Fantasy-based pretend play

“Viking – Shield Maiden” by Danielle Pioli is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

From an article…

The study involved daily 15-minute play sessions across five weeks, in which a research assistant led 39 children aged three to five through a fantastical script, such as going to the moon. After the five week period, the pretend play kids showed greater gains in their ability to memorise lists of digits (a classic test of working memory, itself a core component of executive function) as compared with 32 age-matched children in a standard play condition, who spent their sessions singing songs and passing a ball around a circle.

The pretend play group also showed a bigger improvement on an executive function attention-shift task, which involved switching from sorting blocks by colour to shape. This result squeaked through thanks to the standard-play group’s scores actually creeping down over time as the pretend group scores crept up, but note that on its own terms, the pre-to-post change in pretend group performance wasn’t itself statistically significant. On a third executive function measure – “inhibition of responses” (children had to follow a tricky instruction to label a nighttime scene as day, and a daytime scene as night) – there was no effect of the pretend play.

Fantasy-based pretend play is beneficial to children’s mental abilities. Research Digest, the British Psychological Society

I am enjoying this playful period where Fleur tells me stories. Getting more into this kind of play excites me. It is what I remember doing a lot of as a child. And even as a teenager, I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, even being a Dungeon Master most of the time for one group of friends.

Shortcuts: Multitasking (repost)

These are reposts of a series I did years ago on mental shortcuts.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on

This one combines the worst of Illusions and Math. We trust our senses and inadequately assess risk.

We have limited capacities for attending to what happens around us. Two or more objects are not being held at the same time in memory. We switch between them. Once we have copied them from long term or permanent memory into working memory then short term, we can find those copies pretty quickly again. The more complicated the behavior and the more dissimilar the two or more tasks, the worse we multitask. By worse, I mean we are more prone to error and take longer time.

Given all the research and media coverage on how bad we are at multitasking and risks associated of texting and driving, I see people doing it daily. A law here allows police to write tickets to people who do it for the past few years. Texting is also pretty bad even on hands-free devices. Like other risky behaviors, these approaches are unlikely to stop humans from putting themselves in dangerous situations.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Study: Infants recognize counting as numerically relevant

brown numbers cutout decors

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

We play a game: One of us parents will count to five and say that number of fingers are coming after you and tickle Fleur. (My wife does to five and tickles with both hands. I will to five & use one hand or ten &use both.) In true dopamine fashion the smile is largest in the middle (three and eight). It did make me wonder if she recognized the words, but that apparently comes around 3-4 however there is evidence that starting around 14 months they have an approximate numerical system that allows them to recognize it.

Children do not understand the meanings of count words like “two” and “three” until the preschool years. But even before knowing the meanings of these individual words, might they still recognize that counting is “about” the dimension of number? Here in five experiments, we asked whether infants already associate counting with quantities. We measured 14‐ and 18‐month olds’ ability to remember different numbers of hidden objects that either were or were not counted by an experimenter before hiding. As in previous research, we found that infants failed to differentiate four hidden objects from two when the objects were not counted—suggesting an upper limit on the number of individual objects they could represent in working memory. However, infants succeeded when the objects were simply counted aloud before hiding. We found that counting also helped infants differentiate four hidden objects from six (a 2:3 ratio), but not three hidden objects from four (a 3:4 ratio), suggesting that counting helped infants represent the arrays’ approximate cardinalities. Hence counting directs infants’ attention to numerical aspects of the world, showing that they recognize counting as numerically relevant years before acquiring the meanings of number words.

Experiment one: The infants watched a demonstration of putting items in a box some while counted and others using “this” instead of counting. Then the researcher had the child do the task on sometimes two or four objects (two in front and two in back). They measured the search time and found the children searched longer for the two when counted. The supposition here is the counting primed working memory for four items. Or setting a summary representation array using an approximate number system (ANS).

Experiment two: In this one, the researchers teased out the efficacy of the ANS . The two tasks were both counted prior to hiding. This time the search time was measured after the first two were found. In the other, the search time was measure after the third was retrieved. If ANS were used, then they should not distinguish between 3 and 4, which was the result.

Experiment three: The number of objects was increased to 4 and 6 as it should exceed the capability of working memory. It confirmed ANS is likely the component in play.

Experiment four: Same procedures as three but measured like two.

I would love to see this have with more kids and replicated.

Wang, Jinjing & Feigenson, Lisa. (2019). Infants recognize counting as numerically relevant. Developmental Science. 10.1111/desc.12805.