BOULDER, Colo. –
New research from the University of Colorado reveals that seemingly stubborn toddlers aren’t ignoring their parents’ directions or advice — they’re just stashing the words of wisdom for when they need them.
“The good news is what we’re saying to our kids doesn’t go in one ear and out the other, like people might have thought,” said CU psychology professor Yuko Munakata. “It also doesn’t go in and then get put into action like it does with adults. But rather it goes in and gets stored away for later.”
The findings challenge conventional wisdom where scientists and parents have believed that children’s brains operate like those of little adults, the scientists say. The research debunks the idea that toddlers think ahead and grasp how their actions will affect them in the future.
Take this for a scenario: It’s cold outside and a mother tells her 3-year-old to get his jacket out of his bedroom before venturing into the back yard.
“You might expect the child to plan for the future, think ‘OK it’s cold outside so the jacket will keep me warm,'” said CU doctoral student Christopher Chatham, who helped conduct the study. “But what we suggest is that this isn’t what goes on in a 3-year-old’s brain. Rather, they run outside, discover that it is cold, and then retrieve the memory of where their jacket is, and then they go get it.”
A paper on the study will appear this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The CU researchers used a computer game designed for children, and a technique known as pupillometry — a process that measures the diameter of a child’s pupil to determine his or her mental effort — to study the cognitive abilities of 3½-year-olds and 8-year-olds.
The computer game involved teaching children simple rules about Blue from Blue’s Clues. In the directions for the game, children were told that Blue likes watermelon, so they were to press the happy face on the computer screen only when they saw Blue, and then a watermelon.
The older kids had an easy time with the task and could anticipate the answer before the object appeared — preparing to see a watermelon image. Pre-schoolers, though, slowed down and exerted mental effort after seeing the watermelon and had to rack their brains to think if they had seen an image of the animated character in the previous frame.
Catherine Medal, owner of Miss Catherine’s Creative Learning Center in Gunbarrel, witnesses the toddlers at her center recalling information and advice on a daily basis.
On several occasions, she’ll hear the children talking to their peers, reminding them that they are supposed to try everything on their plates, hold hands when they cross the street and wear their jackets to go outside.
“Sometimes it’s surprising how much they’ve absorbed,” she said.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or email@example.com.