Guided Play Highly Effective for Learning in Children

Guided Play Highly Effective for Learning in Children

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

play learning brain

Good news for some and bad news for traditionalists in education.

Some believe that starting education early and using classical and traditional learning activities is the best way to develop children and their brains. Though we do know that early education can be surprisingly important – as I reported here with results seen in the brain up to 40 years later – but we also know that things like simply playing can be beneficial to children.

This is because play in itself uses multiple cognitive resource and often in complex ways and so can be more than beneficial than some schooling approaches. This is in contrast to passive activities such as watching television or engaging in most of social media.

This review out of the University of Cambridge looked at a total of 39 studies including over 3’800 children between three and eight and asked the question of whether guided play could be as effective as traditional approaches to learning. Guided play allows children to engage in playful activities but are guided and prompted by the teacher in certain directions.

What was the result?

The results were positive – very positive. Remember this was a large-scale analysis and they also measured comparative effects by consolidating results from multiple other studies.  This was then translated into a relative effect.

In maths ability there was a small comparative positive effect. This shows that guided play was generally more effective than traditional methods and in other areas, shape knowledge, for example, the effect was much larger. There was also evidence that guided play improved the cognitive ability to switch between tasks.

All in that is already a very good result showing that guided play was more effective on average than traditional instruction. But the authors also note multiple other benefits that guided play may include but weren’t measured directly in this study. This includes motivation, persistence, creativity, and confidence. All in that paints a very positive picture for the use of guided play!

So what are you, or rather parents, teachers, and educational authorities, waiting for?

And what about in adults? I suspect I already know the answer to that!

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Reference

Kayleigh Skene, Christine M. O’Farrelly, Elizabeth M. Byrne, Natalie Kirby, Eloise C. Stevens, Paul G. Ramchandani. 
Can guidance during play enhance children’s learning and development in educational contexts? A systematic review and meta-analysis
Child Development, 2022;
DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13730

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Childhood Fitness Improves Mid-Life Cognition

Childhood Fitness Improves Mid-Life Cognition

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

children exercise brain health

I always find these long-term studies fascinating. Imagine launching study and not knowing what the outcomes will be for another 30 years!

This is precisely what this study did. It measured children in 1985 and now the researchers at the Monash University in Australia have analysed the data over a 30-year period.

What did they find?

Well, as the title suggest it found some interesting correlations. 1’200 children between the ages of 7 and 15 were measured on various aspects of fitness: fitness (cardiorespiratory, muscular power, muscular endurance). In addition, their obesity, or rather thier waist-to-hip ratio, was measured.

There was then follow up assessments on psychomotor speed-attention, and various cognitive functions at three different time points.

They found that higher physical fitness and lower obesity in childhood had better scores on processing speed and attention, as well as in global cognitive function. Of note is that cognitive functions in mid-life are also associated with risk of dementia in later life.

This shows that fitness as a child leaves life-lasting benefits. This is not the only study to note this I have also reported on the healthier brains and better brain circuits that seem to last a lifetime in children who exercise.

So, if you have kids – make sure they get their exercises. If you are a kid get some exercise. If you are already an adult – well, you might not reap the full benefits of childhood exercise, but exercise is still very good for many things as I reviewed here, and even the simplest exercise of all, walking, has amazing benefits

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Reference

Jamie L. Tait, Taya A. Collyer, Seana L. Gall, Costan G. Magnussen, Alison J. Venn, Terence Dwyer, Brooklyn J. Fraser, Chris Moran, Velandai K. Srikanth, Michele L. Callisaya. 
Longitudinal associations of childhood fitness and obesity profiles with midlife cognitive function: an Australian cohort study.
 Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2022
DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2022.05.009

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The Truth of “Work Hard, Play Hard”

The Truth of “Work Hard, Play Hard”

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

work play office brain motivation

We all know the phrase “work hard, play hard” and this drew my attention when I stumbled across some research actually looking into this – and whether this is a good thing or bad thing. There is after all a counter argument to this the “burn the candle at both ends” argument whereby doing too much, and too many different things, leads to a rapid deterioration.

