Category Archives: Research

Drawing better than writing for memory retention (for older people for sure)

This study doesn’t surprise me that much. Everybody who read about dual coding knows how drawing can help retention. This study adds to this knowledge by showing that older adults who take up drawing could enhance their memory. Do note while the 3 experiments are interesting and relevant, they only used 3 times 2 groups of 24 participants (24 students, 24 older people).

From the press release:

Researchers from the University of Waterloo found that even if people weren’t good at it, drawing, as a method to help retain new information, was better than re-writing notes, visualization exercises or passively looking at images.

“We found that drawing enhanced memory in older adults more than other known study techniques,” said Melissa Meade, PhD candidate in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo. “We’re really encouraged by these results and are looking into ways that it can be used to help people with dementia, who experience rapid declines in memory and language function.”

As part of a series of studies, the researchers asked both young people and older adults to do a variety of memory-encoding techniques and then tested their recall. Meade conducted this study with Myra Fernandes a Psychology professor in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo and recent UW PhD graduate Jeffrey Wammes.

The researchers believe that drawing led to better memory when compared with other study techniques because it incorporated multiple ways of representing the information–visual, spatial, verbal, semantic and motoric.

“Drawing improves memory across a variety of tasks and populations, and the simplicity of the strategy means that it can be used in many settings,” said Myra Fernandes.

As part of the studies, the researchers compared different types of memory techniques in aiding retention of a set of words, in a group of undergraduate students and a group of senior citizens. Participants would either encode each word by writing it out, by drawing it, or by listing physical attributes related to each item. Later on after performing each task, memory was assessed. Both groups showed better retention when they used drawing rather than writing to encode the new information, and this effect was especially large in older adults.

Retention of new information typically declines as people age, due to deterioration of critical brain structures involved in memory such as the hippocampus and frontal lobes. In contrast, we know that visuospatial processing regions of the brain, involved in representing images and pictures, are mostly intact in normal aging, and in dementia. “We think that drawing is particularly relevant for people with dementia because it makes better use of brain regions that are still preserved, and could help people experiencing cognitive impairment with memory function,” said Meade. “Our findings have exciting implications for therapeutic interventions to help dementia patients hold on to valuable episodic memories throughout the progression of their disease”

Abstract of the study:

Background/Study Context. In a recent study, drawing pictures relative to writing words at encoding has been shown to benefit later memory performance in young adults. In the current study, we sought to test whether older adults’ memory might also benefit from drawing as an encoding strategy. Our prediction was that drawing would serve as a particularly effective form of environmental support at encoding as it encourages a more detailed perceptual representation.

Methods. Participants were presented 30 nouns, one at a time, and asked to either draw a picture or repeatedly write out the word, which was followed by a free recall test for all words (Experiment 1). In Experiment 2, we added an elaborative processing task in which we asked participants to list physical characteristics of the objects. In Experiment 3, we probed recognition memory for the words.

Results. Of the words recalled in Experiment 1, a larger proportion had been drawn than written at encoding, and this effect was larger in older relative to younger adults. In Experiment 2, we demonstrated that drawing improves memory in both younger and older adults more than does an elaborative encoding task consisting of listing descriptive characteristics of the target nouns. In Experiment 3, older and younger adults drew or wrote out words at encoding, and subsequently provided Remember-Know-New recognition memory decisions. We showed that drawing reduced age-related differences in Remember responses.

Conclusions. We suggest that incorporating visuo-perceptual information into the memory trace, by drawing pictures at study, increases reliance of the memory trace on visual sensory regions, which are relatively intact in normal aging, relative to simply writing out or elaborately encoding words. Overall, results indicate that drawing is a highly valuable form of environmental support that can significantly enhance memory performance in older adults.

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Do students benefit from longer school days? (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief with among others, this study:

A study published in Economics of Education Review looks at the evidence from the extended school day (ESD) program in Florida to determine whether students benefit from longer school days.
In 2012, Florida introduced the ESD program, increasing the length of the school day by an hour in the lowest-performing elementary schools in order to provide additional reading lessons. The lessons had to be based on research, adapted for student ability, and include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Schools were selected using school-level reading accountability measures. For this study, David Figlio and colleagues looked at reading scores for all students in Florida between grades 3 and 10 using school administrative data from 2005-06 and 2012-13, and employed a regression discontinuity design to estimate the effect of lengthening the school day, looking at the different performance of schools either side of the cut-off point.
Results indicated that the additional one hour of reading lessons had a positive effect on students’ reading achievement. ESD schools showed an improvement of +0.05 standard deviations on reading test scores in the first year. The annual cost of the ESD program was $300,000-$400,000 per school, or $800 per student.

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About nature versus nurture: the four laws of behavioural genetics

This tweet by Steve Stewart-Williams is so relevant I wanted to share it here on this blog as I know a lot of people who follow my posts aren’t on Twitter.

If you feel angry after reading the first two laws, do read on. Both articles mentioned in the tweet are also must reads.

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A lecture by and a conversation with Steven Pinker: why we should be happier with the world today

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What if a failed replication… somehow fails to replicate?

