Tag Archives: child development

Reprinted from The Cornell Chronicle, September 14, 2017.

by Stephen D'Angelo

Stephen Ceci

Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development, will receive the American Psychological Associations’ G. Stanley Hall award for distinguished contributions to developmental science at APA’s August 2018 meeting in San Francisco.

The highest honor in the field of developmental psychology, the award is given to an individual or research team who has made distinguished contributions to developmental psychology in research, student training and other scholarly endeavors.

“Steve has made seminal contributions to the basic scientific research of the developing mind in young children and to the critical translation of research findings to real-life settings,” said Qi Wang, professor of human development and department chair. “His work best exemplifies the integrative approaches that we take in the use of scientific theories and methods to vigorously study real-world problems in diverse populations.”

The award is based on the scientific merit of the individual’s work, the importance of this work for opening up new empirical or theoretical areas of developmental psychology, and the importance of the individual’s work in linking developmental psychology with issues confronting society or with other disciplines.

Ceci has written approximately 450 articles, books, commentaries, reviews and chapters. He has served on the advisory board of the National Science Foundation for seven years and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Board of Behavioral and Sensory Sciences. He is past president of the Society for General Psychology, serves on 11 editorial boards, including Scientific American Mind, and is senior adviser to several journals.

Ceci’s honors include the American Academy of Forensic Psychology’s Lifetime Distinguished Contribution Award (2000), the American Psychological Association’s Division of Developmental Psychology’s Lifetime Award for Science and Society (2002), the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award for the Application of Psychology (2003), the Association for Psychological Science’s James McKeen Cattell Award (2005), the Society for Research in Child Development’s lifetime distinguished contribution award (2013) and the American Psychological Association’s E.L. Thorndike Award for lifetime contribution to empirical and theoretical psychology (2015).

Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications at the College of Human Ecology.

Elizabeth Cavic

Elizabeth Cavic is a rising senior in the Department of Human Development and was a 2017 College of Human Ecology CCE Summer Intern working on the project "Enhancing Children’s Play and Parent’s Knowledge in Suffolk County" under the direction of Dr. Marianella Casasola and the CCE partners, Suffolk County Family and Health and Wellness Program, and Suffolk County Farm and Education Center. She created the following e-journal of her internship experience.

 

Week 1!

This week was my first (almost) full week with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (herein called "CCE"). I arrived on Memorial Day (Monday evening) around 10 PM and started work Tuesday. For the 6 weeks that I will be interning with CCE, I will be splitting my time between the Riverhead office and the Farm and Education Center (located in Yaphank). For the most part, I will be working in Riverhead Tuesdays and Wednesdays and in Yaphank on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

This first week was largely an orientation week for me. Several of my supervisors showed me around the farm and Riverhead office, I was given my duties and workspaces, and I just generally oriented myself to my new surroundings! I enjoyed my time at the office a lot, as I'm surrounded by people who are experts in all their respective fields (all somehow relating to Family Health and Wellness). My time at the farm, however, was also super incredible. Growing up in upstate New York, I was always surrounded by long stretches of countryside and there was always a farm no more than 15 minutes or so in any direction. However, this did give me the opportunity to get up close and personal with some things I haven't seen in a long time (namely lambs and roosters), which I really enjoyed!

Of course, my job there is not to hang out with the adorable sheep and lambs, but to develop a design that helps parents understand how critical play is to development. For example, the Outdoor Explore classroom contains an element that is intended for children to paint on (with water). Essentially, there are three pieces of slate (pictured left). Each piece of slate has a bucket attached, each bucket full of water and a couple paintbrushes. Water can be used to "paint" on these slates. While children may not look as though they are doing much during their painting sessions, the large sweeping motions that can be seen are critical to gross motor development in preschoolers.

Gross motor development (being able to control and manipulate the muscles in the shoulder and upper arm) is, then, absolutely imperative to the development of fine motor skills (manipulation of the hands and fingers). Of course, looking at a child fooling around with a bucket, and paintbrush, and a few pieces of slate may seem useless to parents who have little to no background in Human (specifically, Child) Development. That's where I come in. Of course, it's week 1, so I'm not quite sure yet how I come in, but I know that I definitely will! Until next week!

Week 2!

