1. Study suggests positive attitude toward math predicts math achievement in kids

    February 9, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Stanford University Medical Center press release:

    For the first time, scientists have identified the brain pathway that links a positive attitude toward math to achievement in the subject.

    In a study of elementary school students, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that having a positive attitude about math was connected to better function of the hippocampus, an important memory center in the brain, during performance of arithmetic problems.

    The findings will be published online Jan. 24 in Psychological Science.

    Educators have long observed higher math scores in children who show more interest in math and perceive themselves as being better at it. But it has not been clear if this attitude simply reflects other capacities, such as higher intelligence.

    The new study found that, even once IQ and other confounding factors were accounted for, a positive attitude toward math still predicted which students had stronger math performance.

    ‘Attitude is really important’

    “Attitude is really important,” said Lang Chen, PhD, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral scholar in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “Based on our data, the unique contribution of positive attitude to math achievement is as large as the contribution from IQ.”

    The scientists had not expected the contribution of attitude to be so large, Chen said. The mechanism underlying its link to cognitive performance was also unexpected.

    “It was really surprising to see that the link works through a very classical learning and memory system in the brain,” said the study’s senior author, Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Researchers had previously hypothesized that the brain’s reward centers might drive the link between attitude and achievement — perhaps children with better attitudes were better at math because they found it more rewarding or motivating. “Instead, we saw that if you have a strong interest and self-perceived ability in math, it results in enhanced memory and more efficient engagement of the brain’s problem-solving capacities,” Menon said.

    The researchers administered standard questionnaires to 240 children ages 7 to 10, assessing demographics, IQ, reading ability and working-memory capacity. The children’s level of math achievement was measured with tests of their knowledge of arithmetic facts and ability to solve math word problems. Parents or guardians answered surveys about the children’s behavioral and emotional characteristics, as well as their anxiety about math and general anxiety. Children also answered a survey that assessed their attitude toward math, including questions about interest in math and self-perceived math ability, as well as their attitude toward academics in general.

    Forty-seven children from the group also participated in MRI brain scans while performing arithmetic problems. Tests were conducted outside the MRI scanner to discern which problem-solving strategies they used. An independent group of 28 children also was given MRI scans and other assessments in an attempt to replicate the findings from the cohort previously given brain scans.

    Opening the door

    Math performance correlated with a positive attitude toward math even after statistically controlling for IQ, working memory, math anxiety, general anxiety and general attitude toward academics, the study found. Children with poor attitudes toward math rarely performed well in the subject, while those with strongly positive attitudes had a range of math achievement.

    A positive attitude opens the door for children to do well but does not guarantee that they will; that depends on other factors as well,” Chen said.

    From the brain-imaging results, the scientists found that, when a child was solving a math problem, his or her positive-attitude scores correlated with activation in the hippocampus, an important memory and learning center in the brain. Activity in the brain’s reward centers, including the amygdala and the ventral striatum, was not linked to a positive attitude toward math. Statistical modeling of the brain imaging results suggested that the hippocampus mediates the link between positive attitude and efficient retrieval of facts from memory, which in turn is associated with better problem solving abilities.

    Having a positive attitude acts directly on your memory and learning system,” Chen said. “I think that’s really important and interesting.”

    The study could not disentangle the extent to which a positive attitude came from a child’s prior success in math. “We think the relationship between positive attitude and math achievement is mutual, bi-directional,” Chen said. “We think it’s like bootstrapping: A good attitude opens the door to high achievement, which means you then have a better attitude, getting you into a good circle of learning. And it can probably go the other way and be a vicious circle, too.”

    The findings may provide a new avenue for improving academic performance and learning in children who are struggling, Menon said, cautioning that this idea still needs to be tested through active interventions.

    “Typically, we focus on skill learning in individual academic domains, but our new work suggests that looking at children’s beliefs about a subject and their self-perceived abilities might provide another inroad to maximizing learning,” Menon said. The findings also offer a potential explanation for how a particularly passionate teacher can nurture students’ interest and learning capacities for a subject, he added. Inspiring teachers may be instinctively sharing their own interest, as well as instilling students in the belief that they can be good at the subject, building a positive attitude even if the student did not have it before.


