Category: Developmental

A New Take On The Marshmallow Test: Children Wait Longer For A Treat When Their Reputation Is At Stake

 By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

Most people — even the non-psychologists among us — have at some point heard of the legendary marshmallow test, which measures the ability of preschool children to wait for a sweet treat. Researchers have found that the amount of time children are willing to wait for their marshmallow is surprisingly predictive of various life outcomes, such as educational attainment during adolescence, as well as social competence and resilience to stress throughout development. A recent fMRI brain scan study even found that people’s performance as kids is related to their ability to suppress their impulses, and is reflected in neurological signatures of cognitive control, 40 years later.

The test is clearly tapping into something crucial that shapes children’s futures to a considerable degree. But what exactly is it? Does the test  capture an ability that is akin to intelligence or intrinsic cognitive control, or might performance be a marker of some other underlying factor — such as the privilege of living in a supportive home where children can develop the trust capacity that enables them to wait for a reward?

The list of potential explanations is long — and now it has received a surprising new addition from a study recently published in Psychological Science. Fengling Ma from Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and colleagues have discovered that children can radically improve their performance on the marshmallow test if they believe their social reputation might be at stake — an effect that begins to emerge as early as three years of age.

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Here’s How The Experience Of Regret Develops Through Childhood

By Emma Young

Edith Piaf famously regretted nothing. But regret is an important emotion, because it can lead us to avoid repeating mistakes, or to heal damaged relationships. It’s also an emotion that many of us feel on a regular basis. “Regret is ubiquitous and powerful,” write Teresa McCormack at Queen’s University Belfast and colleagues in a new paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science. “It is one of the most frequently mentioned emotions in conversation and affects a huge variety of everyday choices.”

Though there’s been plenty of work on regret in adults, much less is known about how it develops in children. In this new review, McCormack and her colleagues consider what we do know about its development, and outline the major gaps still left to fill. There are implications not just for the basic understanding of regret but also for informing educators in nurseries and schools. After all, even young children are expected to feel bad about harming others — but, depending on their age, there are limits to just what they can feel in such a scenario.

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Even Imaginary Barriers Can Prevent Kids From Cheating On Tests

By Emma Young

How can you discourage kids from copying each other on tests? You could always use a simple frame to separate them, or even a ruler to draw an imaginary line between their desks. When these behavioural “nudge” techniques were used in new research published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, they significantly reduced cheating among 5 to 6-year-olds. This shows “that even seemingly unremarkable features of children’s environments can nudge them to act honestly,” write the researchers, led by Li Zhao at Hangzhou Normal University in China.

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Adults Put Off Crucial Conversations About Race Because They Mistakenly Think Young Children Won’t Understand

By Emily Reynolds

Conversations about race are not always easy, as the writer Reni Eddo-Lodge has recently explored in her brilliant book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. But they’re no less necessary for it: not talking about racism is simply not an option, particularly for those of us who benefit from structural inequality.

We all have a part to play in this ongoing dialogue — including parents of children growing up in a world full of racial injustice. Previous research has suggested that constructive conversations about race and ethnicity can have positive outcomes for children of all races — increased empathy, an ability to learn about and accept different perspectives, a better understanding of their own identity, and less racial bias.

But a new paper from Jessica Sullivan at Skidmore College and colleagues, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, suggests that those crucial conversations are being delayed — because parents are misjudging their children’s ability to process and understand race.

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Our Ability To Perceive Musical Beat Becomes More Refined Through Childhood

By Emma Young

If you were to play your favourite song right now, I imagine you’d have little difficulty clapping along with the beat. Our appreciation of beat allows us to clap, dance, march and sway in time with a piece of music — or just with each other. As the authors of a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General point out, these behaviours occur spontaneously across human cultures. But while moving to a beat seems effortless, it involves all kinds of perceptual processes.

The team, led by Jessica E. Nave-Blodgett at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, now report that our ability to perceive beat becomes ever more refined and also nuanced through childhood and adolescence. It may seem like an instinctive ability, but it is learned — and training does make it better.

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Babies’ Moods Can Determine How Well They Remember Things They’ve Learned

By Matthew Warren

One of the classic findings in memory research is that we’re better at remembering information when we’re in a similar context to that in which we learned it. This was perhaps most famously demonstrated in a 1975 study, which found that people who learned a list of words while scuba diving had better memory for the words when again underwater, compared to when on land (similarly, those who had learned the list on land were better at remembering it on land).

But it’s not just the external environment that matters: our internal states can also provide memory cues. For instance, people who were intoxicated when learning information were better at recalling that information when drunk than when sober, and there’s also evidence that our recall is better when our mood matches how we felt at learning.

Now a new study published in Child Development has found that the same is true even of babies in their first year of life. The findings have implications for understanding infant memory — and could even help to explain why we can’t remember anything from our early years.

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Here’s How Feelings Of Optimism Change As We Age

By Emily Reynolds

There’s a commonly held notion that young people are more hopeful about the future than any other group — you might have heard this referred to, either positively or negatively, as “youthful optimism”. Even Jane Austen picked up on it: “There is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions”, she wrote in Sense and Sensibility.

But is this actually the case? According to a new study from William J. Chopik and colleagues published in the Journal of Research in Personality, optimism actually continues growing well past youth — and it’s only later in life that it begins to decline.

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Growing Up With Grandparents In The House Can Lead To More Negative Attitudes Towards The Elderly

By Emma Young

What happens if you grow up with a grandparent living in your home? Does the prolonged contact counter prejudices, biases and stereotypes of the elderly? Or might it instead encourage negative perceptions of older people as being slow, angry or sickly, for example?

These are important questions, partly because in some countries, though not all, an increasing number of elderly people are moving in with family members. In the US, for example, 15% of older adults are now living in someone else’s household, up from 7% in 1995.

Now a new paper, published in Social Psychology, by Brian T Smith and Kelly Charlton at the University of North Carolina, suggests that this trend could be causing undesirable outcomes: people in the study who had grown up with an elderly person had significantly lower opinions of the elderly than those who had not. However, these respondents did at least report less anxiety around their own ageing process. Continue reading “Growing Up With Grandparents In The House Can Lead To More Negative Attitudes Towards The Elderly”

What Makes A Good Robot Teacher?

By Emma Young

For young children, the biggest source of knowledge about the world is other people. Unsurprisingly, then, they have all kinds of strategies for deciding whom to trust — only learning from confident adults if that confidence has proven to be justified, for example, and showing more trust in claims made by nice people.

However, our world is increasingly filled with technological devices designed to impart information, and educational robots are being used to teach children languages, maths, science, and more. As Kimberly Brink and Henry Wellman at the University of Michigan write in a new paper, published in Developmental Psychology: “The rapid expansion of robot ‘instructors’ makes it increasingly important to investigate whether and when robots effectively transmit information to children.”

The pair reports on just such an investigation on pre-schoolers, with some fascinating results: to learn well from a robot, it seems that a child has to believe that it has some key human-like attributes. Without these, even a device that reliably gives accurate information is not trusted.

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Santa Is More Real Than Peter Pan: Children Have A “Hierarchy” Of Belief In Fictional Characters

By Emily Reynolds

The creeping realisation that Santa isn’t real can be a watershed moment — not quite an entry into adulthood, but certainly a step in its direction.

But “real” and “not real” are not the only two categories that children have when it comes to cultural figures, according to a new study in PLOS ONE. Rather than a black-and-white model, Rohan Kapitány and colleagues propose a “sensible hierarchy” of belief in various figures, finding that cultural rites and norms for those figures play a big part in its creation.

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