This week has flown by! Today marks the end of my first full week working for CCE of Suffolk County. This has been an extremely full week, complete with field trips, tours around preschools and other outdoor classrooms, a lot of statistics, graphs, charts, powerpoint presentations, and photos! Last week, largely an orientation week, was spent brainstorming ideas, as was much of this week.

The schedule for the duration of my internship is as follows: two weeks researching and brainstorming, two weeks implementing changes in the Outdoor Explore Classroom, and two weeks tweaking my adjustments. One of the final steps in my first two weeks was to visit other outdoor classrooms in the area. Our first stop was at Play Groups School in East Setauket. This school was an absolute blast to visit - the classrooms were incredible, the instructors were all so professional and so warm (the perfect mix for preschool teachers), and all the children were playing with developmentally appropriate materials. This little flower-filled shoe (left) was used during their recycling/Earth day project, in which children planted flowers in their old shoes. Because of this, there were dozens of little flower-filled shoes sitting around the outdoor classroom which nearly brought me to tears.

So much of the dialogue surrounding preschool education in the United States today is littered with talk of "didactic" learning or "academic- oriented preschools". However, the children of this preschool (and preschools across the country) were thriving with very simple (and age- appropriate) play materials! In fact, when walking in, I was a bit taken aback by the amount of material the children had at their disposal - water tables, dress up clothes, easels, fish tanks, huge playhouses inside the building, blocks, and countless other materials. It was, by all counts, incredible. The children were actively engaged in what they were doing and were learning new things with every move they made. Their outdoor classroom was equally impressive - between the water feature (right), the spot for bird-watching, the stage, the regular playground, and the block station, it was even difficult for me to stay professional.

Next, we visited the Long Island Children's Museum (LICM). One of their most interesting features was the Strawberry Maze (left). The black material was a "composting sock," filled with compost material on which the strawberry plants were growing. Children went into the maze, completed it, and ate strawberries along the way. The museum also contained a beautiful water feature (with dams, rivers, a water wheel, etc.). This inspired me to continue working on the farm's future water feature.

Next, we headed to the Middle Country Library. This library was so impressive for a whole multitude of reasons (some, but definitely not all of which, had to do with its outdoor explore classroom). This place was incredible:

  • The men's bathroom had a changing table, which shouldn't be such a big deal but, even in 2017, is not a super common occurrence and any public organization where that occurs is, in my opinion, way ahead of the game!
  • The outside of the building is - beyond being incredibly aesthetically pleasing - covered with what look like "fish scales". Very fitting for a library out in Long Island.
  • They had a "I read 1000 books before Kindergarten" feature - there were 100 clear backpacks on the shelves, each of which contained 10 picture -- or very short chapter -- books. A child could take out a backpack, bring it home, read the 10 books, return the backpack, and there would be 99 more waiting for the child. When the child completed all 100 of the backpacks (and consequently 1000 books), he/she/they got their face on a wall of the other children who had completed it. No lie, this bulletin board made me tear up it was so adorable.

- back to the classroom - it was absolutely incredible. It had places for building, places for reading, performing, digging, etc. (and SO SO many caterpillars)... The photo above (of the brick and my then-soaking-wet-from-walking-through-the-damp-grass-all- day espadrilles) was part of a fundraiser that the library did to fund the outdoor classroom. Each brick contained a title of a children's book (the book referenced in this brick can be found here) and a sponsor could "buy" a brick for $100 prior to the building of the classroom. I found it to be so heartwarming looking through the books that people held close to their hearts.

With all this work, I have (obviously) been very busy! However, there is always time to head down to the beach to put my feet in the water (it's still too chilly down here for a good swim - today is the best day thus far and it's only 75). As usual, I'm enjoying myself at work and in my spare time. I'm trying to read a book a week this summer and this week, the book that I have chosen is called "The Color of Water" by James McBride. So far so good. And for those of you who care or are curious, last week was "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. Equally wonderful and a super interesting non-fiction read. I'll make sure to keep you all updated on my progress (both personally and professionally) for the remainder of my internship. Until next week!

Week 3!

This week was so busy, I almost forgot to publish my post for this week (sorry about that, folks). This week started out on Monday with me finishing up preparations for my project - including making a supply list and merging that with my budget, researching how to implement a QR code for an audio tour the farm will be adding to the Nature Explore Classroom, and finalizing my list of projects that I'm going to work on!

After several long weeks of preparation, I finally started doing a project! This began on Sunday when my friend Marissa and I went to Southold Town beach and collected 360+ nicely-sized rocks!

