Essay // Biological & Developmental Psychology: Frontal Lobes, Impulsiveness in Children & Jean Piaget’s Theory


(Photo: Jez C Self / Frontal Lobe Gone)

Part 1 of 3 | Frontal Lobes (& Frontal Lobe Damage)


The Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST; Grant & Berg, 1948; Heaton, Chelune,Talley, & Curtis, 1993) has long been used in Neuropsychology and is among the most frequently administered neuropsychological instruments (Butler, Retzlaff, & Vanderploeg, 1991).

The test was specifically devised to assess executive functions mediated by the frontal lobes such as problem solving, strategic planning, use of environmental instructions to shift procedures, and the inhibition of impulsivity. Some neuropsychologists however, have questioned whether the test can measure complex cognitive processes believed to be mediated by the Frontal lobes (Bigler, 1988; Costa, 1988).

The WCST test, until this day remains widely used in clinical settings as frontal lobe injuries are common worldwide. Performance on the WCST test is believed to be particular sensitive in reflecting the possibilities of patients having frontal lobe damage (Eling, Derckx, & Maes, 2008). On each Wisconsin card, patterns composed of either one, two, three or four identical symbols are printed. Symbols are either stars, triangle, crosses or circles; and are either red, blue, yellow or green.

At the start of the test, the patient has to deal with four stimulus cards that are different from one another in the colour, form and number of symbols they display. The aim of the participant would be to correctly sort cards from a deck into piles in front of the stimulus cards. However, the participant is not aware whether to sort by form, colour or by number. The participant generally starts guessing and is told after each card has been sorted whether it was correct or incorrect.

Firstly they are generally instructed to sort by colour; however as soon as several correct responses are registered, the sorting rule is changed to either shape or number without any notice, besides the fact that responses based on colour suddenly become incorrect. As the process continues, the sorting principle is changed as the participant learns a new sorting principle.

potbIt has been noted that those with frontal lobe area damage often continue to sort according to only one particular sorting principle for 100 or more trials even after the principle has been deemed as incorrect (Demakis, 2003). The ability to correctly remember new instructions with for effective behaviour is near impossible for those with brain damage: a problem known as ‘perseveration’.

Another widely used test is the ‘Stroop Task’ which sets out to test a patient’s ability to respond to colours of the ink of words displayed with alternating instructions. Frontal patients are known for badly performing to new instructions. As the central executive is part of the frontal lobe, other problems such as catatonia – a condition where patients remain motionless and speechless for hours while unable to initiate – can arise. Distractibility has also been observed, where sufferers are easily distracted by external or internal stimuli. Lhermite (1983) also observed the ‘Utilisation Syndrome’ in some patients with Dysexecutive Syndrome (Normal & Shallice, 1986), who would grab and use random objects available to them pathologically.


Part 2 of 3 | Impulsiveness in Children


Image: PsyBlog

The Frontal lobe, responsible for most executive functions and attention, has shown to take years [at least 20] to fully develop. The Frontal lobe [located behind the forehead] is responsible for all thoughts and voluntary behaviour such as motor skills, emotions, problem-solving and speech.

In childhood, as the frontal lobe develops, new functions are constantly added; the brain’s activity in childhood is so intense that it uses nearly half of the calories consumed by the child in its development.

As the Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex is believed to take a considerable amount of at least 20 years to reach maturity (Diamond, 2002), children’s impulsiveness seem to be linked to neurological factors with the Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex; particularly, their [sometimes] inability to inhibit response(s).

The idea was supported by developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget‘s  Theory of Cognitive Development of Children [known for his epistemological studies] where he showed the A-not-B error [also known as the “stage 4 error” or “perseverative error”] is mostly made by infants during the substage 4 of their sensorimotor stage.

Researchers used 2 boxes, marked A and B, where the experimenter had repeatedly hid a visually attractive toy under the Box A within the infant’s reach [for the latter to find]. After the infant had been conditioned to look under Box A, the critical trial had the experimenter move the toy under Box B.

Children of 10 months or younger make the « perseveration error » [looked under Box A although fully seeing experimenter move the toy under Box B]; demonstrating a lack of schema of object permanence [unlike adults with fully developed Frontal lobes].


Frontal lobe development in adults was compared with that in adolescents, e.g. Sowell et al (1999); Giedd et all (1999); who noted differences in Grey matter volume; and differences in White matter connections. Adolescents are likely to have their response inhibition and executive attention performing less intensely than adults’. There has also been a growing & ongoing interest in researching the adolescent brain; where great differences in some areas are being discovered.

The Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex [located behind the forehead] is essential for ‘mentalising’ complex social and cognitive tasks. Wang et al (2006) and Blakemore et al (2007) provided more evidence between the difference in Pre-Frontal Lobe activity when ‘mentalising’ between adolescents and adults. Anderson, Damasio et al (1999) also noted that patients with very early damage to their frontal lobes suffered throughout their adult lives.


2 subjects with Frontal Lobe damage were studied:

1) Subject A: Female patient of 20 years old who suffered damages to her Frontal lobe at 15 months old was observed as being disruptive through adult life; also lied, stole, was verbally and physically abusive to others; had no career plans and was unable to remain in employment.

2) Subject B was a male of 23 years of age who had sustained damages to his Frontal lobe at 3 months of age; he turned out to be unmotivated, flat with bursts of anger, slacked in front of the television while comfort eating, and ended up obese in poor hygiene and could not maintain employment. [However…]


While research and tests have proven the link between personality traits & mental abilities and frontal brain damage, the physiological defects of the frontal lobe would likely be linked to certain traits deemed negative by a subject willing to be a functional member of society [generally Western societies].

However, personality traits similar to the above Subjects [A & B] may in fact not always be linked to deficiency and/or damage to the frontal lobes; as many other factors are to be considered when assessing the behaviour & personality traits of subjects; where [for example] violence and short temper may [at times] be linked to a range of factors and environmental events during development, or other mental strains such as sustained stress, emotional deficiencies due to abnormal brain neurochemistry, genetics, or other factors that may lead to intense emotional reactivity [such as provocation or certain themes/topics that have high emotional salience to particular subjects, ‘passion‘]



Part 3 of 3 | Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development (0 – 12 yrs)

Jean Piaget’s theory developed out of his early interest in observing animals in their natural environment. Piaget published his first article at the age of 10 about the description of an albino sparrow that he had observed in the park, and before the age of 18, journals had accepted several of his papers about molluscs. During his adolescent years, the young theorist developed a keen interest in philosophy, particularly “epistemology” [the branch of philosophy focused on knowledge and the acquisition of it]. However, his undergraduate studies were in the field of biology and his doctoral dissertation was once again, on molluscs.

For a short while, Piaget then worked at Bleuler’s psychiatric clinic where his interest in psychoanalysis grew. As a results, he moved to France and attended the Sorbonne university, in 1919 to study clinical psychology and also pursued his interest in philosophy. In Paris, he worked in the Binet Laboratory with Theodore Simon on the standardisation of intelligence tests. Piaget’s task was to monitor children’s correct response to test times, but instead, he became much more interested in the mistakes that children made, and developed the idea that the study of children’s errors could provide an insight into their cognitive processes.

Piaget came to realise that through the process and discipline of psychology, he had an opportunity to create links between epistemology and biology. Through the integration of the disciplines of psychology, biology and epistemology, Piaget aimed to develop a scientific approach to the understanding of knowledge – the nature of knowledge and the ways in which an organism acquires knowledge. As a man who valued richness and detail, Piaget was not at all impressed by the reductionist quantitative methods used by the empiricists of the time, however, he was influenced by the work on developmental psychology by Binet, a French psychologist who had pioneered studies of children’s thinking [his method of observing children in their natural setting was one that Piaget followed himself when he left the Binet laboratory].

Piaget later integrated his own experience of psychiatric work in Bleuler’s clinic with the observational and questioning strategies that he had learned from Binet. Out of this fusion of techniques emerged the “Clinical Interview” [an open-ended, conversational technique for eliciting children’s thinking (cognitive) processes]. It was the child’s own subjective judgement and explanation that was of interest to Piaget, as he was not testing a particular hypothesis, but rather looking for an explanation of how the child comes to understand his or her world. The method is not simple, and the team of Piaget’s researchers had to be trained for 1 year before they actually started collecting data. They were trained and educated about the “art” of asking the right questions and testing the truth of what the children said.

Piaget’s career was devoted to the quest for the mechanisms guiding biological adaptation, and also the analysis of logical thought [that derives from these adaptations and interaction with the exterior environment] (Boden, 1979). He wrote more than 50 books and hundreds of articles, correcting many of his earlier ideas in later life. At its core, the theory of Jean Piaget is concerned with the human need to discover and acquire deeper understanding and knowledge.

Piaget’s incredible output of concepts and ideas characterises his attitude towards constant construction and reconstruction of his theoretical system, which was quite consistent with his philosophy of knowledge, and perhaps indirectly to the school of thought of the mind as an “active” entity.

This section will explore the model of cognitive structure developed by Piaget along with the modifications and some of the re-interpretations that subsequent Piagetian researchers have made to the master’s initial ideas. Although many details have been questioned, it is undeniable that Piaget’s contribution to the understanding of thinking processes [cognitive] of both children and adults.

One great argument made by the theorist suggested that if we are to understand how children think we ought to look at the qualitative development of their problem-solving abilities.

Two famous examples from Piaget’s experiments will be considered that explore the thinking processes in children, showing how they develop more sophisticated problem-solving skills.

Example 1 – One of Piaget’s dialogue with a 7-year-old

Adult:    Does the moon move or not?
Child:    When we go, it goes.
Adult:    What makes it move?
Child:    We do.
Adult:    How?
Child:    When we walk. It goes by itself.

(Piaget, 1929, pp. 146-7)

From this example and other observations based on the similar theme, Piaget described a particular period in childhood which is marked by egocentrism. Since the moon appears to move with the child, she concluded that it does indeed do so. But as the child grows and her sense of logic follows, there is a shift from her own egocentric perspective where the child starts to learn to differentiate between what she sees and she “knows”. Gruber and Vonèche (1977) provide a good example of how an older child used her sense of logic to investigate the movement of the moon. This particular child had sent his younger brother for a walk down the garden while he himself remained immobile. The younger child reported that the moon moved with him, but the older boy realised from his observation that the moon did not move and could then disprove this wrong information with his brother.

Example 2 – Estimating the Quantity of a Liquid

FA Piaget Liquid Quantity

FIGURE A. Estimating a quantity of liquid

This example is taken from Piaget’s research into children’s understanding of quantity. Let us assume that John [aged 4] and Mary [aged 7] are given a problem; two glasses, A and B, are of equal capacity [volume] but glass A is short and wide and glass B is tall and narrow [See Figure A]. Glass A is filled to a particular height and the children would then be asked, separately, to pour liquid into glass B [tall and narrow] so that it would contain the same amount as glass A. Despite the striking proportional differences of the 2 containers, John could not grasp that the smaller diameter of glass B requires a higher level of liquid. To Mary, John’s response is incredibly senseless and stupid: of course one would have to add more to glass B. Piaget interestingly saw the depth of the argument that was in the responses of those children. John could not “see” that the liquid in A and the liquid in B are not equal, because his thought processes are using a mechanism that is qualitatively different in terms of reasoning and that is not yet developed [perhaps due to physiological/hardware limitations] and lacks the mental operations that would have allowed him to solve the problem. Mary, the 7 year old girl finds it hard to understand 4 year old John’s stupidity and why he could not perceive his error.

Facing this situation, Piaget brilliantly proposed that the essence of knowledge is “activity” – a line of thought and perspective adopted by many psychologists and intellectuals from the German and French school of Lacan quite opposite to the early British thoughts that assumed the mind to be “passive” and mostly shaped by the effects of the outside environment.  This argument is not only one that embraces human ingenuity and creativity and acknowledges our instinctual drives to thrive and succeed but also characterises the mind as an entity with high creative power instead of simple junction of neurons conditioned to react to stimuli from its environment almost helplessly as the “passive” school assumed it to be. Hence, to Piaget and ourselves, the essence of knowledge is “activity”, he could be referring to the infant directly manipulating objects and in doing so also learning about their properties. It may also refer to a child pouring liquid from one glass to another to find out which has more in it. Or it may refer to the adolescent forming hypotheses to solve a scientific dilemma. In the examples mentioned, it is important to note that the learning process of the child is taking place through “action”, whether physical (e.g. exploring a ball of clay) or mental (e.g. thinking of various outcomes and reflecting on what they mean). Piaget’s emphasis on activity was important in stimulating the child-centred approach to education, because he firmly believed that for lasting learning to occur, children would not only have to manipulate objects but also manipulate and define ideas. The major educational implications of Piaget will be discussed later in this section.


Assumptions of Piaget’s Theory of Development: Structure & Organisation

Through his carefully devised techniques, and using observations, dialogues and small-scale experiments, Piaget suggested that children progress through a series of stages in their thinking, each of which synchronises with major changes in the structure or logic of their intelligence. [See Table A]

TA Piaget - Stages of Intellectual Development

TABLE A. The Stages of Intellectual Development in Piaget’s Theory

Piaget named the main stages of development and the order in which the occurred as:

I. The Sensori-Motor Stage [0 – 2 years]
II. The Pre-Operational Stage [2 – 7 years]
III. The Concrete Operational Stage [7 – 12 years]
IV. The Formal Operational Stages [12 years but may vary from one child to the other]

Piaget’s structures are sets of mental operations, which can be applied to objects, beliefs, ideas or anything in the child’s world, and these mental operations are known as “schemas”. The schemas are characterised as being evolving structures, in other words, structures that grow and change from one stage to the next.

The details of each section of the 4 stages will be explored below, however it is fundamental that we first understand Piaget’s concept of the unchanging or “invariant” [to use his own term – this may be related to temperament but here it involves another set of abilities] aspects of thought, which refers to the broad characteristics of intelligent activity that remains constant throughout the human organism’s life.

These are the organisation of schemas and their adaptation through assimilation and accommodation.

Organisation: Piaget used this term to explain the innate ability to coordinate existing cognitive structures, or schemas, and combine them into more complex systems [e.g. a baby of 3 months old has gained the ability to combine looking and grasping, with the earlier reflex of sucking]. The baby is able to perform all three actions together when feeding from her mother’s breast or a feeding bottle, an ability that the new born child did not originally have in his/her repertoire. A further example would be Ben who at the age of 2 had learned to climb downstairs while carrying objects without dropping them, and also to open doors. This means that he could then combine all three operations to deliver newspaper to his grandmother in the basement flat. To note, each separate operation combines into a new action more complex than the sum of the parts.

The complexity of the organisation also grows as the schemas become more elaborate. Piaget described the development of a particular action schema in his son Laurent as he attempted to strike a hanging object. Initially, Laurent only made random movement towards the object, but at the age of 6 months the movements had evolved and were now deliberate, focused and well directed. As Piaget put it in his description, at 6 months old, Laurent possessed the mental structure that guided the action involved in hitting a toy. Laurent had also gained the ability to accommodate his actions to the weight, size and shape of the toy and its distance from him.

The next invariant function, adaptation is characterised by the striving of the organism for balance [or equilibrium] with the environment, and is achieved through the further processes of “assimilation” and “accommodation”. During the process of assimilation, the child’s repertoire of knowledge expands and he/she takes in [learns about] a new experience [and the knowledge acquired with it] and fits it into an existing schema. For example, a child may learn the words “dog” and “car”, and following this enigmatic event, the child may call all animals “dogs” [i.e. different animals taken into a schema related to the child’s understanding of dog], or all vehicles with four wheels are called “cars”. The process of accommodation balances this erroneous process, where the child adjusts an existing schema to fit in with the nature of the environment [i.e. from experience, the child begins to perceive that cats can be distinguished from dogs, and may develop schemas for these 2 different animals – also that cars can be distinguished from other vehicles such as trucks or lorries.

By these two processes, namely assimilation and accommodation, the child achieves a new state of equilibrium which is however not permanent as this balance is generally soon upset as the child assimilates further new experiences or accommodates her existing schemas to another new idea.

Equilibrium only seems to prepare the child for more disequilibrium through further learning and adaptation; these two processes occur together and cannot be thought of separately. Assimilation provides the child with consolidation for mental structures; and accommodation results in growth and change. All adaptations contains the components of both processes and striving for balance between assimilation and accommodation [Remember: Organisation  Adaptation + (Assimilation & Accommodation)] leads to the child’s intrinsic motivation to learn [This is also reminiscent of the psychodynamic school of thought as several processes colliding to find balance in its model of the mental life of the individual mind]. When new experiences are within the child’s response range in terms of abilities, then conditions are said to be at their best for change and growth to occur.

The Stages of Cognitive Development

To adepts of Piaget’s outlook, intellectual development is a continuous process of assimilation and accommodation. We will not describe the four stages identified in the development of cognition from birth to about 12 years old [in normal children]. This order is similar for all children but the age these milestones are achieved may vary from one child to another – with the stages being:

I. The Sensori-Motor Stage [0 – 2 years]
II. The Pre-Operational Stage [2 – 7 years]
III. The Concrete Operational Stage [7 – 12 years]
IV. The Formal Operational Stages [12 years but may vary from one child to the other]

I. The Sensori-Motor Stage (about 0 – 2 years) | Stage 1 of 4

During the sensori-motor stage the child changes from a newborn, who focuses almost entirely on immediate sensory and motor experiences, to a toddler who possesses a rudimentary capacity for thinking. Piaget described in detail the process by which this occurs, by documenting his own children’s behaviour. On the basis of such observations, carried over the first 2 years of life, Piaget divided the sensori-motor stage into 6 sub-stages. [See Table B]

TB Sub-stages of the sensori-motor period

TABLE B. Substages of the sensori-motor period according to Piaget

The first substage, reflex activity, included the reflexive behaviours and spontaneous rhythmic activity with which the infant is born. Piaget called the second substage primary circular reactions. He used the term “circular” to emphasise how children tend to repeat an activity, especially those that are pleasing or satisfying (e.g. thumb sucking). The term “primary” refers to simple behaviours that are derived from the reflexes of the first period [e.g. thumb sucking develops as the thumb is assimilated into a schema based on the innate suckling reflex].

Secondary circular reactions refer to the child’s willingness to repeat actions, but the word “secondary” is used here to point out the behaviours that are the child’s very own. In other words, she is not limited to just repeating actions based on early reflexes, but having initiated new actions, she can now repeat these if they are satisfying. However, at the same time, these actions tend to be directed outside the child (unlike simple actions like thumb sucking) and are aimed at influencing the environment around her.

This is Piaget’s description of his own daughter Jacqueline at 5 months old, kicking her legs (in itself a primary circular reaction) in what gradually ascends to a secondary circular reaction as the leg movement is repeated not just for itself, but is initiated in the presence of a doll.

Jacqueline looks at a doll attached to a string which is stretched from the hood to the handle of the cradle. The doll is approximately the same level as the child’s feet. Jacqueline moves her feet and finally strikes the doll, whose movement she immediately notices… The activity of the feet grows increasingly regular whereas Jacqueline’s eyes are fixed on the doll. Moreover, when I remove the doll Jacqueline occupies herself quite differently; when I replace it, after a moment, she immediately starts to move her legs again.

