Category Archives: At home

This post may cause stress for many parents, do be warned

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you but a new study shows that the time parents spend with children can be key to academic success. But wait… it can be more complicated than that because they found a quite distinct way to measure this: the researchers analyzed data on children in Israel who lost a parent through death or divorce and looked at the remaining parent (quotes from the press release):

They found that when it came to one measure of a child’s academic success, the educational attainment of the surviving or custodial parent had more impact than the educational level of the parent who died or left the home.

And the longer the absence of a parent, the less impact his or her education had on the child’s success and the greater the impact of the remaining parent.

The study is quite large, to say the least, as it involved more than 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent before age 18, more than 77,000 whose parents divorced and more than 600,000 who did not experience parental death or divorce. But what do we learn from this?

“We found that if a mother dies, her education becomes less important for whether her child passes the test, while at the same time the father’s education becomes more important. If a father dies, the reverse happens,” he (Gould, one of the main authors) said.

“These relationships are stronger when the parent dies when the child is younger.”

In other words, Gould said, parenting matters.

“Student success is not coming just from smart parents having smart kids,” he said.

Study results rejected the argument that the parents’ income is really what helps the children of the highly educated succeed academically.

And now it gets really interesting:

If that were so, then losing a father should hurt children academically more than losing a mother because fathers tend to earn more.

“That’s not what we found. The loss of a mother – who tends to spend more time than the father with her children – had a bigger effect than loss of a father in our study,” Weinberg said.

But what about parents who remarry after losing a spouse? The study found that the negative effect on academic success of losing a mother can at least be partially minimized if the child gains a stepmother. If the father does not remarry, the effect of the loss is more acute: No one can compensate for the loss of the mother except for the father.

The study didn’t find any differences in academic success for children whose mothers remarried after their father died, versus those who did not. That may be because mothers’ education levels generally had more impact on their children’s success than that of fathers because of the more time moms spend with their kids.

Results also showed that mothers’ education was more closely linked to children’s academic success in larger families. The researchers believe that was because women with more children spent more time with their kids and less time working outside the home, according to findings.

Overall, the effects of losing a parent were stronger on girls than on boys, the study showed.

Similar results were also found with children whose parents had divorced. The educational level of the mother – whom the child typically lived with – had a larger effect on academic success than did the education of the other parent, Weinberg said.

“We found similar results in those children who experienced parental death and parental divorce. That provides strong evidence that our results are more general than just for children who suffered a parental death,” Weinberg said.

“Other studies show that highly educated parents tend to spend more time with their children. Our results may suggest one reason why they do: It has a strong impact on academic success.”

And… the importance of mothers.

Abstract of the study by Gould et al.:

This paper examines the transmission of human capital from parents to children using variation in parental influence due to parental death, divorce, and the increasing specialization of parental roles in larger families. All three sources of variation yield strikingly similar patterns which show that the strong parent-child correlation in human capital is largely causal. In each case, the parent-child correlation in education is stronger with the parent that spends more time with the child, and weaker with the parent that spends relatively less time parenting. These findings help us understand why educated parents spend more time with their children.

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Interesting: babies who hear two languages at home develop advantages in attention

There has been a lot of debate about the benefits of being raised bilingual, this new study shows a possible positive effect on attention as this new study shows that infants who are exposed to more than one language show better attentional control than infants who are exposed to only one language.

From the press release:

The advantages of growing up in a bilingual home can start as early as six months of age, according to new research led by York University’s Faculty of Health. In the study, infants who are exposed to more than one language show better attentional control than infants who are exposed to only one language. This means that exposure to bilingual environments should be considered a significant factor in the early development of attention in infancy, the researchers say, and could set the stage for lifelong cognitive benefits.

The research was conducted by Ellen Bialystok, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and Walter Gordon Research Chair of Lifespan Cognitive Development at York University and Scott Adler, associate professor in York’s Department of Psychology and the Centre for Vision Research, along with lead author Kyle J. Comishen, a former Master’s student in their lab. It will be published January 30, 2019 in Developmental Science.

