How General Are Domain-General Thinking Skills?

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    • 00:00


    • 00:10

      SPEAKER 1: I'm going to talk a little bit about a studythat we've been working on that includes childrenfrom Hong Kong and the UK.And this is one of our recruitment materials.So we got families involved in what we call the family

    • 00:31

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: thinking skills study.And what we're really interested inis thinking about the relationship between parents'executive functions and kids' executive functionsand learning in academic domains.And trying to get a sense of the various kinds of contributions,whether they be cultural or familial in termsof kids' general thinking skills,

    • 00:53

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: so their domain general thinking skills and howthat might be related to their academic sort of performanceand thinking skills in academic areas.So a few bits of background to set the context.So we're working in executive functions.A lot of you probably know what that is.But to just give you a background of it,

    • 01:15

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: it's basically a fact of cognitive processesthat are involved in kind of goal directed behavior.So the things we need to meet some sort of goal.There's not one single agreed definition,and there's a lot of controversy.But a lot of people seem to follow Miyake's modelfrom 2000, which is the three kind of core elements

    • 01:35

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: of executive functions-- inhibition,shifting, and updating their working memories.So inhibitory control in the kindsof things that are around, delayed gratificationand waiting, as well as shifting.So tasks shifting and cognitive flexibilityand then updating for working memory.And there's a lot of data that suggests that there's

    • 01:56

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: considerable improvement throughout childhoodand adolescence and up until adulthood.And it's related to all sorts of cognitive areas,like theory of mind and decision making.There's a lot of research in termsof kids that's focused on the younger ages, kindof three to five, because there are some dramatic shifts.

    • 02:16

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: But we've been interested in thinking about whathappens for older kids.So within the literature on young childrenthere is an emerging set of studiesthat suggest there are some differences cross-culturally.So children from countries in Southeast Asiatend to outperform children from North America and Europe

    • 02:38

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: in the preschool period.So three to five roughly is when most of the dataare on these kinds of executive function tasks,specifically for inhibition.And there's been one study looking at shifting,and not so much in terms of working memory.The big differences seem to be an inhibition and shifting.

    • 02:59

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: And there's been one study a couple of yearsago that suggests that despite these differences,the relationship between executive functionsand academic achievement, which has been studiedin a number of other areas both within North Americaand in Southeast Asia, seems to be consistent across cultures.But this has been only for children in preschool.

    • 03:22

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: So what we're really interested inis thinking about whether or not the differences thatexist early on are maintained into late childhoodand even potentially into adulthoodby sampling the parents from the group of childrenthat we were recruiting.So these were the core aspects of the study

    • 03:43

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: that I'm going to present today.It's actually quite a large study,and we have a number of other interests and bits of datathat we've collected.But I'm going to focus on the questionabout cross-cultural differences between these two populationsin late childhood and in adulthood,with children who are 10 to 13 years old

    • 04:05

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: roughly-- depending on if they were old or youngfor their peer group in school-- and then in adulthood,looking at their parents as well and then thinkingabout the relationship between parents' executive function,childrens' executive function, and academic achievement.And to our knowledge, based on the teacher review,we don't think there are any studies that have actually

    • 04:27

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: looked at parents and kids in executive functions.And in our situation they've actually done the same tasks.And we were then looking at the consistency in those linksacross the two countries.So this is on our participant group.We have just over 1,000 participants.So we have 541 parent child diads, roughly split equally

    • 04:53

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: between the two regions.We have been developing in my lab a kind of a secure websiteor delivering executive function type tasksto older children and adults.And we were able to use this task to,one, collect data from larger numbers of children in school.But then it also enabled us to have

    • 05:13

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: the parents doing the tasks at home at a time that'sconvenient for them.Parents and children this age group are incredibly busy,so making things as convenient as possibleincreases their rate of participation.So the children largely range between 10 and 13in both countries, with a few children a little bit olderand a little bit younger because of just how the year groups

    • 05:36

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: work across the countries.We had roughly the same number of girls and boysand roughly the same number of mothers and fathers.So we had a few.We had substantially more mothers participatingthan fathers in the study, but we stillhad a good number of fathers as well.And even the parents were roughly the same age.If you think about kids of this age group,

    • 05:56

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: the ages that their parents might be it'squite a wide range.So it was actually astounding that we were so close.Now there are some differences between the samples.The children reported on somethingthat we call the family affluencescale that Claire Hughes, one of the coauthors, has developed.