(Piaget, 1936, p. 182)

In displaying such behaviours, Jacqueline seemed to have established a general relation between her movement and the doll’s, and was also engaged in a secondary circular reaction.

Coordination of Secondary Circular Reactions, being substage 4 of the Sensori-motor period, and as the word “coordination” implies, it is particularly at this substage that children begin to combine different behavioural schema. In the following extracted section, Piaget described how his daughter (aged 8 months) combined several schemas, such as “sucking an object” and “grasping an object” in a series of coordinated actions when playing with a new object:

Jacqueline grasps an unfamiliar cigarette case which I present to her. At first she examines it very attentively, turns it over, then holds it in both hands while making the sound apff (a kind of hiss which she usually makes in the presence of people). After than she rubs it against the wicker of her cradle then draws herself up while looking at it, then swings it above her and finally puts it in her mouth.

(Piaget, 1936, p. 284)

Jacqueline’s behaviour illustrates how a new object is assimilated to various existing schema in the fourth substage. In the following stage, that of tertiary circular reactions children’s behaviours become more flexible and when they repeat actions they may do so with variations, which can lead to new results. By repeating actions with variations, children are, in effect, accommodating established schema to new contexts and needs.

The final sub-stage of the sensori-motor period is known as the substage of Internal Representations and it refers to the child’s achievement of mental representation. The previous substages the child has interacted with the world through her physical motor schema, another way of phrasing it would be that, she has acted directly on the world. In this final substage, she can now act “indirectly” on the world because she has developed the capacity to hold mental representations of the world – that is, she can now think and plan.

As evidence for children attaining the level of mental representation, Piaget pointed out that by this substage children have a full concept of object permanence. Piaget noticed that very young infants ignored even highly attractive objects once they were out of sight [e.g. a child reaching for a toy, but then the toy is suddenly covered with a cloth and it immediately leads to the child losing all interest in it and would not attempt to search for it, and might even just look away]. According to Piaget it was only after the later substages that children demonstrated an awareness [by searching and trying to retrieve the object] that the object was “permanently” present even if it was temporarily out of sight. Searching for an object that cannot be seen directly implies that the child has a memory of the object, i.e. a mental representation of it.

It is only towards the end of the sensori-motor period that children demonstrated novel patterns of behaviour in response to a problem. For example, if a child wants to reach for a toy and comes across an object between herself and the desired toy, younger children might just try and reach for the toy directly and it is possible that the child knocks over the object while reaching for the target toy – this is best described as “Trial and Error” performance. In the later substages, the child might solve the problem by instead first removing the object out of the way before reaching for the desired toy. Such structured behaviour suggests that the child was able to plan ahead, which indicates that he/she had a mental representation of what she was going to do.

An example of planned behaviour by Jacqueline was given where she was trying to solve the problem of opening a door while carrying two blades of grass at the same time:

She stretches out her right hand towards the knob but sees that she is cannot turn it without letting go of the grass. She puts the grass on the floor, opens the door, picks up the grass again and enters. But when she wants to leave the room things become complicated. She put the grass on the floor and grasps the door knob but then she realises that in pulling the door towards her she will simultaneously chase away the grass which she placed between the door and the threshold. She therefore picks it up in order to put it outside of the door’s zone of movement.

(Piaget, 1936, pp. 376-7)

Jacqueline solved the problem of the grass and the door before she opened the door. It is assumed that she would have had a mental representation of the problem, which permitted her to work out the solution, before she acted.

A third line of evidence for mental representations comes from Piaget’s observation of deferred imitation, that is when children carry out a behaviour that is a reflection of copied behaviour that was previously taken in by the developing child. Piaget provides a good example of this:

At 16 months old Jacqueline had a visit from a little boy of 18 months who she used to see from time to time, and who, in the course of the afternoon got into a terrible temper. He screamed and he tried to get out of a playpen and pushed it backward, stamping his feet. Jacqueline stood observing him in amazement, having never witnessed such a scene before. The following day, she herself screamed in her playpen and tried to move it, stamping her foot lightly several times in succession.

(Piaget, 1951, p. 63)

This suggests that if the little boy’s behaviour was repeated by Jacqueline a day later, she would have had to have retained an image of his behaviour, i.e. she had a mental representation of what she had seen from the day before, and that representation provided the basis for her own copy of the temper tantrum.

To conclude, during the sensori-motor period, the child advances from very simple and limited reflex behaviours at birth, to complex behaviours at the end of the period. The more complex behaviours depend on the progressive combination and elaboration of the schema, but are, at the beginning, limited to direct interactions with the world – thus, the name Piaget gave to this period because he thought of the child developing through her sensori-motor interaction with the environment. It is only towards the end of that period that the child is not limited to immediate interaction anymore because she has now developed the ability to mentally represent her world [mental representation], and with this ability the child can manipulate her mental images (or symbols) of her world, in other words, she can now act on her thoughts about the world as well as on the world itself.


Revisions of the Sensori-motor Stage

Jean Piaget’s observations of babies during this first stage lasting until 2 years of age, have been largely confirmed by subsequent reseachers, however Piaget may have underestimated children’s mental capacity to organize the sensory and motor information they take in. Several investigators have shown that children have abilities and concepts earlier than Piaget thought.

Bower (1982) examined Piaget’s hypothesis that young children did not have an appreciation of objects if they were not in sight. For this experiment, children a few months old were recruited and shown an object, and shortly after a screen was moved across in front of the object [so that it would be hidden/unseen from the child’s visual field], to then finally be moved back to its original position. This scenario was presented with 2 slight changes: in Condition 1 the object was still in place and hence seen again by the child when the screen was moved back to its original location; and in Condition 2, the object was removed so the child would perceive the object to have disappeared when the screen was moved back. After monitoring the children’s heart rate to measure changes [which reflect surprise]. To go back to Piaget’s assumptions from his qualitative observations, it would be assumed that children of a few months old do not retain information about objects that are no longer present, and if this was the case, we would not register any heart rate change because as there should be no element of surprise [i.e. the child would not expect an object to be there once the screen was moved back to its original location], thus in Condition 2, no reaction should be displayed by the children, however it was found that children displayed more surprise in Condition 2 and Bower inferred that the children would have had an expectation of the object to still be in its position or “re-appear” after the screen was moved back – this would be the evidence that young children must retain a mental representation of the object in their mind [could be interpreted as young children having some basic form of object permanence even if not properly developed at an earlier age than the assumptions of Piaget based on the results of his experimental methods].

In a further experiment, Baillargeon and DeVos (1991) showed 3-month-old children objects that moved behind a screen and then re-appeared from the other side of the screen. The upper half of the screen had a window and in one condition the children saw a short object move behind the screen [the object was small and below the level of the window and hence when it passed behind the screen it was completely out of sight / not visible, until it appeared at the other side of the screen].

In a second condition a taller object was passed behind the screen, and it was high enough to be seen through the window as it passed from one side to the other. Furthermore, Baillargeon and DeVos created an “impossible event” by passing the tall object through the screen without it appearing through the window, and it lead to the children displaying more interest by looking longer at the scenario than that with the small object. This lead to the argument that children reacted so, due to their expectation of the taller object to appear through the window, and hence this would suggest that young children early in the sensori-motor stage have an awareness of the continued existence of objects even when they are out of view. These results along with that of Bower (1982) seem to suggest that young children to have “some” understanding of object permanence earlier than assumed.

Another one of Piaget’s conclusion was also investigated further by another group of researchers who wanted to find out if children only developed planned action [which demonstrated their ability to form mental representations] at the end of the sensori-motor stage. Willatts (1989) placed an attractive toy on a cloth, out of the reach of 9-month-old children; the children could pull the cloth to access the attractive toy. However, the children could not reach the cloth directly since it was not accessible as Willatts placed a light barrier between the child and the cloth [the child had to move the barrier to reach the cloth]. The experiment showed that children were able to access the toy by carrying out appropriate the series of actions [i.e. first moving the barrier, then pulling the cloth to bring the toy within reach]. Most importantly, many of the children carried out the correct actions within the first occasion of being presented with the problem without the need of going through a “trial and error” phase. Willatts argued that for such young children to demonstrate novel planned actions, it may be inferred from such behaviour that they are operating on a mental representation of the world which they can make use of to organise their behaviour before carrying it out [This is also earlier than assumed by Piaget’s experiments].

Another point made by Piaget was that deferred imitation was an evidence that children should have a memory representation of what they had seen earlier. Soon after birth however it was found that babies are able to imitate the facial expression of an adult or the head movement (Meltzoff and Moore, 1983, 1989), however such imitation is performed in the presence of the stimulus being imitated. From Piaget’s experiments, it was initially deduced that stored representations are only achieved by children towards the end of the sensori-motor stage, however, Meltzoff and Moore (1994) showed that 6-week old infants could imitate a behaviour a day after they had seen the original behaviour. In Meltzoff and Moore’s study some children saw an adult make a facial gesture [e.g. sticking out her tongue] and others just saw the adult’s face while she maintained a neutral expression. The next day, all the children in the experiment saw the same adult, however this time, she kept a passive face. Compared to the children who had not seen any gesture, the children who had seen the tongue protrusion gesture the day before were more likely to make tongue protrusions to the adult the second time they saw her. Meltzoff and Moore argued that for the children to be able to perform those actions they would have had to have a mental representation of the action at a much earlier age than Piaget’s experiments concluded


II. The Pre-operational Stage (about 2 – 7 years) | Stage 2 of 4

This stage will be divided in 2 periods: (a) The Pre-conceptual Period (2 – 4 years) and (b) the Intuitive Period (4 – 7 years)

(a) The Pre-Conceptual Period (2 – 4 years)

The pre-conceptual period builds on the ability for internal, or symbolic thought to develop based on the latest advancements during the final stages of the sensori-motor period. During the pre-conceptual period [2 – 4 years old], we can observe a rapid increase in children’s language which, in Piaget’s view, results from the development of symbolic thought. Piaget unlike other theorists of language [who suggested that thought emerges from linguistic competence] argued that thought arises out of action and this idea is supported by research into cognitive abilities of deaf children who, despite limitations in language, have the abilities for reasoning and problem solving. Piaget argued that thought shapes language far more than language shapes thought [at least during the pre-conceptual period], and symbolic thought is also expressed in imaginative play.

However there are some limitations in the child’s abilities at the pre-conceptual period (2-4 years) of the pre-operational stage. The pre-operational child is still centred in her own perspective and finds it difficult to understand that other people can look at things differently. Piaget called this the “self-centred” view of the world and used the term egocentrism.

Egocentric thinking occurs due to the child’s belief that the universe is centred on herself, and thus finds it hard to “decentre”, that is, to take the perspective of another individual. The dialogue below gives an example of a 3-year-old’s difficulty in taking the perspective of another person:

Adult: Have you any brothers or sisters?
John: Yes, a brother.
Adult: What is his name?
John: Sammy.
Adult: Does Sammy have a brother?
John: No.

It is quite clear here that 3-year old John’s inability to decentre makes it hard for the child to realise that from Sammy’s perspective, he himself is a brother.

The egocentric trait at this particular period of development is apparent in their flawed perspective taking tasks. One of the most famous experiments carried out by Piaget is the three mountains experiment tasks, and it involves exploring children’s ability to see things from the perspective of another. In 1956, Piaget and Inhelder asked children between the ages of four and twelve [4 – 12 years old] to say how a doll would perceive an array of three mountains from different perspectives [i.e. by placing the doll at different locations].

FJ Piaget III Mountain Task.jpg

FIGURE J. Model of the mountain range used by Piaget and Inhelder viewed from 4 different sides


For example in Figure J, a child might be asked to sit at position A, and a doll would be placed at one of the other positions (B, C or D), then the child would be made to choose from a set of different views of the model, the view that the doll could see. When four and five year old children [4 and 5 years old] were asked to do this task, they often chose the view that they themselves could see (rather than the doll’s view) and it was not until 8 or 9 years of age that children could confidently work out the doll’s view. Piaget argued that this should be convincing in asserting that young children were still learning to manage their egocentricity and could not decentre from their own perspective to work out the perspective / view of the doll.

However, several criticisms have been made regarding the 3 mountain tasks, and one researcher, Donaldson (1978) pointed out that the tasks were unusual to use with young children who might not have a good familiarity with model mountains or be used to working out other people’s views of landscapes. Borke (1975) carried out a similar task to Piaget, but instead of using model mountains, he used the layout of toys that young children typically spend time with in play. She also altered the way that children were asked to respond to the question about what a different person’s view would be, and found that children as young as 3 or 4 years of age had some basic understanding of how another person’s perspective would be different from another position. This was much earlier than previously deduced from Piaget’s experiments, and shows that the type of objects and procedures used in a task can have a huge impact on the performance of the children. By using mountains, Piaget may have selected a far too complex content for such young children’s perspective-taking abilities to be demonstrated optimally.

Borke’s Experiment: Piaget’s Mountains Revised & Changes in the Egocentric Landscape

Borke’s main inquisition was about the appropriateness of Piaget’s three mountain tasks for such young children, and was concerned with the aspects of the task that were not related to perspective-taking and whether this might have adversely affected the children’s performance. These aspects were:

(i) the mountain from a different angle or not may not have sparked any interest or motivation in the children
(ii) the pictures of the doll’s views that Piaget had asked the children to select may have been too taxing for their intelligence
(iii) due to the task being unusual in nature, children may have performed poorly because they were unfamiliar with such a task

Borke considered if some initial practice and familiarity with the task would improve the children’s performance, and with those points in mind, Borke repeated the basic design of Piaget and Inhelder’s experiment but changed the content of the task, avoided the use of pictures and gave children some initial practice. She also used 4 three-dimensional  displays: there were a practice display and three experimental displays [see FIGURE B].

FB Borke's 4 three-dimensional displays

FIGURE B. A schematic view of Borke’s four three-dimensional displays viewed from above.


Borke’s participants were 8 three-year-old children and 14 four-year-old children attending a day nursery. Grover, a character from the popular children’s television show, “Sesame Street” was used for the experiment as a substitute for Piaget’s doll. There we 2 identical versions of each display (A and B), and Display A was for Grover and the child to look at, and Display B was on a turntable next to the child.

The children were tested individually and were first shown a practice display which consisted of a large toy fire engine. Borke placed Grover at one of the sides of the practice Display A so that Grover could view the fire engine from a point of view [perspective] that was different from the child’s own view of this display.

A duplicate of the fire engine [practice Display B] appeared on a revolving turntable, and Borke briefed the children, explaining that the table could be turned so that the child could look at the fire engine from ANY side. Children were then prompted to turn the table until their view of the Display B matched the exact perspective that Grover had while looking at Display A. If necessary, Borke even helped the children to move the turntable to the correct position or walked the children round Display A to show them the exact view [perspective] that Grover had in view

Once the practice session was over, the child was ready to take part in the experiment itself. This time, the procedures were similar, except no help was provided by the experimenter. Every single child was shown three dimensional displays, one at a time [see FIGURE B].

Display 1 included a toy house, lake and animals
Display 2 was based in Piaget’s model of three mountains
Display 3 included several scenes with figures and animals
Note: There were 2 identical copies of each display, and of course, children had to rotate the second  copy which was on a turntable to match the perspective [view] that Grover had in sight [as prepared in the practice session].

What Borke found was that most of the children in the experiment were able to work out Grover’s perspective for Display 1 [three and four-year-olds were correct in 80% of trials] and for Display 3 [three-year-olds were correct in 79% of trials and four-year-olds, in 93% of trials. However, for Display 2 [Piaget’s mountains], the three-year-olds were correct in only 42% of trials and four-year-olds in 67% of trials. Borke calculated an analysis of variance, and found that the difference between Displays 1 & 3 and Display 2 was significant at p < 0.001. As for errors, there were no significant differences in the children’s responses for any of the 3 positions – 31% of errors were egocentric [i.e. child rotated Display B to show their OWN view/perspective of Display A, rather than Grover’s view].

Borke successfully demonstrated that the task had a major influence on the perspective-taking performances of young children. When the display included toys that the children were familiar with and hence recognisable, and when the response involved rotating a turntable to work out Grover’s perspective, even the comparatively complex Display 3 task was successfully achieved by the children.

This seems to suggest that the poor performance by the children in Piaget’s original experiment involving three mountains was due in part to the unfamiliar nature of the objects that the children were shown.

Borke concluded that the potential for understanding the viewpoint of another was already present in children as young as 3 and 4 years of age, and this seems to be a reliable addition and revision to Piaget’s original assumption that children of this age are egocentric and incapable to taking the viewpoint of others. It now seems clear that although their perspective taking abilities may not be fully developed, they tend to make egocentric responses when they misunderstood the task, but when given the appropriate conditions, they show that they are capable of working out another’s viewpoint.

However, on a final note, it is important to also consider that Borke’s finding that children as young as three years can perform correctly in perspective-taking tasks stands in firm contrast to other researchers who have found that three-year-olds have difficulty realising another person’s perspective when the child and the other person are both looking at the same picture from different point of view [e.g. at the Louvres museum] (e.g., Masangkay et al, 1974).


(a) The Pre-Conceptual Period (2 – 4 years)… continued from above

Piaget use the three mountains task to investigate visual perspective taking and it was on the basis of this task that he concluded that young children were egocentric. There are also a variety of other perspective taking scenarios, and these include the ability to empathise with other people’s emotions, and the ability to know what other people are or may be thinking depending on the scene, setting and scenario (Wimmer and Perner, 1983). In other words, young children are less egocentric than Piaget initially assumed.


(b) The Intuitive Period (4 – 7 years)

At about the age of four, there is a further shift in thinking where the child begins to develop the mental operation of ordering, classifying and quantifying in a more systematic way. The term “intuitive” was particularly chosen by Piaget because the child is largely unaware of the principles that underlie the operations she completes and cannot explain why she has done them, nor can she carry them out in a fully satisfactory way, although she is able to carry out such operations involving ordering, classifying and quantifying.

Difficulties can be observed if a pre-operational child is asked to arrange sticks in a particular order. 10 sticks of different sizes from A (the shortest) to J (the longest), arranged randomly on a table were given to the children. The child was asked to arrange them in ascending order [order of length]. Some pre-operational children could not complete the task at all. Some other children arrange a few sticks correctly, but could not complete the task properly. And some put all the smaller ones in one and all the longer one in another. A more advance response was to arrange the sticks so that tops of the sticks when order even though the bottoms were not [See FIGURE C].

FC Pre-operational ordering different-sized sticks

FIGURE C. The pre-operational child’s ordering of different-sized sticks. An arrangement in which the child has solved the problem of seriation by ignoring the length of the sticks.

To sum up, the pre-operational child is not capable of arranging more than a very few objects in the appropriate order.

It was also discovered that pre-operational children also have difficulty with class inclusion tasks – those that involve part-whole relations. Let us assume that a child is given a box that contains 18 brown beads and 2 white beads; all the beads are wooden. When asked “Are there more brown beads than wooden beads?” [note that the question does not make sense since all the beads are made of wood but some are brown and some are white], the pre-operational child tends to say that there are “more brown beads”. The child at the intuitive-period of the pre-operational stage finds it hard to consider the class of “all beads” [wooden] and at the same time considering the subset of beads, the class of “brown beads”[wooden + brown].