The researchers conducted two separate studies in which infants’ eye movements were measured to assess attention and learning. Half of the infants who were studied were being raised in monolingual environments while others were being raised in environments in which they heard two languages spoken approximately half of the time each. The infants were shown images as they lay in a crib equipped with a camera and screen, and their eye movements were tracked and recorded as they watched pictures appear above them, in different areas of the screen. The tracking was conducted 60 times for each infant.

“By studying infants – a population that does not yet speak any language – we discovered that the real difference between monolingual and bilingual individuals later in life is not in the language itself, but rather, in the attention system used to focus on language,” says Bialystok, co-senior author of the study. “This study tells us that from the very earliest stage of development, the networks that are the basis for developing attention are forming differently in infants who are being raised in a bilingual environment. Why is that important? It’s because attention is the basis for all cognition.”

In the first study, the infants saw one of two images in the centre of the screen followed by another image appearing on either the left or right side of the screen. The babies learned to expect that if, for example, a pink and white image appears in the centre of the screen, it would be followed by an attractive target image on the left; If a blue and yellow image appeared in the centre, then the target would appear on the right. All the infants could learn these rules.

In the second study, which began in the same way, researchers switched the rule halfway through the experiment. When they tracked the babies’ eye movements, they found that infants who were exposed to a bilingual environment were better at learning the new rule and at anticipating where the target image would appear. This is difficult because they needed to learn a new association and replace a successful response with a new contrasting one.

“Infants only know which way to look if they can discriminate between the two pictures that appear in the centre,” said Adler, co-senior author of the study. “They will eventually anticipate the picture appearing on the right, for example, by making an eye movement even before that picture appears on the right. What we found was that the infants who were raised in bilingual environments were able to do this better after the rule is switched than those raised in a monolingual environment.”

Anything that comes through the brain’s processing system interacts with this attentional mechanism, says Adler. Therefore, language as well as visual information can influence the development of the attentional system.

Researchers say the experience of attending to a complex environment in which infants simultaneously process and contrast two languages may account for why infants raised in bilingual environments have greater attentional control than those raised in monolingual environments.

In previous research, bilingual children and adults outperformed monolinguals on some cognitive tasks that require them to switch responses or deal with conflict. The reason for those differences were thought to follow from the ongoing need for bilinguals to select which language to speak. This new study pushes back the explanation to a time before individuals are actively using languages and switching between them.

“What is so ground-breaking about these results, is that they look at infants who are not bilingual yet and who are only hearing the bilingual environment. This is what’s having the impact on cognitive performance,” says Adler.

Abstract of the study:

Bilingualism has been observed to influence cognitive processing across the lifespan but whether bilingual environments have an effect on selective attention and attention strategies in infancy remains an unresolved question. In Study 1, infants exposed to monolingual or bilingual environments participated in an eye‐tracking cueing task in which they saw centrally presented stimuli followed by a target appearing on either the left or right side of the screen. Halfway through the trials, the central stimuli reliably predicted targets’ locations. In Study 2, the first half of the trials consisted of centrally presented cues that predicted targets’ locations; in the second half, the cue–target location relation switched. All infants performed similarly in Study 1, but in Study 2 infants raised in bilingual, but not monolingual, environments were able to successfully update their expectations by making more correct anticipatory eye movements to the target and expressing faster reactive eye latencies toward the target in the post‐switch condition. The experience of attending to a complex environment in which infants simultaneously process and contrast two languages may account for why infants raised in bilingual environments have greater attentional control than those raised in monolingual environments.

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How do children draw themselves? Well, it depends on who’s looking (study)

Past week Andreas Schleicher (OECD) referred to children’s drawings of the future in one of the talks related to the new Trends Shaping Education report. Thinking and using children’s drawings is nothing new, e.g. in a therapeutic setting. A new study does shed an interesting light on what happens when children are asked to draw themselves: children vary how they draw themselves depending on the profession of the audience, and whether or not they are familiar to the child.

This doesn’t mean that these kind of drawings are unusable, but it helps finetuning how they should be interpreted.

From the press release:

It’s the archetypal child’s drawing – family, pet, maybe a house and garden, and the child themselves. Yet how do children represent themselves in their drawings, and does this representation alter according to who will look at the picture?

