Can a student’s classroom have an impact on their ability to learn effectively? According to a new study out of Carnegie Mellon University, there seems to be evidence that highly decorated classrooms may be a distraction for students.


Researchers Anna V. Fisher, Karrie E. Godwin, and Howard Seltman focused their research on how classroom displays affect a child’s ability to maintain focus and learn lesson content. Their results, published in Psychological Science, found that children in highly decorated classrooms were more distracted, were off task more often, and demonstrated smaller learning gains than their counterparts in a classroom where the decorations had been removed.


The study placed 24 kindergarten students in laboratory classrooms for six science lessons on topics that were unfamiliar to the students. Three lessons were taught in a heavily decorated classroom. Three lessons took place in a classroom without decorations. Although results showed the children learned in both environments, they reported more educational gains in the sparsely decorated classroom. In the undecorated room, children responded to test questions correctly about 55% of the time as opposed to 42% of the time in the decorated classroom.


Furthermore, the time students spent off-task was higher in the decorated classroom (38.6% of time spent off-task in the decorated room, 28.4% of time spent off-task in the undecorated room).


Although researchers do not suggest that teachers remove decorations from their classrooms, they believe more research needs to be done to understand the effect visual environment has on learning and attention.

Researchers at the Salk Institute may have new clues about schizophrenia after studying skin cells of individuals diagnosed with the disorder.

Using neurons generated from a patient’s skin cells, scientists were able to use new technology to regress those cells back to an earlier stem cell form. Those stem cells were then grown into very early stage neurons, called neural progenitor cells (NPCs). NPCs are similar to the cells in the brain of a developing fetus. Researchers documented these NPCs behaved strangely in the early stages of development, offering clues that may aid in earlier detection and treatment of schizophrenia. Until now, scientists have only been able to study the brains of cadavers, making it difficult to determine when in the developmental process changes began to occur to the brain.

The cells taken from people with schizophrenia differed in two ways: They had abnormal migration patterns and greater levels of oxidative stress. Researchers found that current antipsychotic medications, however, did not improve the migration patterns.

The study supports the idea that neurological dysfunctions that lead to schizophrenia may begin in the brain of a fetus.

The full results of the study are available in the April issue of Molecular Psychiatry.
Last month, major news outlets reported that a new study had linked concussions to a higher suicide risk among adolescents—but did the media get the story right?

In April, headlines such as “Concussions make young people more likely to attempt suicide” (U.S. News and World Report) and “Once-concussed teenagers found to be at higher risk for bullying, suicide” (Education Week) began to appear. Each source referenced a study by Dr. Gabriela Ilie, a post-doctoral fellow at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Ilie’s study, which was published on April 15 in the science journal Plos One, looked at data from 4,685 surveys administered to adolescents in grades 7 through 12 as part of a 2011 drug use and health survey in Ontario.

In the weeks since, however, there has been some criticism, not of the study itself but of the way it was covered by the media. In her April 22 article “The press release that fell and hit its head,” Brenda Goodman, a health writer for the Association of Healthcare Journalists, followed up with Ilie about the study. One of Goodman’s criticisms is that the media coverage—including St. Michael’s own press release—used the word “concussion” to describe the brain injuries that were associated with suicide risk, even though the study itself does not use that word. Instead, the study refers to a narrower band of more traumatic brain injuries, defined as “head injury that resulted in being unconscious for at least 5 minutes or being retained in the hospital for at least one night.”

Why is that distinction so important? Goodman points out that more serious brain injuries are likely to be the result of car accidents or assaults; sports-related concussions, while still serious, result in loss of consciousness only about 10 percent of the time.

So what did the study actually say about TBI and suicide risk? “When holding constant sex, grade, and complex sample design,” according to Ilie’s findings, “students with TBI had significantly greater odds of reporting elevated psychological distress (AOR = 1.52), attempting suicide (AOR = 3.39), seeking counselling through a crisis help-line (AOR = 2.10), and being prescribed medication for anxiety, depression, or both (AOR = 2.45).” The study goes on to say that students with TBI had higher odds of being bullied or threatened with a weapon at school, compared with students who did not report a TBI. Ilie recommends that physicians screen for potential mental health and behavioral problems in adolescent patients with TBI.

This study demonstrated a correlation between some types of TBI and suicide risk in adolescents; it did not, however, show a causal relationship between concussion and suicide. Brenda Goodman and health writers like her remind us that when it comes to psychology news, it’s important to go beyond the headlines and look at the original research.
Over the past two decades, the rate of violent crime in the U.S. and Europe has dropped dramatically. Despite increasingly sensational news stories about crime, we are in fact much less likely to become the victim of a violent crime today than we were in 1990. According to the New York Times, the city of New York had fewer murders last year than in any year since 1963, when reliable record keeping began. In 2013, there were 333 murders in the city, down from 417 in 2012 and a stunning 2,245 in 1991. Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia also had large declines in violent crime during this period, as did smaller cities across the country. In England, the 2013 murder rate was at a 33-year low, nearly 50% lower than its peak in 1995, according to a recent story in the Guardian. There is no question that the rate of violent crime is significantly lower than it was 20 years ago.

