


  4. Cyberbullying rarely occurs in isolation, research finds

    March 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Warwick press release:

    Cyberbullying is mostly an extension of playground bullying — and doesn’t create large numbers of new victims — according to research from the University of Warwick.

    Professor Dieter Wolke in the Department of Psychology finds that although cyberbullying is prevalent and harmful, it is a modern tool used to harm victims already bullied by traditional, face-to-face means.

    In a study of almost 3000 pupils aged 11-16 from UK secondary schools, twenty-nine percent reported being bullied, but one percent of adolescents were victims of cyberbullying alone.

    During the survey, pupils completed the Bullying and Friendship Interview, which has been used in numerous studies to assess bullying and victimization.

    They were asked about direct victimisation (e.g., “been hit/beaten up” or “called bad/nasty names”); relational victimization (e.g., “had nasty lies/rumours spread about you”); and cyber-victimization (e.g., “had rumours spread about you online,” “had embarrassing pictures posted online without permission,” or “got threatening or aggressive emails, instant messages, text messages or tweets”).

    All the teenagers who reported being bullied in any form had lower self-esteem, and more behavioural difficulties than non-victims.

    However, those who were bullied by multiple means — direct victimisation, relational victimisation and cyber-victimisation combined — demonstrated the lowest self-esteem and the most emotional and behavioural problems.

    The study finds that cyberbullying is “another tool in the toolbox” for traditional bullying, but doesn’t create many unique online victims.

    As a result, Professor Wolke argues that public health strategies to prevent bullying overall should still mainly focus on combatting traditional, face-to-face bullying — as that is the root cause of the vast majority of cyberbullying.

    Professor Wolke comments, “Bullying is a way to gain power and peer acceptance, being the ‘cool’ kid in class. Thus, cyber bullying is another tool that is directed towards peers that the bully knows, and bullies, at school.

    “Any bullying prevention and intervention still needs to be primarily directed at combatting traditional bullying while considering cyberbullying as an extension that reaches victims outside the school gate and 24/7.”

    The research is published in European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.


  5. The making of music

    March 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Harvard University press release:

    These days, it’s a territory mostly dominated by the likes of Raffi and the Wiggles, but there’s new evidence that lullabies, play songs, and other music for babies and toddlers may have some deep evolutionary roots.

    A new theory paper, co-authored by Graduate School of Education doctoral student Samuel Mehr and Assistant Professor of Psychology Max Krasnow, proposes that infant-directed song evolved as a way for parents to signal to children that their needs are being met, while still freeing up parents to perform other tasks, like foraging for food, or caring for other offspring. Infant-directed song might later have evolved into the more complex forms of music we hear in our modern world. The theory is described in an open-access paper in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

    Music is a tricky topic for evolutionary science: it turns up in many cultures around the world in many different contexts, but no one knows why humans are the only musical species. Noting that it has no known connection to reproductive success, Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker, described it as “auditory cheesecake” in his book How the Mind Works.

    “There has been a lot of attention paid to the question of where music came from, but none of the theories have been very successful in predicting the features of music or musical behavior,” Krasnow said. “What we are trying to do with this paper is develop a theory of music that is grounded in evolutionary biology, human life history and the basic features of mammalian ecology.”

    At the core of their theory, Krasnow said, is the notion that parents and infants are engaged in an “arms race” over an invaluable resource — attention.

    “Particularly in an ancestral world, where there are predators and other people that pose a risk, and infants don’t know which foods are poisonous and what activities are hazardous, an infant can be kept safe by an attentive parent,” he said. “But attention is a limited resource.”

    While there is some cooperation in the battle for that resource — parents want to satisfy infants appetite for attention because their cries might attract predators, while children need to ensure parents have time for other activities like foraging for food — that mutual interest only goes so far.

    Attention, however, isn’t the only resource to cause such disagreements.

    The theory of parent-offspring conflict was first put forth over forty years ago by the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers, then an Assistant Professor at Harvard. Trivers predicted that infants and parents aren’t on the same page when it comes to the distribution of resources.

