Tag Archives: human development

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, May 25th, 2016

By Olivia M. Hall

The cuts, burns and scars of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) are rarely seen, as they are inflicted in private and hidden under pant legs and sleeves.

Janis Whitlock

Janis Whitlock, Ph.D.

Janis Whitlock, Ph.D. ’03, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery (CRPSIR) and a research scientist in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, hopes to spotlight the issue by launching a set of web-based education and training courses. Working with eCornell, the university’s online learning subsidiary, she is showing how researchers can use the internet to broaden their reach well beyond campus.

The curriculum, aimed at individuals who interact with youths in school, community and clinical settings, as well as parents, offers research-based information paired with intervention and prevention strategies to address a phenomenon that is widespread but not yet fully understood.

“It’s a scary thing to encounter,” said Whitlock. “It’s just not your typical, run-of-the-mill risk behavior.”

Individuals practicing NSSI – upward of 15 percent of adolescents and young adults try it at least once – deliberately damage their bodies, for example by cutting, burning or carving their skin or punching objects or themselves to inflict harm. Whitlock cites 15 to 17 percent lifetime prevalence of NSSI among Cornell students, according to surveys.

Although the surface wounds may look like suicide attempts, Whitlock pointed out that NSSI is, in fact, a coping mechanism for individuals trying to deal with intense feelings or attempting to reconnect from a sense of dissociation that stems from a history of trauma or abuse.

After first hearing about NSSI among otherwise functional, nonclinical adolescents more than a decade ago, Whitlock launched epidemiological studies, founded CRPSIR and brought together colleagues to form the International Society for the Study of Self-Injury in 2006. “Now we have so much literature coming out, I can’t keep up with it,” she said. But research on techniques for intervention in schools and families is still nascent, and findings do not always reach those in need.

“When I give presentations in schools, even elementary schools, I can pack a house talking about self-injury – it’s really pretty sad,” said Whitlock. “People come up to me asking for follow-up information. Clearly we need another dissemination vehicle.”

Paul Krause ’91, CEO of eCornell and associate vice provost for online learning, agreed: “We quickly recognized that it would make sense to work together because eCornell has all the capabilities to support the development, delivery and marketing of an online NSSI course.”

Best known for its professional development courses in such areas as marketing, finance and hospitality, eCornell also applies its experience and best practices to specialized curricula such as Whitlock’s to extend research-based education to learners beyond Ithaca.

Some 40 participants have enrolled since the first, self-paced version of the NSSI 101 courselaunched in February. This month, Whitlock is facilitating co-experts on NSSI by teaching the first iteration of a three-week version that offers eight to 10 hours of interactive instruction and continuing education credits. Shorter, abridged courses are also in development for medical professionals and parents of children who self-injure.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us,” said Krause, under whose leadership eCornell doubled the number of faculty members it works with to more than 100 over the past year. “We have faculty who are leading experts in their fields. eCornell’s mission is to help them use online learning to reach people all over the world.” (Whitlock’s first registrant was from South Korea.)

“The audiences with whom we seek to engage – be they parents, educators or others – need information that is high-quality, based in sound research, is compelling and that they can access on their own schedule,” added Rachel Dunifon, associate dean for research and outreach in theCollege of Human Ecology. “Working with eCornell to deliver research-based programming allows us to take a cutting-edge approach to our public engagement mission, broadening our reach and enhancing our impact as we seek to fulfill our college mission of improving lives.”

Olivia M. Hall, Ph.D. '12, is a freelance writer and anthropologist.

Reprinted from the New York Times, June 6, 2016

by Perri Klass, M.D.girl alone 2

When girls come in for their physical exams, one of the questions I routinely ask is “Do you get
your period?” I try to ask before I expect the answer to be yes, so that if a girl doesn’t seem to know about the changes of puberty that lie ahead, I can encourage her to talk about them with her mother, and offer to help answer questions. And I often point out that even those who have not yet embarked on puberty themselves are likely to have classmates who are going through these changes, so, again, it’s important to let kids know that their questions are welcome, and will be answered accurately.