Many factors could be contributing to this change, including improvements in law enforcement, reductions in the use of crack cocaine and other drugs, economic changes, and the aging of the population. However, a study by economist Rick Nevin suggests that reductions in the crime rate can be attributed to diminishing levels of lead poisoning from exposure to leaded gasoline and lead paint—and there is a growing body of research that supports his theory.

“What makes Nevin’s work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries,” says the Washington Post’s Shankar Vedantam.

In a recent Forbes article, science writer Alex Knapp outlines reasons that Nevin’s theory deserves attention. First, the numbers correlate almost perfectly; when a lag time of 21 years is added (to account for early childhood lead exposure in adult offenders), levels of exposure to lead from gasoline and paint track extremely closely with the U.S. homicide rate (see the graph in Nevin’s 2013 update).

Second, the correlation holds true with no exceptions. “Every country studied has shown this same strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates,” says Knapp. “Within the United States, you can see the data at the state level. Where lead concentrations declined quickly, crime declined quickly. Where it declined slowly, crime declined slowly. The data even holds true at the neighborhood level—high lead concentrations correlate so well that you can overlay maps of crime rates over maps of lead concentrations and get an almost perfect fit.”

Third, the connection between lead poisoning and brain damage is clear. “Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person’s ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility,” says Knapp.

Nevin’s conclusions have been criticized by some, including those who are wary of the implications of linking biology to criminal behavior. In a recent interview with BBC News Magazine, Roger Matthews, a professor of criminology at the University of Kent, said, “The things that push people into crime are very different kinds of phenomena, not in the nature of their brain tissue….There has been a long history of people trying to link biology to crime—that some people have their eyes too close together, or an extra chromosome, or whatever. This stuff gets disproved and disproved. But it keeps popping up.”

What do you think about the link between lead levels and crime? Are the correlations strong enough to imply causation? What are the social implications of high lead levels in the blood? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Sometimes, it’s all in the questions you ask. Or the questions y’all ask. Or the ones you guys ask!

Those of us in psychology and assessment are very interested in the art of asking the right questions, and a great example from the field of linguistics has been circulating around the Internet in recent months. A dialect survey, based on work by Harvard professor Burt Vaux, has been developed into an interactive quiz by graphic artists at the New York Times, which published it in December 2013. Responses to the quiz generate maps that show the probability that the user hails from a specific region, state, or even city in the U.S.

The survey includes questions about the names of specific items (“What do you call a sweetened carbonated beverage?”) as well as pronunciations (“How do you pronounce ‘Aunt’?”). Each answer is association with a region, and there is a “heat map” for each question, as well as a “personal dialog map” for each individual user based on the sum of his or her responses to 25 questions.

“The data are fascinating,” says Katherine Wells, in her recent story about Vaux’s work in The Atlantic. “They reveal patterns of migration, unexpected linguistic kinships between regions, and the awesome variety of words we say and how we say them.”

An informal poll of users here at PAR headquarters suggests that the quiz can yield some amazingly accurate results—and we come from all over the U.S. Try the quiz yourself and see where it puts you on the map!
When it comes to finding the right candidates for a job, what qualities and skills are most important to today’s employers? The answers may surprise you.

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), teamwork, problem solving, organizational skills, and effective communication all rated more highly than “technical knowledge related to the job” (Job Outlook 2014).

NACE collected the survey data from 208 college recruiting professionals during the summer of 2013. Respondents rated each quality/skill on a five-point scale. “Ability to work in a team structure” had an average weighted rating of 4.55. Less highly rated—but still important—qualities included “ability to obtain and process information,” “ability to analyze quantitative data,” and “ability to sell or influence others.”

How can employers evaluate a potential employee’s skills in areas that seem so subjective? Other than word-of-mouth recommendations, how can employers assess whether a candidate is a team player, an analytical thinker, or an influential leader?

The new Working Styles Assessment™ (WSA™) from PAR measures 18 distinct workplace personality constructs (or “working styles”) such as initiative, concern for others, analytical thinking, and conscientiousness. The WSA helps job seekers gain a better understanding of their personal work preferences and how they approach a variety of situations in the workplace; it also helps hiring managers identify the working styles they value in employees and select applicants based on the degree to which they fit the working styles most needed for a particular position.

