A team of scientists from the University of Rochester in the United States is studying the effect of Sesame Street on children’s intellectual abilities, such as reading and math.
They scan children’s brains to see how neural pathways change and affect intelligence. “Scans are the first way to understand brain development,” said Jessica Cantlon, a cognitive scientist who led the study, Friday, January 4, 2013.
Sesame Street is a US TV show for kids filled with various Muppets (doll characters). This show is a pioneer of modern educational television standards that combine education and entertainment. Elmo, Kermit, Ernie, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird are popular characters in this show.
Cantlon said the research could open up new understanding of brain development. It even opens up opportunities for the discovery of new therapies to deal with the problem of learning disabilities in children.
To find out, a team of scientists compared the brain scans of children with adults watching the same program. This was done to see if each individual gave a similar neural response.
He said psychologists use behavioral tests to determine the cause of learning disorders in children. However, the scanning method provides more complete and direct information about what is going on in the brain.
This study involved 27 children aged 4-11 years and 20 adults. All respondents watched Sesama Street for 20 minutes. The show contains short clips about recognizing numbers, letters, words, shapes, and counting.
Each respondent showed 609 brain scan results that appear every two seconds. The team of scientists analyzed the results of these scans with a statistical algorithm. They then created “neural maps” of thought processes for both children and adults.
The study was complemented by standardized IQ tests for math and verbal abilities. The two were then compared. As a result, children with “neural maps” that were more like adults scored higher on IQ tests. “The neural structure of the brain develops in the same pattern as you get older, as the rest of the body,” Cantlon said.
The part of the brain that develops to determine intelligence can be known. Verbal tasks, for example, are carried out in a part of the brain called Broca’s area. The team of scientists found intense neural activity in this area in children who scored high on tests of verbal ability.
Children who score high in Mathematics have more mature neural patterns in the intraparietal sulcus (IPS). This part is a region of the brain involved in processing numbers.
Cantlon said this encouraging result does not necessarily mean encouraging children to watch television more often. But it is undeniable that watching television is proven to affect the intelligence of a child.
“This is evidence that children capture and process educational shows on television,” he said. The pattern of neural activity in the brain can have an effect as well as show children’s intellectual abilities.