Thursday, December 18, 2014

Addictive Social Media

Plenty of research has demonstrated that the addictive quality of social media is very real. And according to a new study, heavy social media use may also contribute to a different type of addiction ... Psychologist Julia Hormes, who led the study, said that Facebook was found to have especially addictive properties. The respondents spent an average of one-third of their online browsing time on Facebook, and 67 percent received Facebook push notifications on their phones. "New notifications or the latest content on your newsfeed acts as a reward. Not being able to predict when new content is posted encourages us to check back frequently," Hormes said in a statement. "This uncertainty about when a new reward is available is known as a 'variable interval schedule of reinforcement' and is highly effective in establishing habitual behaviors that are resistant to extinction. Facebook is also making it easy for users to continuously be connected to its platform, for example by offering push notifications to mobile devices." more

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In Praise of Small Miracles (and Small Nudges)

Most of us don’t save enough. When governments try to encourage saving, they usually enact big policies to increase the incentives. But, in Kenya, people were given a lockable metal box — a simple place to put their money. After one year, the people with metal boxes increased savings by so much that they had 66 percent more money available to pay for health emergencies. It would have taken a giant tax reform to produce a shift in behavior that large. Too many people die in auto accidents. When governments try to reduce highway deaths, they generally increase safety regulations. But, also in Kenya, stickers were placed inside buses and vans urging passengers to scream at automobile drivers they saw driving dangerously. The heckling discouraged dangerous driving by an awesome amount. Insurance claims involving injury or death fell to half of their previous levels. These are examples of a new kind of policy-making that is sweeping the world. The old style was based on the notion that human beings are rational actors who respond in straightforward ways to incentives. The new style, which supplements but does not replace the old style, is based on the obvious point that human beings are not always rational actors. Sometimes we’re mentally lazy, or stressed, or we’re influenced by social pressure and unconscious biases. It’s possible to take advantage of these features to enact change. more

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Implementation of Contingency Management in Probation Agencies

Contingency management (CM) is an evidence-based practice (EBP) (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2010) that theoretically appears compatible with the basic strategies used by judicial or probation officials within the U.S. criminal justice system. The justice system routinely uses reinforcers to address compliance with behavior for desired drug- and crime-free behaviors. The compatibility of positive reinforcers with the existing system lies in the similarity between the core concepts of CM and the principles of effective punishment: swift, certain, and increasingly intensified responses. Given this consistency with the core functions of justice processing, CM implementation in justice systems should be relatively easy to implement (Rogers 2003). Contingency management has wide applications in the area of behavior change. In substance abuse treatment settings, CM interventions reduce drug use and increase treatment retention for a wide variety of drug abusers (Stitzer et al. 2010). Among the core components of any CM protocol is a focus on reducing or eliminating certain behavior(s) (e.g., abstinence from drug and alcohol use) and the use of structured and transparent rewards or incentives as the primary driver of behavior change. As such, CM protocols consistently use systems in which points are assigned to desired positive behaviors. Clients earn rewards via redeeming earned accumulated points. In prior work on implementing CM within drug and alcohol addiction treatment, clinicians established CM guidelines detailing which behavior(s) needed changing and how rewards could be earned. In such studies, both clients and clinicians understand that the rewards are achievable only with demonstrated positive behavior in line with the target goal (Stitzer et al. 2010). more

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Keeping Down with the Joneses to Save the Environment

The World Wildlife Fund urges us to think about the poor polar bears and penguins whose homes are swiftly melting away. Meanwhile, documentaries—from Al Gore’s classic An Inconvenient Truth to Showtime’s recent Years of Living Dangerously—warn us of impending natural disasters. Yes, environmentalists tend to go all dramatic on us in order to minimize energy use and treat the planet better. But these efforts, largely, aren’t working. A spate of new evidence suggests that fear-based approaches to environmental change are backfiring, resulting in little more than angry arguments over Thanksgiving dinner between you and your climate-change-doubting uncle. But about a decade ago, behavioral psychologists hit on an important finding: people are actually willing to save energy when they see how much energy their neighbors are using. A groundbreaking 2004 study revealed that, contrary to popular belief, people do not care much about saving money on their electricity bill or protecting the environment; the single biggest motivator to changing our energy consumption is our desire to keep up—or, in this case, down—with the more energy-efficient Joneses. more

