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August 30, 2013

FOR KIDS: Home on the moon

The first confirmation of alien life might come not from a distant planet, but from a far-flung moon.

Planet hunters have identified hundreds of exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. So far, none seem to support life as we know it.

Most of those worlds are too big and too hot; some are too cold. But many would likely have moons. And just the right moon could be a cradle of alien life, concludes a pair of astronomers.

René Heller of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam, Germany, and Rory Barnes of the University of Washington in Seattle created a checklist of what would make a moon livable.

They published the list in the January Astrobiology. No exomoons have been found yet. But when they are, the checklist will help identify which ones E.T. might call home.

Kirtland Peterson

Music Lessons Enhance the Quality of School Life

FINLAND: A new study, published in Music Education Research, examined whether an extended music education had an impact on pupils' experienced satisfaction with the school.

Nearly a thousand pupils at ten Finnish schools with extended music classes and comparison classes participated on a survey that measured the quality of school life at Year 3 and Year 6.

According to the results, the differences between the extended music classes and the comparison classes were significant in majority of factors at Year 6, namely general satisfaction, opportunities and achievement, identity in the class and the classroom climate.

Kirtland Peterson

Striking Patterns: Skill for Forming Tools and Words Evolved Together

Unlike ancient bones and stone tools, language does not fossilize.

Researchers have to guess about its origins based on proxy indicators.

Does painting cave walls indicate the capacity for language? How about the ability to make a fancy tool?

Yet, in recent years, scientists have made some progress.

A series of brain imaging studies by Dietrich Stout, an archaeologist at Emory University in Atlanta, and Thierry Chaminade, a cognitive neuroscientist at Aix-Marseille University in France, have shown that toolmaking and language use similar parts of the brain, including regions involved in manual manipulations and speech production. Moreover, the overlap is greater the more sophisticated the toolmaking techniques are.

Kirtland Peterson

Spatial Training Boosts Math Skills

Training young children in spatial reasoning can improve their math performance, according to a groundbreaking study from Michigan State University education scholars.

The researchers trained 6- to 8-year-olds in mental rotation, a spatial ability, and found their scores on addition and subtraction problems improved significantly. The mental rotation training involved imagining how two halves of an object would come together to make a whole, when the halves have been turned at an angle (see example).

Past research has found a link between spatial reasoning and math, but the MSU study is the first to provide direct evidence of a causal connection – that when children are trained in one ability, improvement is seen in the other.

Kirtland Peterson

August 28, 2013

Learning a New Language Alters Brain Development

Scientists at The Neuro find important time factor in second-language acquisition

The age at which children learn a second language can have a significant bearing on the structure of their adult brain, according to a new joint study by the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital - The Neuro at McGill University and Oxford University.

The majority of people in the world learn to speak more than one language during their lifetime. Many do so with great proficiency particularly if the languages are learned simultaneously or from early in development.

The study concludes that the pattern of brain development is similar if you learn one or two language from birth. However, learning a second language later on in childhood after gaining proficiency in the first (native) language does in fact modify the brain’s structure, specifically the brain’s inferior frontal cortex.

The left inferior frontal cortex became thicker and the right inferior frontal cortex became thinner. The cortex is a multi-layered mass of neurons that plays a major role in cognitive functions such as thought, language, consciousness and memory.

Kirtland Peterson

UK children less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD

New research suggests that children are far less likely to be diagnosed with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the UK than they are in the USA.

However, the same study, led by the University of Exeter Medical School, suggests that autism diagnosis is still rising.

ADHD is thought to be the most common disorder of childhood.

A 2009 study in the USA found that 6.3 per cent of children aged 5-9 were diagnosed with ADHD.

In contrast, just 1.5 per cent of parents in the UK reported a diagnosis of ADHD in children aged between 6-8.

The team looked at figures from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, which is a sample of more than 19,000 children, representative of the UK population.

Kirtland Peterson

Mindfulness Training Can Help Reduce Teacher Stress and Burnout

While teachers play a critical role in nurturing children's well-being, progress in addressing teacher stress has been elusive.

Stress and burnout among teachers is a major concern for school districts nationwide, affecting the quality of education and incurring increased costs in recruiting and sustaining teachers.

Teachers who practice "mindfulness" are better able to reduce their own levels of stress and prevent burnout, according to a new study conducted by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) at UW-Madison's Waisman Center.
Kirtland Peterson

A Digital Back-to-School Checklist

At one time, preparing children for school required buying new clothes and a fresh set of pencils. These days, your child is likely to need Internet access and a laptop even more than a composition notebook.

