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Journal: Developmental science


The two best predictors of children’s educational achievement available from birth are parents' socioeconomic status (SES) and, recently, children’s inherited DNA differences that can be aggregated in genome-wide polygenic scores (GPS). Here we chart for the first time the developmental interplay between these two predictors of educational achievement at ages 7, 11, 14 and 16 in a sample of almost 5,000 UK school children. We show that the prediction of educational achievement from both GPS and SES increases steadily throughout the school years. Using latent growth curve models, we find that GPS and SES not only predict educational achievement in the first grade but they also account for systematic changes in achievement across the school years. At the end of compulsory education at age 16, GPS and SES respectively predict 14% and 23% of the variance of educational achievement. Analyses of the extremes of GPS and SES highlight their influence and interplay: In children who have high GPS and come from high SES families, 77% go to university, whereas 21% of children with low GPS and from low SES backgrounds attend university. We find that the associations of GPS and SES with educational achievement are primarily additive, suggesting that their joint influence is particularly dramatic for children at the extreme ends of the distribution.


Recent research shows that most adults admit they lie to children. We also know that children learn through modeling and imitation. To date there are no published studies that examine whether lying to children has an effect on children’s honesty. We aimed to bridge the gap in this literature by examining the effects of adults' lies on elementary and preschool-aged children’s behavior using a modified temptation resistance paradigm, in which children are tempted to peek at a toy they have been told not to look at, and later given a chance to either admit peeking, or try to conceal their transgression by lying. Prior to being tested, half of the children were told a lie and half were not. We then measured both cheating (peeking) and lie-telling behaviors. We hypothesized that lying to a child would increase the likelihood that they would both peek at the toy and lie about having done so. Results showed that school-age children were more likely to peek if they had been lied to, and were also more likely to lie about peeking. In contrast with the school-age children, there was no difference in peeking or lying for preschoolers who were and were not lied to. These results have important implications for parenting and educational settings.

Concepts: Psychology, Effect, Child, Parenting, Adult, Lie


Children who experience severe early life stress show persistent deficits in many aspects of cognitive and social adaptation. Early stress might be associated with these broad changes in functioning because it impairs general learning mechanisms. To explore this possibility, we examined whether individuals who experienced abusive caregiving in childhood had difficulties with instrumental learning and/or cognitive flexibility as adolescents. Fifty-three 14-17-year-old adolescents (31 exposed to high levels of childhood stress, 22 control) completed an fMRI task that required them to first learn associations in the environment and then update those pairings. Adolescents with histories of early life stress eventually learned to pair stimuli with both positive and negative outcomes, but did so more slowly than their peers. Furthermore, these stress-exposed adolescents showed markedly impaired cognitive flexibility; they were less able than their peers to update those pairings when the contingencies changed. These learning problems were reflected in abnormal activity in learning- and attention-related brain circuitry. Both altered patterns of learning and neural activation were associated with the severity of lifetime stress that the adolescents had experienced. Taken together, the results of this experiment suggest that basic learning processes are impaired in adolescents exposed to early life stress. These general learning mechanisms may help explain the emergence of social problems observed in these individuals.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive science, Educational psychology, Child, Learning, Knowledge, The Adolescents, Pairing


For millennia, adults have told children stories not only to entertain but also to impart important moral lessons to promote prosocial behaviors. Many such stories contain anthropomorphized animals because it is believed that children learn from anthropomorphic stories as effectively, if not better than, from stories with human characters, and thus are more inclined to act according to the moral lessons of the stories. Here we experimentally tested this belief by reading preschoolers a sharing story with either human characters or anthropomorphized animal characters. Reading the human story significantly increased preschoolers' altruistic giving but reading the anthropomorphic story or a control story decreased it. Thus, contrary to the common belief, realistic stories, not anthropomorphic ones, are better for promoting young children’s prosocial behavior.

Concepts: Psychology, Animal, Behavior, Human behavior, Morality, Aesop's Fables, Anthropomorphism, Storytelling


Language input is necessary for language learning, yet little is known about whether, in natural environments, the speech style and social context of language input to children impacts language development. In the present study we investigated the relationship between language input and language development, examining both the style of parental speech, comparing ‘parentese’ speech to standard speech, and the social context in which speech is directed to children, comparing one-on-one (1:1) to group social interactions. Importantly, the language input variables were assessed at home using digital first-person perspective recordings of the infants' auditory environment as they went about their daily lives (N =26, 11- and 14-months-old). We measured language development using (a) concurrent speech utterances, and (b) word production at 24 months. Parentese speech in 1:1 contexts is positively correlated with both concurrent speech and later word production. Mediation analyses further show that the effect of parentese speech-1:1 on infants' later language is mediated by concurrent speech. Our results suggest that both the social context and the style of speech in language addressed to children are strongly linked to a child’s future language development.

