Hannah Newman, Â?4, tries to catch bubbles at the Kangaroo Kingdom play center in Lafayette on Monday. At left are her nanny Kiersten Long and her brother, Noah, 11 months; at center is Rebecca Hanneke, 16 months. A study by University of Colorado researchers sheds light on how toddlers store advice.
Marty Caivano
Hannah Newman, Â?4, tries to catch bubbles at the Kangaroo Kingdom play center in Lafayette on Monday. At left are her nanny Kiersten Long and her brother, Noah, 11 months; at center is Rebecca Hanneke, 16 months. A study by University of Colorado researchers sheds light on how toddlers store advice.

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 anasb@dailycamera.com.

Archived comments

“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.”

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So they’ve just proved that pre-schoolers are dumb.And this research cost how much money?

ThatCertainWoman

3/23/2009 10:19:14 PM

HARRRUMPH!Why some researchin’ tahps done went’n made some darn hifalootin’ reeport that ah caint rilly wrap my dubble-digit ah-Q around.So’s ah’ll show ’em how clever ah aim by badmouthin’ their li’l reeport and pretendin’ that ah care about what it done kawst.

Now where’s mah TV reemote…ah’m a-gonna miss that there judge Joody…

Dr_Belfrey

3/24/2009 5:59:10 AM

ThatCertainWoman – you, out of the gene pool, now!

biteme@bugmenot.com

3/24/2009 6:05:55 AM

No ThatCertainWoman, this only proves that YOU are dumb.Now go finish High School, please.

fardila@hotmail.com

3/24/2009 6:49:23 AM

And apparently doctors ain’t too bright, either.

ThatCertainWoman

3/24/2009 9:22:15 AM

HARRRUMPH! Why some daggum smart alec varmint done made fun u’ mah ignernce.I’ll just say he’s a stoopid and that’ll proove to everwun how clever ah aim.

Dr_Belfrey

3/24/2009 9:46:42 AM

Just what these boards need: another smug middle-aged humorless didact.Welcome!

ThatCertainWoman

3/24/2009 10:31:25 AM

Humorless? Ah thought Dr_Bwas perty funnee meeself! :o)

rainwater79

3/24/2009 10:53:57 AM

Oooooooh I get it!You think calling pre-schoolers dumb is humor.Humor!Why it’s perfectly clear to me now!

Okay, I’ll back off little girl.You go ahead and call me another name and declare yourself some kind of winner.Go on….whosa big winner?Huh?Is it you?Is it you?

Dr_Belfrey

3/24/2009 10:54:06 AM

Gosh, Dr.Apparently this is really important you.What horse do you have in this race, I wonder?Let me guess….

Either you were one of the authors of the study…or your dream of raising venture capital for a consulting business staffed entirely by toddlers has now slipped a little further out of your grasp.

ThatCertainWoman

3/24/2009 11:20:45 AM

…or I saw a spectacularly dumb comment and an opportunity to humiliate its author.

…or I posess an understanding of early childhood physchology and learning styles.

…or I’m not a tool who gains satisfaction by calling pre-schoolers stupid.

In fact, the age group that generally identifies pre-schoolers as ‘stupid’ is around 6-8.So now that we have an intellectual context to explain your continued refusal to admit what a jerk you’re being, please carry on…

Dr_Belfrey

3/24/2009 12:47:42 PM

I’ve been humiliated?Thanks for letting me know!

And thank you also for pointing out that you possess an understanding of something (if not a dictionary).I should have guessed you’re a teacher of this-and-that and this-and-that at some-such school.I’ll speculate you’re also very concrete in your thinking and a touch dense.You can profess all you want, but I’m still against giving toddlers the vote.

(pssst: you really picked weird mountain to die on here, my friend)

ThatCertainWoman

3/24/2009 1:54:14 PM

It seems to me that this study should be expanded to test the maturity of those who carryout their childish playground battles in the DC comment sections.I wonder if Dr and Woman have stashed any words of wisdom.Or any wisdom for that matter.

joatmon

3/26/2009 9:37:12 AM