A research team led by academics from the University of Chichester has examined this issue and found that children’s expressive drawings of themselves vary according to the authority of and familiarity with the adult who will view the picture. The study is published today, 25th January 2019, in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

The results of the study are significant, because it is important to understand children’s drawings for different audiences. Drawings are often used in clinical, forensic, educational and therapeutic situations to garner information about how a child feels and to supplement verbal communication.

The research team worked with 175 children aged eight and nine, 85 boys and 90 girls. The children were arranged in seven groups – one where no audience was specified and six audience groups varying by audience type. These groups represented professionals (policeman, teacher) and men with whom the children were familiar, and those with whom they were not.

The children were invited to draw three pictures of themselves – one as a baseline, one happy and one sad.

The results of the study show that children’s drawings of themselves are more expressive if the audience for those drawings is familiar to the child. Girls drew themselves more expressively than boys.

Some anomalies appeared in the results. For example, boys and girls performed differently in happy and sad drawings for the familiar and unfamiliar policeman groups. Girls showed more expressivity than boys in their happy drawings when the audience was a policeman they knew, whereas boys’ sad drawings showed more expressivity than girls’ in the unfamiliar policeman group. While the authors of the study suggest reasons for this, they see merit in further study.

They also suggest that this current study could be used as the basis for future studies investigating other professional and personal interactions, such as between a doctor and their patient.

The study was led by Dr Esther Burkitt, Reader in Developmental Psychology at the University of Chichester. She commented: “This current study builds on the findings of previous studies carried out by our team. Its findings have implications for the use of children’s drawings by professionals as a means to supplement and improve verbal communication. Being aware that children may draw emotions differently for different professional groups may help practitioners to better understand what a child feels about the topics being drawn. This awareness could provide the basis of a discussion with the child about why they drew certain information for certain people. Our findings indicate that it matters for which profession children think they are drawing themselves, and whether they are familiar with a member of that profession.”

Abstract of the study:

This study investigated whether children’s expressive drawings of themselves vary as a function of audience authority and familiarity. One hundred and seventy‐five children, 85 boys and 90 girls, aged between 8 years 1 months and 9 years 2 months (= 8 years 5 months) were allocated into seven groups: a reference group (= 25), where no audience was specified, and six audience groups (= 25 per group) varying by audience type (policeman vs. teacher vs. man) and familiarity (familiar vs. unfamiliar). They drew baseline then happy and sad drawings of themselves, rated affect towards drawings type, and rated perceived audience authority. Audience familiarity and authority impacted expressive drawing strategy use and this varied by gender. There was higher overall expressive strategy use for happy drawings and for girls, and influences of affect type, familiarity, and authority were found. The implications of children’s perceptions of audience type on their expressive drawings are discussed.

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A study I forgot to blog about: the 8 hour sleep challenge

Sleep is key for learning. Nothing new there. But how can we get students to sleep more? Bring in the 8 hour sleep challenge. It worked, but there is more to it (and the study had a relatively small test group).

From the press release:

Students given extra points if they met “The 8-hour Challenge” — averaging eight hours of sleep for five nights during final exams week — did better than those who snubbed (or flubbed) the incentive, according to Baylor University research.

“Better sleep helped rather than harmed final exam performance, which is contrary to most college students’ perceptions that they have to sacrifice either studying or sleeping. And you don’t have to be an ‘A’ student or have detailed education on sleep for this to work,” said Michael Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

While students who successfully met the sleep challenge received extra points, the “mini-incentive” was not included in the analysis of how well they performed on the finals, stressed Elise King, assistant professor of interior design in Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

“They didn’t just perform well because they received extra points,” she said. “Students know that sacrificing sleep to complete school work is not a healthy choice, but they assume they don’t have a choice, often remarking that there aren’t enough hours in the day for coursework, extracurriculars, jobs, etc. This removes that excuse.”

Research participants included undergraduate interior design students and students in upper-level psychology and neuroscience classes. While the psychology classes emphasized education about sleep, the interior design students did not receive any formal training in sleep. Those who opted to take the challenge wore wristband sleep-monitoring devices for five days to ensure accurate study results.

“The students didn’t need the extra credit to perform better, and they weren’t really better students from the get-go,” Scullin said. “If you statistically correct for whether a student was an A, B, C, or D student before their final exam, sleeping 8 hours was associated with a four-point grade boost — even prior to applying extra credit.”

