2015: Urban Myths about Learning and Education, 1st Edition

Together with Casper Hulshof I wrote a popular book in Dutch on educational myths in 2013.

In 2015 a whole new, updated and upgraded version will be published internationally by Elsevier/Academic Press, written by myself, prof. Paul A. Kirschner and Casper Hulshof.

The manuscript has been sent in and… check here.


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Interesting read: Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless

I’m no expert on personality tests, but this story wasn’t unknown to me. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most widely used personality test in the world, but… it’s completely meaningless.

In this article on VOX, Joseph Stromberg gives an overview on how the test is based on unproven theories (by Jung), uses false, limited binaries and provides inconsistent and inaccurate results.

The conclusion is pretty clear:

The Myers-Briggs is useful for one thing: entertainment. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking thetest as a fun, interesting activity, like a BuzzFeed quiz.

But there is something wrong with CPP peddling the test as “Reliable and valid, backed by ongoing global research and development investment.” The company makes an estimated $20 million annually, with the Myers-Briggs as its flagship product. Among other things, it charges between $15 and $40 to each person who wants to take the test, and $1,700 to each person who wants to become a certified test administrator.

Why would someone pay this much to administer a flawed test? Because once you have that title, you can sell your services as a career coach to both people looking for work and the thousands of major companies — such as McKinsey & Co., General Motors, and a reported 89 of the Fortune 100 — that use the test to separate employees and potential hires into “types” and assign them appropriate training programs and responsibilities. Once certified, test administrators become cheerleaders of the Myers-Briggs, ensuring that use of the outdated instrument is continued.

If private companies want to throw their money away on the Myers-Briggs, that’s their prerogative. But about 200 federal agencies reportedly waste money on the test too, including the State Department and the CIA. The military in particular relies heavily on the Myers-Briggs, and the EPA has given it to about a quarter of its 17,000 employees.

It’s 2014. Thousands of professional psychologists have evaluated the century-old Myers-Briggs, found it to be inaccurate and arbitrary, and devised better systems for evaluating personality. Let’s stop using this outdated measure — which has about as much scientific validity as your astrological sign — and move on to something else.

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Preschoolers Can Reflect on What They Don’t Know (research)

Another dent to Piagets developmental cognitive theory, as new research published in Psychological Science describes that preschoolers are able to gauge the strength of their memories and make decisions based on their self-assessments.

From the press release:

“Previously, developmental researchers assumed that preschoolers did not introspect much on their mental states, and were not able to reflect on their own uncertainty when problem solving,” says psychological scientist Emily Hembacher of the University of California, Davis, lead author of the study. “This is partly because young children are not usually able to tell us much about their own mental processes due to verbal limitations.”

In several previous studies in their lab, Hembacher and co-author Simona Ghetti observed that preschoolers reported feeling uncertain after giving wrong answers during tasks, suggesting the preschoolers were capable of metacognition — the ability to evaluate one’s own thoughts and mental states.

The researchers decided to examine preschoolers’ metacognition about their memories, given its importance for learning.  They investigated whether kids could assess their confidence in their memories and use those assessments in deciding whether to exclude answers they had generated but were unsure of when given the option.

Eighty-one children ages 3, 4, and 5 participated in the study.  The preschoolers viewed a series of drawings of various items, such as a piano or a balloon.  Half of the images were presented once, and the other half were shown twice.  Next, the children were presented with a pair of images: one they had seen, and a new one they had not seen.  The children were instructed to pick which image they’d seen before in the previous task.

After making their choice, the preschoolers rated how confident they were that their choice was correct.  They then sorted their answers into two boxes.  One box was for the responses that children were confident about and wanted researchers to evaluate for a prize.  The other one was for responses the children thought might be mistaken and that they didn’t want researchers to see.

The data revealed that only 4- and 5-year-olds reported being less confident in their incorrect than their correct memory responses.  They were also more confident about images they’d seen twice, suggesting that they could distinguish between stronger and weaker memories. Older preschoolers were also more likely to decide whether they wanted researchers to see their answers based on their confidence level.

Although 3-year-olds didn’t display the same kind of metacognitive capability on individual responses, the data showed that 3-year-olds who had scored well reported higher confidence overall than kids who hadn’t scored as well.