Have I told you already that science can be messy? If not, welcome to this blog! 2 years ago I posted this replication of the infamous pencil in the mouth study. It has become one of the more well known examples of the replication crisis. But it also spurred a lot of debate. Was the replication really a true replication of the original research?

A new study adds fuel to this debate as it failed to replicate the failed replication. Ok, just kidding, the study is actually showing the original study might have been correct! But we can’t be really sure, as it’s actually even more complicated:

The paradigm diverged from the original facial feedback experiment in several respects. They include the classroom setting in which testing was conducted; the fact that each participant rated two cartoons rather than four; the fact that it featured a within-subjects rather than between- subjects design; the absence of a cover story about piloting a study for future research regarding populations with disabilities to explain the manipulation; the use of a 7-point scale rather than a 10-point scale; the fact that the experiment was part of a classroom lecture about learning (specifically, about the acquisition of conditioned associations) rather than following a line- drawing task; the fact that correct positioning of pens could be monitored only within the limits of a group setting; the fact that participants selected but did not write down their ratings with their pens in their mouths; and the lack of individualized follow-up with participants regarding their beliefs about the experiment, precluding exclusion of participants for suspicions regarding the study goals. (It is notable, however, that when the instructor presented students with their results in the ensuing class, the most commonly verbalized reaction was surprise or disbelief that the manipulation could have possibly affected their ratings.)

It seems the only thing that we seem to know for sure is that more research is needed…

Abstract of this new study:

The facial feedback effect refers to the influence of unobtrusive manipulations of facial behavior on emotional outcomes. That manipulations inducing or inhibiting smiling can shape positive affect and evaluations is a staple of undergraduate psychology curricula and supports theories of embodied emotion. Thus, the results of a Registered Replication Report indicating minimal evidence to support the facial feedback effect were widely viewed as cause for concern regarding the reliability of this effect. However, it has been suggested that features of the design of the replication studies may have influenced the study results. Relevant to these concerns are experimental facial feedback data collected from over 400 undergraduates over the course of 9 semesters. Circumstances of data collection met several criteria broadly recommended for testing the effect, including limited prior exposure to the facial feedback hypothesis, conditions minimally likely to induce self-focused attention, and the use of moderately funny contemporary cartoons as stimuli. Results yielded robust evidence in favor of the facial feedback hypothesis. Cartoons that participants evaluated while holding a pen or pencil in their teeth (smiling induction) were rated as funnier than cartoons they evaluated while holding a pen or pencil in their lips (smiling inhibition). The magnitude of the effect overlapped with original reports. Findings demonstrate that the facial feedback effect can be successfully replicated in a classroom setting and are in line with theories of emotional embodiment, according to which internal emotional states and relevant external emotional behaviors exert mutual influence on one another. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).

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A new review study about Collaborative Problem Solving, still a lot to research

I found this new review study via Jeroen Janssen and it’s quite interesting as it tackles Collaborative Problem Solving and how much is already known about how to advance this. Spoiler: not that much, it seems, while it now is being measured e.g. by PISA.

But first what is it? That is already a bit more difficult question to answer, but I do think this description of what is needed makes it more clear:

…team members must be able to define the problem, understand who knows what on the team, identify gaps in what is known and what is required, integrate these to generate candidate solutions, and monitor progress in achieving the group goals. From the social perspective, the success of a team requires that members establish shared understanding, pursue joint and complementary actions, and coordinate their behavior in service of generating and evaluating solutions.

So what is (un)known? This overview at the end of the article with suggestions for further research, makes a lot more clear:

  1. CPS has been identified as an important skill in the international community and workforce, but recent assessments have revealed that students and adults have low CPS proficiency. This calls for an analysis of CPS mechanisms, frequent problems, and methods of solving these problems. Psychological scientists could play a major role in this broad effort by partnering with stakeholders.
  2. CPS is rarely trained in schools and the workforce, and the existing training is not informed by psychological science. This opens the door to the value of psychological scientists’ being part of national and international efforts drawing from their expertise in science, learning and training.
  3. Psychological scientists have developed a body of empirical research and theory of team science over the years, but much of this work has focused on group learning, work, memory, and decision making rather than CPS per se. We need to sort out how much of the existing research in team science applies to CPS. Psychological scientists are encouraged to direct their focus on CPS per se in the team science research landscape.
  4. Intelligent digital technologies have the potential to automatically analyze large samples of group interactions at multiple levels of language, discourse, and interactivity. This is landmark progress because existing research on teams has had small samples and time-consuming annotation of the interactions. There is a need for psychological scientists to partner with the developers of these technologies to recommend psychological characteristics to track and to scrutinize the validity of automated measures.
  5. A curriculum for training CPS competencies has not been developed and adequately tested. There is a need to develop a program of research on CPS curriculum design for both students and instructors. Psychological scientists are an important asset to generate potential curricula and to test their efficacies.