    “His theory covers everything that can be classified as parental investment,” Krasnow said. “It’s anything that a parent could give to an offspring to help them, or that they may want to hold back for themselves and other offspring.”

    Sexual reproduction means that every person gets half of their genes from each parent, but which genes in particular can differ even across full siblings.

    Krasnow explains, “A gene in baby has only a fifty percent chance of being found in siblings by virtue of sharing two parents. That means that from the baby’s genetic perspective, she’ll want a more self-favoring division of resources, for example, than her mom or her sister wants, from their genetic perspectives.”

    Mehr and Krasnow took the idea of parent-offspring conflict and applied it attention. They predict that children should ‘want’ a greater share of their parents’ attention than their parents ‘want’ to give them. But how does the child know it is has her parent’s attention? The solution, Krasnow said, is that parents were forced to develop some method of signaling to their offspring that their desire for attention was being met.

    “I could simply look at my children, and they might have some assurance that I’m attending to them,” Krasnow said. “But I could be looking at them and thinking of something else, or looking at them and focusing on my cell phone, and not really attending to them at all. They should want a better signal than that.”

    Why should that signal take the form of a song?

    What makes such signals more honest, Mehr and Krasnow think, is the cost associated with them — meaning that by sending a signal to an infant, a parent cannot be sending it to someone else, sending it but lying about it, etc. “Infant directed song has a lot of these costs built in. I can’t be singing to you and be talking to someone else,” Krasnow said. “It’s unlikely I’m running away, because I need to control my voice to sing. You can tell the orientation of my head, even without looking at me, you can tell how far away I am, even without looking.”

    Mehr notes that infant-directed song provides lots of opportunities for parents to signal their attention to infants: “Parents adjust their singing in real time, by altering the melody, rhythm, tempo, timbre, of their singing, adding hand motions, bouncing, touching, and facial expressions, and so on. All of these features can be finely tuned to the baby’s affective state — or not. The match or mismatch between baby behavior and parent singing could be informative for whether or not the parent is paying attention to the infant.”

    Indeed, it would be pretty odd to sing a happy, bubbly song to a wailing, sleep-deprived infant.

    Krasnow agrees. “All these things make something like an infant directed vocalization a good cue of attention,” he continued. “And when you put that into this co-evolutionary arms race, you might end up getting something like infant-directed song. It could begin with something like primitive vocalizations, which gradually become more infant directed, and are elaborated into melodies.”

    “If a mutation develops in parents that allows them to do that quicker and better, then they have more residual budget to spend on something else, and that would spread,” he said. “Infants would then be able to get even choosier, forcing parents to get better, and so on. This is the same kind of process that starts with drab birds and results in extravagant peacocks and choosy peahens.” And as signals go, Krasnow said, those melodies can prove to be enormously powerful.

    “The idea we lay out with this paper is that infant-directed song and things that share its characteristics should be very good at calming a fussy infant — and there is some evidence of that,” he said. “We’re not talking about going from this type of selection to Rock-a-Bye Baby; this theory says nothing about the words to songs or the specific melodies, it’s saying that the acoustic properties of infant directed song should make it better at calming an infant than other music.”

    But, could music really be in our genes?

    “A good comparison to make is to language,” Krasnow said. “We would say there’s a strong genetic component to language — we have a capability for language built into our genes — and we think the same thing is going to be true for music.”

    What about other kinds of music? Mehr is optimistic that this work could be informative for this question down the road.

    “Let’s assume for a moment that the theory is right. How, then, did we get from lullabies to Duke Ellington?” he asked. “The evolution of music must be a complex, multi-step process, with different features developing for different reasons. Our theory raises the possibility that infant-directed song is the starting point for all that, with other musical behaviors either developing directly via natural selection, as byproducts of infant-directed song, or as byproducts of other adaptations.”

    For Pinker, the paper differs in one important way from other theories of how music evolves in that it makes evolutionary sense.

