Inside a child's mind -- Research findings from Psychological Science

June 7th, 2012
Developmental psychology researchers have long known that children aren't simply mini-adults – their minds and brains work in fundamentally different ways. Exploring those differences can help us understand how kids think and behave and can provide insights into how the mind and brain develop and change over time. Here is some of the latest research involving children from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Who is Good At This Game? Linking an Activity to a Social Category Undermines Children's Achievement

Can linking an activity to a social group affect children's performance on a task? Before playing a drawing game, four- and five-year-old participants were told that "boys [girls] are really good at this game" (category condition) or "there's a boy [girl] who is really good at this game" (individual condition). Children in the category condition performed worse on the task regardless of whether the statement they heard referenced their own gender or the opposite gender. The study authors suggest that referencing a social group's performance on a task can lead children to believe that they have little control over their own performance, causing them to worry and perform poorly.

Andrei Cimpian— acimpian@psych.illinois.edu—Published in the May 2012 issue of Psychological Science

Young Children Are Intrinsically Motivated to See Others Helped

Research has shown that infants start to demonstrate helpful behavior toward other people around their first birthdays. Yet little is known about what motivates infants to help others. Researchers investigated whether children helped people so that they could get 'credit' for being helpful or whether they were just helping because the person needed help. Because the pupil dilation measurements, which have been shown to reflect emotional reactions to an event, were similar for infants who helped another person and infants who watched a person get helped by a third party, the researchers concluded that the children were motivated to help others because of genuine concern for the person in need.

Robert Hepach—hepach@eva.mpg.de— Forthcoming in Psychological Science

Childhood Poverty and Young Adult Allostatic Load: The Mediating Role of Childhood Cumulative Risk Exposure

Poverty in childhood can have implications throughout an individual's life, whether it's physiological problems from poor nutrition or psychological issues arising from the social implications of poverty. Researchers have now demonstrated quantitatively that children who experience poverty from birth to age 9 tend to have an elevated allostatic load—a stress marker that incorporates physiological measurements associated with stress, such as heart rate—in their teenage years. Previous studies have focused largely on the role of parenting and diminished cognitive enrichment, but this study shows that chronic physiological stress also could contribute to the problems impoverished children face later in life.

Gary Evans— gwe1@cornell.edu— Forthcoming in Psychological Science

Provided by Association for Psychological Science

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