Dolphins are not fish.

#freshfromthelab. Dilini Sumanapala tells us about how kids update their knowledge.

Is a dolphin a mammal or a fish? Do you know why it is colder in winter and hotter in the summer?

If your answers were "a fish", and "something to do with the earth being closer to the sun in the summer", brace yourself: you are going to have a "integration of conflicting information" in your brain right now!

Ready? Steady? GO!

The dolphin is a mammal... and here is proof (pool-birthers, hypnobirthing and home-birthers, bow down to mama dolphin!) Fish, on the other hand, are born from eggs... remember Nemo?

As for seasons, the correct explanation has to do with the inclination of the earth axis and the way it influences the distribution of sun's light on the earth surface (have a look here if you are up for the full explanation!)

Now, why did Dilini talk to us about dolphins and seasons? Because she is studying, with an amazing team of neuroscientists, education scientists and practitioners, this very interesting topic: Integration of conflicting information. In the past, we used to think that as soon as you get new information in (say that dolphins are mammals), you replace the old info (dolphins are fish) with the new info. However, it seems more likely that the old information is not simply trashed, but inhibited. In the BabyBrains workshops we speak a lot about how important it is to inhibit irrelevant information.

Dilini is interested in finding out how children integrate conflicting information. She wants to find ways to help them do so successfully. In order to help children learn to inhibit the old information and retain the new information more successfully, Dilini and her colleagues are running a huge intervention study called Unlocke all across the UK.

They provide teachers of Year 3 and Year 5 children with specific software that help test kids' knowledge in the national curriculum for maths and science. The software can remind the children to stop and think before answering a question, it can encourage them to visualise things, or it can let the teachers carry on the training as usual.

In addition, children were asked to complete an animal-size stroop task. Do you know what that is? Well, which of the two animals depicted below is bigger in real life?

People are usually faster answering that question in condition A than in condition B, as our brain cannot help but process the size of the drawing of the mouse and the elephant, but then it has to inhibit it. In other words, although you know very well that your response will be based on the size of the REAL animal, your brain still considers the size of the DRAWING and - by doing so - it slows down your response to the drawing (read more about the fascinating stroop task here).

Last but not least, children participated in a Go-NoGo task. What's that all about? In Dilini's team's experiments, children had to press a button on their right if they saw a green Pokemon, a button on the left if they saw a red Pokemon and, importantly, they should not press ANY button if they saw an orange Pokemon. Again, in this task you have to inhibit your impulse to give a response. One of those cases when doing nothing requires actual effort (see another example at the dawn of our blog...)

We are looking forward to reading all the results in Dilini and colleagues' publications, and in the meantime we are left reflecting on the importance of training our brain in suppressing all the noise, in getting rid of all the information that is actually distracting and misleading us. That's something we can definitely practice together with our little ones, however old they are. It's never too early to ask (genuinely ask): "Is this really important"? Figuring out the answer to that question is possibly one of the most important transferable skills you and your child can develop together!

PS: Do you want to watch Dilini talk about her research? Here is her TED talk!

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