Children Spot Objects More Quickly When Prompted By Words Instead Of Images
April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Spoken language prompts children to spot objects more quickly than images, according to a new study from Indiana University.
As any book lover will tell you, language is transformative. The transformative powers, however, may reach father than an emotional reaction to novels or poetry.
The study, published in Developmental Science, reveals that spoken language — more so than images — taps into a child’s cognitive system and enhances their ability to learn, as well as to navigate cluttered environments.
Cognitive scientists Catarina Vales and Linda Smith say that their findings open up new avenues for research into the way language shapes the course of developmental disabilities such as ADHD, difficulties with school, and other attention-related problems.
The researchers had participating children play a series of “I spy” games — which are widely used to study attention and memory in adults — where the children were asked to look for one image in a crowded scene on a computer screen. The children were shown an image of the object they needed to find, such as a bed hidden in a group couches.
“If the name of the target object was also said, the children were much faster at finding it and less distracted by the other objects in the scene,” Vales, a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, said in a recent statement.
“What we’ve shown is that in 3-year-old children, words activate memories that then rapidly deploy attention and lead children to find the relevant object in a cluttered array,” said Smith, Chancellor’s Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “Words call up an idea that is more robust than an image and to which we more rapidly respond. Words have a way of calling up what you know that filters the environment for you.”
According to Smith, the study “is the first clear demonstration of the impact of words on the way children navigate the visual world and is a first step toward understanding the way language influences visual attention, raising new testable hypotheses about the process.”
The way language is used can change how people perceive the world around them, Vales said.
“We also know that language will change the way people perform in a lot of different laboratory tasks,” she said. “And if you have a child with ADHD who has a hard time focusing, one of the things parents are told to do is to use words to walk the child through what she needs to do. So there is this notion that words change cognition. The question is ‘how?’”
The findings “begin to tell us precisely how words help, the kinds of cognitive processes words tap into to change how children behave. For instance, the difference between search times, with and without naming the target object, indicate a key role for a kind of brief visual memory known as working memory, that helps us remember what we just saw as we look to something new. Words put ideas in working memory faster than images,” Vales said.
These findings also suggest that language could play a crucial role in a number of developmental disabilities.
“Limitations in working memory have been implicated in almost every developmental disability, especially those concerned with language, reading and negative outcomes in school,” Smith said. “These results also suggest the culprit for these difficulties may be language in addition to working memory.
“This study changes the causal arrow a little bit. People have thought that children have difficulty with language because they don’t have enough working memory to learn language. This turns it around because it suggests that language may also make working memory more effective.”
The study takes this farther, showing how their findings have implications for child development.
“Children learn in the real world, and the real world is a cluttered place,” Smith said. “If you don’t know where to look, chances are you don’t learn anything. The words you know are a driving force behind attention. People have not thought about it as important or pervasive, but once children acquire language, it changes everything about their cognitive system.”
“Our results suggest that language has huge effects, not just on talking, but on attention — which can determine how children learn, how much they learn and how well they learn,” Vales said.