Surprisingly, that only took us 20-30 minutes (and I got to watch a super beautiful sunset on the water right afterwards, so I definitely was not complaining about having to be at the beach). On Monday, I brought my rocks to the farm and washed them off and then pre-sketched all the letters onto the rocks so they could be painted the following day that I was at the farm.

On Thursday morning, I scoured the farm for acrylic paints that we may have already had and began painting some of the rocks with that (below). Unfortunately, we only had 3 good colors (and of course, I'm a color addict, so I really wanted more than that for this project). Fortunately, one of my field supervisors (Katie) was super understanding about the fact that I needed more paint and we took a trip to Michaels to get supplies for the rocks (paints, paintbrushes, sealer, etc.) and a few of my other upcoming projects.

After returning to the farm, I finally got to start painting the bulk of them!

Now, I never really knew how to conceptualize 360 rocks before today, but now I know that that means literally an eight-hour day of just painting rocks.

I've added this photo (right) so that you all can begin to conceptualize how many rocks 360 really is! A ton! Regardless, I got it done and was really pleased with the final results. Next week, I will be sealing them so that they can be outside safely and will not chip or blister, etc. From here, I think that my next project will be the ribbon chandeliers. I don't foresee those taking too long, but I'm hoping that sometime soon I can get started on the mud kitchen!

International Mud Day is coming faster than I had expected (it's this coming Saturday at 10 AM at the farm!) and I am not as prepared as I'd like to be, but still truckin' along! I think the implementation of that project will be a real game-changer for the Nature Explore Classroom (or at least I hope it will - I know I would've loved a mud kitchen as a kid). But anyway, I hope you all are having as great a summer as I am! Until next week.

Week 4!

I cannot believe that it's already my fourth week! As I write this (on Sunday actually - past my deadline), I am in shock that I only have 9 days left of my internship! This coming week, I will work Monday - Friday, and then the following week will be a four-day week, with July 4th on Tuesday.

Anyway, this week was absolutely crazy! I (of course) got my weekly dose of run-ins with the farm cats (my favorite of which is pictured to the left), I got time at the Riverhead office, and yesterday (Saturday) was our celebration for international mud day! International mud day is actually June 29th, but for the sake of having a good turn out, we celebrated it the weekend before. For those who don't know know, mud day is literally just a day in which kids and adults come to the farm and play in mud (the entire time).

At the farm, that means two huge kiddie pools filled with topsoil are plopped on the ground, and water is added in the morning. Progressively, throughout the day, children play in the pools, carry the mud around, sit in it, step on it, throw it at each other (and their parents), scoop it up with kitchen utensils and shovels, put it in baking pans, etc. The aftermath is what you see (right). When the pools are picked up, there is a 4-inch layer of mud left on the ground everywhere except where the pools were stationed. As you can imagine, the clean up for this event took a substantial amount of time, even with several people helping to get everything de-muddied. In fact, I think there is mud so deeply embedded in my feet right now that I'm at least 3 sheets browner from ankle down (even after several hose- offs and a shower).

So, now to backtrack. This week I spent a lot of time prepping for International Mud Day. The biggest project that I worked on was making the mud kitchen (left)! This took several sketches and re-sketches, several trips to different stores, and a lot of help from Richard, the man who does maintenance work for the farm. It took a total of 7 hours, and by the end I couldn't feel my forearm (I used nails, not screws, ugh). However, I got my supplies on Thursday afternoon and it was finished by Friday and usable for Mud Day (which was the goal of this internship).

In total, the farm had about 2,000 people present for some portion of the festivities, a large number of those people being under the age of 5! I was super pleased to see people enjoying the mud kitchen during the day, especially little people (one of these little people pictured left). The concept was stemmed from my boss Allison and I (with a little help from pinterest) and the execution was mostly me (although my dad's insistence that I learn how to use power tools in middle and high school did come in handy).

Fortunately, my mud kitchen was a disaster by the end of Mud Day! Anything less would have meant that I did my job poorly. Luckily, however, it is really easy to clean again (just take the bowls out and hose it off) and it's back to usable condition! Overall, I would definitely recommend this project to any adult who has children or who works with children - little ones are so infrequently allowed to get dirty anymore and it is a critical part of childhood!

