Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
A decade-long education program aimed at teaching children self-regulation and other healthy cognitive techniques is showing results in reducing aggressive behavior when the schoolchildren become adults, according to new research published in the journal Psychological Science. More from the journal:
The research, led by psychological scientist Justin Carré of Nipissing University in Ontario, Canada, indicates that dampened testosterone levels in response to social threats may account for the intervention’s success in reducing aggression.
The Fast Track intervention program teaches children social cognitive skills, such as emotional regulation and social problem solving, and previous research suggests that the program may lead to decreased antisocial behavior and aggression in childhood and adolescence.
But it wasn’t clear whether the skills that children learned in the program would have impacts that carried over into adulthood.
Carré and colleagues suspected that the program would have long-term effects, and that those effects would be linked to a specific biological mechanism: alterations in testosterone reactivity to social provocation.
To test these hypotheses, the researchers recruited 63 participants from Fast Track schools in Durham, North Carolina. To ensure the participants in the sample were similar demographically, all of the participants were African American men who were about 26 years old.
Half of those participants were involved in the Fast Track program from ages 5 to 17, consisting of tutoring, peer coaching, home and family visits, and social-emotional learning lessons with friends. The rest of the participants attended the same schools but weren’t involved in the Fast Track program.
More than 8 years after the intervention ended, the researchers brought the participants into the lab to play a game, the goal of which was to earn as much money as possible by pressing three buttons: one which accrued money, one which prevented money from being stolen, and another which stole money from an opponent. The participants believed they were playing against an actual opponent, but the game was actually determined by a computer program. The fictitious opponent provoked participants during the task by stealing their hard-earned money.
Overall, participants who completed the Fast Track program showed less aggression toward their opponent – that is, they opted to steal less money from their opponent than did participants who didn’t complete Fast Track.
Participants who hadn’t received the intervention showed an increase in testosterone levels after having their money stolen, but Fast Track participants didn’t, a finding that could explain their reduced aggression.
“Interestingly, there were no differences between intervention and control groups in baseline testosterone concentrations or aggressive behavior at the beginning of the experiment,” Carré explains. “Differences in aggressive behavior and testosterone concentrations emerged only later in the game.”
Ultimately, the findings suggest that Fast Track was successful in reducing participants’ aggression toward a hostile peer in part because it changed the way their neuroendocrine systems responded to social provocation.
Image: Angry boy, via Shutterstock
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Monday, February 24th, 2014
Hearing adults talking may have a significant effect on the cognitive and language development of babies who were born prematurely, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. More from WomenandInfants.org:
The goal of the study was to test the association of the amount of talking that a baby was exposed to at what would have been 32 and 36 weeks gestation if a baby had been born full term, using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd Edition (Bayley – III) cognitive and language scores.It was hypothesized that preterm infants exposed to higher word counts would have higher cognitive and language scores at seven and 18 months corrected age.
“Our earlier study identified that extremely premature infants vocalize (make sounds) eight weeks before their mother’s due date and vocalize more when their mothers are present in the NICU than when they are cared for by NICU staff,” explained Dr. Vohr.
At 32 weeks and 36 weeks, staff recorded the NICU environment for 16 hours with a Language Environment Analysis (LENA) microprocessor. The adult word count, child vocalizations and “conversation turns” (words of mother or vocalizations of infant within five seconds) between mother and infant are recorded and analyzed by computer.
“The follow-up of these infants has revealed that the adult word count to which infants are exposed in the NICU at 32 and 36 weeks predicts their language and cognitive scores at 18 months. Every increase by 100 adult words per hour during the 32 week LENA recording was associated with a two point increase in the language score at 18 months,” said Dr. Vohr.
The results showed the hypothesis to be true.Dr. Vohr concluded, “Our study demonstrates the powerful impact of parents visiting and talking to their infants in the NICU on their developmental outcomes. Historically, very premature infants are at increased risk of language delay.The study now identifies an easy to implement and cost effective intervention – come talk and sing to your baby – to improve outcomes.”
Image: Mom holding infant’s hand, via Shutterstock
Keep track of your Baby’s growth with our helpful chart for girls and boys.
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Thursday, August 1st, 2013
The natural inclination of a child to use hand gestures in addition to verbal language may suggest a heightened cognitive maturity level, according to a new study published in the journal Developmental Psychology. Time.com has more:
In research published in the journal Developmental Psychology, preschoolers and kindergartners who naturally gestured to indicate what they were trying to do showed more self control, an ability associated with cognitive maturity.
The scientists came to this conclusion after testing children for their ability to sort objects according to changing criteria. Even adults have difficulty switching from one set of instructions to another, since the brain automates some aspects of learning to optimize efficiency. Once something is learned, however, it’s a challenge to unlearn and inhibit the reflexive response. That’s why it helps to develop good habits early — whether it’s a golf swing or eating a healthy diet. It’s easier to learn something correctly the first time than it is to unlearn ineffective techniques and relearn better ones.