But like everybody else who deals with girls, I’m aware that this means bringing up the topic when girls are pretty young. Puberty is now coming earlier for many girls, with bodies changing in the third and fourth grade, and there is a complicated discussion about the reasons, from obesity and family stress to chemicals in the environment that may disrupt the normal effects of hormones. I’m not going to try to delineate that discussion here — though it’s an important one — because I want to concentrate on the effect, rather than the cause, of reaching puberty early.

A large study published in May in the journal Pediatrics looked at a group of 8,327 children born in Hong Kong in April and May of 1997, for whom a great deal of health data has been collected. The researchers had access to the children’s health records, showing how their doctors had documented their physical maturity, according to what are known as the Tanner stages, for the standardized pediatric index of sexual maturation.

Before children enter puberty, we call it Tanner I; for girls, Tanner II is the beginning of breast development, while for boys, it’s the enlargement of the scrotum and testes and the reddening and changing of the scrotum skin. Boys and girls then progress through the intermediate changes to stage V, full physical maturity.

In this study, the researchers looked at the relationship between the age at which children moved from Tanner I to Tanner II — that is, the age at which the physical beginnings of puberty were noticed — and the likelihood of depression in those children when they were 12 to 15 years old, as detected on a screening questionnaire.

“What we found was the girls who had earlier breast development had a higher risk of depressive symptoms, or more depressive symptoms,” said Dr. C. Mary Schooling, an epidemiologist who is a professor at the City University of New York School of Public Health, and was the senior author on the study. “We didn’t see the same thing for boys.” Earlier onset of breast development in girls was associated with a higher risk of depression in early adolescence even after controlling for many other factors, including socioeconomic status, weight or parents’ marital status.

Other studies, including in the United States, have shown this same pattern, with girls who begin developing earlier than their peers vulnerable to depression in adolescence. Some studies have found this in boys, though it’s not as clear. But there is concern that girls whose development starts earlier than their peers are at risk in a number of ways, and across different cultural backgrounds.

“Early puberty is a challenge and a stress, and it’s associated with more than depression,” said Dr. Jane Mendle, a clinical psychologist in the department of human development at Cornell University. She named anxiety, disordered eating and self-injury as some of the risks for girls. In her studies of puberty, she has found associations between early development and depression in both genders in New York children. In boys, the tempo of puberty was significant, as well as the timing; boys who moved more rapidly from one Tanner stage to the next were at higher risk and the increased depression risk seemed to be related to changes in their peer relationships.

Before puberty, Dr. Mendle said, depression occurs at roughly the same rate in both sexes, but by the midpoint of puberty, girls are two and a half times more likely to be depressed than boys.

Some of these children may already be at risk; Dr. Mendle said that early puberty is more common in children who have grown up in circumstances of adversity, in poverty, in the foster care system. But some of it is heredity and some of it is body type and some of it, probably, is chance.

Researchers have wondered about hormonal associations with depression; Dr. Schooling pointed out that their study found that depression was associated with early breast development, controlled by estrogens, but not with early pubic hair development, controlled by androgens. “There is no physical factor that we know about that would explain this; estrogen has been eliminated as a driver of depression in earlier research,” she said in an email. “We probably need to explore social factors to seek an explanation.” They also plan to follow up with their study population at age 17.

The biological transition of puberty, of course, occurs in a social and cultural context. One very important effect of developing early, Dr. Mendle said, is that it changes the way that people treat you, from your peers to the adults in your life to strangers. “When kids navigate puberty they start to look different,” she said. “It can be hard for them to maintain friendships with kids who haven’t developed, and we also know that early maturing girls are more likely to be harassed and victimized by other kids in their grade.”

Parents should be aware of the difficulties that children may experience if they start puberty earlier than their peers, but lots of children handle early development with resiliency, and even pride.