This findings is generally true for all children in the pre-operational stage, irrespective of their cultural background. Investigators further found that Thai and Malaysian children gave responses that were very similar to those of Swiss children at this stage of life [4 – 7 years old] and in the same sequence od development [the intuitive period].

Here, a Thai boy who was shown a bunch of 7 roses and 2 lotus [all are in the class of flowers], states that there are more roses than flowers [problem with class of all flowers] when prompted by the standard Piagetian questions:

Child: More roses.
Experimenter: More than what?
Child: More than flowers.
Experimenter: What are the flowers?
Child: Roses.
Experimenter: Are there any others?
Child: There are.
Experimenter: What?
Child: Lotus
Experimenter: So in this bunch which is more roses or flowers?
Child: More roses.

(Ginsburg and Opper, 1979, pp. 130-1)

One of the most extensively investigated aspects of the pre-operational child’s thinking processes is what Piaget called “conservation”. Conservation refers to the understanding that superficial changes in the appearance of a quantity do not mean that there has been any real change in the quantity. For example, if we had 10 dolls placed in line, and then they were re-arranged in a circle, it would not mean that the quantity has been altered [i.e. if nothing is added or subtracted from a quantity then it remains the same – conservation].

Piaget’s experiments revealed that children in the pre-operational stage generally find it hard to grasp the concept that an object’s qualities remain intact even if it is changed in shape and appearance. A series of conservation tasks were used in the investigations and examples are given in FIGURE D and PLATE A.

FD Piaget - Tests de Conservation

FIGURE D. Some tests of conservation: (a) two tests of conservation of number (rows of sweets and coins; and flowers in vases); (b) conservation of mass (two balls of clay); (c) conservation of quantity (liquid in glasses). In each case illustration A shows the material when the child is first asked if the two items or sets of items are the same and illustration B shows the way that one item or set of items is transformed before the child is asked a second time if they are still similar.

PA Piaget - Conservation of Number

PLATE A. A 4-year-old puzzles over Piaget’s conservation of number experiments; he says that the rows are equal in number in arrangement (a), but not in arrangement (b) « because they’re all bunched together here ».

If 2 perfectly identical balls of clay are given to a child and if questioned about whether the quantity of clay being similar in both balls, the child will generally agree that it is. However, if one of the balls of clay is rolled and shaped into a sausage [see FIGURE D(b)], and the child is questioned again about whether the amount are similar, he/she is more likely to say that one is larger than the other. When asked about the reasons for the answer, they are generally unable to give an explanation, but simply say “because it is larger”.

Piaget suggested that a child has difficulty in a task such as this because she could only focus on one attribute at a time [e.g. if length is being focussed on, then she may think that the sausage shaped clay, being longer, has more clay it it. According to Piaget, for a child to appreciate that the sausage of clay has the same amount of clay as the ball would require an understanding that the greater length of the sausage is compensated for by the smaller cross section of the sausage. Piaget said that pre-operational children cannot apply principles such as compensation.

A further example to demonstrate this weakness in the child’s reasoning about conservation is through the sweets task [see FIGURE D(a)]. In this scenario, a child is shown 2 rows of sweets with a similar number of sweets in each row [presented with one to one layout] and when asked if the numbers match in each row, she will usually agree. Shortly after, one row of sweets is made longer by spreading them out, and the child is once again asked whether the number of sweets in similar in each row; the pre-operational child usually makes a choice between the rows suggesting that one has more sweets in it. He/she may for example think that the longer row means more objects [logic of the pre-operational child]. At this stage, the child does not realise that the greater length of the row of sweets is compensated for by the greater distance between the sweets.

Compensation is only one of several processes that can help children overcome changes in appearance; another process is known as “reversibility”. This is where the children could think of literally “reversing” the change; for example if the children imagine the sausage of clay being rolled back and reshaped into a ball of clay, or the row of sweets being pushed back together, they may realise that once the change has been reversed the quantity of an object or the number of items in the row remains similar to before. Pre-operational children lack the thought processes needed to apply principles like “compensation” and “reversibility”, and therefore they have difficulty in conservation tasks.

In the next stage, which is the third stage of development known as the “Concrete Operational Stage”, children will have achieved the necessary logical thought processes that give them the ability to use the required principles and handle conservation techniques and other problem-solving tasks easily.


Revisions of the Pre-Operational Stage

While Piaget claimed that the pre-operational child cannot cope with tasks like part-whole relations or conservations, because they lack the logical thought processes to apply principles like compensation. Other researchers have pointed out that children’s lack of success in some tasks may be due to factors other than ones associated with logical processes.

The pre-operational child seems to lack the ability to grasp the concept of the relationship between the whole and the part in class inclusion tasks, and will happily state that there are more brown beads than wooden beads in a box of brown and white wooden beads “because there are only two white ones”. Some other researchers have focussed their attention on the questions that children are asked during such studies and found them to be unusual [e.g. it is not often in every day conversation that we ask questions such as “Are there more brown beads or more wooden beads?”]

Minor variations in the wording of the questions that enhances and clarifies meaning can have positive effects on the child’s performance. McGarrigle (quoted Donaldson, 1978) showed children 4 toy cows, 3 black and 1 white, all were lying asleep on their sides. If the children were asked “Are there more black cows or more cows?” [as in a standard Piagetian experiment with a meaningless trap wording of the question] they tended not to answer correctly. McGarrigle found that in a group of children aged 6 years old, 25% answered the standard Piagetian question correctly, and when it was rephrased, 48% of the children answered correctly – a significant increase. From such an observation it was deduced that some of the difficulty of the task was in the wording of the question rather than just an inability to understand part-whole relations.

Donaldson (1978) put forward a different reason from Piaget as a cause for children’s poor performance in conservation tasks, he argued that children have a build in model of the world by formulating hypotheses that help them anticipate future events based on their past experiences. Hence, in the case of the child there is an expectation about any situation, and his/her interpretation of the words she hears will be influenced by the expectations she brings to the situation. When in a conservation experiment, for example, the experimenter asks a child if there are the same number of sweets in two rows [FIGURE D(a)]. Then one of the rows is changed by the experimenter while emphasising that it is being altered. Donaldson suggested that it is quite fair to assume that a child may be compelled to deduce that there would be a link between the change that occurred [the display change] and the following question [about the number of sweets in each row]; otherwise why would such a precise question come from an adult if there had not been any change? If the child is of the belief that adults only carry actions when they desire a change, then he/she might assume that a change has occurred.

McGarrigle and Donaldson (1974) explored this idea in an experiment with a character known as “Naughty Teddy”, and it was this character rather than the experimenter who changed the display layout and the modification was explained to the children as an “accident” [in such a context the child might have less expectation that a deliberate treatment had been applied to the objects, and there would be no reason to believe a change had taken place]. This procedure was setup in such a way because McGarrigle and Donaldson found that children were more likely to give the correct answer [that the objects remained the same after being messed up by Naughty Teddy] in this new context than in the classical Piagetian context.

Piaget was correct to point out the problems that pre-operational children face with conservation and other reasoning tasks. However, other researchers since Piaget have found out that, given the appropriate wording and context, young children seem capable of demonstrating at least some of the abilities that Piaget thought only developed later [even if these abilities are not well developed at such a stage].

Piaget also found that pre-operational children had difficulties when faced with tasks requiring “transitive inferences”. In this case, the children were showed 2 rods, A and B. Rod A was longer than Rod B, and then Rod A was taken out of sight of the children, who were then showed only Rod B and Rod C [B was longer than C]. When the children were then asked which rod was longer, Rod A or Rod C? Young children on the pre-operational stage find such questions hard and Piaget provided the explanation that these children cannot make logical inferences such as: if A is longer than B and B is longer than C, then A must be longer than C.

Bryant and Trabasso (1971) also considered transitive inference tasks and wondered whether children’s difficulties had more to do with remembering all the specific information about the objects rather than making an inference [i.e. for children to respond correctly they would not only have to make an inference but also remember the lengths of all the rods they had seen]. Bryant and Trabasso proposed that it was possible that young children [with brains still growing and developing physiologically] who have limited working memory capacity, were unable to retain in memory all the information they needed for the task.

In another scenario, children were faced with the similar task in an investigation of transitive inferences, however this time they were trained to remember the lengths of the rods [they were trained on the comparisons they needed to remember, i.e., that A was longer than B, and B was longer than C]. It is only when Bryant and Trabasson were satisfied that the children could remember all the information were they asked the test question [i.e. which rod was longer? A or C?]. The experimenters found that children could now answer correctly. So, the difficulty that Piaget noted in those tasks was more to do with forgetting some of the information needed to make the necessary comparisons, rather than a failure in making logical inferences.


III. The Concrete Operational Stage (about 7 – 12 years) | Stage 3 of 4

At the age of about 7 years old, the thinking processes of children change once again as they develop a new set of strategies which Piaget called “concrete operations”. These strategies are considered concrete because children can only apply them to immediately present objects. However, thinking becomes much more flexible during the concrete operational period because children lose their tendency to simply focus on one aspect of the problem, rather now, they are able to consider different aspects of a task at the same time. They now have processes like compensation and reversibility [as explained earlier in understanding volume], and they now succeed on conservation tasks. For example, when a round ball of clay is transformed into a sausage shape, children in the concrete operational stage will say, “It’s longer but it’s thinner” or “If you change it back, it will be the same.”

Conservation of number is achieved first [about 5 or 6 years], then this is followed by the conservation of weight [around 7 or 8], and the conservation of volume is fully understood at about 10 or 11 years old. Operations like addition and subtraction, multiplication and division become easier at this stage. Another major shift comes with the concrete operational child’s ability to classify and order, and to understand the principle of class inclusion. The ability to consider different aspects of a situation at the same time enables a child to perform successfully in perspective taking tasks [e.g. in the three mountains task of Piaget, a child can consider that she has one view of the model and that someone else may have a different view].

However, there are still some limitations on thinking, because children are reliant on the immediate environment and have difficulty with abstract ideas. Take the following question: “Edith is fairer than Susan. Edith is darker than Lily. Who is the darkest and who is the fairest?” Such a problem is quite difficult for concrete operational children who may not be able to answer it correctly. However, if children instead are given a set of dolls representing Susan, Edith and Lily, they are able to answer the question quickly. Hence, when the task is made a “concrete” one, in this case with physical representations, children can deal with the problem, but when it is presented verbally, as an abstract task, children have difficulty. Abstract reasoning is not found within the repertoire of the child’s skills until the latter has reached the stage of formal operations.


Revisions of the Concrete Operational Stage

A great amount of Piaget’s observations and conclusions about the concrete operational stage have been broadly confirmed by subsequent research. Tomlinson-Keasey (1978) found that conservation of number, weight and volume are acquired in the order stated by Piaget.

As in the previous stage, the performance of children in the concrete operational period may be influenced by the context of the task. In some context, children in concrete operational period may display more advanced reasoning that would typically be expected of children in that stage. Jahoda (1983) showed that 9-year-olds in Harare, Zimbabwe, had more advanced understanding of economic principles than British 9-year-olds. The Harare children, who were involved in the small business of their parents, had strong motivation to understand the principles of profit and loss. Jahoda set up a mock shop and played a shopping game with the children. The British 9-year-olds could not provide any explanation about the functioning of the shop, did not understand that a shopkeeper buys for less than he sells, and did not know that some of the profit has to be set aside for the purchase of new goods. The Harare children, by contrast, had mastered the concept of profit and could understand trading strategies. These principles had been grasped by the children as a direct outcome of their own active participation in running a business. Jahoda’s experiment, like Donaldson’s studies (1978), indicated the important function of context in the cognitive development of children.


IV. The Formal Operational Stage (12 years old) | Stage 4 of 4

During the third period of development, the Concrete operations stage, we have seen that the child is able to reason in terms of objects [e.g., classes of objects, relations between objects) when the objects are present. Piaget argued that only during the period of Formal Operations that young people are able to reason hypothetically, now they no longer depend on the “concrete” existence of objects in the real world, instead they now reason with verbally stated hypotheses to consider logical relations among several possibilities or to deduce conclusions from abstract statements [e.g. consider the syllogistic statement, “all blue birds have two hearts”; “I have a blue bird at home called Adornia”; “How many hearts does Adornia have?” The young person who has now reached formal operational thinking will give the correct answer by abstract logic, which is: “Two hearts!” Children within the previous stage will generally not get past complaining about the absurdity of the scenario.

Young people are now also better at solving problems by considering all possible solutions systematically. If requested to formulate as many combinations of grammatically correct words from the letters A, C, E, N, E, V, A, a young person at the formal operational stage could first consider all combination of letters AC, AE, AN, etc., verifying if such combinations are words, and then going on to consider all three letter combinations, and so on. In the earlier stages, children would attend to such tasks in a disorganised and unsystematic fashion.

Inhelder and Piaget (1958) explained the process of logical reasoning used by young people when presented with a number of natural science experiments. An example of one of their task, “The Pendulum Task” can be seen in Figure E.

FE Piaget - Pendulum Prob

FIGURE E. The pendulum problem. The child is given a pendulum, different lengths of string, and different weights. She is asked to use these to work out what determines the speed of the swing of the pendulum (from Inhelder and Piaget, 1958).


The young person as the participant here is given a string [that can be shortened or lengthened], and a set of weights, and then asked to figure out what determines the speed of the swing of the pendulum. The possible factors are the length of the string, the weight at the end of the string, the height of the release point and the force of the push. In this particular scenario the solutions to the solving the problem are all in front of the participant, however the successful reasoning involves formal operations that would also have to incorporate a systematic consideration of various possibilities, the formulation of hypotheses (e.g., “What could happen if I tried a heavier weight?”) and logical deductions from the results of trials with different combinations of materials.

The other tasks investigated by Inhelder and Piaget (1958) included determining the flexibility of metal rods, balancing different weights around a fulcrum, and predicting chemical reactions. These tasks mimic the steps required for scientific inquiry, and Piaget argued that formal scientific reasoning is one of the most important characteristic of formal operational thinking. From his original work, carried out in schools in Geneva, Piaget claimed that formal operational thinking was a characteristic stage that children or young people reached between the ages of 11 and 15 years – having previously gone through the earlier stages of development.


Revision of the Formal Operational Stage

Piaget’s claim has been rectified by recent research, more researchers have found that the achievement of formal operational thinking is more gradual and haphazard than Piaget assumed – it may be dependent on the nature of the task and is often limited to certain domains.

FF Piaget - Proportion of boys at different Piagetian stg

FIGURE F. Proportion of boys at different Piagetian stages as assessed by three tasks (from Shayer and Wylam, 1978).

Shayer et al. (1976; Shayer and Wylam 1978) gave problems such as the pendulum task [FIGURE E] to school children in the UK. Their results [see FIGURE F] showed that by 16 years of age only about 30% of young people had achieved “early formal operations” [Is this shocking compared to French speaking Europe where Piaget implemented his theory? Could this provide a partial explanation to the lack of personality, emotion, creativity, openness, depth and sophistication in some populations? Interesting questions…]. Martorano (1977) gave ten of Piaget’s formal operational tasks to girls and young woman aged 12 – 18 years in the USA. At 18 years of age success on the different tasks varied from 15% to 95%; but only 2 children out of 20 succeeded on all ten tasks. Young people’s success on one or two tasks might indicate some formal operational reasoning, but their failure on other tasks demonstrated that such reasoning might be limited to certain tasks or contexts. It is highly likely that young people only manage to achieve and apply formal reasoning across a range of problem tasks much later during their adolescence.

Formal thinking has been shown by some researchers as an ability that can be achieved through training, FIGURE G shows the results of such a study by Danner and Day (1977), where they mentored students aged 10 years, 13 years and 17 years in 3 formal operational tasks. As expected, training had a limited effect on the 10-year-olds, but it had marked effects at 17 years old. In summary, it seems that the period from 11 – 15 years signals the beginning of the potential for formal operational thought, rather than its achievement. Formal operational thought may only be used some of the time, in the domains we are generally familiar with, are trained in, or which have a great significance to us – in most cases formal thinking is not used. After all, we tend to know areas of life where we should have thought things out logically, but in retrospect realise we did not do so [without any regrets sometimes].

FG Piaget - LvL of availability of formal thought

FIGURE G. Levels of availability of formal thought. Percentage of adolescents showing formal thought, with and without coaching (from Danner and Day, 1977).

The Educational Implications of Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget’s theory was planned and developed over many decades throughout his long life, and at first, it was slow to make any productive impact in the UK and the USA, but from the 1950s its ambitious, embracing framework for understanding cognitive growth was becoming the accepted and dominant paradigm in cognitive development.

Whatever the shortcomings are with Piaget’s theory, it impossible to deny his ingenious contributions, as his approach provided the most comprehensive description of cognitive growth ever put forward on earth. It has had considerable impact in the domains of education, most notably for child-centred learning methods in nursery and infant schools, for mathematics curricula in the primary school, and for science curricula at the secondary school level.

Piaget argued that young children’s thinking processes are quite different from that of an adult, and they also view he world from a qualitatively different perspective. It goes with the logic that a teacher must make a firm effort to adapt to the child and never assume that what may be appropriate for adults should necessarily be right for the child. The idea of “active learning” is what lies at the heart of this child-centre approach to education. From the Piagetian perspective, children learn better from actions rather than from passive observations [e.g., telling a child about the properties of a particular material is less effective than creating an environment in which the child is free to explore, touch, manipulate and experiment with different materials. A good teacher should recognise that each child needs to construct knowledge for him or herself, and active learning results in deeper understanding.



« Our real problem is: what is the goal of education? Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds capable of discovery from the preschool age through life? » – Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980)

So, how can a teacher promote active learning on the part of the pupil? First, it should be the child rather than the teacher who initiates the activity. This should not lead us to allow the child a complete freedom to do anything they want to do, but rather a teacher should set tasks which are finely adjusted to the needs of their pupils and which, as a result, are intrinsically motivating to young learners. For example, nursery school classrooms can provide children with play materials that encourage their learning; set of toys that encourage the practice of sorting, grading and counting; play areas, like the Wendy House, where children can develop role-taking skills through imaginative and explorative play; and materials like water, sand, bricks and crayons that help children make their own constructions and create symbolic representations of the objects and people in their lives. From this range of experiences, the child develops knowledge and understanding for herself, and a good teacher’s role is to create the conditions in which learning may best take place, since the aim of education is to encourage the child to ask questions, try out experiments and speculate, rather than accept information and routine conventions unthinkingly – this also allows the child to learn and be creative about her subjective experience which is unique and different to any other child.

(1919) Jaroslava &amp; Jiri by Alphonse Mucha (1860 - 1939)

(1919) Jaroslava & Jiri, The Artist’s Children by Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939)

Secondly, a teacher should be concerned with the process rather that the end-product. This is in line with the belief that a teacher should be interested in the reasoning behind the answer that a child gives to a question rather than just in the correct answer. Conversely, mistakes should not be penalised, but treated as responses that can give a teacher insights into the child’s thinking processes at that time.