    “In the past, people have been so eager to come up with an adaptive explanation for music that they have advanced glib and circular theories, such as that music evolved to bond the group,” he said. “This is the first explanation that at least makes evolutionary sense — it shows how the features of music could cause an advantage in fitness. That by itself doesn’t prove that it’s true, but at least it makes sense!”


  6. Study finds new link between childhood abuse and adolescent misbehavior

    March 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pittsburgh press release:

    An important learning process is impaired in adolescents who were abused as children, a University of Pittsburgh researcher has found, and this impairment contributes to misbehavior patterns later in life.

    Associative learning — the process by which an individual subconsciously links experiences and stimuli together — partially explains how people generally react to various real-world situations. In a newly released study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Pitt Assistant Professor Jamie L. Hanson detailed the connection between impaired associative learning capacities and instances of early childhood abuse.

    “We primarily found that a poorer sense of associative learning negatively influences a child’s behavior patterns during complex and fast-changing situations. Having this knowledge is important for child psychologists, social workers, public policy officials and other professionals who are actively working to develop interventions,” said Hanson, who teaches in Pitt’s Department of Psychology within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences with a secondary appointment in the University’s Learning Research and Development Center. “We have long known that there is a link between behavioral issues in adolescents and various forms of early life adversities. Yet, the connection isn’t always clear or straightforward. This study provides further insight into one of the many factors of how this complicated relationship comes to exist.”

    To uncover these relationships, researchers asked 81 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 to play computer games where the child had to figure out which set of visual cues were associated with a reward. Forty-one participants had endured physical abuse at a young age, while the remaining 40 served as a comparison group. The most important aspect of the test, said Hanson, was that the cues were probabilistic, meaning children did not always receive positive feedback.

    “The participants who had been exposed to early childhood abuse were less able than their peers to correctly learn which stimuli were likely to result in reward, even after repeated feedback,” said Hanson. “In life we are often given mixed or little to no feedback from our significant others, bosses, parents and other important people in our lives. We have to be able to figure out what might be the best thing to do next.”

    Hanson and his colleagues also observed that mistreated children were generally less adept at differentiating which behaviors would lead to the best results for them personally when interacting with others. Additionally, abused children displayed more pessimism about the likelihood of positive outcomes compared to the group who hadn’t been abused. Taken as a whole, these findings clarify the relationship between physical abuse and the aggressive and disruptive behaviors that often plague abused children well into the later stages of childhood.


  7. Video games can mitigate defensiveness resulting from bad test scores

    by Ashley

    From the Texas Tech University press release:

    One of the worst feelings a student can have is receiving a bad grade on an exam, whether it’s a test they prepared well for or didn’t prepare at all. The prevalence of video games in today’s society helps mitigate some of the effects felt by students from those low test scores by reaffirming their abilities in another area they deem important.

    Video game players can get temporarily lost in alternative worlds, whether it’s transforming into the ultimate fighting machine or the greatest athlete on the planet. But no matter the game, the goal is to find a way to put the empty feeling of the bad test at school behind him by reaffirming his excellence in his favorite video game. It’s a scene that plays out all across the country, and one that has received criticism at times for placing too much emphasis on the game and not enough on schoolwork.

    But John Velez, an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism & Electronic Media in the Texas Tech University College of Media & Communication, says that may not always be the case. In fact, his research suggests those who value video game success as part of their identity and received positive feedback on their video game play were more willing to accept the bad test score and consider the implications of it, something that is crucial for taking steps to change study habits and ensure they do better on future exams.

    Conversely, those who do not value success in video games but received positive video game feedback were actually more defensive to having performed poorly on a test. They were more likely to discredit the test and engage in self-protective behaviors. Regardless, the results seem to throw a wrench into the theory that video games and schoolwork are detrimental to each other.

    The key, however, is making sure those playing video games after a bad test are not doing it just as an escape, but making sure after playing video games they understand why they did badly on the test and what they need to do to perform better on the next one.