  2. Study suggests how babies’ brains process touch builds foundations for learning

    January 30, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

    Touch is the first of the five senses to develop, yet scientists know far less about the baby’s brain response to touch than to, say, the sight of mom’s face, or the sound of her voice.

    Now, through the use of safe, new brain imaging techniques, University of Washington researchers provide one of the first looks inside the infant’s brain to show where the sense of touch is processed — not just when a baby feels a touch to the hand or foot, but when the baby sees an adult’s hand or foot being touched, as well.

    The evidence of activity in the somatosensory cortex for both “felt touch” and “observed touch” shows that 7-month-old infants have already made a basic connection between “self” and “other,” which researchers say lays the groundwork for imitating and learning from the behavior of other people, and for empathizing with them.

    The findings by the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) are published this week in Developmental Science.

    “Long before babies acquire spoken language, touch is a crucial channel of communication between caregivers and babies,” said the study’s primary author, Andrew Meltzoff, UW psychology professor and co-director of I-LABS. “Now we have the tools to see how the baby’s body is represented in the baby’s brain. This allows us to catch the first glimpse of a primitive sense of self that provides a building block for social learning.”

    Past studies investigated how infants’ brains respond to touch, generally. The authors believe this is the first experiment to measure the specific networks of the brain where this processing occurs, and to illuminate how babies’ brains respond to seeing another person being touched, in the absence of being touched themselves.

    For the study, researchers used the I-LABS Magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine to capture images of brain activity in 7-month-old infants as they were touched on the hand and foot, and as they watched videos of an adult hand and foot being touched.

    Researchers were particularly interested in the brain’s somatosensory cortex, a region generally described as a strip of tissue in the brain that runs between the ears, over the top of the head. It is in this region, in separate places and at different levels of strength, that the brain processes touch to different parts of the body. A touch to the hand, for example, is a stronger sensation – and is processed in a different location along the somatosensory cortex – than a touch to the foot.

    In the first experiment, each infant was seated in the MEG to measure brain activity as they received light touches. A small, inflatable balloon-like device was placed on the top of the baby’s hand, and when it expanded and contracted according to a computer-controlled timetable, it produced light taps on the baby’s skin. The same procedure was followed for the top of the baby’s foot.

    The data showed that, when the hand was touched, the hand area of the somatosensory cortex was activated in all 14 infants tested; when the foot was touched, activation occurred in the foot area of the brains of all of the infants but one.

    A different group of infants provided data for the “observed touch” experiment, in which they also were seated in the MEG but watched separate videos of an adult hand and an adult foot being touched by a small rod. Researchers discovered that the infants’ own somatosensory cortex (the “touch center” in the baby brain) also became activated when the babies simply observed someone else being touched.

    There was a weaker response to “observed touch” than to “felt touch,” which was expected, Meltzoff said. The same is true of adults: A touch to your own hand is going to generate greater brain activity in the somatosensory cortex than merely seeing the touch to someone else’s hand.

    The key, Meltzoff pointed out, is that the same part of the infant’s brain registered both kinds of touch, indicating a baby’s capacity for recognizing the similarity between their own body parts and those they see in other people.

    This new evidence for shared neural regions processing touch to self and touch to others makes sense, Meltzoff said. As parents know, babies watch and imitate what adults do. Imitation is a powerful learning mechanism for infants, but in order to imitate, infants have to perceive how body parts correspond. In other words, they need to reproduce the same movement with the same part when they imitate what their parent is doing. Scientists have wondered how infants make this connection. “Before they have words for the body parts, babies recognize that their hand is like your hand, and their foot is like your foot. The neural body map helps connect babies to other people: The recognition that another person is ‘like me’ may be one of the baby’s first social insights,” Meltzoff explained.

