Entries in Learning (10)


'Goldilocks Effect': How Babies Learn

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Not too simple and not too complicated: Babies focus their attention on situations that are "just right," according to a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Researchers from the University of Rochester coined this type of engagement the "Goldilocks effect." They proposed babies take in information that is not too predictable, but not too complicated by focusing on sights, sounds and movements.

In a study that included 72 7- and 8-month-old babies, researchers connected children to eye-tracking devices before they watched video animations of different items on a screen. A variety of objects were placed on the screen in different areas in several short trial periods. Researchers found that babies lost interest when the situation on the screen became boring -- meaning repetitive -- or too complicated.

When the babies looked away from the screen, the experiment ended for that item. Researchers noted that the babies quickly learned they were in control of the items they were watching and learned to keep their eyes on the screen if they wanted to watch more. The study showed that "infants are active seekers of information rather than passive recipients, and they, therefore, adjust how they attend to visual information by avoiding overly simple and overly complex events in their world," said Richard Aslin, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the study. "They seek information that is of intermediate complexity, presumably because that is the best way to learn from the environment."

The study helps elucidate the high level of cognitive processing that is occurring inside the brains of infants, said Rahil Briggs, director of Healthy Steps at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

"It reminds me of a concept called 'scaffolding,' or the need to, when teaching a child, meet them at their level and then stretch the material just beyond their current capacity, with support," Briggs said. "This helps children to feel enough mastery to stay engaged and not become bored, while striving for an attainable goal.

"It stands to reason that infants are processing information in a very similar way, and have a 'sweet spot,' within which information is new enough to be exciting, yet not so complicated as to overwhelm," Briggs added.

If information is beyond babies' ability to cognitively understand it, they will, as the authors indicate, most likely spend little time with it, said Paul Miller, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University.

The authors pointed out that the findings could demonstrate why children like to be read the same story over and over again. Each time, they are understanding something new and different from the story, whether they are themes, emotions, fears or concerns. Such new understandings could demonstrate the emotional, psychological or developmental challenges characteristic of that stage of development.

To the everyday parent, these findings may help parents judge what babies want by observing whether they continue to look at, gurgle, vocalize, move their arms and legs, reach for, grasp or lose attention in different objects and situations, Miller said.

"Using the baby's natural attention span allows parents to match their play to what their baby needs," Miller added, "versus what the parent might want to do.

It also would allow them to realize "that they are doing too much or too little," Miller said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study: Kids Fail Less When They Know Failure Is Part of Learning

Fuse/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Kids perform better in school if they know failure, and trying again, is part of the learning process, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

The research included several experiments intended to see whether parents and teachers can help students succeed by changing the way learning material is presented to them.  Study experiments included anagram problems and reading comprehension, and researchers found that kids who were told it’s normal to fail and try again did better on the tests than those who did not receive such a pep talk.

“In this research, we showed that helping children to interpret difficulty, not as a sign of intellectual limitation but as the normal learning outcome, improved their performance on very demanding and difficult tasks and reduced their feelings of incompetence,” said study co-author Frederique Autin, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Poitiers in Poitiers, France.  “What our data revealed is that reorienting the interpretation of difficulty boosted children’s working memory, that is the ability to process and remember information.”

“Experiencing difficulty when we work on a demanding problem may raise the possibility that we are not that smart after all,” said Jean-Claude Croizet, co-author of the study.  “Difficulty makes us nervous because it is often associated with lower ability.”

One experiment included 111 French school children ages 11 and 12.  They were given a difficult anagram problem that was too difficult for any of them to solve.  Afterwards, researchers told half the kids that failure is common and to be expected when learning.  The other group were simply asked how they tried to solve the problem by the researchers.  The group that received the pep talk scored better on further tests than the group of kids who did not receive the talk.

