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Newsletter Editions

Published: 06/08/2011
Summer 2011

Outreach

PAWS on Science

Two Psychology Department research labs participated in the UW Paws-on Science event at the Pacific Science Center in April. Reports are that 18,270 children and parents attended the event, where scientists shared their expertise with the community.

Photo:  Graduate student Alissa Worly (left) and Associate Professor Lori Zoellner teach a child about attentional focus.
Photo:  Graduate student Alissa Worly (left) and Associate Professor Lori Zoellner teach a child about attentional focus.

Associate Professor Lori Zoellner and her research team from the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress (UWCATS) gave participants the opportunity to participate in an experiment on attentional focus, showing how a narrow focus of attention affects what is seen.   Parents and children alike participated in Daniel Simon’s Monkey Business Illusion.  They were instructed to carefully count the number of times a ball was tossed among the players on one of two teams.  In the middle of the ball toss, a man dressed in a gorilla outfit walks through the game, stops, and pounds his chest.  Because attention is focused on the ball toss, about half of the people miss the gorilla.  Children-and especially their parents-were shocked when they were later asked if they had seen “the gorilla.”  Some had to watch the video over and over again just to make sure there wasn't a camera trick.  

UWCATS staff discussed how fear is associated with the same type of attention narrowing.  They explained that when someone is scared, attention is focused toward the feared object or situation.  They explained how this can later be problematic for individuals who have gone through scary experiences, such as individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  For those that were interested, information on PTSD and no-cost PTSD treatment, through a National Institute of Mental Health-funded research study going on at UWCATS, was available.   A number of the staff manned the booth over the weekend including, Ellen Bluett, Frank Farach, Janie Jun, Larry Pruitt, Alissa Worly, and Lori Zoellner. 

Photo:  Project 1, 2, 3, Go! team members, John Loughlin-Presnal and Kristina Ponischil, had a great time teaching kids about self-control at their booth.
Photo:  Project 1, 2, 3, Go! team members, John Loughlin-Presnal and Kristina Ponischil, had a great time teaching kids about self-control at their booth.

Professor Lili Lengua, and her staff with Project 1, 2, 3, Go! also had a booth at the event. Project 1, 2, 3, Go! is a study addressing the development of self-control. The team played "Simon-says" types of games with children. The games demonstrate whether children are able to refrain from doing something automatic, keep a rule in mind, and even do the opposite of the instruction when those are the “right” responses in a game. These are indications of children’s executive based self-control; that is, their ability to focus attention and inhibit automatic responses. These skills have been shown to be critical in children’s school readiness and achievement, and in their social and emotional competence.

Children of all ages participated in the activities, from curious and hesitant three year-olds to confident high school teenagers (who sometimes still had a difficult time inhibiting automatic responses!). Parents also thoroughly enjoyed watching their children participate in the activities and appreciated the team’s suggested activities to do at home to help enhance the development of self-control. Common questions parents asked included the importance of these executive self-control skills for problems in school, if these activities actually “change” the brain, and implications for children’s ADHD. In addition to Professor Lengua, other Project 1,2, 3, Go! team members at the event were Cathea Carey, Cerise Knakal, John Loughlin-Presnal, Kristina Ponischil, Beza Semu, Taylor Trippe, Tammy Tsay, Andie Uomoto, and JJ Vongpanya.