    With development, this “like-me” recognition eventually flowers into feeling empathy for someone else. If you see someone accidentally hit their thumb with a hammer, you rapidly, if perhaps imperceptibly, recoil by moving your hand. This is where a shared neural body map that connects self to other comes into play.

    Further research could use the MEG to investigate how infants develop more sophisticated body awareness as they grow older, the paper notes.

    “The idea of using brain science to study how and when humans first feel a sense of connectedness with others is important and fascinating,” Meltzoff said. “We can now look under the hood and see what’s happening when a baby watches and connects to others. It’s a touching sight.”


  3. Study finds students more engaged and attentive following outdoor lesson in nature

    January 27, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    A study recently published in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology has found that 9-10 year-old children are significantly more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork following an outdoor lesson in nature. Strikingly, this “nature effect” allowed teachers to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long during a subsequent indoor lesson. The results suggest that outdoor lessons may be an inexpensive and convenient way to improve student engagement — a major factor in academic achievement.

    Scientists have known for a while that natural outdoor environments can have a variety of beneficial effects on people. People exposed to parks, trees or wildlife can experience benefits such as physical activity, stress reduction, rejuvenated attention and increased motivation. In children, studies have shown that even a view of greenery through a classroom window could have positive effects on students’ attention.

    However, many teachers may be reluctant to hold a lesson outdoors, as they might worry that it could overexcite the children, making it difficult for them to concentrate on their schoolwork back in the classroom. Ming Kuo, a scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her colleagues set out to investigate this, and hypothesized that an outdoor lesson in nature would result in increased classroom engagement in indoor lessons held immediately afterwards.

    “We wanted to see if we could put the nature effect to work in a school setting,” says Kuo. “If you took a bunch of squirmy third-graders outdoors for lessons, would they show a benefit of having a lesson in nature, or would they just be bouncing off the walls afterward?”

    The researchers tested their hypothesis in third graders (9-10 years old) in a school in the Midwestern United States. Over a 10-week period, an experienced teacher held one lesson a week outdoors and a similar lesson in her regular classroom, and another, more skeptical teacher did the same. Their outdoor “classroom” was a grassy spot just outside the school, in view of a wooded area.

    After each outdoor or indoor lesson, the researchers measured how engaged the students were. They counted the number of times the teacher needed to redirect the attention of distracted students back to their schoolwork during the observation, using phrases such as “sit down” and “you need to be working.” The research team also asked an outside observer to look at photos taken of the class during the observation period and score the level of class engagement, without knowing whether the photos were taken after an indoor or outdoor lesson. The teachers also scored class engagement.

    The team’s results show that children were more engaged after the outdoor lessons in nature. Far from being overexcited and inattentive immediately after an outdoor lesson, students were significantly more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork. The number of times the teacher had to redirect a student’s attention to their work was roughly halved immediately after an outdoor lesson.

    “Our teachers were able to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long at a time after the outdoor lesson,” says Kuo, “and we saw the nature effect with our skeptical teacher as well.”

    The researchers plan to do further work to see if the technique can work in other schools and for less experienced teachers. If so, regular outdoor lessons could be an inexpensive and convenient way for schools to enhance student engagement and performance. “We’re excited to discover a way to teach students and refresh their minds for the next lesson at the same time,” says Kuo. “Teachers can have their cake and eat it too.”


  4. Study suggests bilingualism may increase cognitive flexibility in kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

    January 21, 2018 by Ashley

    From the McGill University press release:

    Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have a hard time switching gears from one task to another. But being bilingual may actually make it a bit easier for them to do so, according to a new study which was recently published in Child Development.

    “This is a novel and surprising finding,” says Prof. Aparna Nadig, the senior author of the paper, from the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University. “Over the past 15 years there has been a significant debate in the field about whether there is a ‘bilingual advantage’ in terms of executive functions. Some researchers have argued convincingly that living as a bilingual person and having to switch languages unconsciously to respond to the linguistic context in which the communication is taking place increases cognitive flexibility. But no one has yet published research that clearly demonstrates that this advantage may also extend to children on the autism spectrum. And so it’s very exciting to find that it does.”

