Looking for BabyIQ blog contributors

We are currently seeking outstanding contributors for this blog. Contributors will be able to contribute as frequently as they’d like, ideally once a week to once a day or more. (While I am interested in writing entries on a regular basis, this is still a very part-time activity for me.)

Ideal candidates will be interested in clinical psychology, childhood development, cognitive development, childhood education, and related fields. PhD students and established researchers are especially encouraged to apply, although anyone with a passion in raising smartypants is also invited to apply.  You will typically contribute on a volunteer (i.e., unpaid) basis.  As such, your posts remain your intellectual property.  Note that I’m not making money off of this, but if we ever decide to advertise, there would of course be revenue-sharing.

Contributing is a great way to help thousands of young families while filling out your curriculum vitae.  If you are interested in contributing, please send your credentials to sean [dot] gerrish [at] gmail.com.

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Stress in the womb and baby IQ

A 2009 study from researchers at Imperial College London shows that mothers under higher levels of stress put their babies at risk for developmental issues, including a lower level of cognitive development, or “baby IQ”, at 18 months.  From the Imperial College London press release of the study:

Visitors to the Exhibition will have the chance to play a game that shows how a mother’s stress can increase the heart rate of her unborn baby… when the mother is stressed, the placenta becomes less protective and the mother’s cortisol may have an effect on the fetus.

The Imperial researchers’ work has shown that maternal stress and anxiety can alter the development of the baby’s brain. This in turn can result in a greater risk of emotional problems such as anxiety or depression, behavioural problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and being considerably slower at learning. Some studies have even suggested that it may increase the likelihood of later violent or criminal behaviour. Their findings have suggested that the effects of stress during pregnancy can last many years, including into adolescence.

Professor Vivette Glover, lead researcher behind the exhibit from the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College London, said: “We all know that if a mother smokes or drinks a lot of alcohol while pregnant it can affect her fetus. Our work has shown that other more subtle factors, such as her emotional state, can also have long -term effects on her child…

The researchers say expectant mothers should relax…

The researchers say that the stress hormone cortisol may be one way in which the fetus is affected by the mother’s anxiety during pregnancy. Usually the placenta protects the unborn baby from the mother’s cortisol, by producing an enzyme that breaks the hormone down. When the mother is very stressed, this enzyme works less well and lets her cortisol through the placenta. By studying the amount of cortisol in the amniotic fluid, the Imperial researchers’ latest study suggests that the higher the level of cortisol in the womb, the lower the toddler’s cognitive development or “baby IQ” at 18 months.

What you can do. As the study authors suggest, expectant mothers should just relax, and fathers should help them do this.

I suspect that a pre-maternity leave — or at least decreasing work-related responsibilities before maternity leave — also may alleviate some of this stress.

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Technology and child creativity in writing

Technology may have a detrimental effect on children’s creativity, according to the Pilot Pen Australia Creativity Report by psychologist Kimberley O’Brien (details are from an article in Xinhua Net).  There are at least two areas worthy of note in the report: confidence in handwritten tasks decreases, and creativity in computer-aided composition is lower.

First, dependence on tools such as grammar and spell-checkers can affect children’s confidence in handwritten tasks:

…the report suggested that students are becoming scared of handwritten tasks as there is no spelling or grammar check tool to pick up their mistakes as they go along.

“Children who develop this kind of dependency on computer software are less likely to write using a pen and paper given that they will feel a vulnerability to failure,” the report said.

But computer composition also has an effect on creativity:

It said using software that immediately tells children to correct errors like spelling and grammar could disrupts their thought patterns and stunts their ideas, and children who hand write are able to produce almost twice as many ideas as those using computer technology to write a creative story.

The report… found handwritten essays were completed significantly faster and contained a higher standard of sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, cohesion, ideas development and organization than those completed using keyboards.

A further study found students in Years two, four and six produced up to twice as many ideas writing on pen and paper as those on computers.

O’Brien suggested that the results might be due to writers feeling pressured to edit as they go.

What you can do

O’Brien notes that children are most likely to develop handwriting skills between the ages of 8 and 10.  One of the best things you can do is simply to ensure children meet community standards for legible handwriting.  (O’Brien does not suggest that computers should be removed entirely from a curriculum, although it’s evident that the ability to write without computer assistance is also helpful).

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Frequent searches for “Baby IQ”

I was curious about the most frequent Google searches starting with “baby iq”.  Based on Google’s autocomplete, here they are:

  • baby iq game
  • baby iq development
  • baby iq testing
  • baby iq dvd reviews
  • baby iq india
  • baby iq the world around us
  • baby iq download

I was disappointed to see that “dvd reviews” and “the world around us”, a DVD marketed by The Discovery Channel, were so high on the list.  Before proceeding at all further, I’ll remind our readers that the American Pediatrics Association discourages any television for young children (under the age of two).  The three reviews for the product were positive, but at least two explicitly state that children are in this range.