The collaborative interior design study — “The 8-Hour Challenge: Incentivizing Sleep During End-of-Term Assessments — was published in the Journal of Interior Design. Scullin’s study of psychology students — “The 8-Hour Sleep Challenge During Final Exams Week” — was published in Teaching of Psychology.

Poor sleep is common during finals as students cut back on sleep, deal with more stress, use more caffeine and are exposed to more bright light, all of which may disrupt sleep. Fewer than 10 percent of undergraduates maintain the recommended average of 8 hours a night or even the recommended minimum of 7 hours, previous research shows.

But with incentives, “we can potentially completely reverse the proportion of students meeting minimum sleep recommendations — 7 hours a night — from fewer than 15 percent up to 90 percent,” Scullin said. “Half of students can even meet optimal sleep recommendations of 8 to 9 hours.”

* PSYCHOLOGY STUDENTS

In the study of psychology students, 34 students in two undergraduate courses could earn extra credit if they averaged 8 hours of sleep during final exams week or at least improved upon their sleep from earlier in the semester.

The 24 who opted to take the challenge averaged 8.5 hours of sleep, with 17 meeting the goal. On the final exam, students who slept more than 8 hours nightly performed better than those who opted out or slept less than 7.9 hours. (The incentive was 8 points — the equivalent of 1 percent of a student’s overall class grade.)

“It’s worth noting that one student who had a D-plus grade before the final but slept more than 8 hours a week during finals week, remarked that it was the ‘first time my brain worked while taking an exam,'” Scullin said.

* INTERIOR DESIGN STUDENTS

In the interior design study challenge, students earned credit (10 points on a 200-point project) if they averaged 8 or more hours a night but received no grade change if they averaged 7 to 7.9 hours a night.

Of the 27 students enrolled in the program, 22 attempted the challenge. Compared with a group of 22 students who did not try for the extra points, very few (9 percent) averaged 8 hours or even 7 hours (14 percent).

The 8 hour challenge increased the percentage of 8 and 7 hour sleepers to 59 percent and 86 percent respectively. Students who took part in the challenge slept an average of 98 minutes more per night compared to students who were not offered the incentive but were monitored.

“Critically, the additional sleep did not come at a cost to project performance,” King said. “Students who showed more consistent sleep performed better than those who had less consistent sleep. And students who achieved the challenge performed as well or better than those who did not take the challenge.”

In a study of sleep and creativity done in 2017, King and Scullin found that interior design students with highly variable sleep habits — cycling between “all-nighters” and “catch-up” nights — had decreased cognition in attention and creativity, especially with major projects. Design students customarily complete finals projects rather than final exams.

“Whether or not they ‘pull an all-nighter,’ when students cut their sleep, the effects are obvious,” King said. “They have trouble paying attention during class, and they aren’t as productive during studio time.”

She noted that there is a cultural acceptability — at least in design professions — related to sleep deprivation, thanks in part to the notion of the “tortured artist” who finds inspiration in the wee hours.

“Some fields might find it unprofessional, but for many years, in design, sacrificing sleep was viewed as a rite of passage. That’s something we’re trying to change,” King said. “Even during stressful deadline weeks, students can maintain healthy sleep habits.”

“To be successful at the challenge, students need to manage their time better during the day. Getting more sleep at night then allows them to be more efficient the next day,” Scullin said. “By training students in their first year of college, if not earlier, that they can sleep well during finals week without sacrificing performance, we may help to resolve the ‘global sleep epidemic’ that plagues students in America and abroad.”

Abstract of the study:

Many students and educators know that sleep is important to learning, yet there exists a gap between their knowledge and behavior. For example, fewer than 10% of students sleep 8 hr before final exams. In the context of two undergraduate courses on sleep (N = 34), students could earn extra credit if they averaged ≥8.0 hr of sleep during final exams week. Sleep/wake patterns were monitored objectively using actigraphy. The 24 students who opted in to the challenge averaged 8.5 hr of sleep (n = 17 succeeded). Short sleep (≤6.9 hr) occurred on only 11% of nights, significantly less than early-semester baseline (51%) and comparison group (65%) data. On the final exam, students who slept ≥8.0 hr performed better than students who opted out or slept ≤7.9 hr, even after controlling for prefinal grades. The 8-hr sleep challenge provides proof of principle that many students can maintain optimal sleep while studying, without sacrificing test performance.

