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Categorizing and Communicating

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

Categorization is at the core of cognition: It allows us to generalize knowledge and actions, as well as inferential reasoning. While past studies have shown that infants can use visual features to form categories by the time they’re just 3 months old, little is known about how they manage to extract feature information across categories. Althaus and Mareschal (p. 1122) introduced a new combination of saliency and area-of-interest analysis in this British eye-tracking study of almost two dozen 12-month-olds and more than two dozen 4-month-olds. They find that infants develop a way to learn where to look for the most useful information. While learning about a category, the 12-month-olds first looked at the most visually exciting object parts, but then focused on informative object parts. Four-month-olds, by contrast, focused more on the center of the object, suggesting that this strategy develops between 4 and 12 months.

As they learn about the world, children must distinguish what’s superficial or unimportant from what’s important and generalizable. At times, they identify such generic knowledge by paying attention to the language that’s used to present the information. How do children gauge whether new information is generic without clear linguistic prompts? Butler and Markman (p. 1416) posited that one way preschoolers might do this is by paying attention to adults’ communicative cues (such as establishing eye contact by calling a child by name); this indicates that an action is being carried out for the child’s benefit because there might be important, generalizable information that adults want to be sure the child learns. In their study of about 225 children ages 3 and 4, they find that by age 4, children selectively use communicative cues to guide their inferences about the importance and generalizability of new information.

We know from research that young children don’t detect communicative ambiguity, that is, they’ll indicate that an unclear message is sufficient and that an ambiguous speaker successfully conveyed his or her message. But children’s behavior tells us that they may in fact be sensitive to unclear messages. In a longitudinal study from Canada, Nilsen and Graham (p. 1400) tracked the same group of more than 30 mostly White preschoolers (ages 4 to 5) over 18 months to chart how their ability to evaluate messages developed. Eye gaze measures showed that 4-year-olds moved their eyes in patterns that showed sensitivity to ambiguity in communication, but they didn’t say explicitly that an unclear message was unclear. By the time they were 5 years, children explicitly indicated that ambiguous messages didn’t give them enough information. Being able to figure out when there’s been ambiguity is a key part of developing competence in communication; this study is the first to chart the development of this skill in children.

Investigating Stereotypes

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

When we stereotype people, we put them into categories. This often leads us to exaggerate differences between groups and minimize differences within groups, making assumptions that members of different groups are different, whereas all members of the same group are the same. In six studies, Master, Markman, and Dweck (p. 1145) asked: Can young children who are beginning to form expectations about the social world recognize differences among people without falling into these pitfalls of categorization? They worked with more than 210 preschoolers, exploring how the 4-year-olds did when offered an alternate way to organize people that places them on a continuum rather than into categories. They find that framing differences in terms of a continuum instead of by social categories prevented the children from categorizing and stereotyping.

Many White Americans have adopted a so-called color-blind strategy for dealing with race, avoiding noting or labeling racial characteristics or groups and often believing that ignoring race will lead to reduced racial prejudice and inequality. Pahlke, Bigler, and Suizzo (p. 1164) asked: Do White parents of young children use color-blind strategies and if so, do these strategies help reduce racial prejudice among their children? They studied more than eighty 4- to 5-year-olds and their highly educated moms, who read storybooks that offered them opportunities to discuss race, asked the moms and children about their racial attitudes and behaviors, and asked the moms and children to guess each others’ attitudes toward African Americans. The study finds that the White moms rarely discussed race with their children in an effort to convey that all individuals should be treated the same. Their children reported far less favorable racial attitudes than the moms (who said they held highly favorable attitudes toward African Americans). And moms and children were unaware of each other’s attitudes. The results suggest that color-blind socialization has limited potential to prevent the development of racial biases among White children.

Mentoring African American Teens

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

African American students have lower high school graduation rates and lower college enrollment and graduation rates than their White counterparts. Yet there is diversity in educational attainment among African Americans. What factors play a role when members of this group do well? Hurd, Sánchez, Zimmerman, and Caldwell (p. 1196) studied about 540 academically at-risk urban African American teens starting in their freshman year and continuing yearly until they were seniors (teens who dropped out also were studied) and during the subsequent 5 years. They find that relationships with natural mentors (supportive adults over age 25 who aren’t the teens’ parents or caregivers) may contribute to higher educational attainment over time among African American adolescents by promoting greater racial pride and encouraging the youths to believe that doing well in school can help them succeed in the future.

Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

There’s a popular impression that aggression increases during adolescence. In a longitudinal study, Benson and Buehler (p. 1213) looked at more than 400 families who had a sixth grader at the start of the 4-year study; the majority of them were European American. Teens and their parents were taped discussing problem areas. Information also was collected about deviant friends, and parents and teens filled out questionnaires about the youths’ aggression. The study finds that the most frequent aggressive behaviors—such as arguing, bullying, and threatening—decline during adolescence, and parents and peers play a role. Family hostility has the most significant effect on adolescent aggression, whereas family warmth plays only a minor role in protecting against aggression. Having deviant peers increases aggression in adolescents, especially among teens from high-income families. But for teens in families that are hostile or have little warmth, hanging out with deviant peers (but not peers who are extremely deviant) can lower aggression because having such a peer provides teens alternative ways to address tensions and ultimately reduce aggression. The findings have implications for intervention and prevention programs.

Studies suggest that the ability to make decisions continues to develop during adolescence. Decision making itself consists of different processes, including the ability to assess rewards (for example, what’s the value of X over Y?) and inhibit action (for example, should I ignore Y in favor of X?). While these components have been examined independently, Geier and Luna (p. 1262) looked at their interaction across development. Their study, of more than 60 adolescents (ages 13–17) and more than 40 young adults (ages 18–29), examined the effects of potential rewards and losses on the participants’ ability to control their inhibitions using a simple computer task. Findings: The influence of potential rewards and losses on the ability to inhibit a simple behavioral response differed in adolescents and young adults. Young adolescents made more errors than adults on reward trials, but all participants (even the youngest) did well on loss trails. Adolescents’ performance improved as the scale of the reward increased. The findings suggest that the processes involved in controlling inhibitions—a key element of making decisions—are maturing during adolescence.

Preschool Foundations

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

During the preschool years, children improve in their ability to control behavior by suppressing a dominant or automatic response. Wiebe, Sheffield, and Espy (p. 1245) took a longitudinal look at more than 375 mostly White children ages 3–5 years, testing their response inhibition repeatedly across the preschool period. They find that the most rapid improvement happens when children are 3—with cognitive factors playing the biggest role in effective response inhibition—with continuing, but more gradual improvement through age 5. Children with poorer general cognitive abilities and difficulty holding more information in mind show poorer response inhibition throughout the preschool years. These children tend to respond impulsively at age 3, but are slower to respond than their peers by age 5. The study also finds differences by gender. By focusing on the same children through preschool, the study examined patterns of growth over time. In so doing, it suggests that the early preschool years are key in the development of behavioral control, and therefore that this may be an important time to identify children with difficulties and intervene to prevent later problems.

Young children need many different skills to be ready for school. While early assessments of whether they’re ready for school often focus on whether they know basic skills, such as letters and numbers, researchers have found that children also need to be able to exercise a set of complex behaviors related to self-control, attention, and task completion, collectively known as executive function. Cameron et al. (p. 1229) studied more than 200 children before they started kindergarten, then early in their kindergarten year, and gave them six achievement tests during the fall and spring of their kindergarten year. They find that another complex skill set—how well children could perform fine motor tasks—explained their achievement at kindergarten entry and how much they learned over the school year. Notably, how well they could copy designs, such as shapes, was as important as their executive function for explaining children’s achievement in reading words, phonological skills, and comprehension.

Achievement in Elementary School

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

When children start elementary school, they vary considerably in their language and number skills, as well as their motor skills, social behavior, and ability to concentrate and regulate emotions. Research suggests that these differences are associated with parents’ social status, educational level, and ethnic background, and that individual differences in children’s cognitive abilities seem to increase over the school years. Baumert, Nagy, and Lehmann (p. 1347) asked: What causes this “fan-spread” effect? Their study, of almost 140 mixed-ability classes in Berlin, examined the development of social and ethnic inequalities in reading and math achievement from grades 4 to 6. In math, they find, students from more privileged social backgrounds show higher learning gains, whereas in reading, students with lower baseline performance levels—especially those from ethnic backgrounds—show higher learning gains over time, offsetting the effect of social disadvantage within classes. The results indicate differing mechanisms in the two subject areas and suggest that subject-specific interventions are needed to reduce disparities in educational progress.

Elementary school children, especially African Americans, who have conflict-filled relationships with teachers are at risk of serious underachievement. That’s what Spilt, Hughes, Wu, and Kwok (p. 1180) find in their longitudinal investigation of the quality of teacher–student relationships and children’s academic progress in first through sixth grades. They looked at more than 650 children with below-average language skills from various ethnic backgrounds. The level of conflict in their relationships with teachers was found to be a more important predictor of achievement than the level of warmth and closeness. Furthermore, the probability that they’d fail in school rose as a function of the timing and length of time the children were exposed to the conflicted relationships.

Language Learning

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

Over the first year of life, as infants are exposed to the words and sounds of their native language, they begin to learn about how sounds in their language combine to form legal words. Then they start to build a lexicon. MacKenzie, Curtin, and Graham (p. 1129) looked at whether 12-month-olds use their knowledge of legal sound combinations to inform their word learning. Sixty English-learning infants were given sets of word–object pairings in English, Japanese, and Czech (the Czech pairings contained sounds that would never be heard together in English). Would infants map words to sound combinations not found in their native language? The study finds that the answer is no—even by 12 months, infants apply their language-specific knowledge to their acceptance of word forms. They won’t map meanings to word forms that violate the sound combinations of their native language.

How do children learn new verbs? Yuan, Fisher, and Snedeker (p. 1382) sought to answer this question by testing more than 130 mostly White middle-class toddlers (19 and 21 months old). They find that children use the number of nouns occurring with a new verb to help determine something of its meaning. Thus, upon hearing “She’s gorping her,” they’re more likely to think the verb describes an event with two participants than if they hear “She’s gorping.” These findings suggest that young children learn verb meanings with some intrinsic expectations about how language maps onto situations in the world—namely, a bias to treat each noun in the sentence as referring to the role of a participant in an event. The study helps us understand how children learn to understand their native languages so quickly and well, despite the very limited knowledge they bring to the task.

When children learn to articulate speech sounds that are common across languages, do they exhibit similar or different developmental trajectories? Previous reports on the acquisition of “s” across English and Japanese suggest the latter. Specifically, English-speaking children tend to articulate “s” earlier than “sh,” whereas it’s the opposite for Japanese-speaking children. These reports, however, are based on adult auditory judgments of children’s speech and are subject to perceptual biases. Li (p. 1303) worked with 80 children (40 English speakers from the United States and 40 Japanese speakers from Japan) ages 2–5, as well as 20 adults (10 per language), using an acoustic method to objectively evaluate how the sounds “s” and “sh” are made. She finds that for both language groups, children articulate an early undifferentiated form before they can clearly distinguish between the two sounds. The early form, however, is more “s”-like for English-speaking children and more “sh”-like for Japanese-speaking children, suggesting that a developmental difference indeed exists. In sum, the language environment affects children’s speech articulation development in different and complex ways and as early as age 2.

Infants’ Skills and Temperaments

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

Infants undergo an amazing amount of development throughout the first years of life as they learn to perform complex skills like playing with people and toys, crawling, and walking. In one of the first systematic studies with human infants, Lobo and Galloway (p. 1290) shed light on how these important early skills emerge, finding that the ways infants are held and positioned in the first months of life can affect their future play and mobility skills a year later. The longitudinal study looked at about 30 mostly White infants from 2 through 15 months and their parents. It finds that just 3 weeks of enhanced holding and positioning—supporting infants’ sitting and standing, encouraging independent head and torso control, and emphasizing prone positioning—at 2 months advanced the babies’ general movement development and their ability to play while lying on their stomach, play with toys, sit, crawl, and even walk up to a year later. The results can inform efforts at preventive parent education, including for parents and caregivers of children with developmental delays, such as Down syndrome.

Young infants have very different temperaments—some are quick to anger, whereas others are slower to reach this emotional point. Parents who feel their babies are difficult often grow frustrated, and some consider such children at risk for future behavior problems. But Kim and Kochanska (p. 1275) paint a different picture. Their study, of more than 100 mostly White babies at 7, 15, and 25 months, focused on infants’ ability to self-regulate, an important skill that includes the capacity to wait, be patient, and comply with caregivers’ requests. They find that parents have the capacity to make a difference for these little ones; specifically, infants who are quick to anger are more sensitive to the quality of care they receive than other infants. And a particular type of parenting—featuring mutually responsive, close, and positive relationships—is more effective for these babies. The findings can inform parenting and prevention efforts.