Abstract of the open access review:

Collaborative problem solving (CPS) has been receiving increasing international attention because much of the complex work in the modern world is performed by teams. However, systematic education and training on CPS is lacking for those entering and participating in the workforce. In 2015, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a global test of educational progress, documented the low levels of proficiency in CPS. This result not only underscores a significant societal need but also presents an important opportunity for psychological scientists to develop, adopt, and implement theory and empirical research on CPS and to work with educators and policy experts to improve training in CPS. This article offers some directions for psychological science to participate in the growing attention to CPS throughout the world. First, it identifies the existing theoretical frameworks and empirical research that focus on CPS. Second, it provides examples of how recent technologies can automate analyses of CPS processes and assessments so that substantially larger data sets can be analyzed and so students can receive immediate feedback on their CPS performance. Third, it identifies some challenges, debates, and uncertainties in creating an infrastructure for research, education, and training in CPS. CPS education and assessment are expected to improve when supported by larger data sets and theoretical frameworks that are informed by psychological science. This will require interdisciplinary efforts that include expertise in psychological science, education, assessment, intelligent digital technologies, and policy.

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Will the effect last? Math on a tablet helps low-performing second graders… for a while

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief with among others, this study that shows how important it can be to check the lasting effects of what you do.

Published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Martin Hassler and colleagues carried out a randomized controlled trial of a mathematics intervention on tablets (iPads).
The trial involved 283 low-performing second graders spread across 27 urban schools in Sweden. The children were randomized to four groups:
  • A math intervention called Chasing Planets, consisting of 261 planets on a space map, each with a unique math exercise (addition or subtraction up to 12). Students practiced for 20 minutes a day.
  • The math intervention combined with working memory training, where students spent an additional 10 minutes each day on working memory tasks.
  • A placebo group who practiced mostly reading tasks on the tablet (again for 20 minutes each day), including Chasing Planets-Reading, which had a similar format to the math intervention.
  • A control group who received no intervention, not even on improving their skills on the tablets.
The intervention lasted for around 20 weeks, with children completing nine measures at pre- and post-test, and then after 6 and 12 months.
Both math conditions scored significantly higher (effect size = +0.53-0.67) than the control and placebo groups on the post-test of basic arithmetic, but not on measures of arithmetic transfer or problem solving. There was no additional benefit of the working memory training. The effects faded at the 6-month follow-up (effect size = +0.18-0.28) and even more so after 12 months (effect size = +0.03-0.13)
IQ was a significant moderator of direct and long-term effects, such that children with lower IQ benefited more than higher IQ students. Socioeconomic factors did not moderate outcomes.

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How do teachers react in class to the Trump-presidency

The past 2 months I have been slowing down a bit on reading new research because too much work. Sorry for that. This study raises some interesting questions related to what people on the old continent would describe as pedagogy. Does a teacher need to political neutral in the classroom or not, and is being neutral an effective teaching tactic. Teaching in Trump times made teachers feeling immense pressure from school leaders and families to respond in a certain way — or not at all — in their classrooms.

From the press release:

“There were many teachers who said they wanted to talk with students about the election and related issues but were also afraid of backlash,” said Dunn, who conducted the nationwide questionnaire of more than 700 educators.

In the survey, some teachers said they felt election-related topics weren’t appropriate in schools or weren’t relevant to their subject. Others felt they shouldn’t, or couldn’t, share their political affiliations or feelings.

But the idea of neutrality, as this research indicates, doesn’t always work in schools, because “education is inherently political,” Dunn said.

She and her co-researchers argue that by remaining neutral, teachers are enacting the opposite of neutrality by “choosing to maintain the status quo and further marginalizing certain groups.”

Dunn and her colleagues, Hannah Carson Baggett of Auburn University and Beth Sondel of the University of Pittsburgh, say the election is just one example of a renewed call for all teachers to consider the ethics of neutrality in the classroom.

“Midterm voting and the impact of results are an opportunity for them to say, ‘I’m not going to be neutral,'” Dunn said. “Knowing what neutrality means, and how it can be a disservice to students and to themselves, teachers can think about how to adapt their curriculum leading up to and after the midterms and other major events.”

Dunn said many educators and administrators believe that because something is happening “outside of school,” it isn’t relevant in the classroom. But that mentality is an injustice, she argues, and undermines the fact that the classroom is part of the real world.

In a separate study using the same data, the scholars studied what teachers did – or didn’t do – in the days after the election. In that study, teachers reported their students were experiencing political trauma.

Abstract of the study:

Guided by perspectives on the sociopolitical contexts of schooling, control of teachers’ curriculum and instruction, and teaching of elections, we use findings from a national questionnaire to explore the contexts that shaped teachers’ pedagogical decision making following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Our findings reveal that classroom, school, district, state, and national contexts often manifested in pressure from colleagues, parents, the administration, the district, and the public. This pressure is reflective of the lack of trust, autonomy, and professionalism for teachers in our current climate. The days immediately following the election revealed new understandings about teachers’ views on neutrality, opportunities for agency within control of teachers’ work, and a call for justice-oriented pedagogy. Implications for teacher education, practice, and research are discussed.

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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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Very interesting and relevant talk by Robert A. Bjork on learning, memory and forgetting (and how bad we are in judging effective learning)

H/T to @triciatailored

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