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Socioeconomic status and the brain

This new study is a new argument pro helping parents and kids in low socioeconomic statuses when the kids are as young as possible as the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and brain anatomy seems to be mostly stable from childhood to early adulthood. So help those families and kids before they turn 5.

From the press release:

Cassidy McDermott, Armin Raznahan, and colleagues analyzed brain scans of the same individuals collected over time between five and 25 years of age. Comparing this data to parental education and occupation and each participants’ intelligence quotient (IQ) allowed the researchers to demonstrate positive associations between SES and the size and surface area of brain regions involved in cognitive functions such as learning, language, and emotions. In particular, this is the first study to associate greater childhood SES with larger volumes of two subcortical regions — the thalamus and striatum — thereby extending previous SES research that has focused on its relationship to the cortex.

Finally, the researchers identify brain regions underlying the relationship between SES and IQ. A better understanding of these relationships could clarify the processes by which SES becomes associated with a range of life outcomes, and ultimately inform efforts to minimize SES-related variation in health and achievement.

Abstract of the study:

Childhood socioeconomic status (SES) impacts cognitive development and mental health, but its association with human structural brain development is not yet well-characterized. Here, we analyzed 1243 longitudinally-acquired structural MRI scans from 623 youth (299 female/324 male) to investigate the relation between SES and cortical and subcortical morphology between ages 5 and 25 years. We found positive associations between SES and total volumes of the brain, cortical sheetnd four separate subcortical structures. These associations were stable between ages 5 and 25. Surface-based shape analysis revealed that higher SES is associated with areal expansion of (i) lateral prefrontalnterior cingulate, lateral temporalnd superior parietal cortices and (ii) ventrolateral thalamicnd medial amygdalo-hippocampal sub-regions. Meta-analyses of functional imaging data indicate that cortical correlates of SES are centered on brain systems subserving sensorimotor functions, language, memorynd emotional processing. We further show that anatomical variation within a subset of these cortical regions partially mediates the positive association between SES and IQ. Finally, we identify neuroanatomical correlates of SES that exist above and beyond accompanying variation in IQ. While SES is clearly a complex construct which likely relates to development through diverse, non-deterministic processes, our findings elucidate potential neuroanatomical mediators of the association between SES and cognitive outcomes.

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New study shows a sad connection between report cards and child abuse

Today 2 of my sons received their report cards while one is still waiting. He’s a bit nervous, but luckily not afraid of how we will react. A new American study shows that this often a different case, reporting based on an analysis that included 1,943 cases of verified child physical abuse, calls into a child abuse hotline that resulted in verified cases came in at a higher rate on Saturdays when report cards were released on Fridays…

The study in short:

his study used a complex method to analyze report card release dates and cases of child physical abuse called into a hotline and verified by Florida’s child welfare agency for elementary school children during an academic year. In an analysis that included 1,943 cases of verified child physical abuse, calls that resulted in verified cases came in at a higher rate on Saturdays when report cards were released on Fridays. Possible reasons to explain why are speculative and require further study. The study is limited by its focus only on public school data and data only on physical abuse that resulted in calls to a state hotline.

Abstract of the study:

Importance  Corporal punishment is a leading risk factor for physical abuse. Strong anecdotal evidence from physicians and other professionals working in child protection suggest that punishment-initiated physical abuse for school-aged children increases after release of report cards. However, no empirical examination of this association has occurred.

Objective  To examine the temporal association between school report card release and incidence rates (IRs) of physical abuse.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This retrospective study reviewed calls to a state child abuse hotline and school report card release dates across a single academic year in Florida. Data were collected in a 265-day window from September 8, 2015, to May 30, 2016, in the 64 of 67 Florida counties with report card release dates available (16 960 days). Participants included all children aged 5 to 11 years for whom calls were made. A total of 1943 verified cases of physical abuse were reported in the study period in the 64 counties. Data were analyzed from October 2017 through May 2018.

Exposures  School report cards release across a single academic year, measured daily by county.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Daily counts of calls to a child abuse hotline that later resulted in agency-verified incidents of child physical abuse across a single academic year by county.

