school-age child

Video games threaten kids' attention span

July, 2010

A large study of elementary school children and college students has found greater screen time (TV and video games) is associated with more attention problems.

A study following 1,323 children in Grades 3 to 5 and 210 college students has found that children who exceeded two hours per day of screen time (TV and video games) were 1.5 to two times more likely to be considered above average in attention problems by their teachers compared to children who met the guideline. A similar association between screen media time and attention problems (self-reported) was found for the college students. A study earlier this year found U.S. children aged eight to 18 devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes per day to entertainment media (http://www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia012010nr.cfm ).

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Sleep apnea in children and teens linked to lower academic grades

July, 2010

A study of overweight children and adolescents has found that moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea was linked to both lower academic grades and behavioral concerns.

A study involving 163 overweight children and adolescents aged 10 to 17 has revealed that moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea was linked to both lower academic grades and behavioral concerns. None of the students with moderate to severe OSA had an "A" average, and 30% had a "C" average or lower. In contrast, roughly 15% of those without sleep-disordered breathing had an "A" average, and only about 15% had a "C" average or lower. The results remained significant after adjustment for sex, race, socioeconomic status and sleep duration on school nights. OSA was particularly associated with inattention and poor study skills in real-world situations Forty-two students had moderate to severe OSA; 58 had mild OSA; 26 students were snorers; 37 had no sleep-disordered breathing.

Reference: 

Beebe, D.W. et al. 2010. The association between sleep-disordered breathing, academic grades, and neurobehavioral functioning among overweight subjects during middle to late childhood. Presented at SLEEP 2010, the 24th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, in San Antonio, Texas.

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Children living in areas where homicides committed have lower reading, verbal test scores

July, 2010

A Chicago study has found substantially lower reading scores in African-American children who were assessed directly after a local homicide. Hispanic children were not affected.

A study using data on reported homicides in Chicago 1994-2002 and two independent surveys of children and families in Chicago, has revealed that African-American children who were assessed directly after a local homicide occurred scored substantially lower on vocabulary and reading assessments than their peers from the same neighborhood who were assessed at different times. The impact of the homicide faded both with time and distance from the child's home. However, in both datasets, while the results were extremely strong for African Americans, there was no effect of local homicides for Hispanics. Because of the prevalence of homicide in the most violent neighborhoods in cities like Chicago, these results mean that some children spend about one week out of every month functioning at a low level. Whites and other ethnic groups were excluded from the study because they were almost never exposed to local homicides in the samples used.

Reference: 

[1631] Sharkey, P.
(2010).  The acute effect of local homicides on children's cognitive performance.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107(26), 11733 - 11738.

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ADHD linked to welfare benefits, low maternal education, solo parents

July, 2010

Data from an entire birth cohort in Sweden has revealed that poverty and having a poorly educated mother are major risk factors in ADHD (or at least being medicated for it).

A national Swedish study involving the 1.16 million children in a national birth cohort identified nearly 8000 on the country's Prescribed Drug Register as using a prescription for ADHD medication (and thus assumed to suffer from severe ADHD). These children were significantly more likely to come from a family on welfare benefits (135% more likely), to have a mother with only the most basic education (130% more likely than those with mothers with university degrees), and to come from a single parent family (54% more likely). Boys were three times more likely to be on ADHD medication than girls, with medication use highest in boys aged between 10 and 15. The finding that family adversity is such a strong risk factor points to the need for more research into the role of environment

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At-risk children who can self-regulate have higher test scores

July, 2010

At the end of first grade, at-risk children showing strong self-regulation in preschool and kindergarten did dramatically better on math, reading and vocabulary, than at-risk children with weaker self-regulation.

A study following nearly 1300 young children from birth through the first grade provides more evidence for the importance of self-regulation for academic achievement. The study found that children showing strong self-regulation in preschool and kindergarten did significantly better on math, reading and vocabulary at the end of first grade, independent of poverty, ethnic status, and maternal education (all of which had significant negative effects on reading, math, and vocabulary achievement in first grade). At-risk children with stronger self-regulation in kindergarten scored 15 points higher on a standardized math test in first grade, 11 points higher on an early reading test, and nearly seven points higher on a vocabulary test than at-risk children with weaker self-regulation. The findings emphasize the need to help children learn how to listen, pay attention, follow instructions, and persist on a task.