Children who start puberty early – say, 8 instead of 12 — are faced with handling those physical changes while they are more childlike in their knowledge and their cognitive development, and in their emotional understanding of what goes on around them.

Parents should keep in mind that the same protective factors that help children navigate other challenges of growing up are helpful here: All children do better when they have good relationships with their parents, and when they feel connected at school. And we should be talking about the changes to their bodies before they happen, and make it clear that all of these topics are open for discussion.

HD-Today e-Newsletter, Summer 2016 Issue

By Allison M. Hermann, Ph.D.

LRDM lab members and 4-H Career Explorations students

LRDM lab members and 4-H Career Explorations students

The Laboratory for Rational Decision Making (LRDM), led by Dr. Valerie Reyna in Human Development, welcomed 24 high school students from 18 different counties throughout New York State as part of a 3-day course in decision making research called, “Getting the Gist.” The high school students journeyed to Cornell University as part of the 4-H Career Explorations Conference that offers secondary school students the opportunity to attend courses and workshops and learn about STEM research.

get-the-gist-add

James Jones-Rounds, Lab Manager of the HEP Lab

The high school students became guest LRDM lab members and learned how to turn their questions about risky decision making into experiments. They created an experiment, collected and analyzed the data, and discussed the results. The student career explorers also toured the Center for Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility and the EEG and Psychophysics Laboratory and saw how decision research uses brain imaging technologies to examine what brain areas are activated when making risky decisions.

Dr. Reyna’s graduate students' David Garavito, Alisha Meschkow and Rebecca Helm, and research staff member, Bertrand Reyna-Brainerd, presented lectures on Dr. Reyna’s fuzzy trace theory and research design and led interactive discussions with the visiting students about the paths that led the graduate students to the LRDM at Cornell. In addition, three undergraduate members of the lab, Tristan Ponzo (’18), Elana Molotsky (’17) and Joe DeTello (’19) delivered poster presentations of current lab research projects. Feedback from one of the career explorers expressed the gist of the program, “Yes, I definitely feel like I have a better understanding of why I make the decisions I do.”

Reprinted from College of Human Ecology tumblr, June 20, 2016

For their work on aging, two College of Human Ecology faculty members have been named fellows for the Gerontological Society of America.

Corinna Loeckenhoff, Assistant Professor of Human Development (HDEV).

Corinna Loeckenhoff, Assistant Professor of Human Development (HDEV).

Corinna Loeckenhoff, associate professor of human development and associate professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC), and Elaine Wethington, professor of human development and of sociology and professor of gerontology in geriatrics at WCMC, were two of 94 professionals named on May 31 to the society, which is the largest of its kind seeking to understand aging in the United States.

As fellows, Loeckenhoff and Wethington are being recognized for their “outstanding and continuing work in gerontology,” specifically in the behavioral and social sciences section of the

society.

Loeckenhoff, above, who directs the Laboratory for Healthy Aging and oversees Cornell’s gerontology minor, researches various topics related to health, personality, and emotions across the lifespan. She has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses on the various aspects of adult development and healthy aging.

Wethington, below, director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Human Development and associate director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, focuses on stress and how outside factors can affect one’s physical and mental health.

Elaine Wethington, Professor in Human Development

Elaine Wethington, Professor in Human Development

The society will formally recognize Loeckenhoff, Wethington, and its other new fellows at its 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans this November.

- By Tyler Alicea ‘16, MPS ‘17

cornell human ecology gerontological society of america human development gerontologyaging psychology corinna loeckenhoff elaine wethington

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, May 5, 2016

Moreno

Marcus Moreno '17

Marcos Moreno ’17 has received a 2016 Udall scholarship, which supports undergraduates with excellent academic records and who show potential for careers in environmental public policy, health care and tribal public policy.

Moreno, a human development major concentrating in neuroscience in the College of Human Ecology, was one of five health care scholars selected to receive the award. Overall, he was among the 60 candidates selected out of 482 candidates from 227 colleges and universities. The scholarship provides $7,000 for one year.