“Fear of failing can hijack the working memory resources, a core component of intellectual ability,” the researchers said.  “Fear of failing not only hampers performance, it can also lead students to avoid difficulty and therefore the opportunities to develop new skills.  Because difficulty is inherent to most academic tasks, our goal was to create a safer performance environment where experiencing difficulty would not be associated with lower ability.”

“Indeed, those who are smart succeed,” Autin said.  “This is what we often believe.  But science tells a different story.  Believing that success reflects higher ability and failure lower competence is not only wrong, but we show that it is detrimental to intellectual efficiency during challenging tasks.”

While the researchers noted the students’ improvement on tests was likely temporary, working memory may get a boost from a simple dose of self-confidence.  The researchers said teachers and parents should provide positive reinforcement and point out kids’ progress rather than test scores.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Infants and iPads? It’s Not So Farfetched!

Tooga/The Image Bank(ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill.) -- Just as adults are increasingly grabbing for their digital media devices, so too are their children.

A new study has now taken a first-ever look at children’s use of new digital media devices. The study, by Common Sense Media, finds the devices are quickly becoming a part of a children’s world.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,300 parents of children up to age 8. They found that 40 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds and 52 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds have used smart phones, video iPods, iPads, or similar devices.

Even infants are not immune: ten percent of those under age 1 have handled one of these devices, the researchers found: the kids are playing games, watching videos, or using other apps.

On any given day, 11 percent of those up to age 8 are using one of these devices; those who do may spend as long as 43 minutes tapping away.

While this trend may be growing, the youngest media consumers still spend far more time in front of a television than they do on one of these mobile devices. Those up to age 8 spend an average of one hour and 40 minutes watching TV or DVDs on a typical day. And those under age 1 spent about 53 minutes, more than twice as much time as they spend being read to.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for those under age 2. The group doesn’t have a position on this new media and its affect on children. Study authors say they’re hoping their data will start a discussion on whether this type of screen time is any better or worse for children than TV.

Kids are also mimicking their parents in another modern past time: media multi-tasking. Nearly a quarter of 5 to 8-year-olds use more than one media device most or some of the time.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Moms Prefer Manners over Grades

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new survey of moms reveals that good manners are still important to them, with 77 percent saying they prefer to have kids with good manners over good grades.

In America, where the U.S. Census Bureau says just 4 percent of today’s families fall into its definition of “traditional” by having a working father and a stay-at-home mom with kids under 18, a new study by Women at NBCU finds 49 percent of moms say “traditional” is the parenting style they aspire to have.

In another sign of the desire to embrace that traditional lifestyle, 66 percent of moms would prefer to be stay-at-home moms and 77 percent prefer to have kids with good manners over good grades.

Additional findings from the Women at NBCU survey:

  • 36 percent of dads would prefer to be a stay-at-home parent than a working parent.
  • 61 percent of dads say they split the household chores and childcare equally with their partners, but only 27 percent of moms feel the household work is evenly split.
  • Moms reported drug abuse and the “breakdown of the traditional family” as the top two most serious issues facing children today.
  • 31 percent of moms admit to lingering longer in the shower, while running errands and during a commute to get a bit more “alone time” during the day.

Women at NBCU is an initiative that connects to women via multiple platforms at NBCUnversial, including Oxygen, Style, Bravo and the Today show.  The survey involved 3,224 moms and 403 dads.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Brain Stimulation Found to Speed Up Learning

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(BRADFORD, England) -- A mild zap to the brain could help people learn faster, according to new research recently presented at the British Science Festival.

The same technique might also some day help stroke patients recover lost motor skills.

Researchers at the University of Oxford have found that applying a small amount of electric current to the brain sped up learning, said the British Science Association, which sponsored the festival.

Using a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a team of scientists, led by Heidi Johansen-Berg, electrically stimulated the brains of subjects trying to learn a computer game that required a series of button presses. The current was applied to the part of the brain that controls movement for about 10 minutes either before or during the game.

Subjects who received the current learned the sequences faster than subjects who received only a quick burst of electricity before the game.