I was also lucky enough to have several of my other classroom additions ready in time for International Mud Day! Both my painted rocks and my scales were debuted that day (and from what I saw, kids were really enjoying them). Pictures of those can also be found below! I think there are a few things that I'd like to add or change, but overall I'm extremely pleased with the progress that I've made thus far. With a little under two weeks left, I'm signing off!

Week 5!

This week was, as usual, pretty hectic! I finished up several projects, including the water tables and my ribbon chandelier!

As you can see, my ribbon chandelier came out pretty cool! I was going for technicolor and really appealing to the eye (especially the young child's eye) and I think that's exactly how it came out! While I was securing it onto the gazebo, there was there this girl Marissa (who looked to be about two years old) with her parents and she kept coming up to me repeatedly saying, "there's a birthday party today!" because the ribbon chandelier looks like birthday streamers. Of course, her parents were rushing her along because her one-year-old brother was fussing, but what an incredible observation, connection, and conclusion on her part!

Finally, after it was hung up she got to go inside the hoop! As an added bonus, this was intended to a pretend play prop, which I believe it was for her. The entire time I was hanging this up, her hands were full of the letter rocks I painted, and she was putting them in the cupcake tins from Mud Day, calling them eggs she was using for "brownies" for the birthday that was happening! Very cool and imaginative little girl, indeed.

We were also fortunate enough to receive a donation from someone the other day of a whole set of painted wooden "blocks." They were really just a a 2" x 2" piece of wood cut into smaller pieces, but that's all blocks ever are anyway, and plus, they were a donation, so they were better than nothing and the person was generous to have brought them all the way over here when they could have thrown them out! Anyway! I upcycled them with some of the leftover acrylic paint from the letter rocks and now we have a really cool set of blocks that I'll be putting outside later today!

And finally I was able to somewhat finish my water tables! I still need some of the PVC pipe connectors for the actual base, but my frogs came in, so the inside of them is done, which is very cool! I added some beach rocks as well, making it a little more realistic looking (and the kids can take the beach rocks out, so that's an additional thing to get some tactile experience with). Overall, I would say that my projects are going well and I am looking forward to wrapping everything up next week though I truly cannot believe that 6 weeks went by so quickly. It really does feel like yesterday that I was proctoring the Human Bonding Exam in Barton Hall! Anyway, thanks all for reading. Until next week!

 

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, November 6, 2014

Kushnir

Kushnir

A hammer has many uses – breaking, prying, bending – but we all know that hammers are supposed to be for hammering nails into wood. It turns out we not only learn such cultural conventions when we’re very young, we can transmit them, too.

A recent Cornell study finds that toddlers notice subtle social clues to figure out what actions of others may be socially or culturally important and then preferentially share this information with others.

The findings show that social context influences children’s transmission of information, perhaps playing a role in the dissemination of cultural conventions from a young age, say authors Christopher Vredenburgh, graduate student in the field of human development; Tamar Kushnir, the Evalyn Edwards Milman Assistant Professor of Child Development in the College of Human Ecology; and Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development.

Casasola

Casasola

In their study, two-year-olds were shown two new toys that each light up and make a sound. One action was demonstrated by a person exploring the toy on their own without engaging the child, and one was demonstrated by a person using eye contact and child-directed speech, known informally as baby talk or “motherese,” cues that children pick up on as signals that you are trying to “teach” them something culturally or socially relevant.

The toddlers learned and produced both actions, but when a new person who was not part of the initial demonstration asked them what the toy does, the toddlers were more likely to show the cued action first and to spend more time showing it.

“Children are rapid causal learners and precocious imitators and can learn about cause/effect by observing others making things ‘go’ with no additional cues, but they prefer to transmit the cued action in a new social situation,” Kushnir said.

“They learn something additional about the cued effect – they learn that it may be something that is worth communicating to another person,” she explained.

“This builds on prior evidence that children think that some causal properties of objects might also be socially or culturally relevant – it may be a way children learn about culture. Furthermore, it shows that even two-year-old children actively participate in culture by transmitting selectively to the new person only the ‘relevant’ information.”

The study, “Pedagogical cues encourage toddlers’ transmission of recently demonstrated functions to unfamiliar adults,” published online in Developmental Science (Oct. 5), was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Leopold Schepp Foundation and the Cornell University Alumni Association.

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

Related Links:

Tamar Kushnir
Marianella Casasola
The paper
The College of Human Ecology

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, June 19, 2014

Gary Evans

Evans

By age 2, poor children have gained more weight than those who are better off. But after age 2, neighborhood poverty, not family poverty, puts the pounds on, finds a new study, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (35:3).