Moreno is a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, born and raised on the Pascua Yaqui reservation in southern Arizona. He is a pre-med student, studying neuroscience and American Indian studies, with extensive experience as a researcher.

He is currently working in two Cornell laboratories: the child development lab of Gary Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor in the Departments of Design and Environmental Analysis and of Human Development, and the integrative neuroethology lab of Alexander Ophir, assistant professor of psychology. Moreno has also been a part of a public health project for his tribe’s reservation in 2014, has participated in medical brigades in West Africa and has spent time volunteering in his tribe’s affiliate health clinics.

At Cornell, he is a resident adviser at Akwe:kon and a First in Class mobilizer with the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives program to support first-generation students. He also volunteers as a tutor for Native American students from the Onondaga Nation at Lafayette Junior and Senior High School in Lafayette, New York.

Upon completion of medical school, he intends to return to his Arizona reservation as a primary care physician with a focus on the interconnections between physical and mental health.

The 2016 Udall Scholars will assemble August 9-14 in Tucson, Arizona, to meet one another and program alumni, learn more about the Udall legacy of public service and interact with community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care and governance.

The Udall Foundation is an independent federal agency established by Congress to honor Congressman Morris K. Udall and Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall. Its programs promote leadership, education, collaboration and conflict resolution in the areas of the environment, public lands, natural resources and Native nations.

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17

http://iamhumec.tumblr.com/

tumblr_inline_oab7iaDzqM1tqatqb_1280

Deborah Seok, HD ‘17

In faculty research labs, in communities across the state, and at jobs and internships around the globe, Human Ecology undergrads are making a powerful impact this summer as they apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Deborah Seok ’17, a human development major from Queens, N.Y., shares her research on toddler spatial language development in Harlem Head Start programs:

What are you working on this summer?

I am working with children in the New York City area to study early development of spatial abilities. For the first study, we are looking at whether spatial training activities, such as origami and playing with Legos, will enhance preschooler spatial skills. The second study looks at what kinds of play experiences contribute to these abilities. More specifically, we want to see whether providing constructive toys, like building blocks and puzzles, to families will enhance toddlers’ spatial skills.

How does this work relate to your coursework?

Much of scientific research focuses on the impact of early experience on human development. The research that I am involved with this summer looks at what kinds of specific factors, such as language input and types of toys played with, can enhance children’s learning abilities. It also addresses bigger scale issues like the effects of socioeconomic status on early development. By running intervention-based research, I am able to take the concepts that I learn in the classroom and apply them to the real-world problems in the community.

Who are your Human Ecology faculty mentors?

My primary faculty mentor is Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development. As director of the Cornell Infant Studies Lab (CISL) and my research supervisor, she oversees all of the projects that I work on. With her guidance and support, I am able to advance my research experience and knowledge in the field of child development. Steve Robertson, professor of human development, is another faculty mentor who has also played a major role in my academic experience here at Cornell. Having taken two seminar courses with him, I have not only learned so much, but also had many opportunities to discuss and explore my own interests with him.

What excites you about your internship?

I’ve always loved working with children, and this summer is the best experience I could ever ask for. I would say that the best part about my internship is the purpose behind it. As an avid supporter of early development and education, I am so excited to be contributing to research that seeks to enhance early learning experiences and make a difference in children’s lives. This strongly motivates me and gives me a glimpse of what I would like to do in the future.

What societal impacts does your work have?

Our research is centered on early intervention work that seeks to promote spatial skill development in children, both at school and home settings. Working with children at a Head Start center in Harlem, New York, allows us to focus on families from especially disadvantaged backgrounds and target environmental factors such as low socioeconomic status.

Deborah’s summer project, The Role of Language and Play in Promoting Children’s Spatial Skills, is funded by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Summer Internship Program, an effort by the College of Human Ecology and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to engage undergraduates in work to benefit New York state communities.