One of the few media companies which is open about the APA recommendations and straightforward research is PBS.  They provide an excellent page about the influence of television on young kids, including the following:

More than four in 10 (43%) of children under the age of 2 watch TV every day and nearly one in five (18%) watch videos or DVDs every day…

…Regardless of their age, children from heavy-television households watched more television and read less than other children. Furthermore, children exposed to constant television were less likely to be able to read than other children. Also, other research has shown that one-, two-, and three-year-olds’ play and attention spans are shorter in length in the presence of background television, and parent-child interactions are also less frequent in the presence of background television.

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Evaluating public schools

How should you evaluate public schools?  The Berkeley Parents Network has a thread about this.  Note in particular the recommendation of greatschools.net, which provides schools reviews and, importantly, test scores. (I have no affiliation with this site, but it looks reasonably thorough.)

Some good recommendations in this thread:

A site called greatschools.net provides the ability to search on individual public schools for their test scores. … There is so much disparity [in schools in my area]…


A website with listings, tests scores, etc. of Oakland public schools is http://www.greatschools.net. They will send you email updates and are very helpful if you need more information than what is available on their website.


…I would recommend (1) visiting the school; and/or (2) talking to parents. You should ask to sit in on one or two teachers’ classes. You can get an idea of the kinds of curriculum and activities that the school uses, something that test scores do not measure at all, and also get a sense of how the teachers interact with the children… you should take it as a positive sign if the school has some kind of regular meeting or method for parent-school communication…


…The best gauge for me… was visiting the schools while they were in session. There’s nothing like seeing the children and teachers in action. I’m content with the choice that I made and feel confident that this was the best method to choose our child’s school. Even though her school does not have the best district scores she has done well and continues to thrive in the public school environment…

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Child-directed speech

Child-directed speech is speech commonly used by parents or caregivers when communicating with children. (a full definition from the American Heritage Dictionary is at the end of the post).

As speech is one of the most important ways in which children learn to interact with the world, child-directed speech will be a common theme on this blog.  Our goal in this post is to give an overview. Factors we’ll consider include differences in speech among parents (e.g., fathers vs. mothers) and, more importantly, what characteristics of child-directed speech are important for rabid cognitive development in young children.

Characteristics of child-directed speech

The basic idea with child-directed speech is that parents modify their speech when talking to children.  An example of this is “motherese”, although the phenomenon occurs with fathers, child-care providers, and other caretakers.  A few characteristics of child-directed speech include:

  1. It is less complex than normal speech
  2. It is more exaggerated than normal speech.
  3. It may be higher pitch
  4. There are longer and more frequent pauses, and the rate of speech is slower
  5. There is a limited range of words, and special forms of words are used

(Field, 2004)

Finally, the full definition (in all its ad-laden glory in the original link) is here:

child-di·rect·ed speech…

n.

Any of various speech patterns used by parents or caregivers when communicating with young children, particularly infants, usually involving simplified vocabulary, melodic pitch, repetitive questioning, and a slow or deliberate tempo.
Usage Note: Although motherese popularly describes the language patterns of mothers speaking to their infants, these patterns are not limited to them; therefore, child-language researchers often employ the term child-directed speech to include a wider range of speakers and addressees. Others use caregiver speech, which reflects a still wider range, or, less commonly, parentese.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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Birth order, cognitive development, and intelligence

Does birth order affect intelligence?  If so, how? Not surprisingly, these are debated among researchers.  Research from the early 1970’s found that early-born children tend to be more intelligent (this was in contrast to very early research); but the general view has been that intelligence may decrease with rank.  A recent Science article summarizes the findings.

Theories to explain this behavior vary.  Here are a few:

  1. First- and early-born siblings receive more attention and resources from parents.
  2. Social status in the family tends to set roles.
  3. There are gestational differences for early-vs-later children.  For example, maternal antibodies tend to increase with more births.  These antibodies may attack embryos’ brains more, in a way parallel to Rhesus monkeys (this is a more recent theory).

The above-linked Science article describes a study showing that #1 or #2 above is the most-likely cause (the study found that first-borns were comparable to second-borns with a deceased older sibling; second-borns were comparable to third-borns with a deceased older sibling, etc.).

One relatively undisputed finding is that those from smaller families tend to have higher intelligence.  The researcher Schooler noted in a survey study that this effect is largely due to socioeconomic factors: intelligent parents just tend to have smaller families.

These effects are all relatively small, amounting to about 3 IQ points or less.

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