A brain scan taken while a child watches TV is a better indicator of future test scores for reading and math compared to a brain scan that was taken under more synthetic circumstances.
The finding was published in the journal PLOS Biology and came from new research that analyzed the brain scans of kids and adults watching Sesame Street. Through the scans, experts were able to examine how the brains of children alter as they learn to read and develop math skills.
A prior report found that Indonesian kids who were exposed to Sesame Street had improved educational skills and healthy development.
In a different study, scientists examined brain scans of adults watching a movie in order to determine whether they had comparable neural responses as one another.
However, the current research “is the first to use the method as a tool for understanding development,” lead author Jessica Cantlon, a cognitive scientist at the University of Rochester, pointed out.
A total of 27 kids aged 4 to 11 and 20 adults were involved in the study who were asked to watch a recorded episode of Sesame Street for 20 minutes. The video contained different clips regarding words, numbers, shapes, and other topics.
Standardized IQ tests were then given to the kids to test their verbal and math skills. In order to compare the kids’ thought processes with the adults’, the team developed “neural maps” using fMRI and statistical tools.
The researchers discovered that when the brain responses of the children were similar to adults’ responses while viewing Sesame Street, their performance on math and verbal IQ tests were predicted.
The kids whose neural maps were most comparable to the neural maps of adults performed better on the IQ tests.
According to the authors, watching television and other “real world” hobbies may provide a more precise measure of the learning and brain development of kids, as opposed to the classic, straightforward exercises of fMRI research.
The kids then performed the typical fMRI exercises so that Cantlon and co-author Rosa Li could test their theory. The tasks involved matching straightforward pictures of faces, words, shapes, or numbers.
The scientists found that the test scores of the kids were not predicted by the neural response during these tasks which were more restricted.
The results suggest that math development can be better predicted by neural responses to stimuli in the real world as opposed to simpler stimuli used in standard fMRI studies.
The research does not recommend watching TV, however, it indicates that “neural patterns during an everyday activity are related to a person’s intellectual maturity,” explained Cantlon.
“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.”
Written by Sarah Glynn
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