Category: Developmental

The first study to see if fussy-eating children grow into fussy-eating adults

GettyImages-599487120.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Fussy eating – also referred to as “selective eating” in scholarly research – is incredibly common among children, with upper estimates placing the prevalence at 50 per cent. Despite this, many parents understandably fret when their kids avoid a lot of foods, won’t try new things and/or will only eat certain meals. They worry whether their child is getting enough vitamins and if their child’s fussiness is some kind of precursor to later more serious eating problems.

A new, small study in Eating Behaviors is the first to document how fussy eating develops in the same individuals over time into early adulthood and may provide a crumb (sorry) of comfort for anxious parents. It’s true that 60 per cent of fussy eating children in the study were also fussy eaters at age 23, but fussy eating young adults were no more likely to report signs of eating disorder than their non-fussy peers.

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Against expectations, no evidence that toddlers with older siblings have superior Theory of Mind

GettyImages-527470944.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

When young kids play together there’s often a lot of negotiation involved: “That’s my bunny”, “No, it’s mine”, “OK, you have it”. There’s talk of emotion: “Why are you crying?”, “You took my bunny”. And role-play: “You be baddie”, “No, I’m super-bunny”. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising then that a recent meta-analysis found that young kids, aged 3 to 7, with more siblings have superior Theory of Mind (understanding other people’s mental states and perspectives – an important ability that benefits social and academic performance at school).

A new study in Journal of Cognition and Development asks whether the sibling advantage begins as early as toddlerhood, and whether it matters if a toddler’s sibling is older or younger. In fact, against expectations, toddlers with an older sibling showed no Theory of Mind advantage compared with only children, and toddlers with a younger sibling actually performed worse.

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Rural Cameroonian pre-schoolers just aced Mischel’s iconic Marshmallow Test

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It’s the first time that this iconic test of children’s self-control has been used in a traditional non-Western culture

By Christian Jarrett

Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Test of self-control is one of psychology’s iconic experimental set-ups. First conducted in the 1960s, Mischel told the kids he tested that if they managed to resist eating the marshmallow in front of them until he returned (usually about 15 minutes later), they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.

The children varied greatly in their powers of restraint and those who performed better displayed some cute distraction strategies, such as singing to themselves and covering their eyes. Perhaps most important, those kids who performed well at the test tended to do well in later life too, in terms of their health, education and career success. Given the huge impact this research has had, it’s amazing that it’s never been exported to a non-Western setting. Until now.

In a new paper in Child Development, Bettina Lamm and her colleagues have compared the performance of 125 4-year-olds from urban middle-class Germany with the performance of dozens of 4-year-olds from the Nso farming families of rural Cameroon. The Cameroonian kids aced the test, performing much better than their German peers. What’s more, their success seemed to be tied to the traditional, strict, hierarchical culture in which they’d been raised. The results challenge Western assumptions about what constitutes an ideal parenting style, and they provide another powerful demonstration of the urgent need for psychology to conduct more research outside of its usual Western focus.

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New findings suggest it might be better to read toddlers an e-book than a print book

Mother and daughter using a digital tablet at bedtimeBy Emma Young

Reading with a young child is important for their language development and early literacy skills. But does it matter if you read from an electronic book (e-book) or traditional print? As any parent knows, toddlers are generally keen on screens. So the finding, from a new study in Frontiers in Psychology, that very young children enjoy e-books more than print picture books, may not come as a huge surprise – but these additional findings might: both parents and toddlers behaved differently when reading electronic vs. print picture books. And the toddlers who read the e-books learned more.

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Psychologists have shown that it’s possible to train one-year-olds’ attention skills

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What’s the best age for a child start school? Four, as in the UK? Six or seven, as in Sweden? What about one?

By Emma Young

According to a new paper in Developmental Psychology, children as young as 12-months-old can be taught to get better at focusing their attention – which may help with their acquisition of language, and other types of learning. This new study involved typical, healthy infants. But the findings could also be taken as support for the idea that interventions aimed at children showing problems with attention (who may go on to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, for example) can, and should, start at a very young age.