    The researchers arrived at this conclusion after comparing how easily 40 children between the ages of six and nine, with or without ASD, who were either monolingual or bilingual, were able to shift tasks in a computer-generated test. There were ten children in each category.

    Blue rabbits or red boats

    The children were initially asked to sort a single object appearing on a computer screen by colour (i.e. sort blue rabbits and red boats as being either red or blue) and were then asked to switch and sort the same objects instead by their shape (i.e. sort blue rabbits and red boats by shape regardless of their color).

    The researchers found that bilingual children with ASD performed significantly better when it came to the more complex part of the task-shifting test relative to children with ASD who were unilingual. It is a finding which has potentially far-reaching implications for the families of children with ASD.

    “It is critical to have more sound evidence for families to use when making important educational and child-rearing decisions, since they are often advised that exposing a child with ASD to more than one language will just worsen their language difficulties,” says Ana Maria Gonzalez-Barrero, the paper’s first author, and a recent McGill PhD graduate. “But there are an increasing number of families with children with ASD for whom using two or more languages is a common and valued practice and, as we know, in bilingual societies such as ours in Montreal, speaking only one language can be a significant obstacle in adulthood for employment, educational, and community opportunities.”

    Despite the small sample size, the researchers believe that the ‘bilingual advantage’ that they saw in children with ASD has highly significant implications and should be studied further. They plan to follow the children with ASD that they tested in this study over the next three-five years to see how they develop. The researchers want to see whether the bilingual advantage they observed in the lab may also be observed in daily life as the children age.


  5. Study suggests human-like virtual assistants can deter help-seeking

    January 15, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Virtual assistants have become increasingly sophisticated — and more humanlike — since the days when Clippy asked if you needed help with your document. These assistants are intended to make programs and apps easier to use, but research published in Psychological Science suggests that humanlike virtual assistants may actually deter some people from seeking help on tasks that are supposed to measure achievementPsychological Science is a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “We demonstrate that anthropomorphic features may not prove beneficial in online learning settings, especially among individuals who believe their abilities are fixed and who thus worry about presenting themselves as incompetent to others,” says psychological scientist and study author Daeun Park of Chungbuk National University. “Our results reveal that participants who saw intelligence as fixed were less likely to seek help, even at the cost of lower performance.”

    Previous research has shown that people are inclined to see computerized systems as social beings with only a couple social cues. This social dynamic can make the systems seem less intimidating and more user-friendly, but Park and coauthors Sara Kim and Ke Zhang wondered whether that would be true in a context where performance matters, such as with online learning platforms.

    “Online learning is an increasingly popular tool across most levels of education and most computer-based learning environments offer various forms of help, such as a tutoring system that provides context-specific help,” says Park. “Often, these help systems adopt humanlike features; however, the effects of these kinds of help systems have never been tested.”

    In one online study, the researchers had 187 participants complete a task that supposedly measured intelligence. In the task, participants saw a group of three words (e.g., room, blood, salts) and were supposed to come up with a fourth word that related to all three (e.g., bath). On the more difficult problems, they automatically received a hint from an onscreen computer icon — some participants saw a computer “helper” with humanlike features including a face and speech bubble, whereas others saw a helper that looked like a regular computer.

    Participants reported greater embarrassment and concerns about self-image when seeking help from the anthropomorphized computer versus the regular computer, but only if they believed that intelligence is a fixed, not malleable trait.

    The findings indicated that a couple of anthropomorphic cues are sufficient to elicit concern about seeking help, at least for some individuals. Park and colleagues decided to test this directly in a second experiment with 171 university students.

    In the experiment, the researchers manipulated how the participants thought about intelligence by having them read made-up science articles that highlighted either the stability or the malleability of intelligence. The participants completed the same kind of word problems as in the first study — this time, they freely chose whether to receive a hint from the computer “helper.”

    The results showed that students who were led to think about intelligence as fixed were less likely to use the hints when the helper had humanlike features than when it didn’t. More importantly, they also answered more questions incorrectly. Those who were led to think about intelligence as a malleable trait showed no differences.