When the researchers analyzed just the correct answers, they found that preschoolers of all ages sorted responses they weren’t as confident about to the box they didn’t want researchers to evaluate.  So, while they may not be as advanced as their older peers, even children as young as 3 seem to display some ability to reflect on their own knowledge.

The findings contribute to research on the reliability of children’s eyewitness testimony in a court of law, and they carry important implications for educational practices.

“Previous emphasis on the development of metacognition during middle childhood has influenced education practices aimed at strengthening children’s monitoring and control of their own learning,” says Hembacher. “Now we know that some of these ideas may be adapted to meet preschoolers’ learning needs.”

Abstract of the research:

Preschoolers’ ability to introspect and make decisions on the basis of these introspections has traditionally been questioned. The present research introduces a novel paradigm to examine the development of the connection between subjective uncertainty about memory and decision making in preschoolers. Three-, 4-, and 5-year-olds (N = 81) encoded items presented once or twice. They then completed a forced-choice test, provided confidence judgments for each response, and decided whether to select or exclude answers to be evaluated for the possibility of reward. Four- and 5-year-olds, but not 3-year-olds, reported lower certainty for incorrect and weaker memories than for correct and stronger memories, and they judiciously excluded their least confident memories, which resulted in accuracy gains for selected memories; these findings highlight age-related improvements in introspection on memory accuracy. Among accurate responses only, even 3-year-olds excluded their least confident answers, which suggests that the connection between uncertainty and decision making precedes the ability to monitor memory accuracy.

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EU Kids press release: Cyberbullying now more common than face-to-face bullying for children

A new report by the EU Kids consortium on cyberbullying, this is the press release (HT @dhoogervorst):

Cyberbullying and exposure to online sites with negative content such as messages of hate or self-harm is a growing problem for the UK’s children, according to a new report from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Young-child-on-internet-113x148The report from EU Kids Online, a research programme based at LSE, examines how the UK’s children are using the internet and digital communications and updates the findings of a 2010 EU Kids Online survey with the results of a new 2013-14 survey conducted by Net Children Go Mobile.

The research reveals that cyberbullying now more common than face-to-face bullying, with children also reporting a sharp rise in exposure to potentially negative forms of content such as self-harm sites and hate messages.

  • In 2010, 16 per cent of children reported being bullied face to face, 8 per cent on the internet and 5 per cent via mobile phone. By 2013, this ratio had reversed, making cyberbullying (12 per cent) more common than face-to-face bullying (9 per cent) – most cyberbullying occurs on SNSs.
  • Twenty-nine per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds had seen one or more of the potentially negative forms of user-generated content (UGC) asked about, with hate messages (23 per cent) being the most common, followed by self-harm sites (17 per cent). Such exposure represented a sharp increase on 2010, and was more common among teens, especially 15- to 16-year-olds.

One-third of children using smartphones are also found to be not technically savvy enough to deactivate functions that could leave them at risk of displaying their personal whereabouts, paying for unwanted pop-ups, or choosing the wrong apps – with younger girls particularly lacking the skill to use their personal devices effectively.

There have, however, also been successful changes in how children experience the internet, over the past few years.

  • UK children aged 11-16 report receiving fewer sexual messages (4 per cent) than the European average (11 per cent). This represents a notable decrease since 2010 (when the figure was 12 per cent).
  • Seventeen per cent of children aged 9-16 said that have been in contact online with someone they hadn’t previously met offline, but just 3 per cent of children said they had been to meet such a person face to face. This represents a reduction from 2010, when 27 per cent were in contact with people online that they hadn’t met face to face, and 5 per cent had met such a person offline.
  • Seventeen per cent of UK children aged 9-16 reported seeing sexual images in the past year, online or offline – a reduction from 24 per cent in 2010. This is more common among teenagers, and girls, who are also more likely to report being upset, or even very upset by this.

Professor Sonia Livingstone, lead researcher at EU Kids Online and a professor at LSE, said: “In just a few years, UK children have shifted from accessing the internet via a desktop computer to accessing it primarily via a smartphone or laptop. This demands an equally profound shift in how their internet safety is to be managed. Parental or teacher supervision is becoming ever harder and the online options open to children will only continue to grow.

“Children must be educated to become competent and resilient digital citizens and this education should link technical competence in managing online interfaces with personal, social and sexual education so that children are empowered to respond constructively – with critical literacy and moral responsibility – to the online risk of harm.”

Read the full report here.

