Attention and memory development
We wanted to know whether short-term memory – remembering things over a few seconds – is served only by a special short-term memory system, or whether our long-term memories help too.
In the game, children heard a cartoon character say four words, and his friend then tried to repeat the same words.
The aim of the game was simply to say whether his friend got all the words right or not. The tricky part was that sometimes the friend said a word that means something similar to the original word.
The idea behind the study was that if children found it hard to spot the difference between words that mean similar things, that would indicate that long-term information was supporting their memory. This will help us understand the processes that children use to learn and remember new words.
The aim of our study was to test a new game in children aged 6 to 11 years. The game was delivered on a smartphone app and was designed to measure attention, impulse control and activity levels. We wanted to make sure the game measured these behaviours reliably, in preparation for using the app in a clinical sample of children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We also wanted to see whether children in this age range enjoyed playing the game.
In the game, children took on the role of a volunteer working at an owl conservation centre. They were asked to carry out a survey of different owl species in the area, and were told that they must count the special yellow owls by tapping the phone screen each time a yellow owl appeared. They had to tap the screen very quickly when a yellow owl appeared because the owls flew away very fast!
The children were also told that they must not tap the screen when a brown owl appeared. While children completed the game we recorded the amount of movement of the smartphone as an index of bodily activity. We also asked each child whether they liked the game and how it could be improved.
We found that older children were faster, better able to identify the yellow owls accurately and they were less restless while carrying out the game. We also found that activity levels during the game were greater in those who scored higher on a questionnaire measure of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattentiveness.
The next step is to adapt the game based on the feedback given by the children. We will then use the app to measure these behaviours in a sample of children with ADHD to try and improve diagnosis and assessment of ADHD in clinical settings.
Mind your memory
It is important to be able to distinguish between objects we have seen before ('familiar') and objects that we have not seen before ('novel'). In this game, we were looking at children’s memory for objects they have seen before.
In the first stage of the game, children were shown 12 trays containing three objects per tray. There was an assortment of common household objects used, including a toothbrush, shoelaces, sunglasses, a spoon, and a mobile phone.
In a second stage, children were shown the trays of objects again. There were three types of tray in this stage. Some trays were identical to the first stage; others however, either contained a novel object one of the familiar objects but in a different location.
Children were asked to identify what they thought was different compared to the first time they saw the objects. Children were able to identify familiar objects (identical trays) and also when there was a new object present. Children scored lower for trays on which an object had moved location compared to the other tray types.
Girls and boys showed similar memory for all tray types. These results are interesting because in a similar task adults perform equally well on all types of test (identical, new object, and new location).
Further analyses will be conducted to see if this ability develops with age.