The whole idea of active learning resulted in changed attitudes towards education in all its domains. A teacher’s role is not to impart information, because in Piaget’s view, knowledge is not something to transmitted from an expert master teacher to an inexpert pupil. It should be the child, according to Piaget, who sets the pace, where the teacher’s role is to create situations that challenge the child [creatively] to ask questions, to form hypotheses and to discover new concepts. A teacher is the guide in the child’s process of discovery, and the curriculum should be adapted to each child’s individual needs and intellectual level.

In mathematics and science lessons at primary school, children are helped to make the transition from pre-operational thinking to concrete operations through carefully arranged sequences of experiences which develop an understanding for example of class inclusion, conservation and perspective-taking. At a later period, a teacher can also encourage practical and experimental work before moving on to abstract deductive reasoning. Through this process, a teacher can provide the conditions that are appropriate for the transition from concrete operational thinking to the stage of formal operations.

The post-Piagetian research into formal operational thought also has strong implications for teaching, especially science teaching in secondary schools. The tasks that are used in teaching can be analysed for the logical abilities that are required to fulfil them, and the tasks can then be adjusted to the age and expected abilities of the children who will attempt them.

Considering the wide range of activities and interests that appear in any class of children, learning should be individualised, so that tasks are appropriate to individual children’s level of understanding. Piaget did not ignore the importance of social interaction in the process of learning, he recognised the social value of interaction and viewed it as an important factor in cognitive growth. Piaget pointed out that through interaction with peers, a child can move out of the egocentric viewpoint. This generally occurs through cooperation with others, arguments and discussions. By listening to the opinion of others, having one’s own view challenged and experiencing through others’ reactions the illogicality of certain concepts, a child can learn about perspectives other than her own [egocentric]. Communication of ideas to others also helps a child to sharpen concepts by finding the appropriate words.



« Everyone knows that Piaget was the most important figure the field has ever known… [he] transformed the field of developmental psychology. »

(Flavell, 1996, p.200)

« Once psychologists looked at development through Piaget’s eyes, they never saw children in quite the same way. »

(Miller, 1993, p.81)

« A towering figure internationally. »

(Bliss, 2010, p.446)




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Actualisé: 12 Juillet 2018 | Danny J. D’Purb |


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14 réflexions sur “Essay // Biological & Developmental Psychology: Frontal Lobes, Impulsiveness in Children & Jean Piaget’s Theory

  1. _______________________________________________

    10-Year-Old Credits ‘Mario Kart’ For Helping Him Save His Grandma’s Life


    Sanders’ 74-year-old grandmother reportedly lost consciousness mid-sentence, possibly suffering from a heart attack.
    Sitting in the front seat, Sanders says he tried to wake his grandmother before finally deciding to take the wheel. “I [wanted to] get us somewhere where we could get out of the way of traffic,” he remarked, explaining his decision to maneuver the car — which was zooming along at a quick 60 mph — into a muddy ditch on the side of the road.
    The little hero credits go-kart racing and the video game “Mario Kart” for his driving skills. “My first thought was actually, ‘Is this a test or what?’” he said of the life-threatening experience.
    Some netizens took to Reddit this week to laud the boy’s quick thinking.
    “The kid was smart enough to distinguish reality from the game, but still use the skill he earned in the game to the benefit of everyone involved,” Redditor Cptawesome13 wrote on Wednesday…

    Full Article:


    « Le Vent Nous Portera » by Noir Désir / Album: Des Visages Des Figures (2001)


    Musical training and empathy (emotional processing) positively impact adults’ sensitivity to infant distress

    Adults’ ability to perceive and respond to crying is important for infant survival and in the provision of care. This study investigated a number of listener variables that might impact on adults’ perception of infant cry distress, namely parental status, musical training and empathy. Sensitivity to infant distress was tested using a previously validated task, which experimentally manipulated distress by varying the pitch of infant cries. Parents with musical training showed a significant advantage on this task when compared with parents without…

    Parsons CE, Young KS, Jegindø E, Vuust P, Stein A and Kringelbach ML (2014). Musical training and empathy positively impact adults’ sensitivity to infant distress. Front. Psychol. 5:1440. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01440


    Helpful Bouncing Babies Show That Moving Together to Music Builds Bonds [Altruism]



    Functional Neural Plasticity and Associated Changes in Positive Affect After Compassion Training

    The development of social emotions such as compassion is crucial for successful social interactions as well as for the maintenance of mental and physical health, especially when confronted with distressing life events. Yet, the neural mechanisms supporting the training of these emotions are poorly understood. To study affective plasticity in healthy adults, we measured functional neural and subjective responses to witnessing the distress of others in a newly developed task (Socio-affective Video Task). Participants’ initial empathic responses to the task were accompanied by negative affect and activations in the anterior insula and anterior medial cingulate cortex—a core neural network underlying empathy for pain. Whereas participants reacted with negative affect before training, compassion training increased positive affective experiences, even in response to witnessing others in distress. On the neural level, we observed that, compared with a memory control group, compassion training elicited activity in a neural network including the medial orbitofrontal cortex, putamen, pallidum, and ventral tegmental area—brain regions previously associated with positive affect and affiliation. Taken together, these findings suggest that the deliberate cultivation of compassion offers a new coping strategy that fosters positive affect even when confronted with the distress of others.

    Klimecki, O., Leiberg, S., Lamm, C. and Singer, T. (2012). Functional Neural Plasticity and Associated Changes in Positive Affect After Compassion Training. Cerebral Cortex, 23(7), pp.1552-1561.


    Brain Imaging Reveals Neural Roots of Caring

    Ashar, Y., Andrews-Hanna, J., Dimidjian, S. and Wager, T. (2017). Empathic Care and Distress: Predictive Brain Markers and Dissociable Brain Systems. Neuron.


    Empathy scores reduced in parents of children with autism


    A recent study published in Molecular Autism finds that parents of children with autism fall between typical controls and individuals with autism on tasks measuring performance of empathy skills in a lab-based setting.
    The study, whose contributing authors include department affiliates Carrie Allison, Rosa Hoekstra, and Simon Baron-Cohen, used a factor analysis method that searches for underlying themes in self-report questionnaires and data from behavioural tasks. The authors were interested in examining the relationship between empathy and genetic vulnerability to autism. Adults with autism, parents of individuals with autism, and volunteers from the community participated in the study.

    Empathy, defined here as an important social tool used to understand and predict others’ behaviour, is understood to be impaired in individuals on the autism spectrum. Previous models have indicated that empathy can be broken down into cognitive empathy (the recognition of emotional states in others), emotional empathy (the ability to react to emotional states in others with an appropriate affective response), and more general social skills. Although the precise aetiology of autism spectrum conditions is as of yet unclear, autism is a condition with genetic vulnerability, and there is evidence to suggest that individuals with family members diagnosed with autism may themselves have some mild, sub-clinical levels of autistic traits. These individuals could be identified as having a broader autism phenotype, or BAP…

    Full Article:


    Abnormal Neural Activation to Faces in the Parents of Children with Autism

    Parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show subtle deficits in aspects of social behavior and face processing, which resemble those seen in ASD, referred to as the “Broad Autism Phenotype ” (BAP). While abnormal activation in ASD has been reported in several brain structures linked to social cognition, little is known regarding patterns in the BAP. We compared autism parents with control parents with no family history of ASD using 2 well-validated face-processing tasks. Results indicated increased activation in the autism parents to faces in the amygdala (AMY) and the fusiform gyrus (FG), 2 core face-processing regions.

    Exploratory analyses revealed hyper-activation of lateral occipital cortex (LOC) bilaterally in autism parents with aloof personality (“BAP+”). Findings suggest that abnormalities of the AMY and FG are related to underlying genetic liability for ASD, whereas abnormalities in the LOC and right FG are more specific to behavioral features of the BAP. Results extend our knowledge of neural circuitry underlying abnormal face processing beyond those previously reported in ASD to individuals with shared genetic liability for autism and a subset of genetically related individuals with the BAP.

    Similar findings emerging in this study suggest that aberrant hyper-activation of the LOC is observed in parents with the aloof phenotype and may be associated with the social/communication behavioral deficits in autism.

    Yucel, G., Belger, A., Bizzell, J., Parlier, M., Adolphs, R. and Piven, J. (2014). Abnormal Neural Activation to Faces in the Parents of Children with Autism. Cereb. Cortex, 25(12), pp.4653-4666.


    The “Sourpuss” gene: Genes for Emotion-Enhanced Remembering Are Linked to Enhanced Perceiving

    Emotionally enhanced memory and susceptibility to intrusive memories after trauma have been linked to a deletion variant (i.e., a form of a gene in which certain amino acids are missing) of ADRA2B, the gene encoding subtype B of the α2-adrenergic receptor, which influences norepinephrine activity. We examined in 207 participants whether variations in this gene are responsible for individual differences in affective influences on initial encoding that alter perceptual awareness.

    We examined the attentional blink, an attentional impairment during rapid serial visual presentation, for negatively arousing, positively arousing, and neutral target words. Overall, the attentional blink was reduced for emotional targets for ADRA2B-deletion carriers and noncarriers alike, which reveals emotional sparing (i.e., reduction of the attentional impairment for words that are emotionally significant). However, deletion carriers demonstrated a further, more pronounced emotional sparing for negative targets.

    This finding demonstrates a contribution of genetics to individual differences in the emotional subjectivity of perception, which in turn may be linked to biases in later memory.

    Todd, R., Muller, D., Lee, D., Robertson, A., Eaton, T., Freeman, N., Palombo, D., Levine, B. and Anderson, A. (2013). Genes for Emotion-Enhanced Remembering Are Linked to Enhanced Perceiving. Psychological Science, 24(11), pp.2244-2253.


    Large-scale discovery of novel genetic causes of developmental disorders

    We established a network to recruit 1,133 children (median age 5.5 years, Extended Data Fig. 1a) with diverse, severe undiagnosed developmental disorders, through all 24 regional genetics services of the UK National Health Service and Republic of Ireland. Among the most commonly observed phenotypes (Extended Data Fig. 1b and Supplementary Table 1) were intellectual disability or developmental delay (87% of children), abnormalities revealed by cranial MRI (30%), seizures (24%), and congenital heart defects (11%). These children are predominantly (~90%) of northwest European ancestry (Extended Data Fig. 1c), with 47 pairs of parents (4.1%) exhibiting kinship equivalent to, or in excess of, second cousins (Extended Data Fig. 1d and Supplementary Information).

    In most families (849 of 1,101) the child was the only affected family member, but 111 children had one or more parents with a similar developmental disorder, and 124 had a similarly affected sibling (Supplementary Information). Prior clinical genetic testing would have already diagnosed many children with easily recognized syndromes, or large pathogenic deletions and duplications, enriching this research cohort for less distinct syndromes and novel genetic disorders.

    By studying 1,133 children with severe, undiagnosed developmental disorders, and their parents, using a combination of exome sequencing3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and array-based detection of chromosomal rearrangements, we discovered 12 novel genes associated with developmental disorders. These newly implicated genes increase by 10% (from 28% to 31%) the proportion of children that could be diagnosed. Clustering of missense mutations in six of these newly implicated genes suggests that normal development is being perturbed by an activating or dominant-negative mechanism.

    Our findings demonstrate the value of adopting a comprehensive strategy, both genome-wide and nationwide, to elucidate the underlying causes of rare genetic disorders.



    Franco-British Chamber| How French families can make British au-pairs [nannies] feel at home

  2. Control of voice gender in pre-pubertal children

    Adult listeners are capable of identifying the gender of speakers as young as 4 years old from their voice. In the absence of a clear anatomical dimorphism in the dimensions of pre-pubertal boys’ and girls’ vocal apparatus, the observed gender differences may reflect children’s regulation of their vocal behaviour. A detailed acoustic analysis was conducted of the utterances of 34 6- to 9-year-old children, in their normal voices and also when asked explicitly to speak like a boy or a girl. Results showed statistically significant shifts in fundamental and formant frequency values towards those expected from the sex dimorphism in adult voices. Directions for future research on the role of vocal behaviours in pre-pubertal children’s expression of gender are considered.

    The ‘size-code’ hypothesis (Ohala, 1984), which predicts that callers make a conventionalized use of primarily size-related acoustic variation to communicate motivational information, has received support from both non-human (Reby et al., 2005) and human (Puts, Hodges, Cardenas, & Gaulin, 2007) studies showing that males lower their frequency components to sound more dominant. We propose that, because in humans, F0 and ΔF are primarily indexes of sex rather than size, speakers primarily use a ‘gender code’, whereby they control these cues to vary the vocal expression of their gender.

    As noted earlier, certain social contexts – such as the presence of same-sex peers – may trigger gender-typed behaviour (Banerjee & Lintern, 2001). The present study raises the question of whether the control of acoustic parameters as reported in this study contributes to this self-presentation of gender. Several studies (Biernat, 1991; O’Brien & Huston, 1985; Serbin, Poulin-Dubois, Colburne, Sen, & Eichstedt,2001) have found that Western children acquire gender stereotypes in behaviour and appearance by 3 years of age (and increase their gender-typed associations as they get older), but to our knowledge, no research has focused on the acquisition and role of voice stereotypes in children.

    The development of voice control in the expression of gender in children’s everyday speech therefore remains to be studied.

    Moreover, given the importance of social environment on children’s gender identity, future studies should examine the role of parental–child interactions, peer interactions, and child-directed media (i.e., advertising, cartoons) on voice gender acquisition and development in a range of cultures and societies.

    Cartei, V., Cowles, W., Banerjee, R. and Reby, D. (2013). Control of voice gender in pre-pubertal children. Br J Dev Psychol, 32(1), pp.100-106.


    Neural Correlates of Explicit Social Judgments on Vocal Stimuli

    Functional neuroimaging research on the neural basis of social evaluation has traditionally focused on face perception paradigms. Thus, little is known about the neurobiology of social evaluation processes based on auditory cues, such as voices.

    To investigate the top-down effects of social trait judgments on voices, hemodynamic responses of 44 healthy participants were measured during social trait (trustworthiness [TR] and attractiveness [AT]), emotional (happiness, HA), and cognitive (age, AG) voice judgments. Relative to HA and AG judgments, TR and AT judgments both engaged the bilateral inferior parietal cortex (IPC; area PGa) and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) extending into the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex. This dmPFC activation overlapped with previously reported areas specifically involved in social judgments on ‘faces.’

    Moreover, social trait judgments were expected to share neural correlates with emotional HA and cognitive AG judgments. Comparison of effects pertaining to social, social–emotional, and social–cognitive appraisal processes revealed a dissociation of the left IPC into 3 functional subregions assigned to distinct cytoarchitectonic subdivisions. In total, the dmPFC is proposed to assume a central role in social attribution processes across sensory qualities. In social judgments on voices, IPC activity shifts from rostral processing of more emotional judgment facets to caudal processing of more cognitive judgment facets.

    We investigated the neural basis underlying explicit social trait judgments on voice records of everyday statements. The observed convergence of brain regions recruited during social trait judgments on voices in the present study, and on faces in previous studies, indicates a central, most likely transmodal role of the dmPFC in complex social attribution processes across judgment modalities and sensory qualities. Furthermore, we characterized the functional heterogeneity of the left IPC in social evaluation tasks on voices, suggesting selective recruitment of the IPC along a rostro-caudal functional axis mediating affective processes more rostrally and cognitive trait-oriented features more caudally.

    Hensel, L., Bzdok, D., Muller, V., Zilles, K. and Eickhoff, S. (2013). Neural Correlates of Explicit Social Judgments on Vocal Stimuli. Cerebral Cortex, 25(5), pp.1152-1162.


    Pitch Memory in Nonmusicians and Musicians: Revealing Functional Differences Using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

    The musicians’ brain has been studied extensively as a model for neuroplasticity over the last 2 decades (Herholz and Zatorre 2012; Merette et al. 2013 for recent overviews).

    Findings from cross-sectional brain imaging studies comparing brain structures of musicians and nonmusicians suggest that multiple anatomical differences exist including motor areas (Jäncke et al. 1997), gray matter volume in Heschl’s gyrus (Schneider et al. 2002) and the corpus callosum (Schlaug et al. 1995).

    Furthermore, studies have shown different activation patterns for musicians and nonmusicians for several cognitive tasks (e.g., verbal and tonal memory: Schulze, Zysset et al. 2011; processing rhythms: Herdener et al. 2014; pitch perception: Habibi et al. 2013). A longitudinal intervention study by Hyde et al. (2009) found that after 15 months of musical training children show anatomical differences in the motor hand area, corpus callosum, and right auditory cortex compared with a control group.

    Even though such longitudinal studies are relatively sparse, the reasons behind the specialization of neural structures in individuals with musical training can be traced back to the fact that learning an instrument requires extensively regular and deliberate practice (Ericsson et al. 1993), often starting at a very young age. Furthermore, playing an instrument is a highly complex skill whereby one has to integrate higher-order cognitive functions and control very fine motor movements (Wan and Schlaug 2010).

    Evidence cited in support of a link between musical training and neuroplasticity includes consistent age of onset effects (Barrett et al. 2013for a review). Thus, it is likely that the brain adapts to these exceptional demands (Münte et al. 2002; Gaser and Schlaug 2003).

    Functional imaging studies investigating neural networks of pitch memory in nonmusicians have shown involvements of frontal, temporal, and parietal areas (Zatorre et al. 1994; Koelsch et al. 2009; Jerde et al. 2011). More specifically, in subjects with no or very little musical training, Gaab et al. (2003) showed that pitch memory recruits a network of neural regions, including the superior temporal gyri, bilateral posterior dorsolateral frontal regions, bilateral superior parietal regions, bilateral lobes V and VI of the cerebellum, the supramarginal gyri, and the left inferior frontal gyrus. The activation of the left supramarginal gyrus (SMG) was of particular interest as higher activation in this region was linked to superior pitch memory performance (Gaab et al. 2003).

    To investigate the causal involvement of specific brain areas in pitch memory, noninvasive brain stimulation methods, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), are useful, as they enable the manipulation of cortical excitability in a targeted area (Nitsche and Paulus 2001; Antal et al. 2004). Whereas anodal tDCS leads to a facilitation of neural activity, cathodal tDCS suppresses the cortical excitability under the site of stimulation (Nitsche and Paulus 2000; Cohen Kadosh et al. 2010; Ladeira et al. 2011). Previous tDCS studies have supported the causal involvement of the left SMG in pitch memory recognition by showing a deterioration of performance after cathodal stimulation (Vines et al. 2006) and an improvement of pitch memory on a recognition and recall task (but not visual memory) after anodal stimulation in nonmusicians (Schaal et al. 2013).

    To date however, there are no tDCS studies of the SMG in trained musicians, so the causal role of the left SMG in superior pitch memory performance remains to be tested.

    One other relevant feature of SMG activation during music processing in musicians and nonmusicians has been contrary hemispheric patterns.Gaab and Schlaug (2003) revealed stronger activation in the right SMG in musicians compared with nonmusicians during a pitch memory task when performances of both groups were matched, indicating different underlying cognitive processing.