Concepts: Present, Natural environment, Linguistics, Language, Input, Speech repetition, First-person narrative, Look Who's Talking


Diminished social motivation is hypothesized to explain abnormal face scanning pattern in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), especially reduced eye-looking time in ASDs than typically developing (TD) people. Here, we tested an alternative explanation that children with ASD may use a compensatory strategy to avoid direct eye contact by processing the eyes through peripheral vision. We compared the face scanning patterns of children with and without ASD in two conditions: in the clear condition, the face was completely visible; in the blur condition, by using the gaze-contingent paradigm, the whole face was blurred except for a small region being fixated at, thus children could not rely on the peripheral information to process the eyes. We found that children with ASD fixated less on the eyes than TD children in both conditions. Temporal-course analyses further revealed the possible motivation-based guidance of attention to process the eyes in the TD group but not in the ASD group. Additionally, we found that children with ASD scanned faces more randomly and less strategically than TD children. These results have ruled out the alternative hypothesis that the abnormal face scanning pattern in ASDs was due to their compensatory strategy to process eyes through peripheral vision, furthering our understanding of the mechanisms underlying their abnormal face scanning. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


Adolescents can be at heightened risk for anxiety and depression, with accumulating research reporting on associations between anxiety and depression and cognitive impairments, implicating working memory and attentional control deficits. Several studies now point to the promise of adaptive working memory training to increase attentional control in depressed and anxious participants and reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, but this has not been explored in a non-clinical adolescent population. The current study explored the effects of adaptive dual n-back working memory training on sub-clinical anxiety and depression symptomology in adolescents. Participants trained on either an online adaptive working memory task or non-adaptive control task for up to 20 days. Primary outcome measures were self-reported anxiety and depression symptomology, before and after intervention, and at 1-month follow-up. Self-reported depression (p = .003) and anxiety (p = .04) decreased after training in the adaptive n-back group relative to the non-adaptive control group in the intention-to-treat sample (n = 120). These effects were sustained at follow-up. Our findings constitute proof of principle evidence that working memory training may help reduce anxiety and depression vulnerability in a non-clinical adolescent population. We discuss the findings' implications for reducing risk of internalising disorders in youth and the need for replication. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


This study considered a relation between rhythm perception skills and individual differences in phonological awareness and grammar abilities, which are two language skills crucial for academic achievement. Twenty-five typically developing 6-year-old children were given standardized assessments of rhythm perception, phonological awareness, morpho-syntactic competence, and non-verbal cognitive ability. Rhythm perception accounted for 48% of the variance in morpho-syntactic competence after controlling for non-verbal IQ, socioeconomic status, and prior musical activities. Children with higher phonological awareness scores were better able to discriminate complex rhythms than children with lower scores, but not after controlling for IQ. This study is the first to show a relation between rhythm perception skills and morpho-syntactic production in children with typical language development. These findings extend the literature showing substantial overlap of neurocognitive resources for processing music and language.

Concepts: Psychology, Greek loanwords, Cognition, Linguistics, Rhythm, Prosody, Meter, Syncopation


Low socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with greater risk for symptoms of Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One mechanism through which SES may confer risk for ADHD is by influencing brain structure. Alterations to cortical thickness, surface area and subcortical volume have been associated with low SES and with the presence of ADHD across multiple studies. The current study examined whether cortical thickness, surface area, or subcortical volume mediate the associations between SES and ADHD in youth 3-21 years old (N=874) from the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition and Genetics (PING) Study. Freesurfer was used to estimate cortical thickness, surface area, and subcortical volume from structural MRIs. Parents reported on demographics, family SES, ADHD diagnoses, and the presence of child attention problems. Statistical mediation was assessed using a bootstrap resampling procedure. Controlling for parental ADHD, child age, gender, birth weight, and scanner, children in low SES families were more likely to be in the ADHD group. Consistent with previous reports in this sample, low SES was associated with reduced surface area across the frontal lobe and reduced subcortical volume in the amygdala, cerebellum, hippocampus and basal ganglia. Of these regions, a significant indirect effect of SES on ADHD status through subcortical volume was observed for the left cerebellum (95% confidence interval: .004, .022), the right cerebellum (95% confidence interval: .006, .025), and the right caudate (95% confidence interval: .002, .022). Volume of the cerebellum and the caudate may be neurodevelopmental mechanisms explaining elevated risk of ADHD in children in low SES families. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


Language experience shapes infants' abilities to process speech sounds, with universal phonetic discrimination abilities narrowing in the second half of the first year. Brain measures reveal a corresponding change in neural discrimination as the infant brain becomes selectively sensitive to its native language(s). Whether and how bilingual experience alters the transition to native language specific phonetic discrimination is important both theoretically and from a practical standpoint. Using whole head magnetoencephalography (MEG), we examined brain responses to Spanish and English syllables in Spanish-English bilingual and English monolingual 11-month-old infants. Monolingual infants showed sensitivity to English, while bilingual infants were sensitive to both languages. Neural responses indicate that the dual sensitivity of the bilingual brain is achieved by a slower transition from acoustic to phonetic sound analysis, an adaptive and advantageous response to increased variability in language input. Bilingual neural responses extend into the prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex, which may be related to their previously described bilingual advantage in executive function skills. A video abstract of this article can be viewed at:

Concepts: Brain, Human brain, Cerebrum, Phonology, Language, Second language, Limbic system, Frontal lobe