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Why more curious kids learn better, especially poorer ones
We all want to help our children learn and a new study shows that encouraging curiosity might be the best way to do it.
Over the last decade, a great deal of time and energy has been spent on studying and applying the benefits of early childhood education. Mayor de Blasio of New York City campaigned on the promise of universal pre-school, scores of private pre-schools are sprouting up everywhere, and more states are investing in early childhood education than ever before
The evidence suggesting that early childhood education, done correctly, can have a lifetime of benefits is overwhelming. This has lead to a multitude of studies, proposals, and actions in hopes of taking advantage of these effects.
However, one significant element of child development has been overlooked. The potential benefits of inspiring curiosity in children as a tool to help them learn has, surprisingly, been ignored until now.
In a study by Prachi E. Shah, Heidi M. Weeks, Blair Richards, and Niko Kaciroti 6200 children were tested in reading and math and then had their scores compared to factors of sex, classroom behavior, socioeconomic status and their level of curiosity both at school and at home. Curiosity, defined here as both the “joy of discovery” and “the motivation to seek answers to what is unknown,” was measured by a survey given to parents which focused on their child’s behavior.
The subjects of the study were selected because of their involvement with the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which is managed by the Department of Education. This also assured that the children were demographically representative of the American population. The students were tested several times for math and reading skills both before entering school and shortly after.
What did they find?
A higher level of curiosity pointed towards higher test scores in math and reading regardless of other factors. Curious students also showed better social skills and emotional control than their peers. The benefits existed even in cases where the child exhibited low “effortful control” or was otherwise unable to focus or control their impulses.
“Although our effect sizes of the association between curiosity and academic achievement are small, and although the strongest predictors for reading and math academic achievement continue to be prior reading and math academic achievement scores, our results suggest that curiosity makes a small but meaningful contribution to academic achievement,” said Dr. Shah.
Of particular interest was the finding that the benefits were more pronounced for students in poverty. This was contrary to the expectations of the authors but was immediately suggested as a way to help close the achievement gap between children who grow up in poverty and their wealthy peers.
Why would this be?
Curiosity is often considered an element of "intrinsic motivation." Intuitively, t makes sense that students who are curious would be interested in learning the subject matter and might work harder towards their goal. The authors noted that "Interventions to foster curiosity in adults have focused on highlighting the personal meaningfulness of an activity to optimize engagement" and suggest that the same approach might be useful with children for similar reasons.
When musing as to why children of a lower socioeconomic status gain more form curiosity than others, they supposed that "Children with higher SES likely have environments with greater access to resources to foster reading and math academic achievement, whereas children with low SES likely have academic environments that are less enriching, and thus, the drive for academic achievement is related to the child’s motivation to learn (i.e. curiosity)."
Filipino students take a nap, as the activity at hand failed to interest them. It is perhaps obvious that students who are curious will gain more out of an activity than those who are not. (Getty Images)
No study is perfect, and some questions remain. Students congenital or chromosomal abnormalities were excluded from the study, so it is unknown if the effect is the same for students with those conditions.
While standardized math and reading tests were used for measuring student progress, other subjects that may also benefit from high levels of curiosity, such as the arts, were not tested for. The scope of the study was broad enough, however, to apply to millions of young students across the country.
On a similar note, the authors acknowledge that curiosity is a multifaceted thing which can be difficult to pin down. They were able to isolate which element of it they felt was most useful, saying that “the aspect of curiosity most strongly associated with higher academic achievement was the construct of ‘shows eagerness to learn new things.'” It remains possible that another aspect is at play or that parents misunderstood how their children are motivated.
As national interest in the benefits of early childhood education continues to grow, having a wide range of tools available to encourage learning will be necessary. The results of this wide-reaching study show that the promotion of creativity can help all children learn and grow. It may offer particular benefits to the students in greatest need of help. While, as always, more studies will be needed to confirm the applicability of the findings the results point to a better educational experience for all students.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.