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Student-centred activities are effective for most 1st graders, but not for low achievers

It’s the current view of many thinkers on education: education should be student-centred. A new study by Morgan, Farkas and Maczuga looks at possible correlations between what teachers (in the study in the US) report in surveys of their teaching practices and achievement of different groups of children in mathematics. The study found that first-grade teachers in classrooms with higher percentages of students with mathematics difficulties (MD) were more likely to be using ineffective instructional practices with these students. And those practices were often student-centred. (Looking at this quote from Hattie & Yates not that surprising actually.)

A round up of the research in this video:

From the press release:

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health, found that first-grade teachers in classrooms with higher percentages of students with MD were more likely to be using ineffective instructional practices with these students.

When first-grade classes had larger percentages of students with MD, their teachers were more often using non-traditional instructional practices, in which students use manipulatives, calculators, movement, and music to learn mathematics. The researchers found these types of practices were not associated with achievement gains. These practices were ineffective for both MD and non-MD students.

Instead, the researchers found that only use by first-grade teachers of more traditional, teacher-directed instruction — in which teachers used textbooks, worksheets, chalkboards, and routine practice to instruct students in mathematics facts, skills, and concepts — was associated with achievement gains for students with MD.

According to study findings, the most effective instructional practice that first-grade teachers could use for students with MD was to provide them with routine practice and drill opportunities to learn mathematics. The findings held true for first-grade students who had shown either persistent or transitory MD in kindergarten. Results were extensively controlled for students’ prior mathematics and reading achievement, family income, and other factors.

“Use by first-grade teachers of non-teacher-directed instruction is surprising and troubling, given our findings and what prior research has shown about the instructional needs of students with MD,” said lead study author Paul L. Morgan. “It suggests that first-grade teachers are mismatching their instruction to the learning needs of students with MD.”

Our findings suggest that students with MD are more likely to benefit from more traditional, explicit instructional practices,” Morgan said, “This is particularly the case for students who are more likely to persistently struggle to learn mathematics.”

“Effectively instructing students with MD at an early age matters immensely to their future academic achievement and opportunities in life,” said Morgan. “We know that students who continue struggling to learn mathematics in the primary grades are highly likely to continue to struggle throughout elementary school. Others have reported that students who subsequently complete high school with relatively low mathematics achievement are more likely to be unemployed or paid lower wages, even if they have relatively higher reading skills.”

For students without a history of MD, teacher-directed instruction is also associated with achievement gains. However, unlike their schoolmates with MD, the mathematics achievement for these students is also associated with some, but not all, types of student-centered instruction, which focuses on giving students opportunities to be actively involved in generating mathematical knowledge. Student-centered activities associated with achievement gains by first graders without MD include working on problems with several solutions, peer tutoring, and activities involving real-life math. Students without MD benefited about equally well from either more traditional teacher-directed instruction or less traditional student-centered instruction.

While previous research has identified instructional practices that can be used by elementary school teachers to increase reading achievement for those with and without reading difficulties, very few empirical studies have tried to identify instructional practices being used by teachers that are effective in increasing the mathematics achievement of their students with and without MD.

For their study, the researchers analyzed survey responses from 3,635 teachers and data from a subsample of 13,393 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, a nationally representative dataset maintained by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Abstract of the research:

We used population-based, longitudinal data to investigate the relation between mathematics instructional practices used by first-grade teachers in the United States and the mathematics achievement of their students. Factor analysis identified four types of instructional activities (i.e., teacher-directed, student-centered, manipulatives/calculators, movement/music) and eight types of specific skills taught (e.g., adding two-digit numbers). First-grade students were then classified into five groups on the basis of their fall and/or spring of kindergarten mathematics achievement—three groups with mathematics difficulties (MD) and two without MD. Regression analysis indicated that a higher percentage of MD students in the first-grade classrooms were associated with greater use by teachers of manipulatives/calculators and movement/music to teach mathematics. Yet follow-up analysis for each of the MD and non-MD groups indicated that only teacher-directed instruction was significantly associated with the achievement of students with MD (covariate-adjusted effect sizes [ESs] = .05–.07). The largest predicted effect for a specific instructional practice was for routine practice and drill. In contrast, for both groups of non-MD students, teacher-directed and student-centered instruction had approximately equal, statistically significant positive predicted effects (covariate-adjusted ESs = .03–.04). First-grade teachers in the United States may need to increase their use of teacher-directed instruction if they are to raise the mathematics achievement of students with MD.