    “People always kind of talk about video-game play and schoolwork in a negative light,” Velez said. “They talk about how playing video games in general can take away from academic achievement. But for me and a lot of gamers, it’s just a part of life and we use it a lot of times to help get through the day and be more successful versus gaming to get away from life.

    “What I wanted to look into was, for people who identify as a gamer and identify as being good at games, how they can use playing video games after something like a bad exam to help deal with the implications of a bad exam, which makes it more likely they will think about the implications and accept the idea that, ‘OK, I didn’t do well on this exam and I need to do better next time.'”

    Negative results, positive affirmation Velez said past research suggests receiving negative feedback regarding a valued self-image brings about a defensive mechanism where people discredit or dismiss the source of the information. Conversely, the Self-Affirmation Theory says that affirming or bolstering an important self-image that is not related to the negative feedback can effectively reduce defensiveness.

    “If you’re in a bad mood, you can play a good game and get into a good mood,” Velez said. “But I wanted to go deeper and think about how there are times when you are in a bad mood but you are in a bad mood for a very specific reason. Just kind of ignoring it and doing something to get into a good mood can be bad. It would be bad if you go home and play a video game to forget about it and the next time not prepare better for the test or not think about the last time you did badly on a test.”

    For the research, Velez was interested in two types of people — those who identify as placing importance on good video game play and those who do not. How good they were at playing the game was not a factor, just that they identified as it being important to their identity or not.

    Participants in the research were administered a survey to assess their motivations for video-game play and the importance of video games to their identity. They were then given an intelligence test and were told the test was a strong measure of intelligence. Upon completing the test, participants were given either negative feedback on their performance or no feedback at all.

    That negative feedback naturally produces an amount of defensiveness for anyone regarding their performance, regardless of the importance they put on being successful at video games.

    Participants then played a generic shooting video game for 15 minutes that randomly provided positive or no feedback to the player, and players were told the game was an adequate test of their video-game playing skills. Participants then completed an online survey containing ratings of the intelligence test and self-ratings on intelligence.

    What Velez discovered was those who place importance on being successful at video games were less likely to be defensive about the poor performance on the intelligence test.

    “Defensiveness is really a bad thing a lot of times,” Velez said. “It doesn’t allow you to think about the situation and think about what you should have done differently. A lot of times people use it to protect themselves and ignore it or move on, which makes it likely the same thing is going to happen over and over again.”

    It’s the second discovery that Velez didn’t expect, the result where those who performed badly on the intelligence exam and don’t identify as video game players became even more defensive about their intelligence exam result. Instead, they were more likely to use the positive video game feedback as further evidence they are intelligent and the test is flawed or doesn’t represent their true intelligence.

    “That was like this double-edged sword that I didn’t realize I was going to find,” Velez said. “It was definitely unexpected, but once you think about it theoretically, it intuitively makes sense. After receiving negative information about yourself you instinctively start looking for a way to make yourself feel better and you usually take advantage of any opportunities in your immediate environment.”

    Changing behavior A common punishment administered by parents for inappropriate behavior or poor performance in school has been to take away things the child enjoys, such as television, the use of the car, or their video games.

    One might infer from this research that taking video games from the child might actually be doing them harm by not allowing them to utilize the tool that makes them feel better or gives them an avenue to understand why they performed poorly in school and how they must do better.

    Velez, however, said that’s not necessarily the case.

    “I don’t think parents should change their practices until more research is conducted, particularly looking at younger players and their parents’ unique parenting styles,” Velez said. “The study simply introduces the idea that some people may benefit from some game play in which they perform well, which may make it easier for them to discuss and strategize for the future so they don’t run into this problem again after playing.”

    Velez said the study also introduces specific stipulations about when the benefits of video-game play occur and when it may actually backfire.

    “If parents know their child truly takes pride in their video-game skills, then their child may benefit from doing well in their favorite game before addressing the negative test grade,” Velez said. “However, there’s the strong possibility that a child is using the video game as a way to avoid the implications of a bad test grade, so I wouldn’t suggest parents change how they parent their children until we’re able to do more research.”

