What is the effect of reward on your ability to resist temptation? (Study 1)

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    “Inhibitory control” is the ability to resist an automatic response, like deliberately ignoring a bird flying by a window during class. This study will examine how people are able to control their impulsive actions.

    In this study, we are asking people 10 to 50 years old to play a computer game that requires them to capture cartoon animals. At first, the goal is to capture a specific animal, for example the blue crab. After participants have learned the task they are told the rules have changed. The new rules require avoiding specific animals, one that was previously supposed to be captured like the blue crab and one that previously did not matter, the purple fish for example.

    In an earlier study we found that children between four and twelve years of age are better at avoiding the blue crab than the purple fish. This result was not what we expected. We had predicted it would be harder to stop following the old rule. In the current study we want to investigate whether our earlier finding is specific to children at a certain stage of development and if adults might play the game differently. We predict adolescents and adults will have a more difficult time resisting the previously rewarded action.

    This study will provide insight into the processes that underlie cognitive development. Eventually this kind of information can help shape public health policies, create informational interventions for adolescents and children, and help us design new studies that will allow us to explore how inhibitory control is related to neural development.

    This research is conducted at Museum of Science, Boston by Margaret Sheridan from the Boston Children’s Hospital’s Labs in Cognitive Neuroscience

        » Boston Children’s Hospital’s Labs in Cognitive Neuroscience

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    How Easily Are You Distracted?

    Find the Link Station “Are You Paying Attention?” in the Time environment. In this activity you are asked to resist glancing at distractions. Like the game in the study, this activity requires inhibitory control. Try the activity once following the rules.

    Now try it again with the rules reversed (i.e. if there are more blue dots hit the red button). Is it harder to play it backwards?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Color Words

    Above is a block of words in different colored ink. Look at each word and say the color of the ink used to write it. You should NOT read what word is written, just say the color shown. Time yourself or a family member.

    Try the task again with a new block of words below.

    Did you take longer the second time? Reading aloud is normally like playing a game where you speak the written word and ignore the color of the ink. This activity changes the rules of the game. Most people have learned this rule so well they have a difficult time stopping themselves from following it.

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