In 1995, a seminal book was published suggesting that children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were exposed to 30 million fewer words than richer children by the age of 4 — the so-called “word gap”. The idea is now widespread and has informed early childhood policy in the United States (though the findings are more contentious than this ubiquity might suggest).
But why might these kids be exposed to fewer words? A new study from a team at the University of California, Berkeley, finds that worries about financial insecurity reduced the amount that caregivers spoke to their small children, suggesting that these concerns themselves could be at least partly responsible for the word gap.
If proof of the existence or otherwise of a god-like deity was available, would you want to see it? What if you had access to a file that revealed whether your partner had ever been unfaithful? And would you take a new genetic test that would indicate whether you have a mutation linked to an incurable disease?
“All men, by nature, desire to know,” wrote Aristotle, more than 2,000 years ago. In fact, as the authors of a new paper in Psychology and Aging point out, philosophers have long viewed people as having a thirst for knowledge, and a drive to resolve uncertainty. However, as Ralph Hertwig at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany and his colleagues also note, there are times when we prefer not to know the truth, and even bury our heads in the sand. Older people are often seen as being more prone to doing this. And the team’s research now suggests that this is indeed the case: people aged over 51 were more likely than younger people to choose to remain ignorant of information that would have an emotional impact on them — perhaps a positive impact, but perhaps a negative one.
This is Episode 27 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.
At Latitude Festival in Suffolk in July, The Psychologist Editor Dr Jon Sutton hosted a conversation in The Listening Post with Greta Defeyter, Professor of Developmental Psychology and founder and Director of the “Healthy Living” Lab at Northumbria University. An expert on food insecurity, social injustice, school feeding programmes and holiday hunger, Professor Defeyter considered why children go hungry, what we can do about it, and how her own experiences of poverty have shaped her.
As children head back to school, teachers and parents will of course be concerned about kids catching up on their education after the Covid-19 lockdowns. But, as many psychologists have pointed out, they need to catch up on play, too. So what does the research tell us about the need for and the importance of play?
The world is full of fascinating opportunities to learn. But with so many different topics for children to explore, why do they pick certain paths? In a new paper in Psychological Science, a team from Rutgers University looks closely at what drives children’s curiosity. They find that children are motivated to learn more about a topic when there is a gap in their knowledge that they want to fill. The results suggest that for young children there is a sweet spot for learning, when they already know enough to find a topic interesting, but not so much that it becomes boring.
There are multiple risk factors for self-harm, including a history of abuse, trauma, physical and mental illness, and bullying. Identifying these factors is a key part of prevention, ensuring that those at risk receive appropriate support as early as possible — but despite this, predicting who may end up engaging in self-harming behaviour is still tricky.
But we may be able to identify these risks earlier than we thought, a new study from a University of Cambridge team suggests. Stepheni Uh and colleagues report that some at-risk adolescents could be identified ten years before they self-harm — offering what the team says is an “extended window” during which help and support can be offered.
Multiple factors influence how we perform educationally: the way we’re taught, our particular needs and how they’re met, our parents, and our socio-economic background to name a few. Gaps in attainment can start from very early on: some children have already fallen behind before the age of seven.
But what about how much we enjoy school? A new study in npj Science of Learning, led by the University of Bristol’s Tim Morris, looks at this relatively under-explored factor. And the team finds that enjoyment at the age of six has a significant impact on achievement, which was visible even years later when participants took their GCSEs.
A striking paper in Psychological Science in 2018 revealed consistent evidence for the “liking gap” — that other people like us more than we think. Now, for the first time, researchers have looked at how this phenomenon arises during childhood. The study, led by Wouter Wolf at Duke University, US, on children aged 4 to 11, found that the liking gap emerged by around 5, and then grew wider with age. The findings have theoretical but also practical implications: parents and teachers can reassure kids that their judgements about what their peers think of them are likely to be overly negative, which could be of particular help to those who are worried about their relationships with classmates.
But at what point do young kids actually intervene when they see someone else acting fairly or unfairly? According to a series of studies in Cognition, before they’re even one and a half years old children will reward someone for being fair — though they don’t yet punish unfair behaviour.
Three people are walking down the street, two women and one man. One of the women trips and falls. Which of the two observers will feel more empathy for her pain? Hundreds of studies suggest that it’ll be the woman. However, these results almost overwhelmingly come from self-reports. Objective evidence that women genuinely feel more empathy than men is very thin on the ground. This has led to the idea that women report more empathy not because they actually feel it but to conform to societal expectations that they should. However, a new study in Scientific Reports claims to provide evidence that, even when they think no one else is looking or asking, girls show more empathy than boys.