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A bill of research rights for educators?

I plea for collaboration between researchers and teachers, but often it’s complicated to say the least. Daniel Willingham wrote this draft of a bill of research rights for educators. It’s still a draft, and Willingham is open to suggestions, so what do you think? And what he wrote seems also applicable for policy makers.

It is a list of rights for educators who are asked to change what they are doing in the name of research, whether it’s a mandate handed down from administrator to teacher or from lawmaker to administrator.

  1. The right to know what is supposed to improve. What problem is being solved? For example, when I’ve been to schools or districts implementing a one-to-one tablet/laptop policy, I’ve always asked what it’s meant to do. The modal response is a blank look followed by the phrase “we don’t want our kids left behind.” Behind in what? In what way are kids elsewhere with devices zooming ahead?
  2. The right to know the means by which improvement will be measured. How will we know things are getting better? If you’re trying to improve students’ understanding of math, for example, are you confident that you have a metric that captures that construct? Are you sure scores on that metric will be comparable in the future to those you’re looking at now? How big an increase will be deemed a success?
  3. The right to know the approximate time by which this improvement is expected. A commitment to an intervention shouldn’t be open-ended. At some point we must evaluate how it’s going.
  4. The right to know what will be done if the goal is or is not met. Naturally, conditions may change, but let’s have a plan. If we don’t meet our target, will we quit? Keep trying for a while? Tweak it?
  5. The right to know what evidence exists that the intervention will work as expected. Is the evidence from actual classrooms or is it laboratory science (plus some guesswork)? If classrooms, were they like ours? In how many classrooms was it tried?
  6. The right to have your experience and expertise acknowledged. If the intervention sounds to you and your colleagues like it cannot work, this issue should be addressed in detail, not waved away with the phrase “all the research supports it.” The fact that it sounds fishy to experienced people doesn’t mean it can’t work, but whoever is pitching it should have a deep enough understanding of the mechanisms behind the intervention to be able to say why it sounds fishy, and why that’s not a problem.

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Handy: checklist of common misconceptions about evolution in both popular media and school textbooks

Via @dylanwilliam I found this useful checklist of common misconceptions about evolution in both popular media and school textbooks. You can read and download the paper here. This is the kind of paper that should be written and shared more often giving teachers a fast update from science on their topic.

Abstract of the paper:

Topics related to evolution tend to generate a disproportionate amount of misunderstanding in traditional textbooks, other educational materials, and the media. This is not necessarily the fault of textbook and popular writers: many of these concepts are confusingly discussed in the scientific literature. However, faults can be corrected, and doing so makes it easier to explain related concepts. Three general areas are treated here: ideas and language about evolution, historical and philosophical aspects of evolution, and natural selection and related concepts. The aim of this paper is to produce a template for a more logical, historically and scientifically correct treatment of evolutionary terms and concepts

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Learning to read does not end in 4th grade, brain waves show (study)

Neuroresearch in education is often preliminary and people tend to misuse the insights too quickly. Hope this doesn’t happen with this new study. Teachers-in-training have long been taught that fourth grade is when students stop learning to read and start reading to learn. But a new Dartmouth study in the journal Developmental Science tested the theory by analyzing brain waves and found that fourth-graders do not experience a change in automatic word processing, a crucial component of the reading shift theory. Instead, some types of word processing become automatic before fourth grade, while others don’t switch until after fifth. Their is relevance in these findings as they could mean that teachers at all levels of elementary school must think of themselves as reading instructors, concludes the study’s author, Associate Professor of Education Donna Coch.

From the press release:

“Until now, we lacked neurological evidence about the supposed fourth-grade shift,” said Coch, also principal investigator for Dartmouth’s Reading Brains Lab. “The theory developed from behavioral evidence, and as a result of it, some teachers in fifth and sixth grade have not thought of themselves as reading instructors. Now we can see from brain waves that students in those grades are still learning to process words automatically; their neurological reading system is not yet adult-like.”

Automatic word processing is the brain’s ability to determine whether a group of symbols constitutes a word within milliseconds, without the brain’s owner realizing the process is taking place.

