What Happens Inside Kids’ Brains As They Watch “Sesame Street”
What happens in a child’s brain when they watch “Sesame Street”? A new study by scientists at University of Rochester aimed to find out, reports the website PsychCentral:
“For the investigation, 27 children between the ages of 4 and 11, and 20 adults watched the same 20-minute ‘Sesame Street’ video. The children then took standardized IQ tests for math and verbal ability.
To capture the neural response to the show, the researchers used an fMRI machine to scan the brains of participants as they watched Big Bird, the Count, Elmo and other stars of the educational series. Using statistical algorithms, the researchers then created ‘neural maps’ of the thought processes for the children and the adults and compared the groups.
The result? Children whose neural maps more closely resembled the neural maps of adults scored higher on standardized math and verbal tests. In other words, the brain’s neural structure, like other parts of the body, develops along predictable pathways as we mature.
The study also confirmed where in the brain these developing abilities are located. For verbal tasks, adult-like neural patterns in the Broca area, which is involved in speech and language, predicted higher verbal test scores in children. For math, better scores were linked to more mature patterns in the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), a region of the brain known to be involved in the processing of numbers.
Although the study does not advocate TV watching, it does show that ‘neural patterns during an everyday activity like watching television are related to a person’s intellectual maturity,’ said lead author Jessica Cantlon, a cognitive scientist at the University of Rochester.
‘It’s not the case that if you put a child in front of an educational TV program that nothing is happening—that the brain just sort of zones out. Instead, what we see is that the patterns of neural activity that children are showing are meaningful and related to their intellectual abilities.’” (Read more here.)
One takeaway from this study is that—despite the many variations and differences among people—our brains are more alike than different, and the brain, “like other parts of the body, develops along predictable pathways as we mature.” Important to remember in a world that is obsessed with “learning styles” and “personalized learning.”