Monday, December 08, 2014

Google Deep Mind: A New Artificial Intelligence

Demis Hassabis leads what is now called Google DeepMind. It is still headquartered in London and still has “solve intelligence” as its mission statement. Roughly 75 people strong at the time it joined Google, Hassabis has said he aimed to hire around 50 more. Around 75 percent of the group works on fundamental research. The rest form an “applied research team” that looks for opportunities to apply DeepMind’s techniques to existing Google products.  Over the next five years, DeepMind’s technology could be used to refine YouTube’s recommendations or improve the company’s mobile voice search. They dream of creating “AI scientists” that could do things like generate and test new hypotheses about disease in the lab. When prodded, he also says that DeepMind’s software could also be useful to robotics, an area in which Google has recently invested heavily. DeepMind has combined deep learning with a technique called reinforcement learning, which is inspired by the work of animal psychologists such as B.F. Skinner. This led to software that learns by taking actions and receiving feedback on their effects, as humans or animals often do. In 2013, DeepMind researchers showed off software that had learned to play three classic Atari games - Pong, Breakout and Enduro - better than an expert human. The software wasn’t programmed with any information on how to play; it was equipped only with access to the controls and the display, knowledge of the score, and an instinct to make that score as high as possible. The program became an expert gamer through trial and error. more

Friday, December 05, 2014

There Is No Language Instinct

Imagine you’re a traveller in a strange land. A local approaches you and starts jabbering away in an unfamiliar language. He seems earnest, and is pointing off somewhere. But you can’t decipher the words, no matter how hard you try.

That’s pretty much the position of a young child when she first encounters language. In fact, she would seem to be in an even more challenging position. Not only is her world full of ceaseless gobbledygook; unlike our hypothetical traveller, she isn’t even aware that these people are attempting to communicate. And yet, by the age of four, every cognitively normal child on the planet has been transformed into a linguistic genius: this before formal schooling, before they can ride bicycles, tie their own shoelaces or do rudimentary addition and subtraction. It seems like a miracle. The task of explaining this miracle has been, arguably, the central concern of the scientific study of language for more than 50 years.

In the 1960s, the US linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky offered what looked like a solution. He argued that children don’t in fact learn their mother tongue – or at least, not right down to the grammatical building blocks (the whole process was far too quick and painless for that). He concluded that they must be born with a rudimentary body of grammatical knowledge – a ‘Universal Grammar' – written into the human DNA. With this hard-wired predisposition for language, it should be a relatively trivial matter to pick up the superficial differences between, say, English and French. The process works because infants have an instinct for language: a grammatical toolkit that works on all languages the world over.

At a stroke, this device removes the pain of learning one’s mother tongue, and explains how a child can pick up a native language in such a short time. It’s brilliant. Chomsky’s idea dominated the science of language for four decades. And yet it turns out to be a myth. A welter of new evidence has emerged over the past few years, demonstrating that Chomsky is plain wrong. more

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

An Equation for Happiness?

It’s hard to describe happiness, let alone to measure it. We all see it differently. Psychologists have multiple theories in this regard. Neuroscientists point to multiple brain mechanisms and the levels of different neuromediators. Clinicians have studied multiple environmental and medical factors leading to various mood disorders. The picture is complex, and putting various influencing parameters into one equation that could have a predictive value would seem to be an impossible task. But this is exactly what researchers from University College London have attempted. In their article published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science they’ve suggested an equation that rather accurately calculates the level of moment-to-moment happiness. The equation takes into account two major factors: expectation and reward. In their experiments, the researchers asked 26 volunteers to participate in decision-making tasks that could lead to some real monetary gains or losses. It turned out that happiness wasn’t linked to the amount of wealth accumulated. Rather, happiness was experienced when things were going better than expected. On top of this, recent rewards substantially influenced the moment-to-moment happiness. more

Monday, December 01, 2014

Elf on the Shelf--at Work?