Lonnie Anderson and Laura Crimi of Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada decided to investigate the relationship between these motivations and published their results in 2016. They asked 1’400 participants about their age, gender, religious, and cultural background. They then asked about their attraction to religion, parenthood, accomplishment (or fame), and recreation.

What did they find?

The correlations were interesting for a number of reasons. There was a correlation between most of the factors. This suggests that higher motivation in general leads to higher desire and application in all areas. This is something we have seen at leading brains with our data into high performers in the workplace. They seem to have higher motivation in everything.

What they did find in addition, however, was three clear groupings of individuals:

  • Those that were apathetic and had lower motivation in all areas
  • Those that were “community” based – attracted to religion and family
  • Those that were go-getters attracted to achievement, family, and leisure

This is interesting because this in part matches our internal data we have collected at leading brain but suggests that those high on achievement are attracted to multiple different forms of this but also leisure in general not to mention family.

Aarssen and Crimi assigned this to mortality salience i.e. by being highly engaged this distracts form confronting your own mortality. However, I disagree, based my in-depth work and analysis of the brain and motivation, and I see these as natural high activation and motivation patterns which then tends to manifest in different areas in life. We saw in our data that those high on motivation generally had high motivation in everything.

It’s likely to stay relatively stable over life – but that will be for another piece of research. And I see that Aarssen has not published anything else on this vein – maybe that’s something for me then!

But this suggests that work hard and play hard is more of personality trait than good advice. Those who are highly motivated are highly motivated in both work and leisure aspects

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Reference

Lonnie W. Aarssen, Laura Crimi. 
Legacy, Leisure and the ‘Work Hard – Play Hard’ Hypothesis
The Open Psychology Journal, 2016; 9 (1): 7
DOI: 10.2174/1874350101609010007

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Coffee Makes Business Teams More Effective

Coffee Makes Business Teams More Effective

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

Positive team coffee break

I just couldn’t resist reviewing this piece of research, from a few years ago, after I stumbled across this (likely because some background algorithm had recommended it to me based on my other Quick Hit yesterday on caffeine). And no, I do not have any financial interests in the coffee industry.

So how on earth and in what way can coffee make teams in business more effective?

The researchers at Ohio State University conducted two experiments in the guise of a coffee tasting experiment complemented with a discussion with undergraduates. The caffeinated coffee was given before or after a discussion task that had been assigned, or supplemented with decaffeinated coffee.

What happened?

In the first experiment they found that those who had had caffeinated coffee rated themselves and others in their discussion group more positively. This points to higher team cohesion and satisfaction with the team and, at least, subjective better “performance”. This seemed to be due to alertness because their self-ratings on alertness were higher than those who didn’t drink coffee in advance.

Of more interest is that an analysis of the group discussion showed that those who had drunk caffeinated coffee talked more, which may be good or bad, but they also stayed on topic more, which is definitely good.

This therefore suggest that caffeinated coffee

  • Increases team positivity
  • Increases team performance ratings
  • Increase communication
  • And increases time on task

All too good to be true?

Well, it would need to be followed up. Maybe time of day would make a difference, or the same effect could be achieved with other stimulants. However, as the research has shifted over the years to seeing the benefits of coffee, maybe a good cup of coffee would be more than beneficial for your next team meeting.

Investing in a quality coffee machine also

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Reference

Vasu Unnava, Amit Surendra Singh, H. Rao Unnava. 
Coffee with co-workers: role of caffeine on evaluations of the self and others in group settings
Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2018; 026988111876066
DOI: 10.1177/0269881118760665

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Caffeine Makes You More Prone to Impulsive Buying

Caffeine Makes You More Prone to Impulsive Buying

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A fascinating piece of research just published shows that drinking coffee makes you more impulsive. That means you are likely to buy more, and more items you actually don’t need.