About one-third of America’s children are overweight or obese, but rates are highest among poor and minority children. The study identifies for the first time the effects of neighborhood-level poverty, family poverty and ethnicity on children’s weight, shedding new light on the origins of adult health disparities, the authors say.

“The effects of neighborhood poverty on children’s weight may be just as important as the effects of family poverty,” says Cornell’s Gary W. Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology, who co-authored the study with Pamela Klebanov, Princeton University, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University.

“Children and families are embedded in neighborhoods; poor neighborhoods differ structurally from wealthier neighborhoods, with fewer safe and natural places to play and exercise, fewer supermarkets and more fast food,” Evans explains.

For their study, the researchers analyzed demographic factors and changes in body mass index (BMI) from ages 2 to 6 1/2 for nearly 1,000 children born with low birth weight. In typically developing children, BMI increases during the first year, then declines to a low point before increasing again in what is called adiposity rebound, usually between the ages of 5 and 7. Children who rapidly gain weight early in their first year or who have an early rebound are at risk for obesity throughout life.

Because they tend to gain weight more rapidly over their first two years to “catch up” with normal birth weight infants, low birth weight infants face higher risks for obesity, but being poor, a minority or living in poor neighborhoods adds to their disadvantage, the authors say.

Evans and colleagues found that the low birth weight toddlers from poor families already had higher BMIs than their wealthier counterparts by age 2, at which point the harmful effects of living in an impoverished neighborhood took over. The children in poor and near poor neighborhoods reached adiposity rebound more quickly, and their BMIs increased more rapidly compared to children from non-poor neighborhoods.

The team also found that African-American toddlers displayed an earlier adiposity rebound and greater subsequent BMI increases over time compared to Anglo-American toddlers. Hispanic-American children, on the other hand, had an atypical pattern in which their BMI increased steadily from birth, without exhibiting a decrease and rebound.

“Health disparities emerge early and shape lifelong health,” Evans says.

“Interventions need to address both the fundamental risk factors for pediatric obesity, such as poverty, chaotic living conditions and low parental education, as well as the mechanisms that appear to convey these risks, such as restricted access to healthy food, few safe and natural places to play, too much fast food, child food marketing and high levels of chronic stress, he concludes.

The study, “Poverty, ethnicity and risk of obesity among low birth weight infants,” was supported in part by the Stanford Center for Poverty and Inequality.

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

Related Links:
Gary Evans
The Paper

By H. Roger Segelken
Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, April 9, 2014

The very earliest childhood memories might begin even earlier than anyone realized – including the rememberer, his or her parents and memory researchers.

Four- to 13-year-olds in upstate New York and Newfoundland, Canada, probed their memories when researchers asked: “You know, some kids can remember things that happened to them when they were very little. What is the first thing you can remember? How old were you at that time?” The researchers then returned a year or two later to ask again about earliest memories – and at what age the children were when the events occurred.

“The age estimates of earliest childhood memories are not as accurate as what has been generally assumed,” report Qi Wang of Cornell University and Carole Peterson of Memorial University of Newfoundland in the March 2014 online issue of Developmental Psychology. “Using children’s own age estimates as the reference, we found that memory dating shifted to later ages as time elapsed.”

Childhood amnesia refers to our inability to remember events from our first years of life. Until now, cognitive psychologists estimated the so-called childhood amnesia offset at 3.5 years – the average age of our very earliest memory, the authors noted in their report, “Your Earliest Memory May Be Earlier Than You Think: Prospective Studies of Children’s Dating of Earliest Childhood Memories.”

But the children who originally answered, for example, “I think I was 3 years old when my dog fell through the ice,” postdated that same earliest memory by as much as nine months when asked – in follow-up interviews a year or two years later – to recall again. In other words, as time went by, children thought the same memory event occurred at an older age than they had thought previously. And that finding prompts Wang and Peterson to question the 3.5-year offset for childhood amnesia.

“This can happen to adults’ earliest childhood memories, too,” says Wang, professor of human development and director of the Social Cognition Development Laboratory in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology. “We all remember some events from our childhood. When we try to reconstruct the time of these events, we may postdate them to be more recent than they actually were, as if we are looking at the events through a telescope. Although none of us can recall events on the day of our birth – childhood amnesia may end somewhat earlier than the generally accepted 3.5 years.”

