Sesame Street Reveals How The Brain Develops

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Researchers from the University of Rochester used Sesame Street to see the difference in brain activity between children and adults. This research may one day help people with learning disabilities.

Brain activity images were made using fMRI, that uses magnetics fields to measure the signal intensity in areas of the brain. “This is the first study to use the method as a tool for understanding development,” says lead author Jessica Cantlon, a cognitive scientist at the University of Rochester in a press release

The paper published today by PLOS Biology scanned the brains of 27 children between 4-11 and compared them to 20 adults who all watched the same 20 minutes of Sesame Street teaching numbers, words, and shapes. After the children were done they were also asked to take an IQ test to measure their maths and verbal activities.

The children with similar brain activity as adults scored higher on IQ tests. The brain develops similarly among everyone and the researchers think that one day brain scans can be used to see why a child has difficulty learning, diagnose learning disabilities, and treat them one day,

“Psychologists have behavioural tests for trying to get the bottom of learning impairments, but these new imaging studies provide a totally independent source of information about children’s learning based on what’s happening in the brain,” says Cantlon.

The study also confirms that speech and language are processed in the Broca region of the brain and the intraparietal sulcus, or IPS, is involved in processing numbers. If a child had similar brain activity as an adult in the Broca region they had a higher IQ score in verbal tests and mature activity in the IPS predicted a better maths score.

The fMRI scan on the left represents correlations in neural activity between children and adults, in the middle between children and other children, and on the right between adults and other adults. Such neural maps, says University of Rochester cognitive scientist Jessica Cantlon, reveal how the brain’s neural structure develops along predictable pathways as we mature.

Brain Sesame Street

Photo: Jessica Cantlon, University of Rochester

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