Results  During the academic year, 167 906 calls came in to the child abuse hotline for children aged 5 to 11 years; 17.8% (n = 29 887) of these calls were suspected incidents of physical abuse, and 2017 (6.7%) of these suspected incidents were later verified as cases of physical abuse before excluding the 3 counties with no release dates available. Among the 1943 cases included in the analysis (58.9% males [n = 1145]; mean [SD] age, 7.69 [1.92] years), calls resulting in verified reports of child physical abuse occurred at a higher rate on Saturdays after a Friday report card release compared with Saturdays that do not follow a Friday report card release (IR ratio, 3.75; 95% CI, 1.21-11.63; P = .02). No significant association of report card release with IRs was found for any other days of the week.

Conclusion and Relevance  This association of school report card release and physical abuse appears to illustrate a unique systems-based opportunity for prevention.

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Sad thing we still have to discuss this: spanking does more harm than good

It seems so obvious, but a new study confirms that spanking children is a bad idea and even harmful for children on a more global scale than previously known.

From the press release:

Most research on how spanking affects children has involved studying families in high-income countries, such as the United States and Canada, but less was known about how spanking affects children in low- and middle-income countries–or developing countries.

Spanking is one of the most common forms of child discipline used by parents worldwide.

The new international research used data collected by UNICEF in 62 countries–representing nearly one-third of the world’s countries–and demonstrated that caregivers’ reports of spanking were related to lower social development among 215,885 3- and 4-year-old children.

A parent or caregiver was asked in person if the child gets along well with other children; if the child hits, kicks or bites others; and if the child gets distracted easily. The question about spanking concerned the physical discipline used within the last month with the child or their sibling.

One-third of the respondents indicated they believed physical punishment is necessary to bring up, raise or educate a child properly. Among the children studied, 43 percent were spanked, or resided in a home where another child was spanked.

A child’s social development suffered in both cases in which he or she was spanked or during times when a sibling had been spanked, the study showed.

“It appears that in this sample … spanking may do more harm than good,” said Garrett Pace, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student of social work and sociology.

Pace also noted that “reductions in corporal punishment might do a great deal to reduce the burden of children’s mental health and improve child development outcomes globally.”

More effort to create policies that discourage spanking has occurred globally. In fact, 54 countries have banned the use of corporal punishment, which can only benefit children’s well-being long term, Pace and colleagues said.

Abstract of the study:

Spanking is one of the most common forms of child discipline used by parents around the world. Research on children in high-income countries has shown that parental spanking is associated with adverse child outcomes, yet less is known about how spanking is related to child well-being in low- and middle-income countries. This study uses data from 215,885 children in 62 countries from the fourth and fifth rounds of UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) to examine the relationship between spanking and child well-being. In this large international sample which includes data from nearly one-third of the world’s countries, 43% of children were spanked, or resided in a household where another child was spanked, in the past month. Results from multilevel models show that reports of spanking of children in the household were associated with lower scores on a 3-item socioemotional development index among 3- and 4-year-old children. Country-level results from the multilevel model showed 59 countries (95%) had a negative relationship between spanking and socioemotional development and 3 countries (5%) had a null relationship. Spanking was not associated with higher socioemotional development for children in any country. While the cross-sectional association between spanking and socioemotional development is small, findings suggest that spanking may be harmful for children on a more global scale than was previously known.

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Some skills needed for literacy may be developed in infancy: complex babble linked with better reading

A study published in PLOSOne is again something rather nice to know than showing us something new to do, infants capable of complex babble may grow into stronger readers, except it may help us in a future to identify reading disabilities at an early age.

From the press release:

Infants’ early speech production may predict their later literacy, according to a study published October 10, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Kelly Farquharson from Florida State University and colleagues.

Children with difficulties in identifying letters are more likely to develop reading impairments, but such difficulties cannot be uncovered until the child is 3 to 5 years old. The authors of the present study investigated whether assessing language ability even earlier, by measuring speech complexity in infancy, might predict later difficulties.

