Sesame Street Helps Local Researchers Study Children's Brains
If you've ever told your children to turn off the TV and go play outside, you might want to think twice about it. Depending on what your kids are watching, they could be getting smarter because of it.
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My generation grew up on it; maybe yours did too, or your kids or grandkids. For more than 40 years, Sesame Street has been teaching children about numbers, letters, and life. Now its teaching researchers about how those children's brains work.
"There are content-specific segments, so, Sesame Street will show a segment that has to do with counting and numbers,” said Jessica Cantlon, U of R cognitive scientist.
Such as The Count.
"And then maybe after that they'll show something that has to do with letters."
Like Big Bird singing about the ABC’s.
For three straight years, University of Rochester researcher Jessica Cantlon watched Sesame Street with kids.
"To look at children's neural activity while they're doing something that they would normally do."
She says the result has been a groundbreaking first within the field of brain research.
"This is the first study that shows a connection between the neural activity that children might show in the real world, and their school-based math test performance."
Here's how it works: 27 children were subjected to brain scans as they watched Sesame Street. Then, 20 adults were also scanned, while watching the same videos.
Scientists compared the kid scans with the adults. And when a child's brain activity was more similar to that of an adult, that child was able to perform better on a simple math and reading test.
"Content is important in these naturalistic stimuli, for eliciting these connections between neural activity and mathematics performance."
In other words, by showing children numbers and letters, Sesame Street seems to help them learn math and reading.
"Kind of looking into the more distant future, I think some of these methods,” said Cantlon, “might help people diagnose and potentially develop interventions for children with learning disabilities."
They could have used any TV show or video for their research, but it's only fitting, that a show which has educated children for generations, might help us learn how to teach them for many more.