How can current research inform the development of new methods to assess intelligence?

The fifth blog of a six-part series on Researching Human Intelligence. Posted on June 15, 2016  fifteeneightyfour, the blog of Cambridge University Press

Participants:

Sternberg

Robert Sternberg

James R. Flynn, University of Otago, New Zealand

Richard Haier, University of California, Irvine

Robert Sternberg, Cornell University, New York


James Flynn:

If we mean the kind of intelligence that IQ tests at present measure, the Wechsler tests plus Sternberg, I doubt there will be any new breakthroughs in measuring intelligence on the psychological level, at least in fully modern societies.  Measurements on the level of brain physiology are dependent on IQ test results to map what areas of the brains are active in various problem-solving tasks.  One suggestion should be set aside:  that we use measurements of things like reaction times (how quickly a person can press a button when perceiving a light or hearing a sound) as a substitute for IQ tests.  They are subject to differences in temperament between people, stop increasing far too young to capture the maturation of intelligence, and are much subject to practice effects.I do not know enough about creating tests for pre-industrial societies to comment.  However, even the use of “our” tests there can be illuminating.  In the Sudan, there was a large gain on Object Assembly and Coding, subtests responsive to modernity’s emphasis on spatial skills and speedy information processing.  There were moderate gains on Picture Arrangement and Picture Completion, subtests responsive to modernity’s visual culture.  As the “new ways of thinking” subtests, Block Design and Similarities, they actually showed a loss.  On the “school-basics” subtests of Information, Arithmetic, and Vocabulary, only a slight gain.  Diagnosis: no real progress to modernity. They still have traditional formal schooling based on the Koran, and have not learned to use logic on abstractions and to classify.  Their entry into the modern world is superficial:  just access to radio, TV, and the internet.  However, the profile of other nations (Turkey, Brazil) is more promising.  If they continue to develop economically, their average IQs will equal those of the West.

Robert Sternberg:

We have developed what we believe to be better tests that measure no only the analytical aspect of intelligence but also the creative, practical, and wisdom-based ones.  For example, an analytical item might ask an individual to write an essay on why her favourite book is her favourite book—or perhaps comparing the messages of two books.  A creative essay might ask what the world would be like today if the American Revolution had never taken place or if computers had never been invented or if weapons were made illegal throughout the entire world.  Another create item might ask people to draw something creative or to design a scientific experiment or to write a creative story.  A practical item might ask an individual how he persuaded someone else of an idea he had that the other person initially reacted to sceptically. Or it might ask the individual to say how he would solve a practical problem such as how to move a large bed to a second floor in a house with a winding staircase.  A wisdom-based item might ask a person how, in the future, she might make the world a better place; or an item might ask her to resolve a conflict between two neighbours, such as over noise issues.We have found that, through these tests, it is possible clearly to separate out distinct analytical, creative, and practical factors.  These tests increase prediction not only of academic achievement (compared with traditional analytical tests), but also increase prediction of extracurricular success.  Moreover, they substantially reduce ethnic/racial group differences.  Moreover, students actually like to take the tests, something that cannot be said for traditional tests.

Richard Haier:

There is research oriented to measuring intelligence based on using brain speed measured by reaction time to solving mental test items.

There are major advances using neuroimaging to predict IQ scores from structural and functional connections in the brain. Just after I finished writing my book detailing these advances and noting that none were yet successful, a new study found a way to create a brain fingerprint based on imaging brain connections. They reported that these brain fingerprints were unique and stable within a person. Amazingly, they also found these brain fingerprints predicted IQ scores—truly a landmark study. Fortunately, I was able to add it to my book in time. One implication of this kind of research is that intelligence can be measured by brain imaging. Interestingly, a brain image now costs less than an IQ test. If a brain imaging method to assess intelligence also turns out to predict academic success (as it should), an MRI scan might replace the SATs at a much cheaper cost than an SAT prep course (and you can sleep during the MRI).


