Are happy kids dumb kids?
DID you live a coddled childhood filled with unbridled playtime and few reminders of the harsh real world? You might have been dumber as a result.
Children coaxed into a jovial mood performed worse on a simple test of geometric shape recognition than kids put in a dourer mood, report Simone Schnall, of the University of Plymouth, UK and colleagues in a recent issue of Developmental Science.
You may wonder whether these psychologists hate happy kids or just fun, but their conclusion is supported by other research. For instance, adults in good spirits do worse than sad adults on similar tests.
To uncover the same effect in children, the researchers, thankfully, didn't resort to insults or mind-altering drugs.
Instead they played one of two classical tunes to 10- and 11-year olds. Fifteen kids heard Mozart's jolly ditty Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, while the other 15 had to suffer through Mahler's doleful Adagietto. Previous research suggested these songs put kids in happy and sad moods, respectively, and Schnall's team confirmed that by surveying the kids.
While listening to the tunes the children played a game where they hunted for a specific geometric shape, a triangle joined to a rectangle, for instance, within a picture. The merry Mozart kids took noticeably longer finding the shapes than the children who were forced to listen to Mahler.
Not content with proving that happy pre-teens are daft, the researchers aimed their hypothesis at 61 six and seven-year olds. Instead of hearing classical music, the kids watched three movie scenes.
One, from Disney's Jungle Book, features the singing and dancing of an ebullient bear. A neutral scene from The Last Unicorn shows a knight reaching a castle. The sad scene comes from The Lion King, another Disney cartoon. Even this reporter, who watched the movie as a teen, shed a tear when Simba mourns his father's death.
In the same shape recognition test administered after the movie scene, the happy kids proved slower at picking out shapes than those who watched the neutral Last Unicorn or the lugubrious Lion King scenes.
Schnall's team offers several explanations for their results. Mood could directly alter cognitive thinking, and in a happy state people have little desire to question what they see, while "sadness indicates something is amiss, triggering detail-oriented analytical processing," they write.
Alternatively, happy people could be so caught up in their personal high that they ignore details or they distract themselves from the task at hand.
This could be hand-waving - it seems just as likely that Mozart and The Jungle Book are more distracting than Mahler and The Lion King. Because the kids tended to ignore the music played before the test, the researchers dismiss this possibility, but anyone who's taken a six-year old to a Disney film knows that the catchy songs don't vanish from their brains in just a few minutes.
But there's some encouraging news, at least, for cheerful kids and their parents. Children in a good mood perform better on tasks that demand creative and flexible thinking, previous studies show.
So the take-home message may be - contrary to popular opinion - that happy kids end up as artists and poets, while sad and angry children become accountants.
The paper's last sentence seems directed toward parents of these future artists: "Artificially inflating a child's mood may have unintended and possibly undesirable cognitive Source: Newscientist.com