"While the stimulation didn't improve the participant's best performance, the speed at which they reached their best was significantly increased," Johansen-Berg told BBC News.

The stimulation, Johansen-Berg added, could help people recovering from strokes. In a separate experiment, stroke patients who received the same electrical stimulation showed improved motor function.

Dr. Sarah Lisanby, chairwoman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University in Durham, N.C., has been involved in her own research using tDCS. She said the current acts on the parts of the brain affected by a stroke.

"By using direct current application during the performance of a task that engages the circuits affected by a stroke, the current can help facilitate the response that leads to recovery," she said. The technique, she said, shifts the electrical potential of the brain to facilitate learning.

Experts say it makes sense that a technique such as tDCS that might affect learning could also help stroke patients improve their level of functioning.

"Stroke recovery is a form of learning, but the brain cells involved in learning are damaged," said Dr. David Alexander, professor of neurology and medical director of the UCLA Neurological Rehabilitation and Research Unit. "We want brain cells uninvolved in the stroke to take over function, but those cells will have to learn that function that's been lost."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Electrical Stimulation to the Brain Can Improve Learning, Study Shows

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(OXFORD) -- New research shows that electrically stimulating the brain may improve learning.

Researchers from the University of Oxford conducted a study showing that applying a small current of electricity to a specific part of the brain can increase its activity, therefore making learning quicker and easier.

The team largely focused on how the structure of the brain changes in adulthood and particularly after a stroke. They used an approach called functional MRI in order to monitor the activity in the brain as these patients relearn skills that were previously lost.

They found that the brain is very flexible and is capable of restructuring itself, growing new connections to reassign tasks to different areas.

The researchers also wanted to investigate the possibility of using brain simulation to improve the recovery of these lost motor skills, but an unexpected result was also discovered.

They conducted the study using both volunteer stroke patients and healthy adults. These volunteers memorized a sequence of buttons to press, and while doing so were wearing a “trans-cranial current simulation” device in which two electrodes were placed at certain spots on the head. This device passed a small current through the brain.

When this brain stimulation was applied to healthy adults, using the trans-cranial current simulation device, their speed of learning also increased.  They found that depending on the direction of the current passed through the brain, rate of learning decreased or increased in that part of the brain.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Concentration at an Early Age the Key to Success?

Laura Ciapponi/Getty Images(LONDON) -- A new study suggests babies trained to concentrate spend more time focusing on the task at hand, which could help them learn all kinds of new skills.

Researchers from the University of London in the U.K studied 42 11-month-old babies, half of whom were trained to concentrate by animated computer programs, while the other half watched regular TV. After 15 days, the babies were put to the test. Trained babies were better at focusing on a task, like interacting with a parent, and ignoring distractions, like puppets.

“Whenever there’s movement, our attention gets drawn to it,” said study author Sam Wass of the University of London’s Center for Brain and Cognitive Development. “The better you are at saying, ‘No, that movement isn’t interesting; I want stay focused on this,’ the better you’re going to do.”

Because their brains are still developing, babies have a remarkable ability to form new neural connections -- known as plasticity.

“The older you get, the less plastic your brain is,” Wass said. Think about a house: “If you start putting in alterations while the foundation’s being built, it’s easier than doing it after the house is finished.”

Mastering concentration can help children hone other skills, like reading, Wass said. But it’s unclear how long the effects of his 15-day computer-based training program will persist. Furthermore, most experts agree that tots’ TV and computer time should be kept to a minimum.

Wass said there are things parents can do daily to cultivate concentration in wee brains without serious screen time.

“There’s evidence that engaging in set tasks, like sitting and doing a puzzle with your child is a way of training to concentrate,” he said. “The infant can use the caregiver’s attention capacity as a sort of scaffold, training them to pay attention over longer periods of time.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Men vs. Women: Who Gets the Most from College?