Week 1 – Can We Define Intelligence?Week 2 – What role does neuroscience play in understanding intelligence and our capacity to learn?Week 3 – What role do IQ tests play in measuring intelligence?Week 4 –How are technological advances, access to instant information and media forces affecting human intelligence?Week 5 – How can current research inform the development of new methods to assess intelligence?Week 6 – What does the future hold in the research of intelligence? How much smarter will we be in 100 years’ time?


About the Author: James R. Flynn

James R. Flynn is the author of Does Your Family Make You Smarter? He is professor emeritus at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and a recipient of the University's Gold Medal for Distinguished Career Research. He is renowned for the 'Flynn effect', the documentation of massive IQ gains from one generation to another....View the Author profile >

About the Author: Richard Haier

Richard J. Haier earned is Professor Emeritus at the University of California and author of The Neuroscience of Intelligence....View the Author profile >

About the Author: Robert J. Sternberg

Robert J. Sternberg is Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, New York. Formerly, he was IBM Professor of Psychology and Education at Yale University, Connecticut. He won the 1999 James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award and the 2017 William James Fellow Award from APS. He is editor of Perspectives on Psychological Science. His main fields ...View the Author profile >

Ong & Loeckenhoff New book probes emotion, aging and health                                                                         New approaches to understanding physical and psychological changes in old age – differences in personality, for instance, or responses to stressful events and the role of positive emotions in promoting well-being – are presented in a new book co-edited                                       by Cornell human development professors Anthony Ong  and Corinna Loeckenhoff.                   
QiWangTNRetweeting may overload your brain                                                                                               In a digital world where information is at your fingertips, be prepared to hold on tight before it slips right through them. Research at Cornell and Beijing University finds retweeting or otherwise sharing information creates a “cognitive overload” that                                           interferes with learning and retaining what you’ve just seen.
bebesInside Cornell’s BABY Labs                                                                                                            Steven S. Robertson and Marianella Casasola, professors in Human Development, run baby labs at Cornell. where researchers are discovering more about the nuances of infant development. It’s a crucial area of academic research and exploration, given the                               impact early development has on later stages of life.
 20120827_rns74_portrait_25Mapping the Resting-state Brain                                                                                                         In the Department of Human Development, fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) informs Nathan Spreng’s studies of large-scale brain network dynamics and their role in cognition.
BaileyPSPIimage-200x300 Checking Up on the Science of Homosexuality                                                                               A new systematic review and commentary published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest takes a sweeping look at what the evidence says about homosexuality and sexual orientation in general. 

Student in the News

 Human Ecology Faculty-Led Undergraduate Research. Eve DeRosa / Annie EricksonSide by side                                                                                                                                       Many undergraduates in Human Development work side by side with faculty in the lab. Read about this transformative approach to learning in an interview with Annie Erickson '16 and her mentor, Professor Eve De Rosa.

 More Stories

K.KinzlerStudies Suggest Multilingual Exposure Boosts Children's Communication Skills      Listen to NPR's Robert Siegel's interview with Katherine Kinzler, associate professor of psychology and human development, about her research on the development of social skills in monolingual and multilingual children.                                                                                 

Multimedia

video play button                                                                                                                                                          Professor Corinna Loeckenhoff talks about aging with Karl Pillemer, Director of the BCTR

 

By H. Roger Segelken

Republished from Cornell Chronicle, April 25, 2016

Ong & Loeckenhoff

Human development professors Anthony Ong and Corinna Loeckenoff. Jason Koski/University Photography

New approaches to understanding physical and psychological changes in old age – differences in personality, for instance, or responses to stressful events and the role of positive emotions in promoting well-being – are presented in a new book co-edited by Cornell human development professors Anthony Ongand Corinna Loeckenhoff.

Emotion, Aging, and Health” presents selected concepts from the Fourth Biennial Urie Bronfenbrenner Conference on New Developments in Aging, Emotion and Health hosted on campus in 2013 by Loeckenhoff and Ong.