Parents might help because they have more clues (e.g., where they lived, what their children looked like at the time of events) to put their children’s experiences along a timeline. When asked, for example, “How old was Evan when Poochie fell through the ice?” they erred less than Evan had. Still, they are not free from errors in their time estimates.

The only way to settle that, Wang and Peterson mused, would be to look for documented evidence – a parent’s diary, for instance, or a newspaper account of Poochie’s memorable rescue.

What girls remember

In this study, as in another published by Wang in 2013, a gender-related difference was noted:

“Females generally, although not always, exhibit superior retention of episodic memories than males,” Wang and Peterson wrote in the 2014 report. The gender differences, according to the researchers, may reflect the development of life narratives in late childhood and early adolescence, where girls often tell lengthier and more coherent life stories than boys.

“The narrative organization of life events,” they speculated, “may allow girls to better remember the events over time, compared with boys.”

Wang, author of “The Autobiographical Self in Time and Culture” (Oxford University Press, 2013), says her earliest childhood memory is “playing with the girls next door.” And given her findings, she wonders if that was around age 4.

Related Links:
Qi Wang
The Paper

Related Stories:
Book highlights memory's role as social glue
Study uncovers why women remember events better
Book shows how family, culture shape personal stories

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle November 14, 2013

Graduate student Yue Yu conducts an imitation toy test in Jushnir's Early Chilhood Cognition Laboratory with Saffron Gold-Rodgers.

Graduate student Yue Yu conducts an imitation toy test in Jushnir's Early Chilhood Cognition Laboratory with Saffron Gold-Rodgers. - Mark Vorreuter

From infancy, children learn by watching and imitating adults. Even when adults show them how to open a latch or solve a puzzle, for example, children use social cues to figure out what actions are important. But children read these cues differently depending on their age: Older children, interestingly, are more likely, not less likely, to faithfully imitate actions unnecessary to the task at hand, reports Cornell research.

The findings imply that children of different ages have different expectations when they watch and learn from adults, based on their growing social understanding, say authors Yue Yu, graduate student in the field of human development, and Tamar Kushnir, the Evalyn Edwards Milman Assistant Professor of Child Development in the College of Human Ecology, in a study published online in Developmental Psychology (Aug. 26) ahead of print.

“Understanding what causes children to imitate in any given situation, and especially to imitate actions that seem to have no obvious purpose, sheds light on how children’s minds work and what influences their learning,” Kushnir said.

To explore how age and social context influence children’s imitation behavior, the researchers conducted two experiments with 2- and 4-year-olds. In one, children played one of three games with the experimenter (copying the experimenter’s hand gestures, taking turns to find and fit a puzzle piece, or a non-interactive drawing game). Then, they played a puzzle-box game after watching the experimenter show two actions on the toy and retrieve a puzzle piece. In half the trials, only the second action was necessary to recover the puzzle piece.

The researchers found that the 4-year-olds faithfully imitated both necessary and unnecessary actions to get the puzzle piece, regardless of the game they played beforehand; 2-year-olds, however, were heavily influenced by the context set up by the prior game. They were more likely to faithfully imitate unnecessary actions after playing the copying game and more likely to selectively emulate just the necessary action after playing the puzzle-solving game.

A second experiment ruled out the possibility that the 2-year-olds were merely primed to copy anyone – their strategies were not influenced by the copy game when they played it with a different experimenter. This suggests that toddlers in the first experiment were actively engaged in a social interaction with a particular individual from which they inferred goals for the following game, Yu and Kushnir concluded. Their findings underscore the important role that children’s developing social knowledge plays in what and how they learn, they said.

When toddlers watch adults, what they pay attention to and imitate appears highly dependent on the context and expectations set up by the adult, and this points to the importance of establishing rapport before trying to teach them something, said Yu.

Preschoolers, on the other hand, are more likely to view all adult’s purposeful actions as part of the social interaction, perhaps even as social norms, and thus imitate them as faithfully as possible. This enables imitation to be a source, not just for learning about objects (e.g., how a latch works), but for rich and accurate cultural transmission, Yu added.

Or for embarrassment, depending on what you just demonstrated in front of your preschooler.