Maybe it’s time we put an elf on the shelf in organizations, too, so leaders and managers would know what was done and by whom. Employees wouldn’t have to toot their own horns. Nor would they have to spend time worrying if anyone really knows what they are doing and how they contribute to business results. It’s quite a common occurrence for employees in our client organizations to ask our consultants, “Do you think my boss knows about this?” With a corporate scout elf, you wouldn’t have to engage in behaviors to ensure your boss or others properly recognized you for the value you added to the company. With this out of the way, everybody could instead focus on doing things that added value, and we could leverage each person’s behavior in ways that create greater benefit. I have an idea. Rather than an elf, why don’t we have a person (a manager, maybe) whose job it is to know these things and to provide the proper consequences that will accelerate these behaviors for everyone’s benefit? more

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Addicted to Our Devices

If you drive to the store for a loaf of bread and forget your phone, do you feel adrift? Do you worry that if you don’t check your computer every 15 minutes, you’ll miss the news that Martians just landed in Petaluma? Welcome to my world. And let me introduce you to Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Matt Richtel. Here’s what Richtel said last week on the public radio program, “Here and Now”: “It goes all the way back to B.F. Skinner’s studies with rats. There are rats in cages that would press a lever to get food, but they would never know which press of the lever would bring food, so they would press the lever all the time. … We (humans) never know which press on our devices is going to bring the good email, the good text, the good information. So we become conditioned to press it all the time.” more

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What's a Parent to Do?

So what is a parent to do? If asking, scolding, yelling and punishing don’t work, you need to try another tactic. Try praising. Change how you interact with her. If most of your interactions with her are about things you are unhappy with, she will soon try to avoid you altogether. Anyone who is at all smart will avoid someone who is always unhappy with them ... Let her know when you are happy with what she has done. You can let her know you are pleased by giving her a high five, a smile or a hug. Let her see your enthusiasm with what she has done and be specific. It helps to say, “Great job putting your dishes into the dishwasher!” is better and works better than just saying, “Great job!” Don’t encourage her to be disobedient by giving it a lot of attention. If you focus on defiance, it actually may increase the very behavior you don’t like. Try actually walking away from her behavior when it is annoying. Even walking away sends her the message that her annoying behavior doesn’t work ... Another way to help change your child’s behavior is to try a reward system and make a game of doing what you ask her to do. Give a point each time she does what you ask her to do right away. If she doesn’t do it, you can say that you see she isn’t ready but you will try again later. If she then turns around after you have said that and does what you asked, praise her but don’t give her a point. You want to get her to do what you ask right away without complaining about it. more

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monkeys Learn to Steer Wheelchair Using Only Their Brains

Training a monkey to navigate a wheelchair is as easy as letting the animals go for a few rides—that is, assuming they have electrodes implanted into their brains that allow researchers to decode their neural activity and use it to steer the chair via a brain-computer interface (BCI). Researchers in the Duke University lab of Miguel Nicolelis, who helped design and build the exoskeleton that allowed a paralyzed man to kick off this summer's World Cup games, presented their work on two wheelchair-driving monkeys at this week's Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference being held in Washington, DC. The team first recorded activity in the motor and sensory cortices of monkeys riding around in the chair. A computer decoder then correlated this neural activity with the direction of movement of the chair, and after the training period was over, the BCI worked in reverse—using the neural inputs to actually steer the chair. Both monkeys eventually learned to steer the chair across the room to a grape dispenser, where they received their food reward. more

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Human Touch: New Research Suggests Some Animals Prefer Human Connections

What do animals really want? A new study from the University of Florida suggests it might be human contact, at least in the case of some Galapagos tortoises ... The findings are particularly important for those who work with animals in captivity every day -- zookeepers, trainers and students -- and strive to provide the best experience for them ... In the experiment, three tortoises at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo in Gainesville named Larry, Moe and Curly, were given four choices of keeper interaction: playing with a large rubber ball or under a water sprinkler, or having their shells scrubbed or necks rubbed. The zookeepers had used all of these enrichments at least twice a month for several years ... “Not only did they prefer keeper interaction overall compared to the traditional forms of enrichment,” Mehrkam said, “but the individual tortoises had preferences for the kind of interaction they wanted. Larry and Curly like having their necks rubbed. Moe liked the shell scrubbing" ... Both Dorey and Mehrkam use behavior analysis as the foundation of their research. This methodology, used primarily in human study, focuses specifically on behaviors and what factors or situations influence them rather than looking at root causes. The team also is studying aggression in dogs around guarding behaviors in a paper to be submitted for publication soon. more

