What is Children’s Brain Telling us About Learning?
Years of research have proven that educational media programs like Sesame Street are successful in stimulating children’s learning. But what remains unknown is what happens in the brains of children when they consume educational media. What is there to learn from children’s brain responses? A neuroscience study in PLOS Biology looked at children’s brain activity while they were watching an episode of Sesame Street. It turns out that children’s brain responses while viewing Sesame Street are closely linked to their math and verbal knowledge levels.
- Children’s level of brain activity while watching an episode of Sesame Street is linked to their performance on math and verbal IQ tests: children who show adult-like brain responses, perform better on the tests.
- For developers of educational media it’s good to know that programs like Sesame Street can trigger those brain regions that predict children’s performance on school-related activities such as math and reading.
Is there a relationship between children’s brain activity while watching educational videos and their school-based knowledge?
27 children between the ages of 4 and 10 years (mean age: 7 years old; 59% were girls), and 20 adults between the ages of 18 and 25 (mean age: 20 years old; 48% were girls)
All children were instructed for the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanning session. During the scanning session, children’s and adults’ brain activity was measured while they (1) viewed a 20-minute episode of Sesame Street, and (2) performed certain matching tasks (e.g., with faces, numbers, words, and shapes). For instance, children were asked to press the response button when two identical shapes were presented on a computer screen. The results of the brain activity of adults and children were compared, in order to say something about children’s ‘adult-like’ brain responses. In addition, children’s brain responses during both of the tasks (i.e., video viewing, and matching tasks) were compared to their math and verbal performance (assessed via different IQ tests).
Facts and findings
- Children’s level of brain activity while watching an episode of Sesame Street is linked to their verbal and math scores:
- Children who showed ‘adult-like’ brain responses in the right part of the brain (the intraparietal sulcus, IPS) performed better on the math tests than those with more immature brain responses.
- Children who showed ‘adult-like’ brain responses in the left part of the brain (the Broca’s area) performed better on the verbal tests than those with more immature brain responses.
- In other words, children with better math and verbal skills, are more responsive to Sesame Street in terms of brain activity.
- Interestingly, no link between children’s math test score and their brain activity while performing ‘traditional’ matching tasks was found.
- According to the researchers, an explanation for this finding is that Sesame Street contained educational math content that fitted children’s school-based math skills more than the matching tasks.
- Critical note: Based on this study, no conclusions can be drawn on the effectiveness of Sesame Street in increasing children’s math and verbal skills. The results only show that more adult-like brain responses while viewing Sesame Street are associated with higher verbal and math scores.