    • 06:16

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: It's basically a few questions about family vacations,and number of computers, and number of cars.And the differences between the countrieswere an advantage for the children from the UK.So they are slightly more affluent.There is also a slight increase by about three yearsor so in the levels of education between the parents in the UK

    • 06:41

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: and in Hong Kong, and that may have affected some of our data.And we'll talk about that later.Now the other thing that we looked atwas just whether or not the children spokeadditional languages in their homes,and we actually had more traditional languagesfor children in the UK than in Hong Kong.Of the 12 families that reported additional languages outsideof what's spoken in school, which was Cantonese as well

    • 07:04

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: as English language instruction, only two of thosewere non Chinese dialects.So the 10 who reported other languageswere just other types of Chinese dialects,where the additional languages in the UKwere wide ranging and large and really spannedall the continents.Right so, I'm going to next talk about the four

    • 07:28

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: executive function tasks that are the focusof the presentation today.So we used a lot of standard tasksthat come from the adult cognitive psychologyliterature, but kind of revised so they're appealing to kids.So we used the stop signal task, which is an inhibitory controltask, and we put it in the context of soccer football

    • 07:48

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: challenge.And basically we had a football on the leftor the right hand side of the screen,and they just had to press the left or the right button,unless they heard the referee's whistle.Then they had to stop and wait until the picture disappeared.And as is standard for this sort of task, the more successfulyou are at inhibiting, the longerthe gap is between when the picture shows up

    • 08:08

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: and when the whistle blows.So it's really trying to get how far can yougo into your response before you pull back.So it's a response inhibition sort of task.We also used a classic task switching paradigmthat we developed for kids a few years ago with different kindsof projects.And basically the key idea here is

    • 08:29

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: that there's a target figure in the middle, twooptions on the bottom.The target and the options are either red or blue,and they're either circles or triangles.And basically they have a series of tasks that are eitherasking them to select the figure that matches based on coloror based on shape.And they do some sets which are all color all shapesand other sets where they're doing what's called alternating

    • 08:51

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: runs where they do color color, shape shape, and so on.And then we can look at their performancein terms of overall switching and just overall performanceon this kind of task.The third task was a shifting and working memory sortof task, and we just used a spatial span.And we did forwards and backwards.So this isn't quite as nice as what

    • 09:12

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: happens on the task itself.But we've got nine different blocks, and they light up.And it starts with a small number of blocks,so for example three.And they light up in an order, first second third.And in the forwards task, they justhave click on the box in the same orderthat they saw them lighting up.And in the backwards task they click on the boxesin the opposite order.

    • 09:33

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: And then the last task we did wasthe Tower of Hanoi, which is kind of an advanced executivefunction task.It seems to combine lots of these general skills.And so it's not necessarily one of the core three,but it's believed to include these three things.And that's just an example of what the kids did.

    • 09:53

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: So it had a starting position.And they had to get the bottom row to match the top rowand to make the match in as few moves as possible,with the additional rule that they couldn't ever put a largerdisk on top of a smaller disk.We also collected some additional measuresfrom the kids.So we had a test of general cognitive ability

    • 10:15

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: or non-verbal IQ using the Reaganstandard progressive matrices We measured numeracy usingthe numeracy subscale from the wide range achievementtest for children.We used the WISC-IV word reasoningto give us a sense of literacy skill.And then we measured English vocabulary,because the kids in Hong Kong were learning English

    • 10:37

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: during their school day.We wanted to get kind of a proxy of how much theyknew about English.And because we ended up with such a small sample of kidswho were reporting that they had additional languages at home,they may be emerging as bilingual.And so this would give us a senseof how much they knew in terms of English vocabulary.So the first three tasks were administered in Cantonese

    • 10:59

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: for the kids in Hong Kong, and then the last taskwas administered in English for all of the kidsin terms of the task instructions and such.So first I'm just going to show you the overall resultof the parents and kids in the study on kindof a little bit of a scatter plot.And this kind of shows the traditional developmental

    • 11:21

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: trajectories that we've seen in a lot of other studies.So this is age plotted and on the x-axis, and an efficiencyscore, which is an overall standardized score thattakes into account their accuracy and their responsetimes.We find this is a nice way to controlfor ceiling effects for our participants,especially as they get older.And I've got the Hong Kong and the UK parents and kids

    • 11:43

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: kind of overlapped here, but it'squite a nice proof of concept that we'regetting the standard kinds of thingsthat we would have expected.Now I'm going to zoom in for each age groupand we'll start with the parents.So the parents have this kind of small negative slope, whichis what other people have been findingin terms of a slight decline in middle adulthood.

    • 12:06

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: And there's not a significant differencebetween the parents in the two geographical regions.And for the kids, we do end up with an overall advantagefor the kids from Hong Kong over the kids in the UK.It's a medium effect size outperforming the UK kids.

    • 12:26

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: And both of them are improving with age,but the Hong Kong kids are doing a bit better.So this is the kind of plotted out in graph format,with the children and parents from Hong Kong and UK.And you can see that actually the Hong Kong childrenare as good as the adults in both countries.And the adults aren't differing between the two countries.

    • 12:48

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: So it's really the UK kids who are doing less well.Now when we begin to look at the accuracy and RT data,we see a slightly different storythan when we put it all together.So the interesting thing here is that the kids in the UKdon't have an accuracy advantage.They're the same as the kids in Hong Kong.Or actually the UK parents are doing better

    • 13:10

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: in accuracy than the Hong Kong parents.And I've got just tonally that RT down here.So basically what's happening is the Hong Kongkids are responding very quickly.And this is RT to accurate responsesonly, which is common in some of the tasksthat we are do this consistently across the board, wherethe parents don't have an overall difference in response

    • 13:32

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: times.So just to give you-- even though we'refocusing on some of the overall efficiency data,it's actually kind of playing outslightly differently if we're looking at accuracy or RT teammeasures.So there's potentially a strategy differencegoing on here across the different countriesand across the different populations.Now for three of the tasks we had the same sortof pattern, which is the Hong Kong kids are doing better

    • 13:57

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: than the UK kids in overall accuracy.But we had a slightly different pattern for the Tower of Hanoi.And in this one the kids in the UKare actually doing better than the kids in Hong Kong.And this is showing up both in terms of the overall efficiencyand their accuracy.So this is a place where the kids in Hong Kongaren't responding a lot faster than the kids in the UK.

    • 14:20

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: So the last bit that I want to go over,taking up a little bit of my questions,is kind of thinking about how does parent executivefunctions-- and here we've actuallyput in executive functions and thingslike parent education level, because both of theseseems to kind of predict overall cognitive abilitiesand academic achievement.

    • 14:41

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: And we just have a a simple mediation model.I have lots and lots of different models.This is the one that tells the overall sort of story.And that's that what we're seeingis that the link between parent factors to, for example here,the Ravens, is not as strong in terms of a direct linkas it is the indirect link.

    • 15:02

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: So the parent's executive functionis predicting the child's executive functions,and then the child's executive functionshave a strong link in terms of Ravens.And that's consistent in Hong Kong and in the UK.So although the data aren't identical,the patterns are very similar.And this sort of pattern we see across the different kindsof tasks for Raven and for the numeracy and literacy tasks.

    • 15:24

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: Not so much for the vocabulary, but rememberthis was kind of a measure of how much the kids knewof English.So what we're finding there is that wedon't have much of a prediction at allin these sorts of tasks for English language vocabulary.We can talk about later.But we do have a link for kids in the UK.Not surprising because just another literacy task for them.

    • 15:44

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: So just to wrap up, what we're basically findingis in other kinds of mediation models,we took out things like parent SES and education level,we find the parent executive function'sa slightly stronger predictor on its own then the two combinedand that those findings are kind ofsimilar for the kids in the UK.

    • 16:04

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: But there are kind of no links with either childor academic achievement for Hong Kong childrenwhen you separate out just on the SES and parent education.So the thing that's stronger for the kids in Hong Kongis their executive functions rather thanthe parents educational and socioeconomic background.

    • 16:25

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: All right.So a quick summary.So the significant differences dooccur for the older children between Hong Kong and the UK,but those seem to be down to the Hong Kong childrenresponding much faster.The overall performance between the parents is similar.But we see that the UK parents are more accurate

    • 16:46

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: and that the links for executive functionsare consistent between Hong Kong and UK.But that they're stronger for executive functionsand for family affluence with kids in the UK,and that it's not a significant link for familyaffluence for kids in Hong Kong.And we've got a number of things that we're looking at.

    • 17:07

      SPEAKER 1 [continued]: And we'll go into those.You can ask me questions about it later.And then a very quick acknowledgement sectionat the end in terms of the researchers and the funders.So I think there I'll stop first.[APPLAUSE][MUSIC PLAYING]

How General Are Domain-General Thinking Skills?

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Dr. Michelle Ellefson presents her research into whether parent executive functions contribute to their children's executive functions. Working with participants in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, she found that children in Hong Kong demonstrated higher level executive functions than children in the U.K.

SAGE Video Forum
How General Are Domain-General Thinking Skills?

Dr. Michelle Ellefson presents her research into whether parent executive functions contribute to their children's executive functions. Working with participants in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, she found that children in Hong Kong demonstrated higher level executive functions than children in the U.K.

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