For parents, the choices can be overwhelming — and expensive. Here are some tips to get started.

First, you need to prepare your home. Make sure you have robust Internet access. Much homework these days requires children to do research on the Internet, even in elementary school.

Kirtland Peterson

Autistic Children Can Outgrow Difficulty Understanding Visual Cues and Sounds

Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have shown that high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) children appear to outgrow a critical social communication disability.

Younger children with ASD have trouble integrating the auditory and visual cues associated with speech, but the researchers found that the problem clears up in adolescence.

This is an extremely hopeful finding,”

Kirtland Peterson

August 27, 2013

Fractions gain traction with concrete models

If 3 is greater than 2, then ⅓ must be bigger than ½ ­— right? Wrong.

As thousands of students head back to school next week, many will use exactly that kind of thinking when faced with fractions for the first time.

New research from Concordia University shows that for children to understand math, teachers must constantly make the connection between abstract numbers and real world examples.

Kirtland Peterson

August 26, 2013

Video games do not make vulnerable teens more violent

Study finds no evidence that violent video games increase antisocial behavior in youths with pre-existing psychological conditions

Do violent video games such as ‘Mortal Kombat,’ ‘Halo’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto’ trigger teenagers with symptoms of depression or attention deficit disorder to become aggressive bullies or delinquents?

No, according to Christopher Ferguson of Stetson University and independent researcher Cheryl Olson from the US in a study published in Springer’s Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

On the contrary, the researchers found that the playing of such games actually had a very slight calming effect on youths with attention deficit symptoms and helped to reduce their aggressive and bullying behavior.

Kirtland Peterson

Preschoolers who stutter do just fine emotionally and socially

Stuttering may be more common than previously thought, but preschool stutterers fair better than first thought, a study by The University of Melbourne, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and The University of Sydney has found.

A study of over 1600 children, which followed the children from infancy to four years old, found the cumulative incidence of stuttering by four years old was 11 per cent, more than twice what has previously been reported.

Kirtland Peterson

August 21, 2013

Playing Video Games Can Boost Brain Power

“Our paper shows that cognitive flexibility, a cornerstone of human intelligence, is not a static trait but can be trained and improved using fun learning tools like gaming."

"Cognitive flexibility varies across people and at different ages.

For example, a fictional character like Sherlock Holmes has the ability to simultaneously engage in multiple aspects of thought and mentally shift in response to changing goals and environmental conditions.

Creative problem solving and ‘thinking outside the box’ require cognitive flexibility.

Perhaps in contrast to the repetitive nature of work in past centuries, the modern knowledge economy places a premium on cognitive flexibility.”

Kirtland Peterson

Learning to Read, With the Help of a Tablet

I learned long ago that the iPad’s game and video apps cast a magical spell over my children, but this summer I’ve also been pleased by how much they have learned while using their tablets.

This is important, as my 4-year-old is going to “real” school for the first time. His reading skills, in particular, have been helped by some great apps.

These have helped him move from knowing shapes and sounds of letters to actually reading words.

Kirtland Peterson

Human Brains Are Hardwired for Empathy, Friendship

Perhaps one of the most defining features of humanity is our capacity for empathy – the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes. A new University of Virginia study strongly suggests that we are hardwired to empathize because we closely associate people who are close to us – friends, spouses, lovers – with our very selves.

With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves,” said James Coan, a U.Va. psychology professor in the College of Arts & Sciences who used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to find that people closely correlate people to whom they are attached to themselves.

“Our self comes to include the people we feel close to,” Coan said.

In other words, our self-identity is largely based on whom we know and empathize with.

Kirtland Peterson

August 19, 2013

Giving Preschoolers Choice Increases Sharing Behavior

Getting kids to share their toys is a never-ending battle, and compelling them to do so never seems to help.

New research suggests that allowing children to make a choice to sacrifice their own toys in order to share with someone else makes them share more in the future.

These experiments, conducted by psychological scientists Nadia Chernyak and Tamar Kushnir of Cornell University, suggest that sharing when given a difficult choice leads children to see themselves in a new, more beneficent light.

Perceiving themselves as people who like to share makes them more likely to act in a prosocial manner in the future.

Kirtland Peterson

SCIENCE FOR KIDS: Sleepyheads prefer junk food

Pulling an all-nighter does a number on the brain, a new study finds.