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rodent Traders Can Beat the Odds

Eighty-five years ago, a young psychologist called BF Skinner developed what is technically called an operant conditioning chamber but is more famously known as a Skinner box, designed to contain and train laboratory animals. The simplest version rewards a rat for pressing a lever. More complex devices can play sounds, display lights and even deliver electric shocks, though Skinner himself preferred to use rewards rather than punishments ... Skinner’s ideas of modifying behaviour with rewards in a controlled environment seemed somehow manipulative and threatening. These days we call behaviour modification "nudging" and it is perfectly respectable. I thought of all this when I discovered RatTraders.com, a website offering, in its own words, "a professional service to the financial industry; rats are being trained to become superior traders in the financial markets." more

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How Everyone Gets Pavlov Wrong

As a college student, B. F. Skinner gave little thought to psychology. He had hoped to become a novelist, and majored in English. Then, in 1927, when he was twenty-three, he read an essay by H. G. Wells about the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. The piece, which appeared in the Times Magazine, was ostensibly a review of the English translation of Pavlov’s “Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex.” But, as Wells pointed out, it was “not an easy book to read,” and he didn’t spend much time on it. Instead, Wells described Pavlov, whose systematic approach to physiology had revolutionized the study of medicine, as “a star which lights the world, shining down a vista hitherto unexplored” ... Pavlov had formulated a basic psychological principle—one that also applied to human beings—and discovered an objective way to measure how it worked. Skinner was enthralled. Two years after reading the Times Magazine piece, he attended a lecture that Pavlov delivered at Harvard and obtained a signed picture, which adorned his office wall for the rest of his life. Skinner and other behaviorists often spoke of their debt to Pavlov, particularly to his view that free will was an illusion, and that the study of human behavior could be reduced to the analysis of observable, quantifiable events and actions. But Pavlov never held such views, according to “Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science” (Oxford), an exhaustive new biography by Daniel P. Todes ... In fact, much of what we thought we knew about Pavlov has been based on bad translations and basic misconceptions. more

Monday, November 17, 2014

Neuroprosthetics: Linking the Human Nervous System to Computers

In its simplest form, a neuroprosthetic is a device that supplants or supplements the input and/or output of the nervous system. For decades, researchers have eyed neuroprosthetics as ways to bypass neural deficits caused by disease, or even to augment existing function for improved performance. Today, several different types of surgical brain implants are being tested for their ability to restore some level of function in patients with severe sensory or motor disabilities. In a very different vein, a company called Foc.us recently started selling simple, noninvasive brain stimulators to improve normal people’s attention while gaming. And perhaps the most visible recent demonstration of the power of neuroprosthetics was a spinal cord–injured patient using a brain-controlled exoskeleton to kick off the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In short, tinkering with the brain has begun in earnest. more

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Coffee Pot That Only Works When It's Windy

It's going to take more than just reducing, reusing, and recycling to stop wasting energy and precious fuel. It's going to take synchronizing what humans want with what the planet needs. And that might begin with morning coffee. At least, that's how four researchers at the U.K.-based Lancaster University see it. To demonstrate their idea of the future, the team developed a prototype kit called the "Windy Brew," which only allows a kettle to boil when a nearby wind turbine produces enough electricity. No renewable energy means no coffee or tea .... The project, Simm is quick to point out, isn't meant to "force" people into changing their behavior, or punish them by withholding coffee until renewable energy is produced. (After all, anyone can remove the device and make the kettle boil.) Rather, it's about examining how energy affects people's daily lives, and figuring out how to live according to energy cycles ... These kinds of time shifted activities, based on energy availability, are what Simm and Ferrario hope the rest of the world adopts. It would begin with social interactions—deciding when to meet up with others, for example. Ferrario proposes a coffee shop that has deals on days when energy is more available. The positive reinforcement—more renewable energy leads to cheaper coffee—would encourage people to pursue an energy-saving lifestyle. more

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Volunteers Smoked Less After a Night of Olfactory Conditioning