The authors tracked nine infants from English-speaking US families between the ages of 9 and 30 months. They recorded each infant’s babble as the child interacted with their primary caregiver, looking specifically at the consonant-vowel (CV) ratio, a demonstrated measure of speech complexity. The authors then met each child again when they were six years old to examine their ability to identify letters, a known predictor of later reading impairment.

They found that those children with more complex babble as infants performed better when identifying specific letters in their later reading test. Though the sample size was relatively small and all 9 children participating in this study all developed normally (meaning the range of variability was restricted), these results may indicate a link between early speech production and literacy skill.

The authors suggest that in the future, the complexity of infant babble may be useful as an earlier predictor of reading impairments in children than letter identification tests, enabling parents and professionals to earlier identify and treat children at risk of reading difficulties.

Farquharson adds: “This paper provides exciting data to support an early and robust connection between speech production and later literacy skills. There is clinical utility in this work – we are moving closer to establishing behavioral measures that may help us identify reading disabilities sooner.”

Abstract of the study:

Letter identification is an early metric of reading ability that can be reliability tested before a child can decode words. We test the hypothesis that early speech production will be associated with children’s later letter identification. We examined longitudinal growth in early speech production in 9 typically developing children across eight occasions, every 3 months from 9 months to 30 months. At each occasion, participants and their caregivers engaged in a speech sample in a research lab. This speech sample was transcribed for a variety of vocalizations, which were then transformed to calculate consonant-vowel ratio. Consonant-vowel ratio is a measure of phonetic complexity in speech production. At the age of 72 months, children’s letter knowledge was measured. A multilevel model including fixed quadratic age change and a random intercept was estimated using letter identification as a predictor of the growth in early speech production from 9–30 months, measured by the outcome of consonant-vowel ratio. Results revealed that the relation between early speech production and letter identification differed over time. For each additional letter that a child identified, their consonant-vowel ratio at the age of 9 months increased. As such, these results confirmed our hypothesis: more robust early speech production is associated with more accurate letter identification.

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Another take on bilingualism: children take longer to learn two languages at once compared to just one

You can often read about the benefits of being bilingual from a young age. This study does take another turn and show it’s a bit more complicated than that for sure also for migrant children. How complicated?

Bilingual children from immigrant families often lag monolingual children in the development of the majority language while also having poor skills in their heritage language, even when SES is controlled. This may reflect, in part, internal limits to how rapidly children can learn two languages simultaneously, but the circumstances in which children are exposed to two languages in the immigrant context are far from a perfect test of that internal capacity. Monolingual children with native parents and bilingual children in immigrant families differ in ways besides the number of languages they hear. In bilingual environments, children hear less of each language, and the quality of their exposure to the majority language is often less because their sources of that language may have limited proficiency. In addition, bilingual children in bilingual environments can choose the language they speak, and when one language is more prestigious than the other, they choose the more prestigious language.

From the press release:

Worldwide immigration patterns are increasing the number of children who grow up exposed to two languages, a circumstance that provides numerous benefits as well as some challenges. Because bilingual children’s input is divided between two languages – the majority language of the country where they reside and their family’s heritage language – on average, they receive less input in each language compared to children who receive all of their input in just one language. As a result, bilingual children develop each language at a slower pace because their learning is spread across two languages.

A leading psychologist and language development expert at Florida Atlantic University says, “Don’t worry,” and reassures parents, teachers and clinicians that it is perfectly normal for bilingually developing children to take longer because they are learning more. In a review published in the journal Child Development Perspectives, Erika Hoff, Ph.D., a psychology professor and director of the Language Development Laboratory in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, examined research on the course of dual language growth among children in immigrant families. She focused on children exposed to two languages from birth and identified quantity of input, quality of input, and children’s use of language as factors that influence language growth.

Hoff’s review of the research shows strong evidence that the rate of language growth is influenced by the quantity of language input. Her findings challenge the belief, held in and out of scientific circles that children are linguistic sponges who quickly absorb the language or languages they hear and will become proficient speakers of two languages so long as they are exposed to both at an early age.

“One clear implication of studies of bilingual children is that we should not expect them to be two monolinguals in one,” said Hoff. “The bilingual child, like the bilingual adult, will develop competencies in each language ‘to the extent required by his or her needs and those of the environment.'”