    These findings could have implications for our performance using online learning platforms, the researchers conclude:

    “Educators and program designers should pay special attention to unintended meanings that arise from humanlike features embedded online learning features,” says Park. “Furthermore, when purchasing educational software, we recommend parents review not only the contents but also the way the content is delivered.”

     


  6. Danger changes how rat brain stores information

    by Ashley

    From the Society for Neuroscience press release:

    The male rat brain changes how it stores information depending on whether the environment in which it learns is safe or dangerous, according to new research published in eNeuro.

    Emotionally charged information, such as danger, is processed by the amygdala. Although this brain region is typically not involved in the acquisition of harmless information, Nathan Holmes and colleagues previously showed that the amygdala is sensitive to the context in which rats learn an association between two neutral stimuli, a sound and a light. This learning was revealed when one stimulus was subsequently paired with a mild foot shock: rats exhibited freezing when finally tested with both stimuli, indicating that they had associated the stimulus that was not paired with a shock with the stimulus that was.

    Using a similar approach in this study, the researchers demonstrate that the perirhinal cortex — a region in the medial temporal lobe — was involved in consolidating the association between the two stimuli when the rats were trained in a safe and familiar environment. On the other hand, the basolateral complex of the amygdala was involved in consolidating the same association when it was learned in a context where the rats had been previously shocked, thereby rendering the environment dangerous at the time of learning. This same region was also required for consolidation when the environment was safe at the time of learning, but rendered dangerous immediately after training.


  7. Study suggests adolescent brain makes learning easier

    January 9, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Leiden Universiteit press release:

    The brains of adolescents react more responsively to receiving rewards. This can lead to risky behaviour, but, according to Leiden University research, it also has a positive function: it makes learning easier. This work has been published in Nature Communications.

    Alcohol abuse, reckless behaviour and poor choice in friends: all these are inextricably linked to puberty and adolescence. In the late teens, young people test their limits, and in many cases, push beyond their limits. This is due in part to increased activity in the corpus striatum, a small area deeply hidden away inside the brain. According to previous research, that part of the brain in young people is more responsive to receiving rewards.

    Sensitive

    Leiden University scientists are now able to show that this increased activity in the corpus striatum does not have only negative consequences. ‘The adolescent brain is very sensitive to feedback,’ says Sabine Peters, assistant professor of developmental and educational psychology and lead author of the article. ‘That makes adolescence the ideal time to acquire and retain new information.’

    Peters used a large data set for her research with MRI scans. Over a period of five years, no fewer than 736 brain scans were made of a total of 300 subjects between the ages of 8 and 29. According to Peters, the data set is about ten times larger than that of most comparable studies. In the MRI scanner, participants had to solve a memory game. During that game, the researchers gave feedback on the participants’ performance.

    Instructional feedback

    ‘It showed that adolescents responded keenly to educational feedback’, says Peters. ‘If the adolescent received useful feedback, then you saw the corpus striatum being activated. This was not the case with less pertinent feedback, for example, if the test person already knew the answer. The stronger your brain recognises that difference, the better the performance in the learning task. Brain activation could even predict learning performance two years into the future.’

    It has been known for some time that adolescent brains become more ‘successful’ when they receive the same reward as small children or adults. For example, it has already been proven that the use of drugs and/or alcohol in the teenage years is linked to powerful activation in the brain’s reward system. Peters: ‘It explains why adolescents and young adults go on a voyage of discovery, with all the positive and negative consequences that entails. You see the same behaviour in many animal species, including rats and mice.’


  8. Study finds heightened attention to surprise in veterans with PTSD

    January 5, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Virginia Tech press release:

    Fireworks on nights other than the fourth of July or New Year’s Eve might be nothing more than inconsiderate neighbors, but for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the shock of noise and light may trigger a deeply learned expectation of danger.

    Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI) have found that people with PTSD have an increased learning response to surprising events. While most everyone reacts to surprise, people with PTSD tend to pay even more attention to the unexpected.