    However, several other studies have reported stronger activation in the left SMG in musicians during music listening (Seung et al. 2005) and pitch memory (Ellis et al. 2013). Schulze, Zysset et al. (2011) compared verbal (memorizing syllables) and tonal (memorizing pitches) working memory in musicians and nonmusicians and revealed overlapping activation patterns including the left inferior parietal lobe (corresponding to the location of the SMG), in both groups for the memory processes.

    Furthermore, in the musician group, additional activation was found in the right globus pallidus, right caudate nucleus, and left cerebellum during tonal working memory suggesting that musicians use a specialized and more complex neural system for memorizing pitches.

    An important note in this context is that the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies mentioned above all used recognition tasks to investigate neural correlates of pitch memory (Zatorre et al. 1994;Gaab et al. 2003; Gaab and Schlaug 2003; Koelsch et al. 2009; Jerde et al. 2011; Schulze, Zysset et al. 2011; Ellis et al. 2013).

    In general, short-term memory can be tested by 2 response methods, recognition and recall. Whereas recognition relies on a monitoring process for re-presented stimuli, recall tasks include more demanding production processes. A study comparing memory for auditorily and visually presented words has shown that underlying activity of neural structures varies depending whether recall or recognition processes were required (Cabeza et al. 2003). This is often traced back to different strategies used in different task procedures. Furthermore, activation differences found in studies using different recognition tasks may also be due to subtle but important task demand differences which require varying memory processes such as maintenance and rehearsal. For example, the study by Gaab et al. (2003)used a recognition task which only emphasized maintenance of pitch information, whereas the task demands in the study by Schulze, Zysset et al. (2011) required maintenance and explicitly instructed participants to use rehearsal processes. These task demand differences could explain why the activation found in the SMG in the study by Gaab et al. (2003) is more inferior than the inferior parietal activation found by Schulze, Zysset et al. (2011).

    The aim of the present study is to investigate whether functional differences of the SMG can be found between musicians and nonmusicians in pitch memory and to clarify whether any such differences can be attributed to memory task demands. Therefore, performances on 2 pitch memory tasks (recognition and recall) and a visual control task were investigated following cathodal tDCS over the left SMG, right SMG, or sham stimulation. In line with previous studies, we hypothesized that in nonmusicians, cathodal stimulation over the left SMG would lead to a deterioration of performance on both pitch memory tasks (Vines et al. 2006; Schaal et al. 2013). Regarding the musicians group, 3 outcomes are possible: (1) cathodal stimulation over the left SMG results in deterioration of pitch memory performance, as stronger activation in the left SMG of musicians was found by Ellis et al. 2013, (2) cathodal tDCS over the right SMG would lead to a drop in pitch memory performance, as musicians show more right hemispheric activation for musical memory (Gaab and Schlaug 2003), or (3) no stimulation effect would be found as musicians activate a more complex neural system for the pitch memory process and can compensate for any stimulation modulations (Schulze, Zysset et al. 2011).

    In summary, the present study provides evidence for the different and distinctive causal involvement of the SMG in nonmusicians and musicians in the pitch memory process. A significant downward modulation of pitch memory performance (recognition and recall) after cathodal tDCS over the left SMG was only found in nonmusicians. In the musicians group, a selective effect was found on the pitch recognition task but only after stimulation of the right SMG. These combined results suggest a hemispheric specialization of the SMG for pitch memory depending on musical expertise and training.

    Schaal, N., Krause, V., Lange, K., Banissy, M., Williamson, V. and Pollok, B. (2014). Pitch Memory in Nonmusicians and Musicians: Revealing Functional Differences Using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation. Cereb. Cortex, 25(9), pp.2774-2782.

  3. Applying a social learning theoretical framework to music therapy as a prevention and intervention for bullies and victims of bullying

    Bullying is a growing worldwide problem largely affecting school-aged youth and, to date, there is no music therapy literature specific to bullying. As a result, there is no guidance for applying theoretical frameworks or for developing music therapy interventions for bullies and victims of bullying. After synthesizing the literature and determining the characteristics and behaviors of bullies and victims, the authors applied social learning theory as a framework to conceptualize the behaviors and cognitions of bullies and victims and to design age appropriate music therapy interventions.

    Based from concepts of social learning theory and existing music therapy research with adolescents, the authors provide suggestions of music therapy interventions for both bullies and victims. It seems that a social learning theory approach to music therapy interventions might represent an appropriate approach to frame treatments for both bullies and the victims of bullying. Prevention and intervention efforts at various age and developmental levels using music therapy may be more engaging, motivating, and effective than prevention and intervention efforts without music.

    The proposed interventions may be a helpful initiator for music therapists working with school-aged populations on the issues of bullying.

    Social learning theory as conceptual framework to address bullying:

    Bandura developed social learning theory in the 1960s and asserted that behaviors are produced and maintained by the interaction between a person and his or her environment (Bandura, 1977). In turn, psychological functioning is a result of the “continuous reciprocal interaction of personal and environmental determinants” and “…virtually all learning phenomena resulting from direct experiences occur on a vicarious basis by observing other people’s behavior and its consequences for them” (p. 12).

    This model emphasized humans’ capacity for self-directed behavior change (Wilson, 2011) and vicarious learning given the role of cognitive function in behavior. Thus, although social experiences may continuously shape behaviors, people are able to change both their cognitions and behaviors. Bullies and victims of bullying, specifically, are able to learn appropriate social behaviors by changing their thoughts concerning the behaviors.

    Given the documented need for both prevention and intervention for bullies and victims of bullying and the characteristics of these populations, it seems that music therapists may be able to utilize social learning theory as a conceptual framework from which to treat these populations. Social learning theory may provide an appropriate framework for use in educational settings as there are ample opportunities for social engagement and modeling behaviors.

    Moreover, music therapy interventions have been successful at improving peer relations, self-management (Gooding, 2011), and social skills (Chong & Kim, 2010). Utilizing social learning theory with the Orff Schulwerk philosophy can provide a musical and conceptual framework from which to design age and developmentally appropriate interventions targeting social goals. Preventative efforts using interactive forms of music therapy may be more engaging, motivating, and effective than traditional talk-based prevention efforts without music. In the contemporary era of heightened accountability and evidence-based practice, quantitative and qualitative research is warranted to determine effects of music therapy with bullies and victims of bullying at various age levels who may have similar characteristics. Moreover, specific questions remain concerning specific therapeutic mechanisms of how and why music therapy interventions might be effective with bullies and victims of bullying.

    Shafer, K. and Silverman, M. (2013). Applying a social learning theoretical framework to music therapy as a prevention and intervention for bullies and victims of bullying. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 40(5), pp.495-500.


    Art therapy groups for adolescents with personality disorders

    This paper describes a study conducted on the efficacy of art therapy administered to a group of adolescent patients suffering from personality disorders at a residential rehabilitation center.
    It has been just 50 years since the development of “art therapy” as a distinct discipline was first mentioned. Thanks to contributions from Naumburg (1947), and later fromKramer (1958), the focus was initially on analyzing the ‘work of art’, and subsequently on the creative process behind it, which can be considered therapeutic in itself because of the sensory and kinesthetic commitment that it requires, which facilitates the identification and expression of emotions.

    Art therapy is seen today as a therapeutic methodological model based on a non-verbal approach that comprises a number of treatments devised to promote health and facilitate recovery by means of an active or passive involvement in an expressive activity. Participants have to be able to make use of various processes and techniques that help them to develop their artistic creation, to generate a space that refers them back to their inner world to facilitate the therapeutic relationship and supporting the rehabilitation process (Korlin, Nyback, & Golberg, 2000).

    In psychiatry, art therapy has been used for various purposes, e.g. in studies on the treatment of depression (Korostiy & Hmain, 2013), schizophrenia (Teglbjaerg, 2008), post-traumatic stress disorders (Talwar, 2007), and mental retardation in adults (Kunkle-Miller, 1978).

    Art Therapy has traditionally been applied to a group setting, which simultaneously provides a reassuring containment and also an opportunity for growth and exchange. It can be administered to various types of patient who, through this manual activity, can find a special space for communicating and connecting with others (Ventresca, 2004).

    Adolescence has always been synonymous with transformation and often with a profound sense of disquiet. It may be a good time of life for measures based on art therapy, which gives priority to heeding emotions and desires. Several studies have been conducted on the therapeutic effects of art in adolescence in various settings, including: the rehabilitation of young criminals (Smeijsters, Kil, Kurstjens, Nelten, & Willemars, 2011); efforts to increase the resilience of adolescents coming from particularly difficult socio-economic backgrounds (Jang & Choi, 2012); or easing the obsessive defense mechanisms of adolescents with reading impairments (Shaw, 1978). Many other fields have also been investigated.

    Taking a group approach is also considered more convenient in terms of the cost-benefit balance, and can be very important in helping patients when pharmacological treatments are not enough (Burlingame et al., 1999, Gatta et al., 2010 and Lo Coco et al., 2008).

    Art therapy refers to the concept of “being adolescent” in the sense that it constantly weaves a web that joins body, mind and emotions, enabling patients to regain a taste for creating something with their own hands and seeing themselves as the makers of the product (Ventresca, 2004). The greater use of symbolic rather than verbal language provides a more appropriate path for arriving at patients’ interiority while protecting and containing, bypassing rather than breaking down their defense mechanisms, activating their creative resources and their self-awareness at the same time (Korlin et al., 2000).

    By means of group art therapy, adolescents can also experiment with opening and closing their personal boundaries, and thus succeeding in establishing an independent physical and symbolic space, where they can defend what is their own, while remaining in a dynamic relationship with others. The artistic process becomes a performance that helps them to expand their self-image. It focuses their intentional actions while making way for a life project that shifts the horizon from the ‘here and now’ toward a future once thought and now thinkable again (Ventresca, 2004).

    The purpose of the art therapy administered was mainly to help these adolescents emerge from their relational isolation, offering them an alternative to solitude, supporting their capacity to communicate, listen and respect one another. Another aim was to bring out these adolescents’ resources and the analogies in their personal experiences, while leaving their differences and limits in the background, so as to facilitate an exchange of experiences and their integration, which is such a fundamental aspect in the context of the rehabilitation center where these individuals were staying.

    The expressive activities discussed in this paper seemed to be capable of stimulating the group’s subjective, emotional and human features. Sharing their emotional and human experiences helped the participants to develop a group culture, laying the foundations for establishing a shared heritage, a method for accessing new experiences, and for paving the way to change (Bassetti & Pertile, 2012). Especially for some of its members, the group proved to be an important space for working on themselves and sharing with others, as well as helping new arrivals to fit in, as demonstrated by the virtually constant presence of these participants and by a considerable improvement in the group climate in the second cycle.

    Thus, albeit with its above-mentioned limitations, this study provides evidence that, as part of a compulsory stay in a residential rehabilitation center, our group art therapy activities could have a strongly aggregating value, helping the adolescents involved to combat the sense of solitude and self-centered isolation that often characterizes these patients’ experiences (Ridolfi et al., 2012).

    Gatta, M., Gallo, C. and Vianello, M. (2014). Art therapy groups for adolescents with personality disorders. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(1), pp.1-6.

    The Human Brain is designed for Art Appreciation

    Many studies involving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have exposed participants to paintings under varying task demands. To isolate neural systems that are activated reliably across fMRI studies in response to viewing paintings regardless of variation in task demands, a quantitative meta-analysis of fifteen experiments using the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method was conducted.

    As predicted, viewing paintings was correlated with activation in a distributed system including the occipital lobes, temporal lobe structures in the ventral stream involved in object (fusiform gyrus) and scene (parahippocampal gyrus) perception, and the anterior insula—a key structure in experience of emotion. In addition, we also observed activation in the posterior cingulate cortex bilaterally—part of the brain’s default network.

    These results suggest that viewing paintings engages not only systems involved in visual representation and object recognition, but also structures underlying emotions and internalized cognitions.

    Vartanian, O. and Skov, M. (2014). Neural correlates of viewing paintings: Evidence from a quantitative meta-analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging data. Brain and Cognition, 87, pp.52-56.



    Children’s Drawings May Indicate Later Intelligence

    Drawing is ancient; it is the only childhood cognitive behavior for which there is any direct evidence from the Upper Paleolithic. Do genes influence individual differences in this species-typical behavior, and is drawing related to intelligence (g) in modern children? We report on the first genetically informative study of children’s figure drawing. In a study of 7,752 pairs of twins, we found that genetic differences exert a greater influence on children’s figure drawing at age 4 than do between-family environmental differences. Figure drawing was as heritable as g at age 4 (heritability of .29 for both). Drawing scores at age 4 correlated significantly with g at age 4 (r = .33, p < .001, n = 14,050) and with g at age 14 (r = .20, p < .001, n = 4,622). The genetic correlation between drawing at age 4 and g at age 14 was .52, 95% confidence interval = [.31, .75]. Individual differences in this widespread behavior have an important genetic component and a significant genetic link with g.

    Arden, R., Trzaskowski, M., Garfield, V. and Plomin, R. (2014). Genes Influence Young Children’s Human Figure Drawings and Their Association With Intelligence a Decade Later. Psychological Science, 25(10), pp.1843-1850.

  4. The Neural Correlates of Reading Fluency Deficits in Children

    Reading is a multicomponent process that requires the use of different neural systems to integrate phonology, orthography, syntax, and semantics with lower order perceptual, attentional, and motoric functions (Berninger et al. 2001; Kame’enui and Simmons 2001; Wolf and Katzir-Cohen 2001).

    Reading fluency in the English language often refers to the ability to read rapidly and accurately, with comprehension (NRP 2000;Lyon et al. 2003). Novice readers must learn that spoken words are composed of discrete sounds that can be mapped onto letters (Turkeltaub et al. 2003). With increasing experience, a connection develops between orthography and semantic units, which enables a child to decode printed words with increasing comprehension (Seidenberg 2005). Through automatization, greater accuracy and enhanced speed are achieved and, as a result, the act of reading itself requires less cognitive effort, which allows more cognitive resources for the task of comprehension (Norton and Wolf 2012).

    However, ∼5–17% of children in the USA have difficulty in learning to read despite adequate perceptual and general cognitive abilities, which can be defined as reading disability (RD; Lyon et al. 2003;Galaburda et al. 2006; Peterson and Pennington 2012). Although these disabilities can be (partly) remediated by interventions targeting reading sub-skills (e.g., phonemic awareness), many children still exhibit fluency and/or comprehension deficits after completing remediation (Lyon and Moats 1997) or may show reading fluency deficits, but accurate word identification (Thaler et al. 2004).

    The remaining fluency deficits are hard to remediate (Torgesen et al. 2001; Reynolds et al. 2003) and up to 30% of fourth graders exhibit reading fluency deficits (Perie et al. 2005; Lee et al. 2007). Nevertheless, the underlying mechanisms of fluency deficits have been less studied than other reading components and their neural correlates are almost unknown.

    Most research studies investigating the neural correlates of typical and atypical reading development focus on lower level processes (e.g., phonological awareness) and single-word reading, both of which are easier to study and remediate. These studies have consistently shown that reading processes are integrated in distinct left-hemispheric posterior and anterior systems, which together form the neural reading network (Pugh et al. 2001; Turkeltaub et al. 2003; Schlaggar and McCandliss 2007). The posterior reading network includes fusiform gyrus (FG) and the occipitotemporal and parietotemporal junctions. Individuals with an RD tend to show hypoactivation within the posterior subsystem (e.g.,Turkeltaub et al. 2003; Schlaggar and McCandliss 2007). The more anterior network includes mainly the inferior frontal gyrus and RD tends to hyperactivate this network (Temple 2002; Hoeft et al. 2006; Richlan et al. 2009).

    The present study aims to investigate “natural reading” at varying and individual-based reading speeds in RD and TYP children in order to investigate how the pattern of activation in core reading regions changes as the opportunity to read fluently is manipulated.

    Reading fluency is here defined as reading speed with accurate comprehension and does not include reading accuracy (e.g., while reading aloud). We previously employed a similar study design in typical adults (Benjamin and Gaab 2011) and demonstrated that brain regions engaged in reading respond selectively during fluent reading, and that these same regions (especially FG) increase their activity when fluent reading speed is accelerated (Benjamin and Gaab 2011). Based on the summarized evidence above, we aimed to first validate task-related reading network activations in TYP children and then compare activations between children with RD and TYP at varying reading speeds. Our main hypothesis was that children with RD activate posterior left-hemispheric brain regions (especially FG) to a lesser degree than TYP.

    Based on our previous results in adults and the literature on developmental dyslexia (showing hypoactivation in left-hemispheric occipitotemporal regions), we further hypothesized that, in TYP children, a faster reading rate would lead to increased activation within reading network components and that the group differences between RD and TYP would become more prominent as reading speed was accelerated.

    This suggests that FG plays a key role in sentence reading and further supports the notion that functional deficits in FG could be an underlying mechanism of reading fluency deficits in RD. Given that reading fluency is one of the key deficits in RD, and that remediation programs often fail to remediate deficits in fluent reading, these results and their implications should be carefully considered in clinical and educational practice.

    Langer, N., Benjamin, C., Minas, J. and Gaab, N. (2013). The Neural Correlates of Reading Fluency Deficits in Children. Cerebral Cortex, 25(6), pp.1441-1453.


    Giving children non-verbal clues about words boosts vocabularies

    By using words to reference objects in the visual environment, parents can help young children learn new words, according to the research. It also explores the difficult-to-measure quality of non-verbal clues to word meaning during interactions between parents and children learning to speak. For example, saying, « There goes the zebra » while visiting the zoo helps a child learn the word « zebra » faster than saying, « Let’s go to see the zebra. »

    Differences in the quality of parents’ non-verbal clues to toddlers (what children can see when their parents are talking) explain about a quarter (22 percent) of the differences in those same children’s vocabularies when they enter kindergarten, researchers found. The results are reported in the paper, « Quality of early parent input predicts child vocabulary three years later, » published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Cartmill, E., Armstrong, B., Gleitman, L., Goldin-Meadow, S., Medina, T. and Trueswell, J. (2013). Quality of early parent input predicts child vocabulary 3 years later. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(28), pp.11278-11283.


    15 fautes d’orthographe que beaucoup de personnes font (et comment les éviter pour de bon)


    “Which is the best language to learn?”
    by Robert Lane Greene (Finance correspondent for The Economist in Berlin and the author of “You Are What you Speak”)

    From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, March/April 2012

    For language lovers, the facts are grim: Anglophones simply aren’t learning them any more. In Britain, despite four decades in the European Union, the number of A-levels taken in French and German has fallen by half in the past 20 years, while what was a growing trend of Spanish-learning has stalled. In America, the numbers are equally sorry. One factor behind the 9/11 attacks was the fact that the CIA lacked the Arabic-speakers who might have translated available intelligence. But ten years on, “English only” campaigns appeal more successfully to American patriotism than campaigns that try to promote language-learning, as if the most successful language in history were threatened.
    Why learn a foreign language? After all, the one you already speak if you read this magazine is the world’s most useful and important language. English is not only the first language of the obvious countries, it is now the rest of the world’s second language: a Japanese tourist in Sweden or a Turk landing a plane in Spain will almost always speak English.
    Nonetheless, compelling reasons remain for learning other languages. They range from the intellectual to the economical to the practical…

    Full Article:


    Orthographic Coding: Brain Activation for Letters, Symbols, and Digits


    The present experiment investigates the input coding mechanisms of 3 common printed characters: letters, numbers, and symbols. Despite research in this area, it is yet unclear whether the identity of these 3 elements is processed through the same or different brain pathways. In addition, some computational models propose that the position-in-string coding of these elements responds to general flexible mechanisms of the visual system that are not character-specific, whereas others suggest that the position coding of letters responds to specific processes that are different from those that guide the position-in-string assignment of other types of visual objects. Here, in an fMRI study, we manipulated character position and character identity through the transposition or substitution of 2 internal elements within strings of 4 elements.