    Therein lies the fine line, because the study also suggests receiving positive feedback on video games doesn’t necessarily translate into a better performance on a future exam. Velez said the common idea is that defensiveness prevents people from learning and adapting from the feedback they received. Those who are less defensive about negative self-information are more likely to consider the causes and precursors of the negative event, making it more likely a change in behavior will occur. But this was not a focus of this particular study and will have to be examined further.

    Velez said he would also like to identify other characteristics of video-game players who are more likely to benefit from this process compared to increased negative defensive reaction. This could be used to help identify a coping strategy or lead to further research about parenting strategies for discussing sensitive subjects with children.

    “What I want to get out of this research is, for people who care about gaming as part of their identity, how they can use video games in a positive way when dealing with negative things in life,” Velez said.


  8. Poor sleep in early childhood may lead to cognitive, behavioral problems in later years

    March 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Massachusetts General Hospital press release:

    A study led by a Massachusetts General Hospital pediatrician finds that children ages 3 to 7 who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have problems with attention, emotional control and peer relationships in mid-childhood. Reported online in the journal Academic Pediatrics, the study found significant differences in the responses of parents and teachers to surveys regarding executive function — which includes attention, working memory, reasoning and problem solving — and behavioral problems in 7-year-old children depending on how much sleep they regularly received at younger ages.

    “We found that children who get an insufficient amount of sleep in their preschool and early school-age years have a higher risk of poor neurobehavioral function at around age 7,” says Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, chief of General Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children , who led the study. “The associations between insufficient sleep and poorer functioning persisted even after adjusting for several factors that could influence the relationship.”

    As in previous studies from this group examining the role of sleep in several areas of child health, the current study analyzed data from Project Viva, a long-term investigation of the health impacts of several factors during pregnancy and after birth. Information used in this study was gathered from mothers at in-person interviews when their children were around 6 months, 3 years and 7 years old, and from questionnaires completed when the children were ages 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6. In addition, mothers and teachers were sent survey instruments evaluating each child’s executive function and behavioral issues — including emotional symptoms and problems with conduct or peer relationships, when children were around 7.

    Among 1,046 children enrolled in Project Viva, the study team determined which children were not receiving the recommended amount of sleep at specific age categories — 12 hours or longer at ages 6 months to 2 years, 11 hours or longer at ages 3 to 4 years, and 10 hours or longer at 5 to 7 years. Children living in homes with lower household incomes and whose mothers had lower education levels were more likely to sleep less than nine hours at ages 5 to 7. Other factors associated with insufficient sleep include more television viewing, a higher body mass index, and being African American.

    The reports from both mothers and teachers regarding the neurobehavioral function of enrolled children found similar associations between poor functioning and not receiving sufficient sleep, with teachers reporting even greater problems. Although no association was observed between insufficient sleep during infancy — ages 6 months to 2 years — and reduced neurobehavioral functioning in mid-childhood, Taveras notes that sleep levels during infancy often predict levels at later ages, supporting the importance of promoting a good quantity and quality of sleep from the youngest ages.

    “Our previous studies have examined the role of insufficient sleep on chronic health problems — including obesity — in both mothers and children,” explains Taveras, who is a professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School (HMS). “The results of this new study indicate that one way in which poor sleep may lead to these chronic disease outcomes is by its effects on inhibition, impulsivity and other behaviors that may lead to excess consumption of high-calorie foods. It will be important to study the longer-term effects of poor sleep on health and development as children enter adolescence, which is already underway through Project Viva.”


  9. Conformity is not a universal indicator of intelligence in children

    by Ashley

    From the UT Austin press release:

    Because innovation is part of the American culture, adults in the United States may be less likely to associate children’s conformity with intelligence than adults from other populations, according to research from developmental psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

    U.S. children are often encouraged to engage in non-conformist and creative behavior. But researchers say this stands in contrast to populations in which child socialization is based on fostering collective and cooperative values that emphasize social conformity.