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Study finds 4-year-olds are considerably better than adults at remembering rhyming verse

Child having smile in a studioBy Christian Jarrett

Many parents will attest to their young children’s remarkable knack for remembering rhymes, often claiming that their children’s abilities exceed their own. Can this really be true? In nearly all other contexts, adult memory is known to be superior to that of children, for obvious reasons, including the immaturity of children’s brain development and their lack of sophisticated mnemonic strategies.

A small study in Developmental Science has put pre-literate four-year-olds’ memory abilities to the test, finding that they outperformed their parents, and a comparison group of young adults, in their ability to recall a previously unfamiliar short rhyme: “The Radish-nosed King”.

“We argue that children are better than adults at recalling verse because they exercise the skill more in order to participate in the transmission of their culture through songs and stories, poems and taunts,” the researchers said.

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A five-minute chat with preschoolers about their past or future selves helps them make better decisions

Little girl's legs in glitter shoes on snowBy Christian Jarrett

There could be an Arctic blizzard blowing outside for all little Mary cares. The fact is, she’s hot from running around indoors, and no matter how much you try to explain to Mary that her future self – the one that’s about to go walking in the cold – would really appreciate that she put her coat on, Mary, like most kids aged under five, finds it very difficult to step outside of the present and consider her future needs.

While psychologists have already spent a lot of time demonstrating the limitations of young children’s ability to plan for the future, until now they’ve not looked much at whether it’s possible to target these “prospective abilities”. However, a new study in Developmental Psychology has done that, showing that a mere five-minute chat about their recent past or future selves seems to help preschoolers remember to do things in the future, and to “time travel” mentally, so that they make better decisions about their forthcoming needs.

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Risk-taking teens’ brains seem to disregard past bad outcomes

Two Male Freerunners Jumping Over a Wall Performing ParkourBy guest blogger Lucy Foulkes

Adolescents take more risks than adults: they are more likely to binge drink, have casual sex, commit crimes and have serious car accidents. In fact, adolescence is a paradox because it is a time of peak physical fitness, but also the time when people are most likely to be injured or killed in an accident. For this reason, it’s critical to understand what drives teenagers to take more risks. To date, many explanations of teenage risk taking have focused on the positive side of these behaviours: the rewarding “kick” that comes from taking a risk that ends well. Some studies have shown that teenagers experience more of this rewarding feeling, and this contributes to the increased risk taking seen at this age.

Fewer studies have considered how teenagers respond when risks turn out badly. This is important because all our previous experiences, both good and bad, affect our subsequent behaviour. If we make a risky decision like gambling money, and it pays off, it’s more likely we’ll decide to gamble again in the near future. Equally, if we take a gamble and it turns out badly, we’ll probably be a bit more reserved next time. But it turns out that some teenagers don’t respond like this: according to a new study in NeuroImage, some of them do not adjust their behavior so readily when things go wrong, and this may be linked to a distinct pattern of activation in their brains.

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Circle time rituals help children beat the Marshmallow Test of self control

Group of kids repeat gesture after the teacherBy Christian Jarrett

Sweet, old-fashioned circle time rituals involve young children sitting in a circle with a teacher and copying his or her specific actions as closely as possible. These rituals can seem a bit out of place in today’s culture with its emphasis on the importance of independent thinking, and the ubiquity of interactive educational games employing the latest beeps and whistles of technology. But a new study in Child Development says there is something about the conformity and attention to detail in ritualistic games that makes them a highly effective way to improve children’s executive functioning (their mental nimbleness) and self-control.

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American women seem to be becoming less stereotypically feminine and more dominant

we_can_do_itBy Christian Jarrett

True gender equality may be a work in progress, but since the Women’s Liberation Movement beginning in the 1950s and 60s, there has been a lot of positive change, at least in most industrialised nations: a shift towards women having more control over whether and when to have children, for example, and increased opportunities in education and careers, and less tolerance of sexism (though of course it hasn’t gone away). How might these cultural and social changes have influenced women, in terms of how much they act in stereotypically “feminine” ways?

A new study by Constance Jones and her colleagues at California State and San Francisco State Universities in the Journal of Adult Development tried to find out by comparing two cohorts of women, one born in the 1920s and the other featuring “Baby Boomers” born in the 1950s. The findings support past work that’s shown how women tend to change through their lives, and they provide evidence for a generation effect: over time, at least in California, women seem to be becoming less stereotypically feminine – that is, less deferential, and more confident and ambitious.

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