To test how automatic word processing develops, Coch placed electrode caps on the heads of third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders, as well as college students. She had her test subjects view a screen that displayed a mix of real English words (such as “bed”), pseudo-words (such as “bem”), strings of letters (such as “mbe”), and strings of meaningless symbols one at a time. The setup allowed her to see how the subjects’ brains reacted to each kind of stimulus within milliseconds. In other words, she could watch their automatic word processing.

Next, Coch gave the participants a written test, in which they were asked to circle the real words in a list that also contained pseudo-words, strings of letters, and strings of meaningless symbols. This task was designed to test the participants’ conscious word processing, a much slower procedure.

Interestingly, most of the 96 participants got a nearly perfect score on the written test, showing that their conscious brains knew the difference between words and non-words.

However, the electrode cap revealed that only the college students processed meaningless symbols differently than real words. The third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders’ brains reacted to the meaningless symbols the same way they reacted to common English words.

“This tells us that, at least through the fifth grade, even children who read well are letting stimuli into the neural word processing system that more mature readers do not,” Coch said. “Their brains are processing strings of meaningless symbols as if they were words, perhaps in case they turn out to be real letters. In contrast, by college, students have learned not to process strings of meaningless symbols as words, saving their brains precious time and energy.”

The phenomenon is evidence that young readers do not fully develop automatic word processing skills until after fifth grade, which contradicts the fourth-grade reading shift theory.

The brain waves also showed that the third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders processed real words, psuedowords, and letter strings similarly to college students, suggesting that some automatic word processing begins before the fourth grade, and even before the third grade, also contradicting the reading shift theory.

“There is value to the theory of the fourth grade shift in that it highlights how reading skills and abilities develop at different times,” Coch said. “But the neural data suggest that teachers should not expect their fourth-graders, or even their fifth-graders, to be completely automatic, adult-like readers.”

Abstract of the research:

While behavioral and educational data characterize a fourth grade shift in reading development, neuroscience evidence is relatively lacking. We used the N400 component of the event-related potential waveform to investigate the development of single word processing across the upper elementary years, in comparison to adult readers. We presented third graders, fourth graders, fifth graders, and college students with a well-controlled list of real words, pseudowords, letter strings, false font strings, and animal name targets. Words and pseudowords elicited similar N400s across groups. False font strings elicited N400s similar to words and letter strings in the three groups of children, but not in college students. The pattern of findings suggests relatively adult-like semantic and phonological processing by third grade, but a long developmental time course, beyond fifth grade, for orthographic processing in this context. Thus, the amplitude of the N400 elicited by various word-like stimuli does not reflect some sort of shift or discontinuity in word processing around the fourth grade. However, the results do suggest different developmental time courses for the processes that contribute to automatic single word reading and the integrative N400.

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Adolescent alcohol abuse disrupts transitions into early adulthood

Youth is drinking less alcohol on average, still there are still kids who suffer from alcohol abuse. Adolescent alcohol abuse is known to be associated with adverse outcomes in early adulthood. It is unclear how much of this association is due to the influence of differences in familial background and shared genetics. New research implicates a significant causal relationship between elevated drinking problems at age 18.5 and more adverse life outcomes at age 25 that cannot be fully explained by shared genetic and environmental liabilities.

From the press release:

“Very few studies that control for expected influences of shared familial experience and shared genetic liabilities on drinking outcomes have been reported,” said Richard J. Rose, Professor Emeritus in psychology and brain science at Indiana University, Bloomington, as well as corresponding author for the study. “While there are many published studies documenting the association of adolescent drinking with adverse adult outcomes, none of these were genetically informative or supported causal inferences.”

“A consistent finding emerging from alcohol epidemiology research is that individuals who start to drink early and heavily in adolescence are more likely than those who do not to subsequently have problems in adulthood,” explained Matt McGue, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Minnesota. “Not surprisingly, one of the problems associated with early drinking is problem drinking and alcoholism in adulthood. Importantly, the negative outcomes associated with adolescent drinking are not, however, limited to problems with alcohol; early drinkers are also more likely to report physical health problems, educational and occupational difficulties, and relationship problems. The existence of these associations is not in dispute. Rather, what remains unclear is why these associations arise. The basic issue is that individuals who drink early and often in adolescence are not a random subset of adolescents, and it may be that the factors that led these individuals to drink early — perhaps mental health problems, personality, or coming from a dysfunctional family — are the actual causes of the adverse adult outcomes with which adolescent drinking has been associated.”