To learn more about the WSA and how it can help employers and job seekers to find the right match, visit the PAR Web site today!
According to a just-released statistical brief from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, mental disorders were the most costly medical expenditure for those under 18 years of age during 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available. More than 5.6 million children were treated for mental disorders at a mean expenditure of $2,465 each, for a total expense of $13.8 billion. In 2011, $117.6 billion was spent overall on the medical care and treatment of children.

The top five medical conditions that ranked highest in terms of spending included mental disorders, asthma ($11.9 billion), trauma-related disorders ($5.8 billion), acute bronchitis and upper respiratory infections ($3.3 billion), and otitis media ($3.2 billion). Although mental disorders affected the fewest number of children of the other top five medical conditions, they had the highest average expense per child.

In 2008, mental disorders ranked as the fifth most commonly treated condition; according to survey data, the expense per child has remained steady.

Nearly half the expenditures for mental disorders in children were paid by Medicaid.
A recent study by researchers from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management suggests that although extroverts are initially held in higher esteem in the workplace, self-described neurotics and those who are socially withdrawn tend to gain respect over time while their outwardly confident co-workers lose status. As time passes, neurotics tend to exceed expectations and are perceived as hard workers, while extroverts are seen to coast—and this is the case even if the two groups make similar contributions. In a recent New York Times article, lead author Corinne Bendersky describes her findings and suggests that the patterns she found reflect the value of creating low expectations.

Bendersky’s study included two parts. In the first part, graduate students completed a survey about their own personalities and how they viewed others in their work groups. Initially, the more confident students were perceived as being stronger contributors. But when the survey was repeated ten weeks later, the perception of the introverts had improved, while the extroverts lost status.

In the second part of the study, students were presented with a hypothetical situation: a co-worker named John was assigned to help them finish a project. John was described to half of the students as neurotic and to the other half as extroverted. As predicted, students initially expected that extroverted John would be a more effective contributor. Next, some students were told that even though he was busy, John had agreed to work late; others were told that John was too busy and had to leave early. In both cases, students were less critical of neurotic John’s contributions, while extroverted John was seen as disappointing—even when he was generous with his time.

The findings may also suggest that people perceive the values of personality and contribution differently. Extroverted personalities are overvalued but their contributions can be undervalued; introverted personalities tend not to be valued, but their contributions are sometimes overvalued—they seem to be given the benefit of the doubt.

What are the implications of this research for hiring managers and team leaders? In a recent interview with Forbes magazine, Bendersky cautions against hiring too many extroverts. “The core of an extroverted personality is to be attention-seeking,” she says. “It turns out they just keep talking, they don’t listen very well, and they’re not very receptive to other people’s input. They don’t contribute as much as people think they will.”

What do you think? What combinations of personality traits make up the most effective teams where you work? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

 
PAR is pleased to announce the release of two new tests of intelligence and reasoning ability by Cecil R. Reynolds, PhD — the Reynolds Adaptable Intelligence Test™ (RAIT™) and the Test of General Reasoning Ability™ (TOGRA™).

The RAIT is a rapid, reliable, and valid intelligence test designed for group or individual administration.

  • Composed of seven subtests that assess crystallized intelligence, fluid intelligence, and quantitative aptitude or intelligence.

  • Designed to provide continuity of measurement across a wide age span.

  • Can be used to help users determine a child's educational placement and diagnose various forms of childhood psychopathology; as a measure of intelligence in general clinical and neuropsychological evaluations; as part of evaluations for the diagnosis of specific disorders; in disability determinations under various state and federal programs; and as a measure of aptitude in human resources/employment settings.


Composed of items from the RAIT, the TOGRA is a speeded measure of reasoning ability and problem-solving skills.

  • Offers a wider variety of item content and greater test score stability than competing measures.

  • Requires only 16 minutes for administration and 2-3 minutes for scoring.

  • Appropriate in many settings whenever a speeded measure of reasoning ability and problem solving under pressure is considered useful, including in the evaluation of students for giftedness, athletes, managerial and executive-level staff, and public safety officer candidates.

  • Two equivalent alternate forms (Blue and Green) enable users to retest and monitor progress without concern for practice effects.

A recent study of 648 older adults in India suggests that those who were bilingual developed dementia more than four years later, on average, than those who spoke only one language—regardless of educational level.

Published recently in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), the study found that speaking two languages seems to have a protective effect against three types of dementia: Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and vascular dementia.

“Speaking more than one language is thought to lead to better development of the areas of the brain that handle executive functions and attention tasks, which may help protect from the onset of dementia,” said study author Suvarna Alladi, DM, with Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India, in a press release from the AAN.

The study subjects, all of whom were diagnosed with dementia, had an average age of 66. Approximately half spoke two or more languages; 14 percent were illiterate.

“These results offer strong evidence for the protective effect of bilingualism against dementia in a population very different from those studied so far in terms of its ethnicity, culture and patterns of language use,” Alladi said.

To learn more or to read the full article online, visit the Neurology Web site.