“We’re only beginning to understand the complex interplay between emotional experiences and physical health across the adult life span,” said Loeckenhoff. “One of the most important developments in recent years is this: We can finally draw connections between subjective emotional experience, patterns of brain activation, and biomarkers of chronic stress.”

Loeckenhoff said science has been “so focused on understanding emotion as a marker of mental health that we have overlooked its implications for physical health. Especially in later life, emotional responses can buffer the adverse effects of physical conditions; but they (emotional responses) can also be a risk factor for adverse health outcomes.”

Ong said the publication “provides a state-of-the art overview of methods and approaches associated with the study of emotional aging and health. The chapters, written by leading researchers in the field, discuss topics such as emotion regulation, cross-cultural research, healthy aging and interventions.” He hopes some of the questions raised will stimulate future investigation, and that the new volume will help students and scholars “gain a working understanding of research approaches and key issues at the intersection of emotion, aging and health.”

emotion book

Conference presenters – mainly psychologists and experts in human development – came from an international cross-section of institutions: Cornell, Harvard, Northeastern and Stanford universities and the University of California, among others, as well as Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

Previous topics for the conference-and-publication series honoring Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005), the longtime Cornell professor of human development and of psychology, included “Chaos and Its Influence on Children’s Development” and “The Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making.” A founder of the national Head Start program, Bronfenbrenner joined the Cornell faculty in 1948. The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) in the College of Human Ecology honors his vision to join science and service.

Writing the volume’s foreword, gerontologist Karl Pillemer, Cornell’s Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human Development and BCTR director, imagines the book would please Bronfenbrenner. “As a translational researcher before the name existed, he would embrace the themes of development and plasticity in later life, the importance given to social and cultural factors in understanding emotions, and the commitment to applying these scientific insights in creating an optimal world in which to grow old.”

H. Roger Segelken is a freelance writer.

In a digital world where information is at your fingertips, be prepared to hold on tight before it slips right through them. Research at Cornell and Beijing University finds retweeting or otherwise sharing information creates a “cognitive overload” that interferes with learning and retaining what you’ve just seen.twitter-1084764_640

Worse yet, that overload can spill over and diminish performance in the real world.

“Most people don’t post original ideas any more. You just share what you read with your friends,” said Qi Wang, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology. “But they don’t realize that sharing has a downside. It may interfere with other things we do.”

Wang and colleagues in China conducted experiments showing that “retweeting” interfered with learning and memory, both online and off. The experiments are described in Issue 59 (2016) of the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

The experiments were conducted at Beijing University, with a group of Chinese college students as subjects. At computers in a laboratory setting, two groups were presented with a series of messages from Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. After reading each message, members of one group had options either to repost or go on to the next message. The other group was given only the “next” option.

After finishing a series of messages, the students were given an online test on the content of those messages. Those in the repost group offered almost twice as many wrong answers and often demonstrated poor comprehension. What they did remember they often remembered poorly, Wang reported. “For things that they reposted, they remembered especially worse,” she added.

The researchers theorized that reposters were suffering from “cognitive overload.” When there is a choice to share or not share, the decision itself consumes cognitive resources, Wang explained.

This led to a second experiment: After viewing a series of Weibo messages, the students were given an unrelated paper test on their comprehension of a New Scientist article. Again, participants in the no-feedback group outperformed the reposters. Subjects also completed a Workload Profile Index, in which they were asked to rate the cognitive demands of the message-viewing task. The results confirmed a higher cognitive drain for the repost group.

“[The sharing] leads to cognitive overload, and that interferes with the subsequent task,” Wang said. “In real life when students are surfing online and exchanging information and right after that they go to take a test, they may perform worse,” she suggested.

Noting that other research has shown people often pay more attention to elements of a web design such as “repost” or “like” than to the content, the researchers suggest that web interfaces should be designed to promote rather than interfere with cognitive processing. “Online design should be simple and task-relevant,” Wang concluded.

The research was supported by the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation.