Scientists can’t really know what a child is thinking, but they are interested in the brain processes that happen in educational settings. To that end, a new study in PLOS Biology compares the brains of children and adults, using "Sesame Street" as a way to test what happens on a neurological level during a popular TV program aimed at learning.
"We’re kind of honing in on what brain regions are important for real-world mathematics learning in children," said lead study author Jessica Cantlon, assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester.
Participants included 27 typically developing children, ages 4 to 10, and 20 adults between ages 18 and 25. Each participant took part in one or more of the three components to the study.
Researchers focused on what happens in the brain during mathematical lessons. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the neural activity in participants.
In one part of the experiment, children and adults watched the same 20-minute montage of clips from "Sesame Street," and the fMRI scanner measured their brain activity for the duration of the video. Some clips were related to counting, while others were about colors, animals and other non-math topics. In a different task, participants had to determine whether the stimuli they were shown were the same or different, such as faces and numbers. Children were also given standardized IQ tests after the scanning.
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