Since 1969, “Sesame Street” has been introducing small children to letters and numbers by using clever skits and songs performed by Muppets and celebrities. Patrick Stewart, for instance, reworked Hamlet’s soliloquy as an ode to the letter B (“B or not a B, that is the question”). Now a report by two economists, Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland and Phillip Levine of Wellesley College, has tracked the first generation of watchers (who were under six in 1969). It reveals that children who had access to “Sesame Street” ended up better prepared for school and were 14% less likely to fall behind in class.
The show’s effects are not unlike those of Head Start, a federal scheme that provides poor families with services that include school-based early education. But it costs a fraction as much, says Ms Kearney. “Sesame Street” is not a replacement for early education, which most studies agree is vital; but it is certainly a very affordable supplement. “In essence,” she says, thinking of massive open online courses, “Sesame Street was the first MOOC.”
For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain. Since the discovery, in the mid-nineties, of “mirror neurons”—neurons that fire in our brains both when we perform an action ourselves and when we see an action performed by someone else—the neuroscience of empathy has become clearer. A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology, based on analysis of fMRI brain scans of participants, showed that, when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings.
How do babies learn so much from so little so quickly? In a fun, experiment-filled talk, cognitive scientist Laura Schulz shows how our young ones make decisions with a surprisingly strong sense of logic, well before they can talk.
Discovered yet another great podcast recently. The Allusionist, etymological adventures with Helen Zaltzman in a fortnightly podcast.
Remember when 'viral' used to only mean something bad, IE something that would make you ill or destroy your computer?
In this episode Helen explores the evolution of the word viral.