The findings indicate that the quality of language exposure is also important. Hoff argues that immigrant parents should use the language they are most comfortable speaking when they interact with their children. They should not be told to use English just because it is the language of the host country if their own English proficiency is limited.

“To support bilingual development fully, children’s exposure to each language should come from highly proficient speakers,” Hoff said.

The research shows that children also need to use a language in order to acquire it. In bilingual environments, children can choose the language they speak, and when one language is more prestigious than the other, they choose the more prestigious language. Bilingual development is supported when both the host and heritage languages are valued by society and children have opportunities that encourage them to use both languages.

Prior research has shown that French-English bilingualism is achieved more successfully in Canada than is Spanish-English bilingualism in the United States, and that the equal prestige of the two languages in Canada plays a role. In Canada, children also may have greater access to highly proficient speakers of both languages because both languages are national languages.

“Children from immigrant families need strong skills in the majority language to succeed in school, and they need skills in the heritage language to communicate well with their parents and grandparents,” said Hoff. “Bilingualism is an asset for interpersonal, occupational, and cognitive reasons. Children who hear two languages from birth can become bilingual, even if that outcome is not guaranteed.”

Hoff’s findings suggest that bilingual children’s competencies, in addition to reflecting their communicative needs, also reflect the quantity and quality of their exposure to each language.

“These findings repeat conclusions from studies of monolingual development that language acquisition depends on the quantity and quality of language experience and the opportunity to participate in conversation,” said Hoff.

Abstract of the study:

Early exposure to two languages is widely thought to guarantee successful bilingual development. Contradicting that belief, children in bilingual immigrant families who grow up hearing a heritage language and a majority language from birth often reach school age with low levels of skill in both languages. This outcome cannot be explained fully by influences of socioeconomic status. In this article, I summarize research that helps explain the trajectories of observed dual language growth among children in immigrant families in terms of the amount and quality of their language exposure as well as their own language use.

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Children have a nuanced understanding of fairness from a young age

This study reminded me of one of the many little experiments that Piaget did and while there has been many issues with the research of the infamous biologist and psychologist from Switzerland, the age group in this experiment isn’t that dissimilar…

From the press release:

New University of Michigan research indicates that children as young as 5 incorporate market concerns–the idea that what you get is in line with what you give or offer–into their decision making, and increasingly do so with age.

Some people think children are innately selfish–they want to get goodies for themselves. Other people think children are innately altruistic–they care about helping others. Most people think children are both.

“The trick is knowing when and how to balance self interest and concern for others–what is appropriate in different circumstances,” said lead author Margaret Echelbarger, a recent U-M psychology doctoral graduate.

By studying how children engage in different types of exchanges, researchers can discern the origins of these behaviors, as well as their developmental course.

“This in turn tells us a bit more about ourselves as adults,” Echelbarger said.

The U-M research included 195 children ages 5-10 and 60 adults helping a giver distribute stickers to friends. They distributed stickers equally between friends when offers were the same, but unequally when different offers were made.

There were times when the participants distributed more stickers to the friends offering more money, which meant children–as they aged–were willing to abandon equal norms for distribution. More specifically, older children distributed more stickers to friends who paid more even when the other friend wanted to pay but couldn’t.

“These findings are especially interesting in light of young children’s limited exposure to market/economic instruction,” Echelbarger said. “We show that, from a young age, children are developing an understanding of the ‘rules’ of market exchanges.”

Echelbarger and colleagues also found that children are sensitive to the reasons underlying the different offers. Children penalize recipients refusing to pay more than recipients willing but unable to pay, she said.

The findings, which appear in Child Development, are also consistent with prior research that children incorporate equity concerns, such as merit and need, into their distribution decisions.

Abstract of the study:

Children are sensitive to a number of considerations influencing distributions of resources, including equality, equity, and reciprocity. We tested whether children use a specific type of reciprocity norm—market norms—in which resources are distributed differentially based strictly on amount offered in return. In two studies, 195 children 5–10 years and 60 adults distributed stickers to friends offering same or different amounts of money. Overall, participants distributed more equally when offers were the same and more unequally when offers were different. Although sensitive to why friends offered different amounts of money, children increasingly incorporated market norms into their distributions with age, as the oldest children and adults distributed more to those offering more, irrespective of the reasons provided.

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