“What makes our study of interest is not that we studied multiple outcomes,” said Rose. “Nor is it that we studied a large sample over a six-year follow-up. Rather, it is that we compared twin siblings who differ in their use of alcohol during adolescence, but who share both their genes and their family and neighborhood environments. By doing so, we could eliminate familial and genetic confounds that have constrained inferences drawn from earlier studies. To my knowledge, ours is the first prospective study of discordant twin pairs; it is, accordingly, the first to evaluate whether the established association of adolescent drinking problems with adverse adult outcomes can be fully explained by shared genetic and environmental liabilities. Our data suggest not.”

Rose added that they focused on the question: What causes associations between adolescent drinking and adverse adult outcomes such as continued substance abuse, truncated education, risky sex, and downward social mobility? “Could it be that substantial exposure to alcohol during adolescence causally creates a cascade of events that disrupt successful transitioning into adulthood?,” he asked. “This alternate explanation would lead to different strategies of prevention.”

Rose and his colleagues analyzed longitudinal data from more than 3,000 Finnish twins, and identified twin pairs who were “drinking-discordant” to investigate if between-family associations would be replicated in within-family comparisons. They associated drinking problems at age 18.5 years of age with 13 outcomes — such as sustained substance abuse, poor health, physical symptoms, early coital debut, multiple sexual partners, life dissatisfaction, truncated education, and financial problems — that were later assessed at age 25.

Results showed that individual twins who previously had drinking problems at age 18.5 had more adverse outcomes for all 13 measures at age 25, and many of these associations replicated within discordant co-twins. “Because we studied drinking-discordant twin pairs, our results rule out between-family confounds as the sole source of the association of adolescent drinking problems with adverse adult outcomes,” said Rose. “Variation in family structure such as having an older sib to model drinking behavior and access opportunity, family status such as social, economic and educational level, maternal age, and neighborhood cohesion and community surveillance as well as shared genetic liabilities such as impulsive, thrill-seeking, and disinhibited behaviors could underlie both drinking at age 18 and adverse outcomes by age 25. We could cautiously infer that abusive drinking in adolescence can causally disrupt successful transitioning into adulthood. However, I add a critical caveat: we cannot prove that statement; what we can do, and what we did do, is enhance its plausibility by eliminating alternative explanations.”

“In other words, the major finding in this study is that the individual-level associations, which are the associations typically reported in the literature, are not a consequence of confounding with family background factors the twins share, such as whether they have an alcoholic parent, grew up in poverty, or grew up in a high-risk neighborhood,” said McGue.

“Some adolescents appear to be especially vulnerable to long-term effects of alcohol-exposure,” observed Rose. “And if there is a causal relationship between abusive adolescent drinking and later behavioral problems — as is here suggested — prevention efforts should be focused on identifying adolescents who are vulnerable and directly address what may be long-term and cumulative harmful consequents of adolescent alcohol exposure.”

“The major point here is that we need to go beyond the simple, yet important, observation that adolescent drinkers are more likely to have problems in adulthood to try and understand why those associations exist so we can develop effective prevention strategies,” said McGue. “For example, if adolescent drinking is causal, then perhaps our efforts should go towards reducing rates of adolescent drinking. If adolescent drinking is associated with certain personality factors, then perhaps we should be trying to help adolescents manage personality risk.”

Abstract of the research:

Background: Adolescent alcohol abuse is associated with adverse outcomes in early adulthood, but differences in familial status and structure and household and community environments correlate with both adolescent drinking and adverse adult outcomes and may explain their association. We studied drinking-discordant twin pairs to evaluate such confounds to ask: Will between-family associations replicate in within-family comparisons?

Methods: With longitudinal data from >3,000 Finnish twins, we associated drinking problems at age 18½ with 13 outcomes assessed at age 25; included were sustained substance abuse, poor health, physical symptoms, early coital debut, multiple sexual partners, life dissatisfaction, truncated education, and financial problems. We assessed associations among twins as individuals with linear regression adjusted for correlated observations; within-family analyses of discordant twin pairs followed, comparing paired means for adult outcomes among co-twins discordant for adolescent problem drinking. Defining discordance by extreme scores on self-reported problem drinking at age 18½ permitted parallel analyses of twins as individuals and discordant twin pairs. Alternate definitions of pair-wise discordance and difference score correlations across the entire twin sample yielded supplementary analyses.