In the experiment, 41 kids aged 2 to 6 had to place cards in trays. In one round, the tots first had to sort pictures of blue rabbits or red boats by color and then were asked to sort them by the object’s shape, regardless of color. In another game, they had to distinguish pictures of large or small yellow bears either by size or by whether teddy was right side up or sideways.
During the task, some of the children instinctively used gestures — making rabbit ears when they knew shape mattered, or moving their palms from facing up to turning sideways when they were sorting by the teddy bear’s orientation — to guide themselves.
“Our study shows that young children’s gesturing can help them think,” says the study’s lead author Patricia Miller, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. What’s more, she found that this effect had a stronger effect on successful performance than age — a powerful finding given that children’s skills improve rapidly with age during this stage of development.
Image: Child pointing, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, June 27th, 2013
The health benefits of breastfeeding are numerous and oft-discussed, and a new study is linking those benefits, specifically the cognitive development thought to be accelerated in breast-fed babies, with a higher social status later in life. Time.com has more:
What does breast-feeding have to do with social status? According to the researchers from University College London, who reported their findings in the journal BMJ, breast-feeding can impact cognitive development, and that accounted for just over a third of nursing’s effect on improvements in social status. What’s more, the practice also seemed to lower the chances of downward mobility.
To assess the impact of breast-feeding on later social status, the researchers compared two cohorts of people, including more than 17,400 individuals born in 1958, and over 16,700 people born in 1970. When their kids were about 5 years old, mothers in both groups were asked if they had breast-fed their children. The researchers used the children’s fathers’ income and job to determine the youngsters’ initial social status when they were about 10 to 11 years old and compared this with their social status decades later, when they reached age 33 or 34. And to get some idea of the way in which breast-feeding might be influencing social status, the scientists also evaluated the children’s cognitive skills and stress responses when they were about 10 or 11.
Breast-feeding rates were lower among the participants born in 1970, but the breakdown of high social achievers in the two populations remained the same. For both groups, breast-feeding increased the odds of upward mobility — defined by the researchers on a 4-point scale ranging from unskilled/semiskilled manual to professional/managerial — by 24% and lowered the likelihood for downward social mobility by 20%. The effect was greatest for children who were breast-fed for more than four weeks, and the social-status gap was largest between those who were breast-fed for four weeks or more and those who received only formula. The breast-feeding effect held even after the researchers accounted for the obvious factors, such as broad socioeconomic influences including employment rates and national economic stability, as well as individual characteristics like parental education.
According to the authors, the benefits shown by the babies in cognitive and intellectual development could have helped them to climb up the social ladder, since they might have adapted more readily to new situations and accepted challenges; the brain testing also suggested that the breast-fed children were less likely to experience emotional stress and better able to cope with anxiety if they did.
But they acknowledge that their study could not tease apart whether this advantage resulted from the breast milk and its known nutrients and immune-system components, or from the intimate contact between mother and child that breast-feeding requires.
Image: Breastfeeding baby, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, January 31st, 2013
Babies as young as a year-and-a-half can guess what adults are thinking and demonstrate remarkable empathy and “mind reading,” according to a new global study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society this week. This ability to understand other people’s perspectives, wishes, and feelings had previously been believed not to appear until children are much older. More from LiveScience:
The findings may shed light on the social abilities that differentiate us from our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, said study author H. Clark Barrett, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study used a form of the false-belief test, one of the few cognitive tasks that young children, but not primates, can do.
Humans are “very good at inferring other people’s mental states: their emotions, their desires and, in this case, their knowledge,” Barrett said. “So it could play an important role in cultural transmission and social learning.”
In the classic test of children’s understanding called the false-belief task, one person comes into a room and puts an object (such as a pair of scissors) into a hiding place. A second person then comes in and puts the scissors into his pocket, unbeknownst to the first individual. When that first person returns, someone will ask the child, “Where do you think the first person will look for the scissors?”
The task is tricky because the children need to have a theory of mind, or an ability to understand other people’s perspectives, in this case that of the individual who didn’t see the scissors being retrieved by another.
By ages 4 to 7, most children in Western countries can answer that the first person will look in the original hiding place, because the individual doesn’t know the scissors have moved. But children across the globe tend to give that answer at different ages.
However, past work showed that if researchers don’t ask babies the question, but instead follow the infants’ eye movements, the children seem to understand the concept much earlier. Barrett and his colleagues wondered whether cultural differences in dealing with adults could be obscuring the amazing cognitive leap children were taking.
Image: Baby and adult, via Shutterstock
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