The study, “Social Context Effects in 2- and 4-year-olds’ Selective Versus Faithful Imitation,” was supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

By H. Roger Segelken
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, October 30, 2013

Evans

Evans

The chronic stress of childhood poverty can trigger physical changes that have lifelong psychological effects, a study of adult brains has shown.

“Some of the anxiety disorders, depression, post traumatic stress disorders, impulsive aggression and substance abuse we’re seeing in adults might be traced to a stressful childhood,” says Cornell’s Gary W. Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology.

The environmental and developmental psychologist joined researchers from three other universities to publish findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as “Effects of childhood poverty and chronic stress on regulatory brain function in adulthood.” The 15-year study confirms something Evans has long suspected: “Early experiences of poverty become embedded in the brain. Exposure to chronic stress in early childhood – when the amygdala and prefrontal cortex are rapidly developing – produces lasting neurological changes,” he says.

The longitudinal study followed 49 rural 9-year-olds for 15 years – checking in at ages 9, 13, 17 and 24. “Even if the 24-year-olds had escaped poverty and were making a comfortable living,” Evans says, “functional magnetic resonance imaging scans of two parts of the brain that process emotion, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, revealed neural patterns for emotion regulatory dysfunction.

“Chronic stresses of childhood poverty may make it harder to regulate your emotions and this remains whether or not you are upwardly mobile as an adult,” he adds.

The report by researchers at the University of Michigan, University of Denver, University of Illinois at Chicago and Cornell said “… children living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to chronic multiple stressors, including violence, family turmoil, separation from family members and substandard living environments.”

Pilyoung Kim, M.A. ’07, Ph.D. ’09, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver, is the lead author on the paper. Support for the long-term study came from the National Institutes of Health, William T. Grant Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

By Ted Boscia
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, August 28, 2013

Wendy Wei leads a child through spatial cognition tests - Mark Vorreuter

Human development major Wendy Wei ’15 spent most of her summer at Ithaca-area day care centers leading 4- and 5-year-olds through brain teasers and puzzles or building towers with blocks and Legos. Far from child’s play, her work sought to understand how preschoolers develop spatial cognition and whether those abilities could be nurtured through interactive play.

Wei is one of 15 undergraduates who received $4,000 stipends from the College of Human Ecology to work in faculty labs full time this summer as part of the college’s long-running research immersion program. Made possible by a mix of alumni endowments and college and federal funds, it allows students to conduct research uninterrupted by classes, exams, jobs or extracurricular activities.

“We want students to deeply engage in research, not just doing a few hours as an assistant in the lab but helping the team to define the research question, methods and data collection and interpretation,” said Carole Bisogni ’70, M.S. ’72, Ph.D. ’76, associate dean for academic affairs. “For some students, it changes their entire outlook.”

Wei entered Cornell on a path to become a physician. But, partly due to her research in associate professor Marianella Casasola’s Cornell Infant Studies Laboratory, she’s now focused on a career in research and education.

This summer, Wei led an experiment to test how children’s knowledge of spatial language (terms like “up,” “down,” “in” and “on”) influences their spatial cognition (how well they recognize two-dimensional shapes and patterns, and mentally map their physical surroundings).

“Prior work has shown a link between spatial cognition and future performance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields,” Wei said. “Hopefully the study will help in coming up with better methods for teaching kids spatial concepts.”

While Wei focused on cognitive growth, Judith Mildner ’14, human development, was examining declines in brain function. Mildner helped conduct a study in the Cornell MRI Facility searching for biomarkers in the brain that might predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases years ahead of what is now possible.

Mildner said she enjoyed working on a team of research assistants and the close interaction with faculty that’s rarely possible during the busy academic year.

“I want to work in neuropsychology research, probably on aging and dementia, and I have learned a lot about what it takes to run an functional MRI study [a type of imaging that allows neuroscientists to see different forms of brain activity],” she said. “I want a job doing research, and this summer I’ve been able to do it all day, every day.”

Ariana Levitt working on fiber electrospinning in the lab of Margaret Frey, associate professor of fiber science and apparel design, in the Human Ecology Building - Jason Koski, University Photography

Students from each of Human Ecology’s five academic departments – Design and Environmental Analysis, Fiber Science & Apparel Design, Human Development, Policy Analysis and Management, and Nutritional Sciences – received summer stipends.