Reference: 

[1590] Sektnan, M., McClelland M. M., Acock A., & Morrison F. J.
(Submitted).  Relations between early family risk, children's behavioral regulation, and academic achievement.
Early Childhood Research Quarterly. In Press, Uncorrected Proof,

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Prenatal meth exposure associated with brain abnormalities

March, 2010

An imaging study has revealed that children (aged 5-15) whose mothers abused methamphetamine and alcohol during pregnancy had structural abnormalities in the brain that were more severe than those seen in children whose mothers abused alcohol alone.

An imaging study has revealed that children (aged 5-15) whose mothers abused methamphetamine and alcohol during pregnancy had structural abnormalities in the brain that were more severe than those seen in children whose mothers abused alcohol alone. In particular, the striatal region was significantly smaller, and within the group, size of the caudate correlated negatively with IQ. Limbic structures, in particularly the cingulate cortex and the right inferior frontal gyrus, were significantly bigger. The striatal and limbic structures are also known to be particularly affected in adult methamphetamine abusers.

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Repeated anesthesia can affect children's ability to learn

March, 2010

A rodent study provides more support for the idea that repeated anaesthesia in children can lead to memory impairment.

Supporting the idea that repeated anaesthesia in children can lead to memory impairment, a rodent study has revealed that repeated anaesthesia wiped out a large portion of the stem cells in the hippocampus. This was associated with impaired memory in young animals, which worsened as they got older. The effect did not occur in adult animals. A similar effect has also been found with radiotherapy, and animal studies have found physical activity after radiotherapy results in a greater number of new stem cells that partly replace those that have been lost.

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Children's cognitive ability affected by prenatal exposure to urban air pollutants

April, 2010

A Polish study has found that children prenatally exposed to high levels of air pollutants (PAHs) had significantly reduced scores on a test of reasoning ability and intelligence at age 5 (an estimated average decrease of 3.8 IQ points). This confirms findings from a previous study.

A five-year study involving 214 children born to healthy, non-smoking Caucasian women in Krakow, Poland, has found that those prenatally exposed to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) had a significant reduction in scores on a standardized test of reasoning ability and intelligence at age 5 (an estimated average decrease of 3.8 IQ points). The mothers wore small backpack personal air monitors for 48 hours during pregnancy to estimate their babies' PAH exposure. The finding persisted after mother’s intelligence, secondhand smoke exposure, lead and dietary PAH were taken into account. Previously, prenatal exposure to PAHs was found to adversely affect children's IQ at age 5 in children of nonsmoking African American and Dominican American women in New York City. PAHs are released into the air from the burning of fossil fuels.

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Inner-face advantage in familiar face recognition

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Campbell, Ruth, Coleman, Michael, Walker, Jane, Benson, Philip J., Wallace, Simon, Michelotti, Joanne & Baron-Cohen, Simon. 1999. When does the inner-face advantage in familiar face recognition arise and why? Visual Cognition, 6(2), 197-216.

  • Adults tend to use inner features (eyes, nose, mouth) to recognize familiar faces.
  • Children tend to use outer features (hair, hairline, jaw, ears) to recognize people they know.
  • The shift from outer to inner features does not occur until the child is 10-11 years old, and may not be reliable until mid-adolescence (14-15).
  • The shift appears to reflect developmental changes in perception rather than simply being an effect of practice.

Although we initially tend to pay attention to obvious features such as hair, it has been long established that familiar faces are recognized better from their inner (eyes, nose, mouth) rather than their outer (hair, hairline, jaw, ears) parts1. Studies have shown that this advantage of inner features does not occur in children until they’re around 10—11 years old. Children younger than this tend to use outer features to recognize people they know2.

Studies investigating the inner-face advantage have used photographs in which parts of faces have been cropped. This may be confusing to young children. It was thought that inner-face processing would be facilitated if blurring was used instead. Accordingly, in this study photographs in which either the inner face or the outer features are blurred were used.

Although it was thought that this would encourage inner-face processing, children seemed to find it harder. Extending the experiment to adolescents, it was found that the inner-face advantage typical of adults, did not appear until 14—15 years of age. A further experiment with learning-disabled adolescents, with a mental age of 5—8 years, found no shift to inner-face processing. This suggests that the shift to inner-face processing is a developmental change, rather than simply reflecting a need to gain sufficient experience in face-processing.

References

1. Ellis, H.D., Shepherd, J.W. & Davies, G.M. 1979. Identification of familiar and unfamiliar faces from internal and external features: Some implications for theories of face recognition. Perception, 8, 431-439.

2. Campbell, R. & Tuck, M. 1995. Children’s recognition of inner and outer face-features of famous faces. Perception, 24, 451-456.

Campbell, R., Walker, J. & Baron-Cohen, S. 1995. The use of internal and external face features in the development of familiar face identification. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 59, 196-210.

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