Clearly, I Have Brainy Kids | Kids Out and About Phoenix

Clearly, I Have Brainy Kids


A fun brain research study at the University of Rochester:
Kids age 3-11 can participate!

By Debra Ross


Your kids can play video games and watch movies, learn about brains and how they work, get paid, and advance scientific progress, all at once!

In November 2009, my daughters Madison (10) and Ella (8) participated in a fascinating study at the University of Rochester's Center for Brain Imaging: Dr. Jessica Cantlon and her colleagues in the Kid NeuroLab are exploring several aspects of brain development as kids grow. Specifically, in this study, they are investigating how young brains grasp ideas of quantity and numbers. And they do it with a funky, kid-friendly MRI machine and some video games.


There are two parts of this study, which take about 2 hours to accomplish. Each child plays some games that are diagnostic tools for the experimenters. In the second part, the child lies with her head in the MRI machine (pictured above, with Ella on the table and Terri monitoring her progress). She then watches movies and plays some video games (practiced beforehand) while the machine takes MRI images of her brain. The child is in the MRI machine for about 30 minutes, and only her head is underneath; the rest of the body is free. If the child gets nervous or needs to stop at any time, that is fine. The researchers are very supportive and reassuring.

All this fun...and we get paid?!?

My daughters had a fabulous time in this study. They amassed stickers for correct answers in the diagnostic tests, they got prizes along the way (the department has a shelf of new books and games the kids can choose), a T-shirt...and...$50! ($25/hour per child.) The researchers were all knowledgeable young scientists who clearly love both kids and their work. They took the time to explain to us what they were investigating and what their methods are, and they even emailed me images of the girls' brains (see right) and links to where we could find out more information about brain structure and function.

On November 6, 2009, I told listeners to WARM 101.3 and Fickle 93.3 all about the experience my kids had with the study. Click here (and turn on your speakers) to hear me talk about the experience in a few-minute interview.

Learning more

The Kids NeuroLab has a video that we watched before we went to our appointment; the video was very useful for showing what to expect and allaying any apprehension. (In our case, any nerves that Ella had were dispelled by fantasies of what she might do with the unimaginable riches she was about to receive for her participation.)

Professor Jessica Cantlon of the Kid NeuroLab is the director of this study, and she describes it this way:

Isawmybrain.jpgThe broad goal of our research is to understand how the neural systems that support reading and math skills develop in early childhood. In our current study, children watch educational videos (e.g., Sesame Street) that feature letters, numbers, counting, and grammar. After watching the videos, the children play a series of matching games with letters, numbers, and shapes. We are interested in whether the brain regions that respond when children are solving problems with letters and numbers also respond when children are learning about reading and math by watching popular educational videos. We are also interested in whether children's brains process these videos the same way. So, we are also testing the degree to which brain activity in two unrelated, same-age children is correlated as they watch educational videos (and what brain systems they mutually engage).

Here is a link to the Fall 2009 newsletter (PDF file), which describes more about the recent work of the Lab.

I also appreciated how the researchers were enthusiastic about keeping in touch with the participants--they will let us know about what they discover as they analyze the results in the upcoming months and years, and what the data mean about neurological and conceptual development.

How to participate

The Kid NeuroLab is still seeking participants for this study as of early November 2009. If you think your kids might be interested and can understand instructions to stay still for lengths of time, email or call them at (585) 276-5099 to get put on the list.

©2009, Debra Ross. All rights reserved