    Participants were presented with 2 consecutive visual strings and asked to decide whether they were the same or different. The results showed: 1) that some brain areas responded more to letters than to numbers and vice versa, suggesting that processing may follow different brain pathways; 2) that the left parietal cortex is involved in letter identity, and critically in letter position coding, specifically contributing to the early stages of the reading process; and that 3) a stimulus-specific mechanism for letter position coding is operating during orthographic processing.

    Taken together, these results show that there are specific brain areas that respond more to letters than to digits and symbols and that letter position coding is primarily supported by specific brain areas that are much less involved in the computation of the position of other types of characters. With regard to the first issue of interest (i.e., the different neural pathways associated with character identity coding), results showed that the left fusiform gyrus and the left inferior and superior parietal gyri showed increased activation for letter strings as compared with the other types of characters, whereas the pars opercularis in the left inferior frontal gyrus and part of the left fusiform responded equally to letters and symbols, but more to these than to digits. Furthermore, other areas responded more to digits than letters. Thus, the left medial occipital, right pallidum, the right superior parietal gyrus, and the right inferior temporal sulcus showed increased activation for digit strings than for letter strings. However, no regions showed more activation for digits than for symbols. Finally, the same areas that respond more to digits than letters also respond more to symbols than letters, in addition to the right angular gyrus and the right middle temporal gyrus. Thus, these results show that processing of the 3 elements involves the recruitment of different brain areas. With regard to the second issue of interest (i.e., the different neural regions associated with character position coding), the results showed some common effects of transpositions for all types of characters (in the right inferior and superior parietal and in the right angular gyrus), but at the same time differential effects for letters as compared with digits and symbols (with letter-specific effects in the left superior and inferior parietal cortex).

    Therefore, the 2 major findings of this experiment are the dissociations found for letters vs. digits and symbols, both relative to the identity and position coding processes.

    First, with regard to letter identity processing, we found increased activation in the left fusiform and the pars opercularis, replicating previous findings (Price 2000, 2012). A large number of prior studies have emphasized the implication of the left inferior frontal gyrus in the reading network (Price 2000, 2012). For instance, it has been found to be implicated in articulatory phonology (Hoeft et al. 2007). This area is an important hub of the reading circuit, which seems to respond to written words at the same time as the left ventral occipito-temporal cortex (Cornelissen et al. 2009; Wheat et al. 2010) and probably exerts a top-down feedback effect on the representations computed in the left ventral occipito-temporal cortex (Woodhead et al. 2014). Interestingly, this area (pars opercularis) did not show differences between letters and symbols but showed higher activation for these 2 types of characters as compared with digits.

    The increase of activation for letters in the left fusiform is in line with massive evidence showing that the occipito-temporal cortex (the putative visual word-form area) is related to skilled reading (see Dehaene and Cohen 2011 for a review). Skilled readers recruit and tune this fast word recognition system (Cohen and Dehaene 2004; Binder et al. 2006), whereas developmental dyslexia is associated with a failure to recruit the occipito-temporal cortex (Richlan et al. 2011).

    The current results demonstrate that the left fusiform shows more activation for letters than for digits or symbols, thus indicating computation of orthographic processing in this area. Furthermore, in accordance with previous results (Turkeltaub et al. 2003; Callan et al. 2005; Reinke et al. 2008), posterior areas of the left fusiform also show significant activation for symbols and for letters, suggesting that these posterior areas may be involved in the computation of abstract orthographic representations but also representations related to meaning.

    It is important to note that isolated letters do not carry meaning in the sense that they do not have specific referents in the world. Strings of consonants formed from arbitrary combinations, such as the ones presented here, are unlikely to carry meaning either, since they do not form words that refer to the world or even pronounceable pseudowords that could be neighbors of existing words. In contrast, some of the symbols used in the present experiment refer to specific meanings like euro, pound, percentage, etc. So, it is quite likely that while strings of consonants do not access semantics, strings of symbols automatically activate some meanings. In fact, probably because strings of symbols evoked abstract semantic representations, they also recruited other areas that have been previously related to semantic processing, such as the right angular gyrus, right superior parietal and the right middle and inferior temporal cortex. Although this hypothesis needs further investigation, these areas have been previously related to various aspects of semantic processing such as such integrating and retrieving semantic information (Binder et al. 2009; Binder and Desai 2011) and top-down predictions of semantic content (Carreiras, Seghier et al. 2009; Brownsett and Wise 2010).

    Secondly, we found several brain areas that responded more to digits than letters. Previous fMRI studies contrasting letters and digits showed more activation for letters than for numbers in the left ventral occipito-temporal cortex, but no areas showing more activation for numbers than for letters (e.g., Polk and Farah 1998; Polk et al. 2002; James et al. 2005; Baker et al. 2007; Reinke et al. 2008). Only a very recent study has shown more activation for numbers than for letters in a right lateral occipital area (Park et al. 2012). Using a different task, we were able to see increase of activation for numbers as compared with letters not only in a left medial occipital area but also in other areas such as right pallidum, right superior parietal gyrus and right inferior temporal sulcus. Interestingly, the recruitment of right hemisphere areas for number processing agrees with a recent study using MEG (Carreiras et al., unpublished data) that revealed a whole right lateralized circuit involved in number processing, including right parietal areas, which dissociated very early from a left lateralized network involved in pseudoword processing. The right bias for number processing is not as clear in the present experiment (see Table 2 andSupplementary Table 1S). Thus, future research is needed to investigate this issue.

    Thirdly, 2 key findings regarding character position assignment should be highlighted, given their importance for a correct understanding of letter-specific coding mechanisms. On the one hand, we found a clear increase of activation triggered by transpositions in the dorsal pathway.

    On the other hand, we specifically identified differential activation for letter transpositions as compared with digit and symbol transpositions in a defined area of the brain (namely, in the left parietal cortex). We not only found letter-specific effects of identity processing in the ventral and dorsal streams but also letter-specific effects of position coding in the dorsal stream. Importantly, while similar activation was found for letter, digit, and symbol transpositions in the right parietal cortex, specific differential activation was found in the left parietal cortex for letter transpositions as compared with digit and symbol transpositions. This suggests that there seem to be some common processes for positional computation of elements in strings. This is predicted by models that assume that transposition effects reflect position uncertainty due to the operation of generic noise in the position coding mechanism of the input (Norris 2006; Gomez et al. 2008), as already suggested by the EEG data presented by Dunabeitia et al. (2012)

    To sum up, the current study has demonstrated the preferential role of the left parietal cortex for letter identity and letter position encoding in the early phases of the reading process and that letter identity and letter position processing are not confined to the ventral pathway but further involve the dorsal visual pathway. These findings are consistent with the involvement of parietal areas in perceptual tasks that involve letter identification and suggest that parietal regions may be involved in the earlier stages of visual word processing (Reilhac et al. 2013). In addition, they are consistent with the idea that the left ventral occipitotemporal cortex is not a mandatory neural toll or an obligatory route for reading (Richardson et al. 2011). The dorsal and ventral pathways can cooperate during visual word recognition processes (see Rosazza et al. 2009).

    In fact, structural connectivity between regions of the 2 pathways (the posterior parietal cortex and the inferior temporal cortex) has been documented (Thiebaut de Schotten et al. 2014), and resting state connectivity has also been reported between these 2 regions in skilled readers (Vogel et al. 2012), but not in dyslexic individuals (van der Mark et al. 2009).

    Carreiras, M., Quiñones, I., Hernández-Cabrera, J. and Duñabeitia, J. (2014). Orthographic Coding: Brain Activation for Letters, Symbols, and Digits. Cereb. Cortex, 25(12), pp.4748-4760.



    Good Talk: Raising Smart Learners Through Rich Conversations

    A study by researchers at North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University and the University of California-Irvine, for example, finds that parental involvement—checking homework, attending school meetings and events, discussing school activities at home—has a more powerful influence on students’ academic performance than anything about the school the students attend.


  5. fMRI of Simultaneous Interpretation Reveals the Neural Basis of Extreme Language Control

    We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the neural basis of extreme multilingual language control in a group of 50 multilingual participants. Comparing brain responses arising during simultaneous interpretation (SI) with those arising during simultaneous repetition revealed activation of regions known to be involved in speech perception and production, alongside a network incorporating the caudate nucleus that is known to be implicated in domain-general cognitive control.

    The similarity between the networks underlying bilingual language control and general executive control supports the notion that the frequently reported bilingual advantage on executive tasks stems from the day-to-day demands of language control in the multilingual brain.

    We examined neural correlates of the management of simultaneity by correlating brain activity during interpretation with the duration of simultaneous speaking and hearing. This analysis showed significant modulation of the putamen by the duration of simultaneity.

    Our findings suggest that, during SI, the caudate nucleus is implicated in the overarching selection and control of the lexico-semantic system, while the putamen is implicated in ongoing control of language output.
    These findings provide the first clear dissociation of specific dorsal striatum structures in polyglot language control, roles that are consistent with previously described involvement of these regions in nonlinguistic executive control.

    Bilingualism confers a variety of cognitive advantages (Abutalebi et al. 2009; Diamond 2010), including improved nonlinguistic executive skills (Bialystok et al. 2012), and delaying the appearance of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (Schweizer et al. 2012).

    It has been suggested that the observed benefits of bilingualism stem from enhanced inhibitory control, required for continual selection between multiple languages in bilinguals (Green 1998). More recently, it has been proposed that the bilingual advantage arises from increased use of a more general “conflict monitoring” system in bilinguals compared with monolinguals (Costa et al. 2009; Hilchey and Klein 2011; Abutalebi et al. 2012b). Consistent with these suggestions, brain-imaging evidence indicates that bilingual language control depends upon a cortico-subcortical network incorporating the dorsal striatum, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the supplementary motor area (SMA) (Abutalebi and Green 2008; Kroll et al. 2008; Hervais-Adelman et al. 2011; Abutalebi et al. 2012a).

    These brain regions are known to participate in nonlinguistic executive-control processes such as response selection (Grahn et al. 2008), response inhibition (Aron 2008), and conflict monitoring (Botvinick et al. 2004;Abutalebi et al. 2012b).

    Our results provide new insights into the profound overlap between the neural bases of extreme language control and those of domain-general control of cognition and action. Indeed, recent evidence suggests that experienced simultaneous interpreters display enhanced cognitive flexibility compared even with bilingual individuals (Yudes et al. 2011;Stavrakaki et al. 2012).

    The recruitment of similar fronto-subcortical-cerebellar circuits during language and executive control provides powerful evidence that the continuous demands of language control in the multilingual brain, and associated experience-dependent plasticity, could underlie the nonlinguistic, executive advantages that have been observed in bilingual individuals, advantages that may also be protective in defying challenges posed by aging and even disease.

    Hervais-Adelman, A., Moser-Mercer, B., Michel, C. and Golestani, N. (2014). fMRI of Simultaneous Interpretation Reveals the Neural Basis of Extreme Language Control. Cereb. Cortex, 25(12), pp.4727-4739.


    Can genes predict foreign language learning skills?

    Language teachers will explain to students that anyone can learn a foreign language, and that the skill comes from nurture and not nature. But does biology play any role at all? Is there any part of our DNA that can predict whether or not we can be successful polyglots?

    In fact, neurobiologists have identified a gene that correlates to language. The FOXP2 gene was discovered in the 1990s through a study of a British family in which three generations suffered from severe speech problems.
    The 15 afflicted members of this family shared an inherited mutation of FOXP2, a gene that plays a central role in the brain’s language production processes, both cognitively (through pattern-mapping abilities) and physically (developing the facial muscles needed for articulating complicated sounds).

    This discovery pioneered new notions of a human ‘language gene’ and led to a trend in evolutionary research in the early 20th century, comparing FOXP2 genes in humans and other species, to shed light on how humans developed the capacity for language.

    Recently, that mutated FOXP2 gene discovered in that British family has, surprisingly, been associated with foreign language learning ability, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin.
    Assistant professor Bharath Chandrasekaran from the university’s Moody College of Communication discovered this association in the same genetic variation in FOXP2 that had been connected to language impairment nearly two decades ago.

    While the aforementioned research references a specific ‘language gene’ in the human brain, studying a new language actually requires several parts of the brain, comprised of several different genes, to work together.

    This includes the cognitive processes of memory, reasoning, perception, and information ordering. The strength and efficiency of these processes vary naturally from person to person.

    Regardless of whether that variation comes from one’s genes, one’s surroundings, or both, these processes are pivotal in second language learning.

    Chandrasekaran, B., Yi, H., Blanco, N., McGeary, J. and Maddox, W. (2015). Enhanced Procedural Learning of Speech Sound Categories in a Genetic Variant of FOXP2. Journal of Neuroscience, 35(20), pp.7808-7812.


    Your scores in your GCSEs are heavily influenced by your genetic heritage

    Hard work is important, but studies have shown that GCSE results are also influenced by a myriad of other factors, many of which may surprise you.

    One factor that is clearly important is genes. If you as a parent did well in your exams, it’s likely that your children will too. In fact, a study by researchers at King’s College, London, published at the end of last year made waves by showing that around 58 per cent of the variation between students with regard to their GCSE results could be accounted for by genetic differences. How do we know? Identical twins (who share 100 per cent of their genes and 100 per cent of their environment) have more similar GCSE scores than do non-identical twins (who share 100 per cent of their environment, but only 50 per cent of their genes).

    We have previously shown that individual differences in educational achievement are highly heritable in the early and middle school years in the UK. The objective of the present study was to investigate whether similarly high heritability is found at the end of compulsory education (age 16) for the UK-wide examination, called the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). In a national twin sample of 11,117 16-year-olds, heritability was substantial for overall GCSE performance for compulsory core subjects (58%) as well as for each of them individually: English (52%), mathematics (55%) and science (58%). In contrast, the overall effects of shared environment, which includes all family and school influences shared by members of twin pairs growing up in the same family and attending the same school, accounts for about 36% of the variance of mean GCSE scores.

    The significance of these findings is that individual differences in educational achievement at the end of compulsory education are not primarily an index of the quality of teachers or schools: much more of the variance of GCSE scores can be attributed to genetics than to school or family environment.

    We suggest a model of education that recognizes the important role of genetics. Rather than a passive model of schooling as instruction (instruere, ‘to build in’), we propose an active model of education (educare, ‘to bring out’) in which children create their own educational experiences in part on the basis of their genetic propensities, which supports the trend towards personalized learning.

    Shakeshaft, N., Trzaskowski, M., McMillan, A., Rimfeld, K., Krapohl, E., Haworth, C., Dale, P. and Plomin, R. (2013). Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16. PLoS ONE, 8(12), p.e80341.


    Imaging Patterns of Brain Development and their Relationship to Cognition

    We present a brain development index (BDI) that concisely summarizes complex imaging patterns of structural brain maturation along a single dimension using a machine learning methodology. The brain was found to follow a remarkably consistent developmental trajectory in a sample of 621 subjects of ages 8–22 participating in the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, reflected by a cross-validated correlation coefficient between chronologic age and the BDI of r = 0.89. Critically, deviations from this trajectory related to cognitive performance.

    Specifically, subjects whose BDI was higher than their chronological age displayed significantly superior cognitive processing speed compared with subjects whose BDI was lower than their actual age. These results indicate that the multiparametric imaging patterns summarized by the BDI can accurately delineate trajectories of brain development and identify individuals with cognitive precocity or delay.

    The BDI could have important clinical utility. In the first place, it could be used for creating “brain growth charts” similar to those used by pediatricians to follow a child’’s growth. By observing BDIs of a large number of healthy children over time, such tools could be used for following deviations or delays from normal brain development. Luna and Sweeney (2001) emphasized the need for neurobehavioral and neuroimaging studies characterizing normal development before examining at-risk or clinical populations, referring specifically to elucidation of dysmaturation processes in schizophrenia.

    It is noteworthy that Bachman et al. (2012) reported that adolescent-onset psychosis patients fail to show normal age-related increases in processing speed, which in turn predicts poorer functional outcomes.

    Erus, G., Battapady, H., Satterthwaite, T., Hakonarson, H., Gur, R., Davatzikos, C. and Gur, R. (2014). Imaging Patterns of Brain Development and their Relationship to Cognition. Cerebral Cortex, 25(6), pp.1676-1684.


    Bilingualism as a contributor to cognitive reserve: Evidence from brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease

    Bilingual patients with AD exhibited substantially greater amounts of brain atrophy than monolingual patients in areas traditionally used to distinguish AD patients from healthy controls, specifically, the radial width of the temporal horn and the temporal horn ratio. Other measures of brain atrophy were comparable for the two groups. Bilingualism appears to contribute to increased CR, thereby delaying the onset of AD and requiring the presence of greater amounts of neuropathology before the disease is manifest.

    Schweizer, T., Ware, J., Fischer, C., Craik, F. and Bialystok, E. (2012). Bilingualism as a contributor to cognitive reserve: Evidence from brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease. Cortex, 48(8), pp.991-996.

  6. Early motor skills may affect language development

    Learning to sit up, crawl and walk are all major milestones in a child’s early development – and parents often record these actions in baby diaries, photographs and videos. Developing motor skills allows the child to become more independent. But our research, backing a number of other studies, has shown that it may also say something about the rate of a child’s cognitive development, such as talking.

    Leonard, H. and Hill, E. (2014). Review: The impact of motor development on typical and atypical social cognition and language: a systematic review. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, p.n/a-n/a.


    Socioeconomic Adversity and Brain Development

    New research that ties family income level and other factors to brain development. While socioeconomic adversity may not solely determine a child’s success later in life, its significant role in helping children develop language, memory, and life skills can no longer be ignored



    Being Human… From Lucy to Language

    To understand who we are and why we are, we need to understand both our modern self, and our past. Reflecting on the Academy’s Centenary Research Project From Lucy to Language, Professors Robin Dunbar FBA, Clive Gamble FBA and John Gowlett discuss how their research into the evolution of human cognition and social lives over the ages furthered our understanding of the relationship between mind and world.


    The case for language learning

    Join the national debate on the importance of language learning and help us put languages back on the agenda. Content in this series is financially supported by the British Academy and editorially independent.



    Why Kids With High IQs Are More Likely to Take Drugs

    People with high IQs are more likely to smoke marijuana and take other illegal drugs, compared with those who score lower on intelligence tests, according to a new study from the U.K.

