Study: Too Many Structured Activities May Hinder Children’s Executive Functioning

Study: Too Many Structured Activities May Hinder Children’s Executive Functioning (Education Week)

“When children spend more time in structured activities, they get worse at working toward goals, making decisions, and regulating their behavior, according to a new study.

Instead, kids might learn more when they have the responsibility to decide for themselves what they’re going to do with their time. Psychologists at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver studied the schedules of 70 six-year olds, and they found that the kids who spent more time in less-structured activities had more highly-developed self-directed executive function.

Self-directed executive function develops mostly during childhood, the researchers write, and it includes any mental processes that help us work toward achieving goals—like planning, decision making, manipulating information, switching between tasks, and inhibiting unwanted thoughts and feelings. It is an early indicator of school readiness and academic performance, according to previous research cited in the study, and it even predicts success into adulthood. Children with higher executive function will be healthier, wealthier, and more socially stable throughout their lives.”

Pretty fascinating study. Important caveat:

“The researchers acknowledge that their study only proves correlation, but not causation. That is, it’s possible that children with better executive functioning may prefer to participate in less-structured activities more often, they write, while children with worse executive functioning may be more likely to seek out activities already structured for them.”

Still, I suspect that more research will only serve to clarify these findings, not discredit them.

Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing

Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing (Public Radio International)

“Neuroscience… has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards ‘non-linear’ reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page. 

‘They call it a bi-literate brain,’ Zoromodi says. ‘The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.’

So what’s deep reading? It’s the concentrated kind we do when we want to ‘immerse ourselves in a novel or read a mortgage document,’ Zoromodi says. And that uses the kind of long-established linear reading you don’t typically do on a computer. ‘Dense text that we really want to understand requires deep reading, and on the internet we don’t do that.’

To keep the deep reading part of the brain alive and kicking, Zomorodi says that researchers like Wolf recommend setting aside some time each day to deep read on paper.”

Fascinating. I definitely think my attention span has been affected by how much reading I do online. It’s harder for me to focus on a book for long periods of time. It’s one of the reasons why I love my basic Kindle, because it doesn’t allow me to check my e-mail, or get distracted by anything else on the internet. It’s just for reading.

 

Masters of Love

Masters of Love (The Atlantic, June 2014)

“There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

‘If your partner expresses a need,’ explained Julie Gottman, ‘and you are tired, stressed, or distracted, then the generous spirit comes in when a partner makes a bid, and you still turn toward your partner.’ In that moment, the easy response may be to turn away from your partner and focus on your iPad or your book or the television, to mumble ‘Uh huh’ and move on with your life, but neglecting small moments of emotional connection will slowly wear away at your relationship. Neglect creates distance between partners and breeds resentment in the one who is being ignored.

The hardest time to practice kindness is, of course, during a fight—but this is also the most important time to be kind. Letting contempt and aggression spiral out of control during a conflict can inflict irrevocable damage on a relationship.”

So many takeaways from this article. I think the most important lesson here is to keep trying. If you care enough to try to be kind, you’re already doing something right.

[Interested in reading more? Check out The Generous Marriage, an excellent article from 2011.]

No Time to Think

No Time to Think

“When people aren’t super busy at work, they are crazy busy exercising, entertaining or taking their kids to Chinese lessons. Or maybe they are insanely busy playing fantasy football, tracing their genealogy or churning their own butter. And if there is ever a still moment for reflective thought — say, while waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic — out comes the mobile device. So it’s worth noting a study published last month in the journal Science, which shows how far people will go to avoid introspection.

In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.

Moreover, in one experiment, 64 percent of men and 15 percent of women began self-administering electric shocks when left alone to think. These same people, by the way, had previously said they would pay money to avoid receiving the painful jolt.

It didn’t matter if the subjects engaged in the contemplative exercise at home or in the laboratory, or if they were given suggestions of what to think about, like a coming vacation; they just didn’t like being in their own heads.”

Mind-boggling. When’s the last time you took fifteen minutes to self-reflect, to slow down, to contemplate? I’m going to try to make more of a habit of doing this myself, especially since,

“Suppressing negative feelings only gives them more power, leading to intrusive thoughts, which makes people get even busier to keep them at bay. The constant cognitive strain of evading emotions underlies a range of psychological troubles such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression and panic attacks, not to mention a range of addictions. It is also associated with various somatic problems like eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, inflammation, impaired immunity and headaches.”

Now that is something to think about.

Lab Rats, One And All: That Unsettling Facebook Experiment

Lab Rats, One And All: That Unsettling Facebook Experiment

“I’ve always been the shrugging type when it comes to lots of things that Facebook does that make people crazy. They change the layout, they mess with the feed — even making you noodle with your privacy settings has always seemed to me like the craven doing of business, and something where I could say yes or I could say no, the same as any business that offered good service sometimes and lousy service other times.

But I found I did not shrug at the news late last week that Facebook had allowed researchers both inside and outside the company to manipulate users’ news feeds to hide good news or bad news to see whether it affected the emotions of those users themselves. In other words, if they hid the parts of Facebook where people share joy with you, where they tell you about happy things, where the griping and grousing is balanced with baby pictures and bright sides, could they make you feel worse? If they led you to believe that something had altered the balance of things so that even if you couldn’t put your finger on it, it seemed like things were going worse in the world, would it affect you? Could they make you artificially positive about things by hiding bad news from you?”

This makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I recognize that Facebook is manipulating my newsfeed in a lot of ways, but I didn’t expect being an unwitting participant in a psychology experiment was one of them.

I’m not going to delete my facebook page for now, but I’m not going to forget about this, either.

Cool at 13, Adrift at 23

Cool at 13, Adrift at 23

At 13, they were viewed by classmates with envy, admiration and not a little awe. The girls wore makeup, had boyfriends and went to parties held by older students. The boys boasted about sneaking beers on a Saturday night and swiping condoms from the local convenience store. They were cool. They were good-looking. They were so not you. Whatever happened to them?

“The fast-track kids didn’t turn out O.K.,” said Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. He is the lead author of a new study, published this month in the journal Child Development, that followed these risk-taking, socially precocious cool kids for a decade. In high school, their social status often plummeted, the study showed, and they began struggling in many ways.

Clearly my complete lack of social status in middle school is why I am so well-adjusted now! At least, that’s what I’m going to tell myself in order to comfort my inner middle-schooler. As previously discussed, I was a giant weirdo who really, really wanted to fit in but never quite managed to. I got over it, mostly, but I still have a sense that I missed out on something. Maybe I did, but it looks like I might have dodged a bullet.

[via The Hairpin]