    The study was published this week in eLife, an open-access journal published by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Wellcome Trust.

    “Disproportionate reactions to unexpected stimuli in the environment are a core symptom of PTSD,” said Pearl Chiu, an associate professor at the VTCRI and the lead author on the study. “These results point to a specific disruption in learning that helps to explain why these reactions occur.”

    Chiu and her team used functional MRI to scan the brains of 74 veterans, all of whom had experienced trauma while serving at least one combat tour in Afghanistan or Iraq. Some of the study participants were diagnosed with PTSD, while others were not. In the functional MRI, participants played a gambling game, in which they learned to associate certain choices with monetary gains or losses.

    “Computer science and mathematics have given us new tools to understand how the brain learns. We used these tools to study whether and how learning might play a role in PTSD,” said Chiu, who is also an associate professor of psychology in Virginia Tech’s College of Science. “These results suggest that people with PTSD don’t necessarily have a disrupted response to unexpected outcomes, rather they pay more attention to these surprises,” Chiu said.

    The researchers found that people with PTSD had significantly more activity in the parts of their brains associated with how much attention they paid to surprising events when the learning task threw an unexpected curve ball their way.

    “Fireworks unexpectedly going off after a person has exchanged fire in the field can trigger an over-estimation of danger,” said Brooks King-Casas, an associate professor at the VTCRI who co-led the study. “Particularly for individuals with PTSD, unexpected surprising events — noise or otherwise — could be a matter of life or death. The study shows that while everyone is affected by unexpected events, in PTSD extra attention is given to these surprises.”

    King-Casas is also an associate professor of psychology in Virginia Tech’s College of Science and an associate professor in the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

    Earlier studies have connected greater attention to perceived threats and unexpected events in PTSD, but the mechanistic underpinning of this hypersensitivity to unexpected outcomes have been unclear until now.

    “The work by Brown and colleagues is an important step forward to be able to differentiate the brain and behavioral processes that are affected as a consequence of post-traumatic stress,” said Martin Paulus, a medical doctor and the scientific director and president of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was not involved in this study. “The finding that individuals with PTSD have difficulty appropriately allocating attention to their environment when it changes has clear implications for the development of novel behavioral interventions.”

    Vanessa Brown, first author on the paper and a graduate student in the department of psychology in Virginia Tech’s College of Science, said that both the behavioral and neural findings show that people with PTSD pay more attention to surprise while learning.

    “This disrupted learning increases with more severe PTSD,” said Brown, who is conducting her dissertation research in Chiu’s laboratory at the VTCRI. “Now that we understand how attention to surprise plays a role in PTSD, we may be able to refine our assessment tools or develop new interventions that target specific learning disruptions in people with PTSD or other psychiatric disorders.”

     


  9. Study suggests intervention offered in school readiness program boosts children’s self-regulation skills

    December 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University press release:

    Adding a daily 20 to 30 minute self-regulation intervention to a kindergarten readiness program significantly boosted children’s self-regulation and early academic skills, an Oregon State University researcher has found.

    Self-regulation skills — the skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task and persist through difficulty — are critical to a child’s success in kindergarten and beyond. The intervention, co-developed and tested by OSU’s Megan McClelland, a nationally-recognized expert in child development, uses music and games to help preschoolers learn and practice self-regulation skills.

    The intervention was added to a three-week summer school readiness program at a large school district on the East Coast for children entering kindergarten that had no prior preschool experience. The school district asked McClelland and her colleagues to evaluate their use of the intervention. It was the first opportunity for researchers to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in a “real-world” setting, where teachers, rather than researchers, led the students through self-regulation games.

    The researchers found that use of these games daily for three weeks improved the children’s self-regulation skills. They also found that the children’s broader school readiness skills, including early math and literacy skills, improved as a result of the intervention and the children saw greater-than-expected growth in the months following the program.

    “It was a test to see if the results of this intervention look similar in a less-controlled environment, and it appears that they do,” said McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “It helps demonstrate the feasibility and scalability of this kind of program.”