    In a study appearing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, UT Austin researchers examined how adults view children’s behavioral conformity as an indication of their intelligence and good behavior, comparing the U.S. and Vanuatu, a Melanesian archipelago in the South Pacific.

    “Cross-cultural comparisons provide critical insight into variation in reasoning about intelligence. Examining variation in adults’ beliefs about children’s intelligence provides insight into the kinds of behavior adults value and encourage children to engage in,” said Cristine Legare, an associate professor of psychology at UT Austin.

    The study combined methodologies from experimental psychology and comparative anthropology to examine the kinds of behaviors adults associated with intelligence in each population. Rather than describing what makes a child intelligent, participants watched videos of an adult demonstrating a task, followed by two videos: one of a child imitating the actions exactly as they had been demonstrated; and another of a child deviating from the modeled task. Participants then indicated which child was smartest and which child was most well-behaved.

    Ni-Vanuatu adults were more likely to identify the high-conforming child as both smart and well-behaved, particularly when the child was from the same population as them; whereas U.S. adults were less likely to endorse the high-conforming child as intelligent.

    “Conformity is interpreted in different ways in each population — adults from Vanuatu interpret conformity as evidence of children’s competency and adults from the U.S. interpret non-conformity as evidence of children’s creativity,” Legare said.

    Additionally, the researchers examined potential differences in adults’ judgments across socioeconomic status groups within the U.S. to determine the extent to which education level influenced U.S. adult’s judgments of children’s conformity. Results indicated that adults with no college experience were more likely to endorse the high-conforming child on both measures than adults with higher levels of education, but still less likely than Ni-Vanuatu adults to select the high-conforming child as intelligent.

    Children’s learning environments can differ significantly between high and low socioeconomic families, including parents’ beliefs about how children should behave and the extent to which children should be self-directed and independent,” said Jennifer Clegg, the study’s lead author and UT Austin psychology alumna who is now a post-doctoral researcher at Boston University. “Examining variation in adults’ beliefs about children’s intelligence provides insight into the kinds of behavior children are encouraged to engage in diverse populations with distinct childrearing goals and values.”


  10. Children’s daily life highly regulated: US and Swedish differences

    March 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Gothenburg press release:

    Children in Sweden and the US experience their daily life as highly structured and regulated. But while US children state that homework and long schooldays are what makes everyday life difficult, Swedish children point to the continuous nagging and stress that occur in relation to daily routines. These are some key findings of a new study from the University of Gothenburg.

    ‘The children in both countries talked about progressively less time available for own activities, but the things they focus on in their stories differ,’ says education researcher Ylva Odenbring.

    Her interview-based study involved Swedish and US middle-class children 6-7 years old, all of whom had the economic means to participate in leisure activities.

    ‘Schoolification’ of childhood

    Previous research indicates that in the Western world, children’s daily life is largely focused around the time they spend in educational institutions and the time they spend participating in various leisure activities. Researchers talk about a ‘schoolification’ of childhood as children spend a large portion of their time in various educational institutions from early childhood through adolescence.

    Besides the time spent in educational institutions, children spend time engaging in leisure activities, and school-age children also have homework. Yet few previous studies have studied these issues from the children’s perspective.

    Over-organised lives

    ‘The US children mention homework, long schooldays and leisure activities as the main reasons for why their daily life is so regulated. In contrast, the Swedish children point to the daily routines in connection with being taken to and picked up from school and the nagging and stress they associate with them,’ says Odenbring.

    The study brings attention to some of the trends observed in many Western societies: that people’s daily lives, and this is also true for children, are becoming increasingly regulated and structured. The children’s descriptions of their everyday lives give an impression of overly organised lifestyles.

    ‘From a wider societal perspective, the study brings attention to the question of how children’s voices are included in the discussion on how to make everyday life less stressful and increase children’s wellbeing,’ says Odenbring.