What is the effect of reward on your ability to resist temptation? (study 2)

    • 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 to play a computer game that requires them to identify images (e.g., faces on a landscape background). Players press the space bar whenever an image pops up on the screen. One image is “special” and pressing the space bar when it is on the screen is rewarded. After participants have learned the task, the rules change. Now the previously rewarded image and another random image have to be avoided.

    In a previous study, we found that adults have a harder time avoiding the “special” image. However, children showed the opposite response; they have a harder time avoiding the non-rewarded image. This is not what we expected.

    The previous results suggest that children may have to work harder to tell images apart and therefore respond differently from adults. To test this hypothesis, in this new study we will use more complicated images that are harder to tell apart, and make the game equally difficult for both groups. Then we will repeat the experiment with the new version of the game.

    This study will provide insight into the processes that underlie cognitive development. Eventually, this kind of information can help shape public health policies, create educational 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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