Understanding Reading

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

The ability to perceive rapidly occurring sequences (temporal processing) must play a role in the complex skill of reading. Quickly identifying letter combinations and retrieving the sounds they map to leaves more of your limited short-term memory available for comprehending the meaning of the text. Malenfant et al. (p. 1332) asked whether temporal processing is linked to reading comprehension in 8-year-olds. Phonological skills are known to be central in learning to read, and studies suggest that the way the brain perceives sequences (sounds or images) matters for reading. In their test of more than 615 mostly White French-speaking children in Quebec, they find support for a partial mediation: A strong association between reading and the temporal processing of sound sequences is mediated by phonological skills. But they also find a direct link. The results suggest a dual pathway by which temporal processing affects reading: one that’s direct and possibly related to processing visual sequences (how letters form words and phrases) and one that’s indirect and occurs via phonological skills in which rapid processing of speech sounds facilitates the decoding of written words.

Talk the Talk

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

A growing body of research links young monolingual children’s advanced language and literacy skills to the quantity and quality of their early linguistic experiences—whether they speak English or another language. However, the nature of the language input provided at later stages of development, and its impact on children’s language skills, hasn’t been studied much. In longitudinal research, Gámez and Lesaux (p. 1316) examined the ties between language input (total amount of talk, sophistication of vocabulary, and use of grammatically complex language) in the middle school classroom and early adolescents’—monolingual English and language minority—language skills. Specifically, they looked at the relation between almost two dozen teachers’ language use in urban sixth-grade classrooms and almost 800 students’ knowledge of vocabulary. Students’ end-of-the-year academic vocabulary skills were positively related to teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary and grammatically complex language, but not to total amount of talk. Thus, more talk per se isn’t necessarily better for early adolescents’ language growth—more sophisticated talk is.

Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

In the past, research on children’s judgments about what they know and whom to ask for help filling in gaps in their knowledge has been carried out separately. Aguiar, Stoess, and Taylor (p. 1368) looked at these two steps together in three experiments involving 115 children ages 4–6. Children as young as 4 years could discern what an expert was likely to know, but when given the option of answering questions themselves, both 4- and 5-year-olds had trouble recognizing when an expert was needed. They overestimated their own knowledge and chose to assign questions to themselves that they couldn’t answer correctly. Only 6-year-olds were consistently able to recognize when they didn’t know answers and then assign questions correctly. The results have implications for educators by revealing some of the strengths and weaknesses in children’s ability to fill the gaps in their knowledge.

Research has shown that long-term memory is enhanced when learning events are spaced out in time rather than presented in immediate succession. This work has focused on memory processes rather than other types of learning, such as the acquisition of new concepts. Vlach and Sandhofer (p. 1137) presented about 40 first and second graders (ages 5–7) with four science lessons—some got the lessons all at once, some got one lesson a day for 4 days, and some got two lessons on 1 day and two the next day. The researchers then assessed how well the students understood the concepts a week later. They find that the children who got one lesson a day for 4 days were more accurately able to generalize both simple and complex concepts.

Collaborative reasoning—when small groups of children work together to try to come up with a solution to a significant issue, such as whether zoos are good for animals—improves 10-year-olds’ ability to reason by analogy. That’s what Lin et al. (p. 1429) find in their short-term longitudinal study of 120 children (boys and girls of different ethnicities and achievement levels) in peer-led discussion groups in fourth-grade classrooms. As they observed children explaining their thinking and trying to persuade their classmates of their positions on particular issues, the researchers observed that once one child used an analogy, other children started using analogies, many of them new. The study highlights the importance of social interaction as an aspect of intellectual development and has implications for how teachers organize discussions.

Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

  1. Top of page
  2. Categorizing and Communicating
  3. Investigating Stereotypes
  4. Mentoring African American Teens
  5. Aggression and Decision Making in Adolescence
  6. Preschool Foundations
  7. Achievement in Elementary School
  8. Language Learning
  9. Infants’ Skills and Temperaments
  10. Understanding Reading
  11. Talk the Talk
  12. Reasoning, Memory, and Analogy
  13. Child-Care Subsidies and Quality of Care

The federally funded child-care subsidy program is among the government’s biggest investments in the early care and education of low-income children. Johnson, Ryan, and Brooks-Gunn (p. 1444) asked whether subsidies led parents to purchase higher quality care than they would have used without the subsidy. Using data from the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, the researchers looked at 750 preschoolers whose parents were eligible for child-care subsidies because they met income and work requirements, and compared the developmental quality of the care settings used by subsidy recipients to that of counterparts who were eligible but didn’t receive the subsidy. They find that subsidies do increase the quality of care, but only for those children who would otherwise have used no form of publicly funded care, such as Head Start or public prekindergarten.

Anne Bridgman