Parents and caregivers of today have it easy when it comes to reading to children unlike the parents of the past who only had one option which was reading from a book or telling the story from memory. Today’s parents and caregivers can opt to read a picture book, play an audio-book or put on a cartoon with a nice story line.
As a parent, have you ever wondered what goes on in your child’s brain when you read them a story? When you understand the effects of the kind of narration you choose, you are able to choose the method that will make your child understand better and develop their imagination more.
According to a study by Dr. John Hutton a researcher and pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s hospital, there is the Goldilocks effect for various kinds of storytelling. There is the "too cold", "too hot" and "just right". The Goldilocks effect was established when the research of 27 children of around the age of 4 were put into an MRI machine. The children were then presented with stories in three versions which were an audio only, an animated cartoon and illustrated pages of a storybook with an audio voiceover. The machine then scanned for any activity within the brain networks and established any connectivity that happened between the networks.
The brain networks
There are four brain networks that were activated when the stories were read to the children in various versions. The language network, visual perception network, and the visual imagery network. There is another network known as the default mode network which according to Dr. Hutton is known as the internal reflection(how something matters to you).
Further explained is the Goldilocks effect on the three networks
1. “Too cold” Effect
The too cold effect was a result of the audio-only condition of the narrated story. The language networks were activated but connectivity was limited. The children were straining to understand and most probably they couldn’t fully understand everything.
2. “Too hot” Effect
The too hot effect was triggered by the cartoon animation condition. The activity in the audio and visual story presentation was too intense and this activated the visual perception network but little connectivity was going on among the other brain networks. The language network was working overtime to keep up with the story. The animation was doing all the work for the child and they were taking their time trying to figure out what it all means. The child’s understanding of the story was more difficult in this condition.
3. The “Just Right” Effect
This is the best effect and what parents should always strive to achieve every time they are reading to their children. All the brain networks work in harmony with each other in such conditions. The children don't only pay attention to the words but they understand with the help of the illustrations and reflect on what they have understood. This is why too much animation is discouraged because it hinders the development of the default mode and language networks.
The reading conditions also play a role in the understanding of the child. In this research, the children were read to when in an MRI machine. There was no emotional bonding or physical closeness to someone familiar. The exchanges in between readings such as, "Do you see the elephant here" or "where is the color blue?" were also missing in the machine.
The perfect environment should be the one where you read to your child. You will not only help your child become better at language, but you will establish a reading culture which they will need a lot during their adult years. Now purpose to cut down cartoon time and instead spend more time bonding with your child by reading to them well-illustrated texts.