Children who go to daycare may benefit from a wider variety of social and communicative situations relative to children who do not go to daycare, a recent study suggests. The former have a heightened ability to adjust their non-verbal communication to take into account the age of the person they are playing with, researchers from the Radboud University Nijmegen write in PLOS ONE (August 29).
The study outlines the unique ability of humans to step inside the minds of others before hitting on a communication strategy that can efficiently convey an intended meaning. Our ability to view the world from another person's perspective appears to develop very early on, but the factors that influence this skill are not well known.
Show, don't tell
Arjen Stolk and co-workers of the Donders Institute for Brain Cognition and Behaviour at Radboud University Nijmegen devised a creative two-player computer game for five year old children, in which a child has to learn how to communicate a location of a hidden object without words with a player in a separate room.
Patience with two year olds
The researchers found that the style in which the five year olds tried to communicate changed depending on who the children thought their co-player was. When they thought they were playing with a two year old, they spent a great deal of time trying to patiently indicate the location of the acorn. When they were told that they were playing with a child their own age, their communication style was not as laboured.
The researchers noticed a difference in performance level for which daycare attendance turned out to be the strongest explanation. The more days children spent in daycare, the better they were able to adjust their communication style. Education level of the child's parents and the presence of other brothers and sisters in the family home, had a weaker effect. Children who are exposed to more days in playschool may develop more efficient communication skills because of the greater variety of social situations that they encounter, the authors suggest.
This study is part of Stolk's PhD research which is focused on a detailed study of the neural mechanisms that support verbal and non-verbal communication.
- Arjen Stolk, Sabine Hunnius, Harold Bekkering, Ivan Toni. Early Social Experience Predicts Referential Communicative Adjustments in Five-Year-Old Children. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (8): e72667 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072667
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