People who lost a night of sleep also lost much of their willpower to eat right.

This connection could help explain why people who don’t regularly get a good night’s sleep are more likely to be obese.

Kirtland Peterson

Far from Being Harmless, the Effects of Bullying Last Long Into Adulthood

A new study shows that serious illness, struggling to hold down a regular job, and poor social relationships are just some of the adverse outcomes in adulthood faced by those exposed to bullying in childhood.

It has long been acknowledged that bullying at a young age presents a problem for schools, parents and public policy makers alike.

The results of the new study... highlight the extent to which the risk of problems related to health, poverty, and social relationships are heightened by exposure to bullying.

The study is notable because it looks into many factors that go beyond health-related outcomes.

August 14, 2013

Preschoolers Inability to Estimate Quantity Relates to Later Math Difficulty

Preschool children who showed less ability to estimate the number of objects in a group were 2.4 times more likely to have a later mathematical learning disability than other young people, according to a team of University of Missouri psychologists.

Parents may be able to help their children develop their skills at approximating group sizes by emphasizing numerals while interacting with young children.

“Lacking skill at estimating group size may impede a child’s ability to learn the concept of how numerals symbolize quantities and how those quantities relate to each other,” said study co-author David Geary, professor of psychological sciences at MU.

“Not understanding the values numbers symbolize then leads to difficulties in math and problems in school, which our previous studies suggest may be related to later difficulties with employment.”

Kirtland Peterson

August 13, 2013

Brain Scans May Help Diagnose Dyslexia

Differences in a key language structure can be seen even before children start learning to read.

About 10 percent of the U.S. population suffers from dyslexia, a condition that makes learning to read difficult. Dyslexia is usually diagnosed around second grade, but the results of a new study from MIT could help identify those children before they even begin reading, so they can be given extra help earlier.

The study, done with researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, found a correlation between poor pre-reading skills in kindergartners and the size of a brain structure that connects two language-processing areas.

Kirtland Peterson
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August 12, 2013

How Books Can Have a Positive Impact On a Child's Social Struggles

A new study out of the University of Cincinnati not only finds that parents feel responsible about taking action when their children struggle with social issues, but also that parents are influenced by their own childhood memories.

Bowman’s study examined parents’ use of what’s called bibliotherapy – using books as interventions for children who experience social struggles that may arise from disabilities such as autism or Down Syndrome.

Kirtland Peterson

August 8, 2013

How Parents See Themselves May Affect Their Child's Brain and Stress Level

Self-perceived social status predicts hippocampal function and stress hormones

A mother's perceived social status predicts her child's brain development and stress indicators, finds a study at Boston Children's Hospital. While previous studies going back to the 1950s have linked objective socioeconomic factors -- such as parental income or education -- to child health, achievement and brain function, the new study is the first to link brain function to maternal self-perception.

In the study, children whose mothers saw themselves as having a low social status were more likely to have increased cortisol levels, an indicator of stress, and less activation of their hippocampus, a structure in the brain responsible for long-term memory formation (required for learning) and reducing stress responses.

Kirtland Peterson

August 7, 2013

An Extra Hour of TV Beyond Recommendations Diminishes Toddlers’ Kindergarten Chances

Every hourly increase in daily television watching at 29 months of age is associated with diminished vocabulary and math skills, classroom engagement (which is largely determined by attention skills), victimization by classmates, and physical prowess at kindergarten, according to Professor Linda Pagani of the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital.

“This is the first time ever that a stringently controlled associational birth cohort study has looked at and found a relationship between too much toddler screen time and kindergarten risks for poor motor skills and psychosocial difficulties, like victimization by classmates,” Pagani said.

“These findings suggest the need for better parental awareness and compliance with existing viewing recommendations put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"The AAP discourages watching television during infancy and recommends not more than two hours per day beyond age 2.

"It seems that every extra hour beyond that has a remarkably negative influence.”

Kirtland Peterson

Why Kids Should Not be Allowed on Trampolines

“A trampoline puts a child at risk for serious injuries... Kids sustain broken arms, legs and even break their necks which can lead to paralysis.

"Just as you would not let your child jump into a shallow swimming pool, you should not let them jump on a trampoline.”

[A] policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)... says safety measures such as enclosure nets and padding have not substantially reduced the risk.

“Therefore, the home use of trampolines is strongly discouraged,” the Academy statement said.

Kirtland Peterson
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August 6, 2013

Let's Have Lunch! Teachers Eating With Their Students Provides Nutrition Education Opportunities

How you "have lunch" could be important in enhancing these opportunities.