Some, like Nivetha Subramanian ’15 and Ariana Levitt ’15, donned white coats at lab benches: Subramanian compared genetic properties of breast milk from mothers of full-term and premature infants, and Levitt looked for the right mix of polymers needed to spin nanofibers with high conductivity and low water solubility. Others contributed to social science projects: Williams “Carlos” Higgins ’14 surveyed occupants of Caldwell Hall to gather data for a project to identify structures best suited for energy-saving retrofits, and Max Kellogg ’15 built a statistical model to track how TV ads influence people’s daily consumption of sweetened and unsweetened drinks.

Higgins said the summer program builds on classes by allowing him to “dive in much deeper.”

“It’s exciting when I find something I don’t expect to,” he said. “Usually in class everything is laid out in the syllabus, and you know what’s coming. With research, I’ve thought about the problem for hundreds of hours and still get results totally different from what I expected.”

Ted Boscia is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.

Footnote

Overall, six Human Development majors were among the 15 undergraduates who received research stipends from the College of Human Ecology this summer:

  • Rebecca Derven ’15 worked with Valerie Reyna, professor of human development, on "Interventions for Risk Reduction in Obesity Prevention;"
  • Judith Mildner ’14, mentioned above, worked with Nathan Spreng, assistant professor of human development, on "Age-related changes in enhancement and modulation of the default network;"
  • Emily Bastarach ’14 worked with Anthony Ong, associate professor of human development, on "Resilience to parental loss: A prospective study of early parental support and positive emotions;"
  • Wendy Wei, ’15 worked with Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development, on the project mentioned above called "Putting the pieces together;"
  • Jasmin Perez ’14 worked with Gary Evans, professor of human development, on "The effect of socioeconomc status on infant Distractibility;" and
  • Jenna Behrendt ’14 worked with Barbara Lust, professor of human development, on "Characterizing language deficits in mildly cognitive impaired elderly compared to a healthy aging and a young population."

Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, August 19, 2013

Tamar Kushnir works with a child as part of a partnership between ECC and the Ithaca Sciencenter - Lindsay France, University Photography

For parents, getting kids to share their toys can be a constant battle, and compelling them to hand over their favorite doll or truck rarely works for long. New Cornell research suggests that allowing children to freely choose to give valuable possessions to another leads them to share more in the future.

The findings, by Nadia Chernyak, a graduate student in the field of human development, and Tamar Kushnir, the Evalyn Edwards Milman Assistant Professor of Child Development in the College of Human Ecology, are published in a paper, “Giving Preschoolers Choice Increases Sharing Behavior,” in the journal Psychological Science.

Their studies suggest that sharing when given a difficult choice leads children to see themselves in a new, more beneficent light – one that makes them more likely to act in a sharing manner in the future.

“Making difficult choices allows children to infer something important about themselves: In making choices that aren't necessarily easy, children might be able to infer their own prosociality,” Chernyak said.

To test this, the researchers introduced 3-5 year-olds to Doggie, a puppet, who was feeling sad. Some of the children were given a difficult choice: Share a precious sticker with Doggie, or keep it for themselves. Other children were given an easy choice between sharing and discarding the sticker, while children in a third group were required by the researcher to share.

Later on, all the children were introduced to Ellie, another sad puppet. They were given the option of how many stickers to share (up to three) to cheer her up. The kids who earlier made the difficult choice to help Doggie shared more stickers with Ellie. The children who were initially confronted with an easy choice or who were required to give their sticker to Doggie, on the other hand, shared fewer stickers with Ellie.

“You might imagine that making difficult, costly choices is taxing for young children or even that once children share, they don’t feel the need to do so again,” Chernyak said. “But this wasn’t the case: Once children made a difficult decision to give up something for someone else, they were more generous, not less, later on.”

Another experiment supported these findings, illustrating that children are more generous after choosing to share valuable toy frogs compared to worthless shreds of paper. Those who initially shared the frogs with Doggie shared more stickers with Ellie later on. Those who readily shared the paper, on the other hand, shared fewer stickers with Ellie. Therefore, children did not benefit from the mere act of sharing, but rather from willingly sacrificing something of value.

“Children are frequently taught to share, be polite and be kind to others. In order to bring us closer to figuring out how to best teach children these skills, it is important to know which factors may aid in young children’s sharing behavior,” Chernyak said. “Allowing children to make difficult choices may influence their sharing behavior by teaching them greater lessons about their abilities, preferences and intentions toward others.”

The research was supported by a Cognitive Science Fellowship from Cornell.