    “It’s counterintuitive,” says lead author James White of the Center for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement at Cardiff University in Wales. “It’s not what we thought we would find.”

    The IQ effect was larger in women: women in the top third of the IQ range at age 5 were more than twice as likely to have taken marijuana or cocaine by age 30, compared with those scoring in the bottom third. The men with the highest IQs were nearly 50% more likely to have taken amphetamines and 65% more likely to have taken ecstasy, compared to those with lower scores.

    And these results held even when researchers controlled for factors like socioeconomic status and psychological distress, which are also correlated with rates of drug use.

    So why might smarter kids be more likely to try drugs? “People with high IQs are more likely to score high on personality scales of openness to experience,” says White. “They may be more willing to experiment and seek out novel experiences.”

    That could potentially be linked to the boredom and social isolation experienced by many gifted children, the authors note. But since a link between IQ and drug use remains independent of psychological distress, that can’t be all that’s going on. “It rules out the argument that the only reason people take illegal drugs is to self medicate,” says White…

    White, J. and Batty, G. (2011). Intelligence across childhood in relation to illegal drug use in adulthood: 1970 British Cohort Study. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 66(9), pp.767-774.


    Cocaine Rewires Brain, Overrides Decision-Making After Just One Use, Says Study

    A new study at UC San Francisco’s Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center has revealed that cocaine may rewire the brain and drastically affect decision-making after just one use.

    While similar studies have revealed such rewiring in long-term use, the new study’s results are especially alarming, showing that the brain can be altered after one dose.

    Using live mice, researchers from both UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley studied the frontal lobe — the area of the brain that handles decision-making and memory — when cocaine was introduced to the body. After one dose, researchers found substantial growth of new dendritic spines, which are « tiny, twig-like structures that connect neurons and form the nodes of the brain’s circuit wiring. »

    According to researchers, these new spines rewired the brain to seek cocaine, explaining why the search for the drug might override other priorities in human users.

    « We’ve long known that when you become a repeated drug user, the search for more drugs tends to dominate your attention and decision-making, » Linda Wilbrecht, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and the lead author of the study, explained to The Huffington Post. « But it’s quite shocking that these neurological changes happened after just one use. »

    Muñoz-Cuevas, F., Athilingam, J., Piscopo, D. and Wilbrecht, L. (2013). Cocaine-induced structural plasticity in frontal cortex correlates with conditioned place preference. Nature Neuroscience, 16(10), pp.1367-1369.


    Alcohol or Marijuana? A Pediatrician Faces the Question

    by Aaron E. Carroll, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine

    Similarly, none of these arguments I’ve presented are “pro pot” in the sense that I’m saying that adolescents should go use marijuana without worrying about consequences. There’s little question that marijuana carries with it risks to people who use it, as well as to the nation. The number of people who will be hurt from it, will hurt others because of it, begin to abuse it, and suffer negative consequences from it are certainly greater than zero. But looking only at those dangers, and refusing to grapple with them in the context of our society’s implicit consent for alcohol use in young adults, is irrational.

    When someone asks me whether I’d rather my children use pot or alcohol, after sifting through all the studies and all the data, I still say “neither.” Usually, I say it more than once. But if I’m forced to make a choice, the answer is “marijuana.”


  7. What childhood characteristics predict psychological resilience to economic shocks in adulthood?

    This paper investigates whether people’s psychological resilience to one of the most important economic shocks – job loss – can be predicted using early childhood characteristics. Using a longitudinal data that tracked almost 3000 children into adulthood, we showed that the negative effect of unemployment on mental well-being and life satisfaction is significantly larger for workers who, as adolescents, had a relatively poor father-child relationship. Maternal unemployment, on the other hand, is a good predictor of how individuals react psychologically to future unemployment. Although the results should be viewed as illustrative and more research is needed, the current article provides new longitudinal evidence that psychological resilience to job loss may be determined early on in the life cycle.

    Consistent with the previous studies on the psychological effects of job loss, an unemployment shock is associated with a significant drop in both mental well-being and life satisfaction for the individuals.

    However, the drop in well-being is predicted to be around 50% larger for people who were one standard deviation above the mean in the frequency of having arguments with father between aged 11 and 15. Maternal unemployment, on the other hand, is found to be associated positively with the well-being of the unemployed. However, there are also many other factors such as having more close friends or father’s mental distress that do not seem to predict heterogeneity in the psychological response to job loss in adulthood at all.

    This paper is not without limitations. One natural objection to our results is that the relationship between, say, having a poor father-child relationship during childhood and psychological resilience in adulthood is not causal. While our FE estimation may have taken care of the unobserved person-specific characteristics that made people argued more with their father as children and less psychologically resilient as adults, we still do not know what may have caused such a poor father-child relationship to cultivate in the first place. Although this problem is not easily solved without a good identification strategy, we still believe that the ability to predict who will be more negatively affected by future economic shocks is one of the key components to optimal policy design. What this means is that even if our indicator of having a poor father-child relationship is nothing more than just a mirror reflection of something else that is unobserved about the child – e.g. time-persistent unobserved personality traits, then at least it serves its purpose as a device which can be used to gauge early a child’s ability to cope and adapt to negative shocks in the future.


    We show that psychological resilience in adulthood is determined in adolescence.

    Unemployment lowers wellbeing more for those with poor father-child relationships.

    Maternal unemployment predicts psychological resilience for the unemployed.

    The structure of psychological resilience is different by gender.

    Powdthavee, N. (2014). What childhood characteristics predict psychological resilience to economic shocks in adulthood?. Journal of Economic Psychology, 45, pp.84-101.

  8. Teaching children to save: What is the best strategy for lifetime savings?

    Using a panel dataset from the Dutch DNB Household Survey we find that parental teaching to save increases the likelihood that an adult will save by 16%, and the saving amount by about 30%. The best strategy involves a combination of different methods (giving pocket money, controlling money usage, and giving advice about saving and budgeting). The effect of parental financial socialization is persistent with age, but decays at elder age for the propensity to save.

    Receiving parental teaching to save stimulates saving attitude to a large extent: the effect is so large that an unemployed household head who received parental teaching to save has the same propensity to save as an employed household head but without parental teaching. In addition, a household head with parental teaching but without high school degree saves the same amount of money as a college graduate without parental teaching to save.

    Parental teaching is more effective especially when different teaching methods are combined. The most effective strategy is teaching to save during childhood andadolescence. Among the different strategies, only giving pocket money seems ineffective. The lack of a significant effect of receiving an allowance on saving behavior confirms previous evidence from Kim and Chatterjee, 2013, Kim et al., 2011 and Webley and Nyhus, 2006. A possible explanation is that allowances are effective only when contingent upon chores or other responsibilities (Ashby et al., 2011).

    In addition, we find that the distance in the propensity to save between those who received parental teaching and those who did not reduces with age. Individuals who did not experience parental teaching seem to procrastinate their savings as long as they can. We also found that a combination of all the teaching methods is the most effective strategy only in the first part of adult age, up to roughly age 50. Interestingly, this evidence does not emerge when focusing on the saving amount.

    Our results are robust to different specifications and to the inclusion of different explanatory variables. However, they cannot be interpreted as causal effects. Our treatment variables measuring “teaching children to save” are not exogenous as in an ideal experimental setting. Our estimates could suffer from omitted variable bias due to the fact that there may be some unobservable characteristics – such as parents’ education, and preferences – correlated with the teaching strategy implemented during childhood and the saving behavior when adults. In addition, information on the financial socialization after childhood is missing in the dataset. We therefore implemented a Generalized Sensitivity Analysis (see Harada, 2013 and Imbens, 2003) to assess the extent of the omitted variable bias. The analysis shows that our results are not sensitive to unobservable heterogeneity, and therefore they are robust to omitted variable bias concerns.

    Our analysis therefore suggests that saving education received during childhood is important to stimulate saving behavior during adulthood. Parents should be informed about the lessons that their own financial behavior can impart. Moreover it is important that not only children, but also parents are included in financial education programs. Indeed, studies on financial literacy show that many parents do not have the skills themselves. For instance, TIIA-CREF Institute (2001) found on a U.S. survey that parents overestimate their knowledge about finances and underestimate the role they can play in teaching children about money management. Financial educators should then take into account the option of offering formal seminars and workshops on financial decision-making to teach both financial literacy and how parents can improve their ability to discuss about money and budgeting to their children. Whether then informal parental teaching is more effective than formal teaching at school is an interesting empirical question that we leave for future research.

    Bucciol, A. and Veronesi, M. (2014). Teaching children to save: What is the best strategy for lifetime savings?. Journal of Economic Psychology, 45, pp.1-17.


    Growing up poor affects adults’ sense of control, impulsiveness when faced with economic uncertainty


    “Two people with different childhood backgrounds are likely to respond to uncertainty in different ways, even if as adults they have a similar socioeconomic status (SES). We found that adults who grew up poor were more inclined to consider difficult and uncertain living conditions as beyond their control, while those from affluent backgrounds found them to be within their control. This leads to different reactions to the same situation,” said lead author Chiraag Mittal, MS, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota…

    Mittal, C. and Griskevicius, V. (2014). Sense of control under uncertainty depends on people’s childhood environment: A life history theory approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(4), pp.621-637.


    Executive functioning: Developmental consequences on adolescents with histories of maltreatment

    Research suggests that children exposed to maltreatment have deficits in executive functioning (EF) but few studies have focused on the adolescent age group. We investigated whether maltreated adolescents had lower EF abilities compared to a group of non-maltreated adolescents.

    Forty adolescents with histories of child maltreatment, together with a comparison group of 40 non-maltreated adolescents matched for age, completed a comprehensive battery of EF tasks. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses, controlling for IQ, were carried out using each of the EF measures as dependent variables to examine group differences. Maltreated adolescents had significantly lower performance than non-maltreated adolescents on tasks assessing executive loaded working memory, fluency, and inhibition, although switching was not impaired.

    Emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) were included in additional regression analyses to examine whether these variables would explain the group differences. The inclusion of EBD variables had some effect on group differences, as expected, but did not eliminate them. These findings support the theory that impairments in EF may be one underlying reason why adolescents with histories of maltreatment struggle to cope both inside and outside the classroom.

    Kirke-Smith, M., Henry, L. and Messer, D. (2014). Executive functioning: Developmental consequences on adolescents with histories of maltreatment. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 32(3), pp.305-319.


    The Effects of Poverty on Childhood Brain Development

    Poverty was associated with smaller white and cortical gray matter and hippocampal and amygdala volumes. The effects of poverty on hippocampal volume were mediated by caregiving support/hostility on the left and right, as well as stressful life events on the left.

    Luby, J., Belden, A., Botteron, K., Marrus, N., Harms, M., Babb, C., Nishino, T. and Barch, D. (2013). The Effects of Poverty on Childhood Brain Development. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(12), p.1135.



    A single 10-second kiss can transfer as many as 80 million bacteria, according to Dutch scientists.

    They monitored the kissing behaviour of 21 couples and found those who kissed nine times a day were most likely to share salivary bugs.

    Studies suggest the mouth is home to more than 700 different types of bacteria – but the report reveals some are exchanged more easily than others.

    Kort, R., Caspers, M., van de Graaf, A., van Egmond, W., Keijser, B. and Roeselers, G. (2014). Shaping the oral microbiota through intimate kissing. Microbiome, 2(1), p.41.


    Alzheimer’s Risk Doubled In People With Herpes [cold sores] Virus; How The Virus Stimulates Alzheimer’s Development


    A new study finds that people carrying the herpes virus have double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Considering that almost everyone contracts one particular form of the virus, it could explain why so many people also develop Alzheimer’s.




    Teen Relationship Struggles: From Potentially Innocuous to Annoying to Abusive Digital Behaviours

    Whether through immaturity, lack of knowledge or malicious intent, teenagers, like adults, occasionally experience controlling or troubling behaviors as part of their romantic relationships. The digital world offers a whole realm of tools to exact revenge, retaliate against, spy on, control, abuse or hurt a current or former partner. While some behaviors are clearly always abusive, others are more nuanced – one person’s oppressive number of text messages is another person’s close connection to a loved one. In most cases, the context of these behaviors is critical to determining where they fall on a spectrum from potentially innocuous to annoying to controlling and harmful… [READ IN FULL]


    Suicide teenagers feared family would keep them apart

    Charleigh Disbrey, 15, and her Turkish boyfriend Mert Karaoglan,18, ran in front of a train holding hands


    “Two teenagers who feared that their cultural differences meant they would never be accepted as a couple killed themselves by running in front of a train while holding hands, an inquest heard.
    Charleigh Disbrey, 15, died alongside Mert Karaoglan, her 18-year-old Turkish boyfriend, on June 17 last year.
    They climbed a 6ft fence to get on to the tracks and were struck by the empty train at Elstree and Borehamwood station in Hertfordshire…”

    Graham Danbury, the Hertfordshire deputy coroner, said: “By way of background, they had been in a close relationship for a relatively short time — a month or so — and appear to have decided that because of cultural and family issues they were not going to be allowed to develop their relationship…”



    “The young are permanently in a state resembling intoxication.” – Aristotle

    [Aristotle’s writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics and government – and constitute the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy…]


    California “Clash of Clans” Teen Sex Groomer Jailed


    A Californian man has been jailed for six years for abducting a teenage girl from Cornwall who he groomed online. David Telles, 38, of Trenton Circle, Pleasanton, California, flew to Britain and took the 14-year-old to two hotels, Exeter Crown Court heard. He admitted sexual grooming, abduction of a child, sexual activity with a child and engaging in a sexual act in the presence of a child.

    Telles seduced the girl through the cult online game Clash of Clans.

    The court heard Telles flew from California to Heathrow on 14 June and drove to Cornwall in a hire car…




    High Emotional Intelligence linked with more delinquency among young women (but not men)

    If, as research suggests, the psychological trait of sensation seeking is the catalyst for youthful delinquency, might high emotional intelligence (EI; having empathy for other people’s emotions and good control over one’s own) act as a calming restraint? That was the question Alison Bacon her colleagues posed in their study of 96 undergrads (average age 20; 48 women).

    Their “surprising and unprecedented” discovery was that for women, not only did high EI not moderate the link between sensation seeking and delinquency, in fact high EI went hand in hand with higher rates of self-reported delinquency, including playing truant from school, taking drugs and violence.

    Why should this be? The researchers are left speculating. They think high EI might fuel acts of indirect aggression like “psychological bullying, deliberate social exclusion or malicious gossip” that tend to be performed more by young females than males. Unfortunately the researchers’ measure of delinquent behaviour didn’t include these kinds of behaviours, but they reasoned perhaps the same young women who perform these less visible acts were also more likely to commit the forms of delinquency that were on the scale, such as rowdy behaviour and smoking cannabis. If so, this would help explain the high EI / delinquency link in women.

    “A high level of trait EI may facilitate an enhanced ability to present Machiavellian behaviour in a positive light, understand victims’ emotions and predict likely responses in order that social manipulations are successful,” Bacon and her team said.

    What about the male students? Their answers were more in line with the researchers’ predictions. For men, higher EI acted as a moderator, weakening the link between sensation seeking traits and delinquency. High EI also had its own direct inverse relationship with delinquency – that is, men with higher EI tended to be less rebellious.

    “Trait EI is known to predict a wide array of positive, practical and health-related life outcomes,” the researchers concluded. “Understanding how the perpetration of negative behaviours is linked to trait EI may be an important step towards promoting well-being.”



    Toddlers regulate behavior to avoid making adults angry


    When kids say “the darnedest things,” it’s often in response to something they heard or saw. This sponge-like learning starts at birth, as infants begin to decipher the social world surrounding them long before they can speak.

    Now researchers at the University of Washington have found that children as young as 15 months can detect anger when watching other people’s social interactions and then use that emotional information to guide their own behavior.

    The study, published in the October/November issue of the journal Cognitive Development, is the first evidence that younger toddlers are capable of using multiple cues from emotions and vision to understand the motivations of the people around them.

    “At 15 months of age, children are trying to understand their social world and how people will react,” said lead author Betty Repacholi, a faculty researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences and an associate professor of psychology. “In this study we found that toddlers who aren’t yet speaking can use visual and social cues to understand other people – that’s sophisticated cognitive skills for 15-month-olds.”



    La Jeunesse de Napoleon: L’enfant Prodige, Guerrier Académique

  9. ‘Fuzzy thinking’ in depression and bipolar disorder: New research finds effect is real

    People with depression or bipolar disorder often feel their thinking ability has gotten « fuzzy », or less sharp than before their symptoms began. Now, researchers have shown in a very large study that effect is indeed real – and rooted in brain activity differences that show up on advanced brain scans.

    Ryan, K., Dawson, E., Kassel, M., Weldon, A., Marshall, D., Meyers, K., Gabriel, L., Vederman, A., Weisenbach, S., McInnis, M., Zubieta, J. and Langenecker, S. (2015). Shared dimensions of performance and activation dysfunction in cognitive control in females with mood disorders. Brain, 138(5), pp.1424-1434.


    Teens who mature early at greater risk of depression, study finds


    Published online by the journal Development and Psychopathology, the study is one of the first research projects to confirm that early puberty heightens risk for depression in both sexes over time and to explain the underlying mechanisms.
    Youth who entered puberty ahead of their peers were vulnerable to a number of risks that were associated with depression. They had poorer self-images; greater anxiety; social problems, including conflict with family members and peers; and tended to befriend peers who were prone to getting into trouble, the researchers found…

    Rudolph, K., Troop-Gordon, W., Lambert, S. and Natsuaki, M. (2014). Long-term consequences of pubertal timing for youth depression: Identifying personal and contextual pathways of risk. Development and Psychopathology, 26(4pt2), pp.1423-1444.

  10. The Face of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)


    Emotionally neglected children grow up with a blind spot about emotions, their own as well as those of others. Through no fault of their own, when they become parents themselves, they’re not aware enough of the emotions of their own children, and they unwittingly raise their children to have the same blind spot. And so on and so on, through generation after generation…

    So the world is full of people who always come through for others, who put their own needs aside. They paste those beaming smiles on their faces, put one foot in front of the other and soldier on, giving no hint of how they really feel.

    My goal is to make people aware of this subtle but powerful force from their past. I want to make the term emotional neglect a household term. I want to help parents know how important it is to respond enough to their children’s emotional needs, and how to do so. I want to stop this insidious force from sapping people’s happiness and connection to others throughout their lives, and to stop the transfer of emotional neglect from one generation to another…

    Full Article:


    Telomere length and cortisol reactivity in children of depressed mothers

    This study is the first to demonstrate that children at familial risk of developing MDD are characterized by accelerated biological aging, operationalized as shortened telomere length, before they had experienced an onset of depression; this may predispose them to develop not only MDD but also other age-related medical illnesses. It is critical, therefore, that we attempt to identify and distinguish genetic and environmental mechanisms that contribute to telomere shortening.

    Gotlib, I., LeMoult, J., Colich, N., Foland-Ross, L., Hallmayer, J., Joormann, J., Lin, J. and Wolkowitz, O. (2014). Telomere length and cortisol reactivity in children of depressed mothers. Molecular Psychiatry, 20(5), pp.615-620.