Much attention has focused on school meals, both in the United States and across the globe.

Researchers at Uppsala University, Sweden, evaluated teachers eating lunch with the school children.

In Sweden, this practice is referred to as "pedagogic meals" because it offers the opportunity of having children learn by modeling adults.

The researchers wanted to observe how the teachers interacted with the children during meals in order to better understand how to interpret results of this practice.

Kirtland Peterson
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Children Who Overestimate Their Popularity Less Likely to Be Bullies

Children who overestimate their popularity are less likely to be bullies than those who underestimate or hold more accurate assessments of their social standing, finds new research to be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

The more kids overestimated their popularity, the less aggression they displayed,” said Jennifer Watling Neal, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University. “This means that kids who were more accurate in their assessment of their number of friends or who underestimated their quantity of friends compared to peer report were more aggressive.”

Kirtland Peterson

FOR KIDS: Nature resets body’s clock

A short camping trip could help people rise and shine, researchers report.

After a week living in tents in Colorado’s Rockies, campers’ internal clocks shifted about two hours earlier.

It transformed even night owls into early birds.

“It’s a clever study, and it makes a dramatic point,” says Katherine Sharkey. A sleep researcher and physician at Brown University in Providence, R.I., she did not work on the new study.

People get much more light outside than they do indoors, she notes. And that can reset their internal body clocks.

A master clock in the brain controls the release of melatonin. This hormone prepares the body for sleep. Melatonin levels rise in the early evening and then taper off in the morning before a person wakes up.

Kirtland Peterson

August 5, 2013

Centers Throughout the Brain Work Together to Make Reading Possible

A combination of brain scans and reading tests has revealed that several regions in the brain are responsible for allowing humans to read.

The findings open up the possibility that individuals who have difficulty reading may only need additional training for specific parts of the brain — targeted therapies that could more directly address their individual weaknesses.

“Reading is a complex task. No single part of the brain can do all the work,” said Qinghua He, postdoctoral research associate at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute, based at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences...

Kirtland Peterson

August 2, 2013

Video games boost visual attention but reduce impulse control

A person playing a first-person shooter video game like Halo or Unreal Tournament must make decisions quickly.

That fast-paced decision-making, it turns out, boosts the player's visual skills but comes at a cost, according to new research: reducing the person's ability to inhibit impulsive behavior. This reduction in what is called "proactive executive control" appears to be yet another way that violent video games can increase aggressive behavior.

"We believe that any game that requires the same type of rapid responding as in most first-person shooters may produce similar effects on proactive executive control, regardless of violent content," says Craig Anderson, Director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University.

"However, this is quite speculative," he warns. But what is not so speculative is the growing body of research that links violent video games -- and to a certain extent, total screen time -- to attention-related problems and, ultimately, to aggression.

People's ability to override aggressive impulses is dependent in large part on good executive control capacity, as will be presented at a symposium at the American Psychological Association (APA) annual meeting in Honolulu.

And social psychologists are looking how a variety of factors – including media exposure, anger, and alcohol -- affect that capability.

Two types of cognitive control processes play a large role: proactive and reactive. "Proactive cognitive control involves keeping information active in short-term memory for use in later judgments, a kind of task preparation," Anderson explains. "Reactive control is more of a just-in-time type of decision resolution."

Kirtland Peterson

August 1, 2013

Being Bullied Throughout Childhood and Teens May Lead to More Arrests, Convictions, Prison Time

People who were repeatedly bullied throughout childhood and adolescence were significantly more likely to go to prison than individuals who did not suffer repeated bullying, according to a new analysis presented at the American Psychological Association’s 121st Annual Convention.

Almost 14 percent of those who reported being bullied repeatedly from childhood through their teens ended up in prison as adults, compared to 6 percent of non-victims, 9 percent of childhood-only victims and 7 percent of teen-only victims, the study found.

When comparing rates of convictions, more than 20 percent of those who endured chronic bullying were convicted of crimes, compared to 11 percent of non-victims, 16 percent of childhood victims, and 13 percent of teen victims. Compared to nonwhite childhood victims, white childhood victims faced significantly greater odds of going to prison, according to the study.

"Previous research has examined bullying during specific time periods, whereas this study is the first to look at individuals’ reports of bullying that lasted throughout their childhood and teen years, and the legal consequences they faced in late adolescence and as adults"...

Kirtland Peterson