    The findings add to McClelland’s growing body of research demonstrating the value of teaching self-regulation skills to children entering kindergarten, particularly those who are at higher risk of struggling academically in school and opens the door for the intervention to be used more widely by teachers and schools.

    The evaluation of the school district program was published recently in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Co-authors are Robert J. Duncan and Sara A. Schmitt of Purdue University and Maura Burke of Fairfax County Public Schools. Duncan and Schmitt both earned their doctorates at OSU.

    The school district added the self-regulation intervention at some schools participating in a summer “Bridge to Kindergarten” in 2013. It was also offered in 2014 and 2015. Researchers evaluated data from about 150 children from each year.

    “The school district wanted an explicit focus on self-regulation in this program designed to get children ready for kindergarten,” McClelland said.

    Teachers were trained to lead the children through the intervention, which uses movement and music-based games that increase in complexity over time and encourage the practice of self-regulation skills. The games require few materials and the children can help make the props as part of their lessons.

    One game is “Red Light, Purple Light,” which is similar to “Red Light, Green Light.” The instructor acts as a stoplight and holds up construction-paper circles to represent stop and go. Children follow color cues, such as purple is stop and orange is go, and then switch to the opposite, where purple is go and orange is stop.

    Other games include “Freeze,” where the children are encouraged to do the opposite of the teacher’s instructions; and “Sleeping,” where the children pretend to sleep and then wake up as something different and must remain in that character.

    Additional rules are added later to increase the complexity of the game. The game requires children to listen and remember instructions, pay attention to the adult leading the game and resist natural inclinations to stop or go.

    “The findings from this evaluation support our previous randomized controlled studies of this program, which is a promising sign that the intervention will also be effective in practical applications,” McClelland said. “If we can make the program more accessible to schools and teachers, and still ensure quality, it becomes more feasible to share it more widely.”


  10. Study suggests certain books can increase infant learning during shared reading

    December 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Florida press release:

    Parents and pediatricians know that reading to infants is a good thing, but new research shows reading books that clearly name and label people and objects is even better.

    That’s because doing so helps infants retain information and attend better.

    “When parents label people or characters with names, infants learn quite a bit,” said Lisa Scott, a University of Florida psychology professor and co-author of the study published Dec. 8 in the journal Child Development. “Books with individual-level names may lead parents to talk to infants more, which is particularly important for the first year of life.”

    Scott and colleagues from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studied infants in Scott’s Brain, Cognition, and Development Lab. Babies came into the lab twice: once at 6 months old and again at age 9 months. While in the lab, eye-tracking and electroencephalogram, or EEG, methods were used to measure attention and learning at both ages.

    In between visits, parents were asked to read with their infants at home according to a schedule that included 10 minutes of parent-infant shared book reading every day for the first two weeks, every other day for the second two weeks and then continued to decrease until infants returned at 9 months. Twenty-three families were randomly assigned storybooks. One set contained individual-level names, and the other contained category-level labels. Both sets of books were identical except for the labeling. Each of the training books’ eight pages presented an individual image and a two-sentence story.

    The individual-level books clearly identified and labeled all eight individuals, with names such as “Jamar,” “Boris,” “Anice,” and “Fiona.” The category-level books included two made-up labels (“hitchel,” “wadgen”) for all images. The control group included 11 additional 9-month-old infants who did not receive books.

    The infants whose parents read the individual-level names spent more time focusing and attending the images, and their brain activity clearly differentiated the individual characters after book reading. This was not found at 6 months (before book reading), for the control group, or for the group of infants who were given books with category-level labels.

    Scott has been studying how the specificity of labels affects infant learning and brain development since 2006. This longitudinal study is the third in a series. The eye tracking and EEG results are consistent with her other studies showing that name specificity improves cognition in infants.

    “There are lots of recommendations about reading books to babies, but our work provides a scientific basis for these recommendations and suggests that the type of book is also important,” she said. “Shared reading is a good way to support development in the first year of life,” “It creates an enjoyable and comforting environment for both the parents and the infant and encourages parents to talk to their infants.”