New Weizmann Institute research may bring the idea of sleep learning one step closer to reality. The research, which appeared today in The Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that certain kinds of conditioning applied during sleep could induce us to change our behavior. The researchers exposed smokers to pairs of smells - cigarettes together with that of rotten eggs or fish - as the subjects slept, and then asked them to record how many cigarettes they smoked in the following week. The study revealed a significant reduction in smoking following conditioning during sleep. more

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Behavioral Treatment for Weight Loss Works in Primary Care Setting

Intensive behavioral counseling can help patients lose a significant amount of weight, but it's rarely delivered by primary care doctors, researchers reported here. In a meta-analysis, patients who had counseling achieved a maximum weight loss of 6.6 kg (about 14 lbs), compared with a top loss of about 2 kg (about 4 lbs) for those who did not participate in such programs, reported Thomas Wadden, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues here at Obesity Week and simultaneously online in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But in none of the studies was that intervention delivered by primary care doctors alone, they reported. "The present findings suggest that a range of trained interventionists, who deliver counseling in person or by telephone, could be considered for treating overweight or obesity in patients encountered in primary care settings," they wrote. more

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Food Dudes: Combatting Childhood Obesity

Food Dudes Health, a Social Enterprise working in partnership with Bangor University, have developed the Food Dudes Healthy Eating Programme, an evidence-based behaviour change intervention, that produces large and lasting increases in the amount of fruit and vegetables children eat. The core psychological principles of the Programme are Role-Modelling, Rewards, and Repeated Tastings. All primary school children in Ireland have taken part in the Food Dudes programme, and it is also being rolled out regionally across primary schools in the UK. However, child obesity begins well before children start primary school. To try to make a difference even earlier, a KESS-funded project has now helped develop a Food Dudes programme for nursery-aged children. Led by KESS scholar Catherine Sharp, and supervised by Prof. Pauline Horne and Dr. Mihela Erjavec, the project measured the impact of the nursery programme in a six-school controlled evaluation. To encourage the toddlers to eat a range of provided fruit and vegetables, they first watched a role-modelling video showing young versions of the Food Dudes characters, Rocco, Razz, Tom, and Charlie, who love eating fruit and vegetables because they provide "special energy" for fun and play. When the toddlers then ate the fruit and vegetables provided each day, they were given small, Food Dudes customised rewards. The children who took part in the Programme began to eat a lot more fruit and vegetable. more

Friday, November 07, 2014

Human Animals

Nonhuman animal behavior has provided many insights into our own species’ psychology. Just take the experiments of Pavlov with dogs around conditioning. When dogs associate certain cues with food, they respond to the cue as they would do to the food itself. The best example is your dog rushing to the refrigerator whenever you open it. The dogs “know” there’s food inside that huge metal box. The smart ones also “know” that if they look cute enough, or hungry enough (or, best of all, cute and hungry enough), they stand a good chance of their human getting something from the metal box to give to them. Pavlov’s experiments, and legions of other psychologists who followed his footsteps to look into conditioning, were important in the development of psychology. Reward people to reinforce “good” behavior, and punish them to reduce “bad” behavior. Our understanding of conditioning in human psychology later went back to nonhuman animals with “clicker training,” where you use a simple little gadget that gives a clicking sound for training. The success of clicker training of dogs and dolphins later went back to human applications. Amy Sutherland, who trained dolphins using clickers, later wrote a book titled “What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage.” ... This “clicker wife” suggests that you should not reinforce the bad behavior but that rather than nag, you can offer “rewards” to make the husband want to be good. more

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Automatic Launches License+, A Coaching Program For Teen Drivers And Their Parents

Connected car technology platform Automatic hopes to help ... young drivers develop better habits, and is launching a new program today called License+ that offers parents a toolset for encouraging and coaching their teens as they improve their driving skills. ... The company, like competitors Dash, Zubie, Drive Pulse and many others, involves an OBD device that is plugged into a port on your car that communicates with your smartphone to log your trips, monitor engine health, detect crashes, and track your driving in real-time by offering audio alerts for things like speeding, rough braking and more. The idea with this latter feature is that this sort of real-time feedback can make people drive better — similar to the way that the signs displaying your speed as you approach (flashing when you’re going too fast), can get drivers to become aware of their speed and slow down. more

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Problem Gamblers or Addicts?

