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Children like us?


Category:Educational research

The Developing Brain

A recent post on this blog about research with children (Keeping it Real) set me thinking about how we conceptualise children and child development in research.

What can children really tell us? How reliable are they as informants? At what stage of childhood do children really begin to understand verbal structures and concepts?

Clearly, when we conduct research with children, our notion of childhood and how children think is key to our work.

We have seen already how vocabulary development and cognitive control are crucial to later life success (Metacognition, Marshmallows and the Power of Language). This relationship is explored further in a study by Chris Chatham and his co-authors (2009).

Building on the work of Franklin et al (2008) and others, Chatham differentiates between the cognitive control processes of 8 year olds and those of 3-5 year olds.

The older children already use adult inhibitory mechanisms to allow them to focus on tasks and control thought or behaviour in accordance with goals and plans. The younger children display a qualitatively different form of reactive control, responding to events only as they unfold and retrieving information from memory as needed in the moment.

This conflicts with previous theories of cognitive development, which posited that younger children had the same proactive strategies as adults only in a weaker form.

What does this mean for us as professionals and social researchers?

Clearly, it requires that we differentiate much more between the chronological ages and developmental ages of the children we work with, but it also means a change of approach.

Frankly, it will require that we are better informed and have a deeper understanding of children. We will need to take more time to plan carefully and we will need to be more flexible and creative in how we formulate our enquiries.

Most of us already adapt our methods to take account of age and development, but we will need to be even more aware of the use of visual and auditory non-verbal forms: both as stimuli and as ways of eliciting information with younger children.

Chatham, C., Frank, M., & Munakata, Y. (2009). Pupillometric and behavioral markers of a developmental shift in the temporal dynamics of cognitive control; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810002106

Franklin A, Drivonikou GV, Bevis L, Davies IRL, Kay P & Regier T (2008); Categorical perception of color is lateralized to the right hemisphere in infants, but to the left hemisphere in adults; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; March 4, 2008 vol. 105 no. 9 3221–3225

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