Attention and memory in childhood
What we’re trying to find out
Our research focuses on trying to understand how children keep information in short-term memory despite distractions. In particular, we suspect that what might distinguish children with high short-term memory capacity from other children is an increased ability to resist distraction. We already know that a child’s ability to retain information for brief periods of time is an excellent predictor of how much progress they make in the classroom; children with low short-term memory capacity are likely to make less progress than children with high short-term memory capacity. But we would like to know how children’s brains use attention to optimise memory capacity.
What will happen if your child takes part
If you and your child decide to take part then you will both be invited to visit the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, based on Chaucer Road in Cambridge, at a convenient time for you.
We use two main research methods in our studies: electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG). Both methods are commonly and extensively used in both adults and children, and involve no discomfort to the participant. EEG involves wearing a headcap fitted with sensors that pick up the naturally occurring activity of the brain, while MEG involves sitting in a chair and being raised into a large helmet containing hundreds of sensors to pick up brain activity. EEG and MEG participants usually then perform a simple computer game or task that is projected onto a screen in front of them, or sometimes we are interested in simply recording the brain activity occurs when the participant is resting with eye closed.
If you and your child take part, when you arrive at the unit you will have the opportunity to look around the lab and ask any questions. After the brief tour, if you and your child would still like to take part there will be a consent form for you to sign. Depending on the particular study, participation sessions can last from about 1 to 2 hours (we incorporate lots of breaks into each session so participants do not have to focus for too long at a time). You can remain present with your child throughout the whole experiment, and researchers will also be present the entire time.
Participants in MEG studies are also usually offered the chance to have an MRI scan. This is another common research method that is used extensively with both adults and children, and involves lying down inside the long, cylindrical MRI scanner. MRI scans provide information about the unique structure of each participant’s brain, allowing us to understand the information from their MEG scans more accurately. Our MRI scans take less than 10 minutes, and participants are given a picture of their brain to take home.
What happens to the results of our studies
Results for each child are kept strictly confidential. Children are identified by a code number only and all information and results are kept on password-protected computers at the Unit. We include regular summaries of our findings in our newsletters, which are available to interested families. We also aim to publish our findings in scientific journals. Because performance on many of the computer tasks we use can only be interpreted accurately at the level of the group, rather than the individual, we provide summaries of group performance, and we are happy to discuss group findings with interested parents/guardians or teachers. Furthermore, the recording is not used for diagnostic purposes, and the researchers are not trained in the diagnosis of any clinical disorders.
Who is conducting this research
All our research projects receive ethical approval from the relevant ethics committees before any volunteers are recruited or tested.
Submit your details
Please register your interest in your child participating in this study by submitting the details in this form. You and your child may choose to opt out of participation at any time.