Category: Developmental

Researchers Want To Create Safe, Inclusive Virtual Reality Hangouts For Teens

By Emma L. Barratt

The advent of the internet shifted how we socialise. Chat rooms, forums, and eventually social media platforms opened up new ways to both communicate and express ourselves. Online anonymity, for example, allowed us to be whoever we pleased to anyone with a connection — for better or worse. Psychological research followed this shift, and decades later there are troves of papers on almost every aspect of online interaction you could hope to explore.

As technology continues to march onwards, it’s brought with it increasingly accessible options for socialising in virtual reality (VR). Though VR is by definition virtual, the experiences users have in it are very much real. Since VR’s accessibility is so recent, we currently don’t have good understanding of what users get out of socialising in these spaces, or even a solid grasp of potential risks associated with them. With rapidly increasing uptake, especially in a time of mass isolation, that’s a pretty big blind spot.

However, work by soon-to-be PhD graduate Divine Maloney at Clemson University is beginning to fill this gap. His PhD research has focused primarily on understanding VR social spaces and designing safe, equitable, and fulfilling VR spaces for young users.

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Only Children Are No More Selfish Than Those With Siblings

By Emma Young

Do you think that an only child behaves differently to a kid with siblings? If you do, you’re hardly alone. Stereotypes about only children being spoiled, self-centred “little emperors” abound. In 2019, though, research in Germany concluded that while the idea that only children are more narcissistic is widespread, it’s wrong. Now a team in China has failed to find any evidence for another of the clichés: that only children are more selfish.

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Immature Jokes: What Kids’ Humour Can Tell Us About Their Ability To Empathise

By Emma L. Barratt

There’s nothing less funny than explaining a joke. But analysing humour can actually tell us a lot about the development of sympathy and empathy in children.

Having a joke land is a complex task which requires an in-depth understanding of both the situation and mental state of the person on the receiving end. One audience, for example, might find a joke hilarious, whereas another might find that same joke wildly offensive.

Zeroing in on the appropriate joke, therefore, is likely to require a good amount of empathy. This ability to imagine the thoughts and feelings of your audience is pivotal to humour being well-received, but the relationship between humour and empathy has only been addressed in a handful of studies so far. However, new research from Caitlin Halfpenny and Lucy James at Keele University gives us a window into how empathy shapes humour by taking a look at junior schoolchildren’s use of jokes, and the different humour styles that emerge with different levels of empathy and sympathy.

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Tackling Income Inequality Could Boost Children’s Vocabulary

By Emily Reynolds

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.

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Older People Are More Likely To Avoid Finding Out Information Like Genetic Disease Risk Or Spousal Infidelity

By Emma Young

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.

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Episode 27: The Psychologist Presents… At Latitude Festival 2021 — Child Food Poverty

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. 

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Let The Children Play: Research On The Importance Of Play, Digested

By Emma Young

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?

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Preschool Children Choose To Learn About Topics Where There Are Gaps In Their Knowledge They Want To Fill

By Emily Reynolds

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.

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Some Teenagers At Risk Of Self-Harming Can Be Identified A Decade In Advance

By Emily Reynolds

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.

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Children Who Enjoy School Aged Six Tend To Get Better Grades Ten Years Later

By Emily Reynolds

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.

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