Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
The long-held belief that early exposure to music helps a child perform better in learning tasks like math, reading, and concentration is under scrutiny by a pair of new studies. The New York Times has more:
In one trial, 15 4-year-olds accompanied by their parents attended six weekly 45-minute classes on musical arts and a matched group of 14 attended classes on visual arts.
In a second test, 23 4-year-olds and their parents were assigned to music classes, and 22 to no classes at all. Children living with professional musicians and those already taking music lessons were excluded, and there were no significant differences between the groups in age, family income, ethnicity, parents’ level of education and other factors. The results were published in PLOS One.
Researchers tested the children after the classes were completed for skills in spatial, linguistic and numerical reasoning, but found no differences between the groups.
The authors acknowledge that they used only one music curriculum, and that a trial with a different kind or intensity of training might produce different results.
Image: Child playing piano, via Shutterstock
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Monday, November 25th, 2013
A new study has found that despite all appearances, babies are actually born with an awareness of their own bodies. More from LiveScience:
Body awareness is an important skill for distinguishing the self from others, and failure to develop body awareness may be a component of some disorders such as autism. But little research has been done to find out when humans start to understand that their body is their own.
To determine babies’ awareness of their bodies, the researchers took a page from studies on adults. In a famous illusion, people can be convinced that a rubber hand is their own if they see the hand stroked while their own hand, hidden from view, is simultaneously stroked.
These studies show that information from multiple senses — vision and touch, in this case — are important for body awareness, said Maria Laura Filippetti, a doctoral student at the Center for Brain and Cognitive Development at the University of London.
To find out if the same is true of babies, Filippetti and her colleagues tested 40 newborns who were between 12 hours and 4 days old. The babies sat on the experimenter’s lap in front of a screen. On-screen, a video showed a baby’s face being stroked by a paintbrush. The researcher either stroked the baby’s face with a brush in tandem with the stroking shown on the screen, or delayed the stroking by five seconds.
Next, the babies saw the same video but flipped upside down. Again, the researcher stroked the infants’ faces in tandem with the upside-down image or delayed the stroking by three seconds.
Working with babies so young is a challenge, Filippetti told LiveScience.
“It is challenging just in terms of the time you actually have when the baby is fully awake and responsive,” she said.
To determine whether the babies were associating the facial stroking they saw on-screen with their own bodies, as in the rubber-hand illusion, the researchers measured how long the babies looked at the screen in each condition. Looking time is the standard measurement used in infant research, because babies can’t answer questions or verbally indicate their interest.
The researchers found that babies looked the longest at the screen when the stroking matched what they felt on their own faces. This was true only of the right-side-up images; infants didn’t seem to associate the flipped faces with their own.
The findings suggest that babies are born with the basic mechanisms they need to build body awareness, Filippetti and her colleagues reported Thursday in the journal Current Biology.
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Baby's First Year
Image: Newborn baby, via Shutterstock
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Monday, November 4th, 2013
Babies who are exposed to melodies while still in the womb may be able to learn it–and to recognize it when they hear it after they’ve been born, according to a new Finnish study published in the journal PLOS One. More from The New York Times:
For the study, published online last week by PLOS One, Finnish researchers divided 24 pregnant women into two groups. Five times a week, the “learning group” played a CD that included a one-minute rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” which the unborn children heard an average of 170 times before birth. The control group did not hear the recording.
Then the scientists did EEG tests on the children at birth and again at 4 months as they listened to the original tune and a version in which several notes were altered.
The learning group had a larger response to the melody than the control group did, and the difference was still apparent at 4 months. And the amplitude of response to the changed melody correlated with the number of times the infants were exposed to the original melody in utero.
Image: Pregnant woman with music, via Shutterstock
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Friday, September 27th, 2013
Videos that aim to help children learn may be entertaining, but their educational value is under dispute by a group of researchers who have concluded that face-to-face social interaction goes further toward language development than any video program can. More from Time.com:
It’s that dynamic interaction between the infant and her caregiver — a back-and-forth that static videos and television programs can’t provide — that is critical for efficient language learning. And a group of researchers from the University of Washington, Temple University and the University of Delaware explain why.
The scientists studied 36 two-year-olds who were randomly assigned to learn verbs in three different ways. A third of the group trained with a live person, another third learned through video chat technology like Skype, and the final third learned by watching a pre-recorded video of a language lesson from the same person.
Their results, published in the journal Child Development, showed that kids learned well in person and in the live video chat, likely because both scenarios allowed for an interaction between the child and the teacher, allowing the youngsters to be more responsive and therefore retain more from their experience. The children using the recorded videos, by contrast, did not learn new vocabulary words by the end of the 10 minute learning and testing task.
The findings confirm previous work that connected live conversations with better vocabularies among young children, but add another layer of understanding about why one-on-one interactions are so important to a developing brain. Nerve connections responsible for language building requires repetition and reinforcement, which can help to strengthen the correct and appropriate words or sounds and discard extraneous or inappropriate ones. It’s not that educational programming or DVDs are harming young minds; it’s more that they aren’t maximizing the infants’ ability to absorb and learn and pick up words and verbal skills more efficiently. So parking a child in front of screen for a few minutes isn’t going to hamper his ability to talk, but interspersing those videos with some one-on-one time engaging in conversation could help to speed along the learning process.
Image: Child watching a video, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
Children who take naps are better able to process and retain new information in the classroom, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. More from The Boston Globe:
In a study of 40 preschoolers, napping aided children’s ability to recall information they had been taught earlier that day. Children recalled 75 percent of the matches accurately after a nap, versus 65 percent when they skipped a nap.
“There was very little telling us about naps, the physiology of them— nothing to say they really had a function,” said Rebecca Spencer, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UMass Amherst. “I think policy-wise, teachers, in order to make the most of the research, need to know more about how to promote napping in the classroom.”
In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, researchers taught children a game that resembled the popular game Memory, in which children have to match images with cards laid out in a grid pattern. They chose the memory task because it requires many of the basic skills preschoolers utilize when attempting other types of learning, such as learning the alphabet.
After playing the game, the children either napped or stayed awake. Later that afternoon, they were tested again, to see how much they remembered from the morning session.
A week later, the experiment was flipped. The children who had napped in the first experiment were kept awake, and those who had not slept.
The difference was clear, Spencer said, with those who napped recalling 10 percent more of the locations of the cards than when they did not nap. The researchers even checked the children the next day to see if overnight sleep had an effect, and found no difference in performance.
Spencer then brought some of the children into the laboratory and measured their brain activity while they slept. To her surprise, she found that the kids were not experiencing REM sleep associated with dreaming. She did, however, detect bursts of brain activity called sleep spindles that were associated with the most productive naps—the ones that helped children retain memory. In other studies, that type of brain activity had been associated with moments when the brain was most plastic and adaptable.
The study clearly suggests that napping may be a potent part of the learning process, but there was an interesting anomaly. Among children who were not habitual nappers, sleeping did not have an effect. That suggests to Spencer that as the children’s brains mature, perhaps they do not depend on the nap to consolidate their memories.
Image: Napping preschooler, via Shutterstock
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