New Child Development Study by Pitzer College Professors

Claremont, Calif. (November 18, 2009) — Research Professor of Anthropology Robert Munroe and Mary Gauvain of the University of California, Riverside authored a new study, “Contributions of Societal Modernity to Cognitive Development: A Comparison of Four Cultures,” published in the November/December issue of Child Development.

The study shows that modernizing changes present in traditional societies improve the cognitive performance of young children. Based on research in four rural and small-town communities in Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific, the findings were consistent with previously reported findings of worldwide increases in cognitive scores during the generations since World War II.

The study data of more than 200 children ages 3 to 9 was gathered decades ago by the late Pitzer College Professor Ruth Munroe, but only recently did puzzling differences in these children’s scores yield to Gauvain and Munroe’s interpretation that modernization—not schooling alone but the availability of home-based writing and reading materials, electricity, radio and television—might prove instrumental in eliciting enhanced performance.

In addition, Munroe note that such developmental changes were accompanied by a side effect that few would find desirable—the attenuation of children’s traditional experiences, including the care of infant siblings, contributions to the family’s subsistence, and participation in ceremonial practices. Thus, he said, “While the more modernized were probably better prepared for the demands of globalization, they were also victims of the same process.”

The study was funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation.


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