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Do you have a daughter heading off to college right about now?  A new study says she may get more out of the experience than her male counterparts.

The Pew Research Center tried to find out who gets more out of the experience of going to college: males or females, and women told the researchers they get more out of their time at school.

“They see more value in the education that they come out with,” explained the study’s co-author, Kim Parker. “And they see more benefits in terms of the personal and intellectual growth they experience.”

Over 81 percent of women told Pew they found college "very useful" in increasing their knowledge.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Psychic Kindergarten' for Budding Mediums?

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- Long before J.K. Rowling ever conceived Hogwarts, a small group of students in Berkeley, Calif., were learning what Harry Potter would have called "divination."

It's called "psychic kindergarten," beginner lessons for clairvoyants, where they learn how to read colored spirits, feel chakras and "blow roses." Susan Bostwick, the president of the Berkeley Psychic Institute, is also one of its teachers.

"What we do is teach people to discover, go in and find out what your abilities are, and how do you want to use them for the greater good," she said.

Bostwick stressed that, unlike Harry Potter and his friends, what she and her students are practicing is not magic.

"We talk about magic and miracles, [but] it's allowing yourself to have what you're experiencing in life as a miracle," she said. "I'm teaching people to use their psychic ability. They already have it."

The institute, which is an offshoot of the Church of the Divine Man, is a new age religious group, which bases its teachings on the Bible's New Testament. The organization has been around for 38 years; 300,000 participants have reportedly come through, according to Bostwick.

When the students are asked to "blow roses" in "psychic kindergarten," it means they are being asked to imagine a rose as a way of focusing the mind. In their minds' eye, they then visualize the rose exploding, which is supposed to clear their thoughts, getting rid of any distracting psychic energy.

The students also spend time talking about colors of psychic energy. Each of the colors has different meanings. For example, gold means spiritually awakened or inspired.

"In kindergarten, you're just there to play and learn and discover," said Bingo Marasigan, director of the Berkeley Psychic Institute. "That's what we do here. We provide the space. It's a playground for you to play with energy."

Tune into Primetime Nightline: Beyond Belief special, "Psychic Power," airing on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT on ABC.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Do iPads and Smartphones Really Teach Toddlers to Read?

Tooga/The Image Bank/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- An interesting trend has emerged in which app makers are marketing directly to parents who are looking to help their children as young as four months old get a head start on learning.

Type in "toddler" and "educational" into iTunes and you'll find more than 800 apps specifically marketed to children under age 3.

Toys 'R Us is now selling the iPad, and PC World named the iPad the best toy of the year for young children.  One town in Maine is even spending $200,000 on iPads for its entire incoming kindergarten class.

But do iPads or smartphones and toddler marketed apps really make young kids smarter?

Many parents like Mia Kim, a blogger and founder of a tech site for gadget lovers, are convinced of it.  Her 14-month-old son Finn has his own iPad.

"Around 9, 10 months he started really sort of getting in to it," she said.  "I think in this day and age, he does have a head start being so good at just navigating through his own iPad."

Kim has downloaded more than 75 apps for Finn and said he recognizes letters.

PBS did a study showing benefits in kids 3 to 7, but for infants and toddlers, there doesn't seem to be any thorough research into the claimed benefits of these educational apps.

Some pediatricians say handing kids an iPad is pretty much the same as letting them watch television.

"(We) recommend that children under the age of 2 don't have any screen time whatsoever," said Dr. Alanna Levine of the American Association of Pediatrics.

But Levine adds that if you interact with your toddler while playing an iPad game that may be ok for short periods of time.

While no studies prove apps make toddlers smarter, there's no clear research that shows they hurt children.  But for parents who can't imagine shelling out $500 for an infant's toy, Levine says not to worry.

"Parents are always looking for that edge to make their child the smartest but I think the most important thing you can do as a parent is interact with your child.  You don't need an iPad or a fancy tablet to make your child learn," she says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio