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Making Every Day Earth Day, the Behavioral Science Way

This is a photo of kids picking up trash in a field.One day every year, April 22, is dedicated to the care and stewardship of the Earth. Events are organized around the world in honor of what is officially known as “International Mother Earth Day,” convening people to plant trees and clean up rivers, urging them to reduce their energy usage and minimize their overall environmental footprint.

But how can we convert the enthusiasm and effort contained in one day into long-lasting changes in motivation and behavior that flow throughout the other 364 days of the year?

Recent research from psychological science reveals some important strategies:

Focus on the Earth’s long future

Looking back on a nation’s past can prompt action that leads to a greener future, according to research conducted by NYU Stern researcher Hal Hershfield and…


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Moving Beyond “Just-So Stories”: Young Children Can Be Taught Basic Natural Selection

Spend more than a few hours with a child under the age of 10 and “why?” is a question you’re likely to hear a lot. Children are naturally curious explorers, and they actively try to understand the new and incomprehensible things around them. Psychology researchers have discovered that this natural curiosity can be harnessed to help even young children grasp some of the important scientific concepts involved in natural selection.

This is a photo of a boy looking through a magnifying glass.Psychological scientist Deborah Kelemen of Boston University and colleagues observed that by the time children formally learn about natural selection in school — typically between grades 8 and 12 in the United States — they have often formed causal misconceptions about how such change occurs over time.

The researchers hypothesized that these misconceptions might be avoided if the basic concepts surrounding…


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Bilingualism Alters the Way the Mind Works

This is a photo of a human head made up of pictures of speech bubbles.Over the past 20 years, researchers have increasingly accepted the fact that different types of experiences can alter the structure and function of the brain over time. In an article published in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology, APS Fellows Judith Kroll (Pennsylvania State University) and Ellen Bialystok (York University) highlight bilingualism as one experience that can have a profound impact on lifelong neural and cognitive development and functioning.

The failure to integrate research examining the cognitive and linguistic consequences of bilingualism has led to the perception that the effects of bilingualism are somewhat specific and isolated, when, in truth, it causes profound changes to the way the brain functions.

Unfortunately, several methodological issues have impeded research into bilingualism’s influence on cognitive and neural behavior and development.…


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Young Children Take Authoritarian Cues From Their Parents

Some people bridle at the very idea of having to bend to authority. Others, however, value following a leader and playing by the rules, a trait that researchers refer to as “authoritarianism.” Studies suggest that a person’s level of authoritarianism is correlated with various sociopolitical orientations, and they further indicate a strong link between young adults’ and their parents’ levels of authoritarianism.

And yet, “research on the topic has rarely examined or even anticipated early-childhood manifestations of authoritarianism,” says psychological scientist Michal Reifen Tagar of the University of Minnesota.

Tagar and colleagues hypothesized that these individual differences in authoritarianism likely emerge in early childhood, manifesting as a “greater responsiveness to cues of status and of deviance when determining whom to learn from.”

The researchers brought 40 3- and 4-year-old…


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Multiple Methods Reveal the Complexities of Neurocognitive Development

CPSThe adult brain is often used as a model for understanding both typical and atypical development, but in reality the brain is different in infancy and is constantly changing in response to both genetic and environmental influences. The importance of understanding the timeline and nature of these interactions on neural, cognitive, and behavioral developmental trajectories is the focus of a recent article published in the APS journal Clinical Psychological Science.

The authors, APS Board Member Annette Karmiloff-Smith, B. J. Casey, Esha Massand, Przemyslaw Tomalski, and Michael S. C. Thomas, describe research that has used multimethod approaches — such as behavioral, electrophysiological, computational, and nonhuman animal models — to investigate the effects of genetic and environmental factors on typical and atypical development.

One factor that has been found to influence…


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