Results: All individual associations were highly significant for all definitions of discordance we employed. Depending on definitions of discordance, 11 to 13 comparisons of all drinking-discordant twin pairs and 3 to 6 comparisons of discordant monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs replicated between-family associations. For most outcomes, effect size attenuated from individual-level analysis to that within discordant MZ twin pairs providing evidence of partial confounding in associations reported in earlier research. The exception was the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ); at age 25, GHQ-12 had equivalent associations with age 18½ Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index across all comparisons.

Conclusions: Our analyses control for shared family background, and, partly or fully, for shared genes, to yield within-family replications and more compelling evidence than previously available that adolescent alcohol abuse disrupts transitions into early adulthood.

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Funny on Sunday: the Beatles today…


 Paul is dead, he crossed the road without looking…

beatles now

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Study shows how ‘good mothering’ hardwires infant brain

Ok, there might once be a pill for inducing critical learning periods, still, those early years are so important as also new research proves, new research by rats that is. By carefully watching nearly a hundred hours of video showing mother rats protecting, warming, and feeding their young pups, and then matching up what they saw to real-time electrical readings from the pups’ brains, researchers have found that the mother’s presence and social interactions – her nurturing role – directly molds the early neural activity and growth of her offsprings’ brain.

From the press release:

Although scientists have known for decades that maternal-infant bonding affects neural development, the NYU Langone team’s latest findings are believed to be the first to show — as it is happening — how such natural, early maternal attachment behaviors, including nesting, nursing, and grooming of pups, impact key stages in postnatal brain development.

Researchers say the so-called slow-wave, neural signaling patterns seen during the initial phases of mammalian brain development — between age 12 and 20 days in rats — closely resembled the electrical patterns seen in humans for meditation and conscious and unconscious sleep-wake cycles, and during highly focused attention. These early stages are when permanent neural communication pathways are known to form in the infant brain, and when increasing numbers of nerve axons become sheathed, or myelinated, to speed neural signaling.

According to senior study investigator and neurobiologist Regina Sullivan, PhD, whose previous research in animals showed how maternal interactions influenced gene activity in the infant brain, the latest study offers an even more profound perspective on maternal caregiving.

“Our research shows how in mammals the mother’s sensory stimulation helps sculpt and mold the infant’s growing brain and helps define the role played by ‘nurturing’ in healthy brain development, and offers overall greater insight into what constitutes good mothering,” says Sullivan, a professor at the NYU School of Medicine and its affiliated Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research. “The study also helps explain how differences in the way mothers nurture their young could account, in part, for the wide variation in infant behavior among animals, including people, with similar backgrounds, or in uniform, tightly knit cultures.”

“There are so many factors that go into rearing children,” says lead study investigator Emma Sarro, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at NYU Langone. “Our findings will help scientists and clinicians better understand the whole-brain implications of quality interactions and bonding between mothers and infants so closely after birth, and how these biological attachment behaviors frame the brain’s hard wiring.”

Abstract of the study:

Patterns of neural activity are critical for sculpting the immature brain, and disrupting this activity is believed to underlie neurodevelopmental disorders [ 1–3 ]. Neural circuits undergo extensive activity-dependent postnatal structural and functional changes [ 4–6 ]. The different forms of neural plasticity [ 7–9 ] underlying these changes have been linked to specific patterns of spatiotemporal activity. Since maternal behavior is the mammalian infant’s major source of sensory-driven environmental stimulation and the quality of this care can dramatically affect neurobehavioral development [ 10 ], we explored, for the first time, whether infant cortical activity is influenced directly by interactions with the mother within the natural nest environment. We recorded spontaneous neocortical local field potentials in freely behaving infant rats during natural interactions with their mother on postnatal days ∼12–19. We showed that maternal absence from the nest increased cortical desynchrony. Further isolating the pup by removing littermates induced further desynchronization. The mother’s return to the nest reduced this desynchrony, and nipple attachment induced a further reduction but increased slow-wave activity. However, maternal simulation of pups (e.g., grooming and milk ejection) consistently produced rapid, transient cortical desynchrony. The magnitude of these maternal effects decreased with age. Finally, systemic blockade of noradrenergic beta receptors led to reduced maternal regulation of infant cortical activity. Our results demonstrate that during early development, mother-infant interactions can immediately affect infant brain activity, in part via a noradrenergic mechanism, suggesting a powerful influence of the maternal behavior and presence on circuit development.

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