 What is astounding though, is that the effect sizes in this study was dramatic to say the least.

What did these researchers at the University of South Florida find?

They set up a complimentary coffee stand at a store and then offered shoppers complimentary coffee. But only half received caffeinated coffee with the other half receiving decaffeinated coffee. 300 of these people then shared their receipts with the researchers.

The found that those who had drank the caffeinated coffee spent 50% more on average and 30% more items. This figure is exceptionally high. Also suggesting that these individuals probably had no strict budget restraints.

The analysis also showed that those caffeinated shoppers also bought more non-essential items. However, this was not a controlled lab experiment, so the researchers also conducted a lab-based experiment whereby 200 participants then selected what they wanted to buy from a preselected list of 66 items. Again, after drinking caffeinated coffee or decaffeinated coffee or a non-caffeine drink such as water.

The again found that those who had drunk the caffeinated coffee picked more items that could be considered impulsive purchases i.e. non-essential items.

Why?

The effect sizes are so large I would certainly like to see more follow studies on this. However, the group sizes should be large enough to weed out any fluke irregularities. The researchers noted that caffeine is a stimulant and also actives various energizing and feel-good pathways in the brain notably the dopamine network. This can lead to a higher energetic state but also more impulsiveness and lower self-control.

So mental note: before going shopping, keep off the coffee

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Reference

Dipayan Biswas, Patrick Hartmann, Martin Eisend, Courtney Szocs, Bruna Jochims, Vanessa Apaolaza, Erik Hermann, Cristina M. López, Adilson Borges. 
EXPRESS: Caffeine’s Effects on Consumer Spending
Journal of Marketing, 2022; 002224292211092
DOI: 10.1177/00222429221109247

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Healthy Brains Are Hotter Than You Think

Healthy Brains Are Hotter Than You Think

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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

healthy brain

When we get sick we get a fever and we all know what our body temperature should be: around 37°C. Too much above that and we have a fever, and too much below and we risk undercooling.

What is the optimal temperature of the brain? We might assume that it is going to be around body temperature – after all internal temperature is precisely what we measure with thermometers. But the answer is we haven’t really known.

Researchers have measured brain temperature but often in patients undergoing surgery. New techniques have enabled more precise temperature measurements. However, there has been little done to measure the temperature over the course of a day and across demographics.

A group of researchers from Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory for Molecular Biology, in Cambridge has a led a large study to get a better grip on this with surprising results.

The Surprising Results

The surprising results are that average brain temperature was a hot 38.5°C enough to be classed as a fever in other parts. More surprising is that temperature in some regions at some times of day reached much higher temperatures with the highest measured as 40.9° – this would normally be considered a critical and dangerous fever!

These temperatures, however, vary by about 1°C over the day with warmest temperatures in the afternoon and coolest at night (unsurprising).

Variation is Critical

The more surprising insight was, however, in measuring temperatures of those in intensive care units. Here brain temperatures varied very strongly from a downright frigid 32.6°C to a scorching 42.6°C – this may be unsurprising, they were after all in critical conditions. But more surprising was that daily fluctuation of brain temperature in individuals predicted outcomes. Only 4% of those who had brain temperature fluctuations die whereas 27% of those without brain temperature fluctuation did.

Women Have Warmer Brains

That sound like an oversimplified statement and it is. But they did note that, in this study, women had average brain temperatures 0.4% higher. They also note that as one ages brain temperature also increases. This may be part of  a natural ageing process.

 

So, all in, the brain seems to be a special organ with a, on average, higher temperature than other organs in the body – why this is so is open to speculation. This temperature varies between time of day, age, and sex, and daily temperature fluctuation seems to be a healthy indicator.

Thinking about that makes my brain feels like it’s running hot – I hope that’s a good sign

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Reference

Nina M Rzechorzek, Michael J Thrippleton, Francesca M Chappell, et al.
A daily temperature rhythm in the human brain predicts survival after brain injury.
Brain, 2022
DOI: 10.1093/brain/awab466

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