How did I become addicted to pokies? How could this have happened to me, an intelligent woman, a psychologist and a former Member of Parliament? When I taught learning theory to psychology students I would use poker machines as an example of classical conditioning, just as Pavlov had taught his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell, by pairing it with food, until they salivated when they heard the bell, without waiting for the food. The pokies are a good example of operant conditioning too, with a reward appearing intermittently when a lever or button is pressed, mirroring psychologist B.F. Skinner's demonstration in the 1950s and '60s that rewarding a behaviour increases it. Skinner's rats learnt that if they pressed a lever they would be rewarded with food – not every time though. The greatest increase in lever pressing took place when the rats couldn't predict when the reward would come, because anticipation is just as effective in stimulating the release of dopamine and opioids in the brain as is the actual reward. That's how poker machines work. more

Monday, November 03, 2014

Are Wearables the Cure for Rising Health Costs?

The bottom line is that we’ve become lazy. We’re all looking for a quick fix. Your doctor recommends that you change your diet and exercise, and you ask if there’s a pill you can take instead; it’s less work, and your employer is going to pick up all or most of the prescription cost anyway. Improved prescription drugs have, in some instances, become enablers for continued poor lifestyle behaviours. So what’s the solution? The first step is simply to get your employees moving again. Think of Newton’s first law of motion: an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion. Statistics Canada data show that about half of the population spends less than 30 minutes per day engaging in moderate physical activity during leisure time. How you get your employees moving is where wearable fitness tracking devices come into play. If you’re not familiar with wearables, they’re electronic devices that you put on your wrist or clip to an article of clothing. There are dozens of these devices on the market, but the most popular are made by Fitbit, Garmin and Jawbone. These gadgets are more than just a pedometer—they track sleep patterns, heart rates and calories burned while exercising. Some devices can even remind you to get out of your chair at programmed intervals of inactivity. And all of this data can be uploaded to a website and monitored on your mobile phone. It was the electronic age and the advent of television and the remote control that created the couch potato and arguably contributed to more sedentary lifestyles, so maybe electronic devices will get us out of this mess. more

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Making Quitting More Than a Game

Dr. Bethany Raiff is on a mission: to help people stop smoking and cut the death rate attributable to the habit. She’s not an M.D. or D.O., however, and she is not unpacking a medical bag to make a difference. Raiff is an assistant professor of psychology at Rowan University, and she is using the ever-popular electronic game format to help save people from a recognized killer. She is a collaborator on research funded in part by a July 1, 2014, National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research Grant of close to $295,000 — a portion of which comes to Rowan — that is designed to help small businesses develop a product and bring it to market. As a subcontractor on the grant with two collaborators, Entertainment Science, Durham, North Carolina, and Playmatics, New York City, Raiff is working to develop a mobile smartphone game tentatively called “Breathe Free.” ... Raiff’s work is similar to an earlier project, a smoking cessation video game for Facebook called “Up from the Ashes” that the NIH funded in 2013. Breathe Free is like Up From the Ashes in that is a contingency management intervention — a game that strives to promote abstinence by using nonmonetary incentives to encourage people to quit smoking, basing those incentives on verification that they abstained from smoking. In both games, players provide carbon monoxide samples, either via a monitor attached to their telephones or a web camera attached to their computers. CO is an indication of whether a player has been smoking and to what extent. “It’s like a breathalyzer for alcohol, but it tests CO levels,” Raiff said. It indicates if players haven’t smoked. If they haven’t, they receive game-based rewards.” more

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quality of Words, Not Just Quantity, Is Crucial to Language Skills

It has been nearly 20 years since a landmark education study found that by age 3, children from low-income families have heard 30 million fewer words than more affluent children, putting them at an educational disadvantage before they even began school. The findings led to increased calls for publicly funded prekindergarten programs and dozens of campaigns urging parents to get chatty with their children. Now, a growing body of research is challenging the notion that merely exposing poor children to more language is enough to overcome the deficits they face. The quality of the communication between children and their parents and caregivers, the researchers say, is of much greater importance than the number of words a child hears. more