  11. ______________________________________________

    Kovess-Masfety, V., Keyes, K., Hamilton, A., Hanson, G., Bitfoi, A., Golitz, D., Koç, C., Kuijpers, R., Lesinskiene, S., Mihova, Z., Otten, R., Fermanian, C. and Pez, O. (2016). Is time spent playing video games associated with mental health, cognitive and social skills in young children?. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 51(3), pp.349-357.



    Immune System Strongly Tied to Children’s Brain Development

    A young child’s immune system appears to have a significant effect on his or her brain development, according to a new study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine (UVA).

    While working in Bangladesh, researchers found that the longer infants suffered with a fever, the worse they performed on developmental tests at 12 and 24 months. Higher levels of inflammation-causing proteins in the blood were associated with worse performance, while greater levels of inflammation-fighting proteins were tied to improved performance.

    “Early childhood is an absolutely critical time of brain development, and it’s also a time when these children are suffering from recurrent infections. Therefore, we asked whether these infections are contributing to the impaired development we observe in children growing up in adversity,” said lead author Nona Jiang, who conducted the research as an undergraduate student in the laboratory of Dr. William Petri Jr.

    The findings, published online in the journal BMC Pediatrics, may help explain why there is such overwhelming cognitive impairment among children living in poverty. The results also offer direction for physicians trying to help: by preventing inflammation, they may be able to boost children’s mental abilities for a lifetime.

    “By studying which early childhood influences are associated with hindrances to growth and learning, we will know better where to target interventions for the critical period of early childhood,” said researcher Dr. Rebecca Scharf of UVA’s Department of Pediatrics.

    The study highlights the significant and complex relationship between the immune system and cognitive development, an increasingly important area of research that UVA has helped pioneer.

    “This is a very interesting study, showing, probably for the first time, the link between peripheral cytokine levels and improved cognitive development in humans,” said Jonathan Kipnis, a professor of neuroscience and director of UVA’s center for Brain Immunology & Glia.

    “What is of the most interest and of a great novelty is the fact that [inflammation-fighting cytokines] have positive correlation with cognitive function. My lab published results showing that these IL-4 cytokines are required for proper brain function in mice, and this work from Dr. Petri’s lab completely independently shows similar correlation in humans.”

    “I hope the scientific community will appreciate how dramatic the effects of the immune system are on the central nervous system and will invest more efforts in studying and better understanding these complex and intriguing interactions between the body’s two major systems.”



    Can What You Eat Affect Your Mental Health?

    More research is finding that a nutritious dietisn’t just good for the body; it’s great for the brain, too. The knowledge is giving rise to a concept called « nutritional (or food) psychiatry. »

    « Traditionally, we haven’t been trained to ask about food and nutrition, » says psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University. « But diet is potentially the most powerful intervention we have. By helping people shape their diets, we can improve their mental health and decrease their risk of psychiatric disorders. »

    Recent studies have shown « the risk of depression increases about 80% when you compare teens with the lowest-quality diet, or what we call the Western diet, to those who eat a higher-quality, whole-foods diet. The risk of attention-deficit disorder (ADD) doubles, » Ramsey says.

    « A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health, » says Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. « A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety. »

    3 Ways Diet Impacts Your Mental Health

    Here are some more details on how good nutrition impacts brain health:

    1. It’s crucial for brain development.

    « We are, quite literally, what we eat, » says Roxanne Sukol, MD, preventive medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. « When we eat real food that nourishes us, it becomes the protein-building blocks, enzymes, brain tissue, and neurotransmitters that transfer information and signals between various parts of the brain and body. »

    2. Itputs the brain into grow mode.

    Certain nutrients and dietary patterns are linked to changes in a brain protein that helps increase connections between brain cells. A diet rich in nutrients like omega-3s and zinc boosts levels of this substance.
    On the other hand, « a diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars has a very potent negative impact on brain proteins, » Jacka says.

    3. It fills the gut with healthy bacteria.

    And that’s good for the brain. Trillions of good bacteria live in the gut. They fend off bad germs and keep your immune system in check, which means they help tame inflammation in the body. Some gut germs even help make brain-powering B vitamins.
    Foods with beneficial bacteria (probiotics) help maintain a healthy gut environment, or « biome. » « A healthier microbiome is going to decrease inflammation, which affects mood and cognition, » Ramsey says.
    A high-fat or high-sugar diet is bad for gut health and, therefore, your brain. Some research hints that a high-sugar diet worsens schizophrenia symptoms, too.



    Mother’s Perception of General Family Functioning and Sugar Consumption of 3- and 4-Year-Old Children: The East London Family Study

    Frequent consumption of sugary foods is a common risk factor for chronic diseases such as dental caries and obesity. Dietary patterns are acquired at home during early life and form a blueprint for dietary behaviours in later life. A favourable family environment can provide a supportive context that enhances the adoption of healthy dietary habits.

    The aim of this study was to identify the contribution of general family functioning towards the frequent consumption of sugary foods by 3- and 4-year-old children in Outer North East London.

    The research question was explored with data from the East London Family study, which collected data through home visits from a representative sample of adults and children living in Outer North East London in 2008-2010. This study analysed data from 3- and 4-year-old children (n = 698) and their mothers and included logistic regression, conceptual hierarchical modelling and mediation analysis.

    he results showed that 17% of the sample consumed sugary foods more than 4 times per day, and that effective general family functioning may help reducing frequent consumption of sugary foods. There was a 67% reduction in children’s frequent consumption of sugary foods with every unit increase in the general family functioning score.

    Mother’s higher education may also help reduce the frequent consumption of sugary foods by children. The negative impact of mother’s lower education was buffered by the effect of effective general family functioning. The study findings underscore the prospect of identifying factors that contribute to the acquisition of good dietary behaviours.

    Nanjappa, S., Hector, M. and Marcenes, W. (2015). Mother’s Perception of General Family Functioning and Sugar Consumption of 3- and 4-Year-Old Children: The East London Family Study. Caries Research, 49(5), pp.515-522.


    A diet of a type traditional in Mediterranean countries, characterized especially by a high consumption of vegetables and olive oil and moderate consumption of protein confer health benefits.

    Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study
    Objective To examine whether adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with longer telomere length, a biomarker of aging.

    The traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and grains (mainly unrefined); a high intake of olive oil but a low intake of saturated lipids; a moderately high intake of fish; a low intake of dairy products, meat, and poultry; and a regular but moderate intake of alcohol (specifically wine with meals). Observational studies and intervention trials have consistently shown the health benefits of a high degree of adherence to the Mediterranean diet, including reduction of overall mortality; reduced incidence of chronic diseases, especially major cardiovascular diseases; and increased likelihood of healthy ageing.

    Telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes that undergo attrition each time a somatic cell divides. Telomeres prevent the loss of genomic DNA at the ends of linear chromosomes and in turn protect their physical integrity. Telomere attrition has been shown to be accelerated by oxidative stress and inflammation. Telomere length is considered to be a biomarker of aging; shorter telomeres are associated with a decreased life expectancy and increased rates of developing age related chronic diseases. Telomere length decreases with age and varies considerably among individuals.15 Studies suggest that telomere attrition is modifiable, as substantial variability exists in the rate of telomere shortening that is independent of chronological age. Therefore, variability of telomere length may be partially explained by lifestyle practices, including dietary patterns. As accelerated telomere attrition may underlie many chronic diseases, identifying modifiable factors that affect telomere dynamics is important.

    Given that fruits, vegetables, and nuts, key components of the Mediterranean diet, have well known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and that telomere length is affected by both of these processes, we hypothesized that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet would be associated with longer telomere length. Therefore, the main objective of this study was to examine the association between greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet and leukocyte telomere length in US women within the Nurses’ Health Study cohort. For comparison, we also evaluated the association between other existing dietary patters (prudent pattern, Western pattern, and Alternative Healthy Eating Index) and leukocyte telomere length.

    Conclusion In this large study, greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with longer telomeres. These results further support the benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet for promoting health and longevity.

    Crous-Bou, M., Fung, T., Prescott, J., Julin, B., Du, M., Sun, Q., Rexrode, K., Hu, F. and De Vivo, I. (2014). Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study. BMJ, 349(dec02 5), pp.g6674-g6674.


    600 Reasons Turmeric May Be The World’s Most Important Herb

    There is a medicinal spice so timelessly interwoven with the origins of human culture and metabolism, so thoroughly supported by modern scientific inquiry, as to be unparalleled in its proven value to human health and well-being.

    Indeed, turmeric turns the entire drug-based medical model on its head. Instead of causing far more side effects than therapeutic ones, as is the case for most patented pharmaceutical medications, turmeric possesses hundreds of potential side benefits, having been empirically demonstrated to positively modulate over 160 different physiological pathways in the mammalian body.

    While no food or herb is right for everyone, and everything has the potential for unintended, adverse side effects, turmeric is truly unique in its exceptionally high margin of safety vis-à-vis the drugs it has been compared with, e.g. hydrocortisone, ibuprofen, chemotherapy agents. Furthermore, nothing within the modern-day pharmaceutical armamentarium comes even remotely close to turmeric’s 6,000 year track record of safe use in Ayurvedic medicine.

    Despite its vast potential for alleviating human suffering, turmeric will likely never receive the FDA stamp of approval, due to its lack of exclusivity, patentability and therefore profitability. Truth be told, the FDA’s « gold standard » for proving the value of a prospective medicinal substance betrays the age old aphorism: « he who owns the gold makes the rules, » and unless an investor is willing to risk losing the 800+ million dollars that must be spent upfront, the FDA-required multi-phased double-blind, randomized clinical trials will not occur. For additional details on this rather seedy arrangement read our article on the topic: Why The Law Forbids The Medicinal Use of Natural Substances.

    Here at, we have reviewed over 5,000 study abstracts from the National Library of Medicine’s bibliographic database known as MEDLINE and have discovered over 600 potential health benefits of turmeric, and/or its primary polyphenol known as curcumin. These can be viewed on our turmeric research page which is dedicated to disseminating the research on the topic to a larger audience.

    Some of the most amazing demonstrated properties include:
    • Destroying Multi-Drug Resistant Cancer
    • Destroying Cancer Stem Cells (arguably, the root of all cancer)
    • Protecting Against Radiation-Induced Damage
    • Reducing Unhealthy Levels of Inflammation
    • Protecting Against Heavy Metal Toxicity
    • Preventing and Reversing Alzheimer’s Disease Associated Pathologies

    Again, what is so amazing is not that turmeric may have value in dozens of health conditions simultaneously, or that it may improve conditions that are completely resistant to conventional treatment, but that there are over six hundred additional health conditions it may also be valuable in preventing and/or treating. Consider also the fact that turmeric grows freely on the Earth, and you will understand why its very existence threatens billions of dollars in pharmaceutical industry revenue.



    Rural Food and Physical Activity Assessment Using an Electronic Tablet-Based Application, New York, 2013–2014

    We used an electronic tablet-based community assessment tool to conduct built environment audits in rural settings. The primary objective of this qualitative study was to evaluate the usefulness of the tool in identifying barriers and facilitators to healthy eating and active living. The second objective was to understand resident perspectives on community features and opportunities for improvement.
    An electronic tablet–based tool can be used to assess rural food and physical activity environments and may be useful in identifying and prioritizing resident-led change initiatives. This resident-led assessment approach may also be helpful for informing and evaluating rural community-based interventions.

    Seguin, R., Morgan, E., Connor, L., Garner, J., King, A., Sheats, J., Winter, S. and Buman, M. (2015). Rural Food and Physical Activity Assessment Using an Electronic Tablet-Based Application, New York, 2013–2014. Preventing Chronic Disease, 12.


    Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK

    he objective of this study was to estimate the difference in dietary GHG emissions between self-selected meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK
    In conclusion, dietary GHG emissions in self-selected meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans. It is likely that reductions in meat consumption would lead to reductions in dietary GHG emissions.

    Scarborough, P., Appleby, P., Mizdrak, A., Briggs, A., Travis, R., Bradbury, K. and Key, T. (2014). Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climatic Change, 125(2), pp.179-192.

  12. Albert Einstein on Fairy Tales & Education


    “How far superior an education that stresses independent action and personal responsibility is to one that relies on drill, external authority and ambition.”

    Albert Einstein, celebrated as “the quintessential modern genius,” is credited with many things — from era-defining scientific discoveries to great wisdom on everything from creativity to kindness to war to the secret to learning anything. Among them is also a sentiment of admirable insight yet questionable attribution: In Christopher Frayling’s 2005 book Mad, Bad and Dangerous?: The Scientist and the Cinema, Einstein is credited as having said:
    “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”



    Asterix et Obélix Chez Les Bretons (1986)

    Les Chevaliers du Zodiaque (1986) / Wiki:

    Psychologists investigate whether fictional characters can help our self development


    « Researchers led by Randi Shedlosky-Shoemaker may have some answers. Their paper, “Self-Expansion through Fictional Characters” rests on the concept of parasocial relationships—a relatively new construct in the social sciences that is becoming increasingly relevant in our media-saturated age.

    While there is a clear, bright line between real people and imaginary people (I exist, Hermione Granger does not), there is no such line dividing real and imaginary relationships. (As far as you are concerned, dear reader, both Ms. Granger and I are studious women who exist only on the page or screen.)

    Even in our most intimate personal relationships, we are often interacting with a mental model of our partner or parent, imagining their current state of mind, or how they would respond to whatever situation we find ourselves in.

    Although operationalised in this article as relationships with fictional characters, other researchers have included connections with real people whom we don’t personally know (artists, politicians, athletes) and historical figures in the spectrum of parasocial relationships… »


    Tintin : (i) L’Île Noire (1938) & (ii) Le Sceptre d’Ottokar (1939) / Info: /

    Tintin : (iii) L’Affaire Tournesol (1936) / Info:

    « A L’Ombre de Tintin (2016) » / Ce documentaire passionnant révèle des archives exceptionnelles des Studio Hergé et de Moulinsart SA

    The Role of Corticostriatal Systems in Speech Category Learning


    One of the most difficult category learning problems for humans is learning nonnative speech categories. While feedback-based category training can enhance speech learning, the mechanisms underlying these benefits are unclear. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we investigated neural and computational mechanisms underlying feedback-dependent speech category learning in adults. Positive feedback activated a large corticostriatal network including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, inferior parietal lobule, middle temporal gyrus, caudate, putamen, and the ventral striatum. Successful learning was contingent upon the activity of domain-general category learning systems: the fast-learning reflective system, involving the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that develops and tests explicit rules based on the feedback content, and the slow-learning reflexive system, involving the putamen in which the stimuli are implicitly associated with category responses based on the reward value in feedback. Computational modeling of response strategies revealed significant use of reflective strategies early in training and greater use of reflexive strategies later in training. Reflexive strategy use was associated with increased activation in the putamen. Our results demonstrate a critical role for the reflexive corticostriatal learning system as a function of response strategy and proficiency during speech category learning.

    Yi, H., Maddox, W., Mumford, J. and Chandrasekaran, B. (2014). The Role of Corticostriatal Systems in Speech Category Learning. Cerebral Cortex, 26(4), pp.1409-1420.


    A Prolegomenon to the Construct of the Native Speaker: Heritage Speaker Bilinguals are Natives Too!


    This Forum challenges the generally accepted position in the linguistic sciences—conscious or not—that monolingualism and nativeness are essentially synonymous in an exclusive way. We discuss two consequences of our position that naturalistic bilinguals and multilinguals exposed to a language in early childhood are also native speakers: (i) that bi-/multilinguals have multiple native languages; and (ii) nativeness can be applicable to a state of linguistic knowledge that is characterized by significant differences to the monolingual baseline.

    Rothman, J. and Treffers-Daller, J. (2014). A Prolegomenon to the Construct of the Native Speaker: Heritage Speaker Bilinguals are Natives Too!. Applied Linguistics, 35(1), pp.93-98.



    « Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculptor of his own brain. » ― Santiago Ramón y Cajal

    “Progress is impossible without change, & those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” -GB Shaw

  13. “Ce sont ceux qui savent peu, et pas ceux qui en savent beaucoup, qui affirment si positivement que tel ou tel problème ne sera jamais résolu par la science.” -Charles Darwin


    Clinical Psychology: Learning Disabilities, Anxiety, Depression & Schizophrenia and the Effectiveness of Psychotherapy

    CAMHS deal with the psychological issues of people under the age of 18. They are a non-specialist service and often refer to other more specialised departments following the initial assessment of patients. The most common cases tend to be adolescents with depression and anxiety whose manifestations are not different to those of adults and so are treated fairly similarly.

    Inclusivism in Learning Disabilities

    In 1969, Bengt Nirje adopted and developed the concept of normalisation in Sweden and beautifully described it as…
    “making available to all mentally retarded people patterns of life and conditions of everyday living which are as close as possible to the regular circumstances and ways of life of society.”

    – Nirje, 1980

    Learning Disability is not just an impairment in Cognition

    The social impairment of Learning Disabilities – US Statute 111 – 256: Rosa’s Law defines the factual impairment, the imposed or acquired disability and the awareness of being different.

    The Normalisation Theory

    This theory focuses on the mainstream social trends of social devaluation or deviancy making. Some categories of people tend to be valued negatively due to their behaviours, appearances and characteristics, and this places them at the risk of being devalued [according to the Normalisation Theory of Nirje on the societal processes he assumed] – people fulfil various social roles and stereotypes. As part of the deviancy making or social devaluation, the unsophisticated minds of the masses generally do not mean to stereotype, however they seem to do it unconsciously [the unconscious is a concept Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan acknowledged in their psychoanalytic theories of mental/psychological activity and its disorders land mental health problems linked to psychopathic tendencies in people towards others], i.e. deviant groups with social symbols or images that are at a higher risk of being devalued are the focus of the normalisation theory, which is believed to be done with the aim of providing them with the skills they need and eventually change the status of these deviant groups.

    Society tends to distance itself from deviant groups without any purpose or belonging, however psychologists provide support for the social integration and valued social participation of people with learning disabilities through exercises that involve learning through imitation. This challenges stereotypes within wider society through direct experiences of spending time with people who are affected by learning disabilities.

    While psychology evolves and sophisticated and modern theories about intelligence and communication such as our « Organic Theory » take shape, we hope that observations such as this one may be digested and understood by the masses, that is:

    « While the communicative patterns [language] in human primates vary with socio-behavioural and geographical patterns; creativity and IQ remain constant and do not change. Intelligence and creativity cannot be stopped because of linguistic differences, since talented and gifted humans do not choose the location of their birth nor their linguistic heritage but still contribute to the enhancement of our civilisation. »

    Which concludes that that the intelligence of an invidual when assessed on a range of variables [e.g. perception, fluid intelligence, reasoning, emotional intelligence, courage, etc] cannot be deduced by simply assessing their academic abilities, since human life has various sides to itself. Hence, the true worth and value of an individual may always remain a problem and a mystery to fully assess, and this seems to go in line with Jean Piaget’s deduction about the uniqueness of the human organism and mind.

    Full Article:

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