The Internet and Intelligence

Over time, IQ scores have been going up (the Flynn Effect), so the Internet and T.V. can’t be making us dumber, right?

A recent Der Spiegel article, Is the Internet Really Making Us Dumber? (which is also worth reading for the questions it raises about what IQ tests measure) brings up the idea that the Internet and other digital media aren’t making us dumber but are instead changing the way we think: developing certain kinds of mental skills while de-emphasizing others. So what’s de-emphasized?

One thing stands out, though: While young test subjects are particularly good at solving visual and logical tasks quickly, their vocabulary is increasing only minimally — unlike that of their parents… One possible reason for the change is that today’s young people read and write many short messages on Facebook and on their cell phones, but they rarely immerse themselves in books anymore.

(In addition to not immersing themselves in books, kids might also be participating less in involved conversations and other kinds of meaningful verbal interaction. Very young kids for instance are now being exposed to e-readers and e-books – a development that might be problematic if parents rely too heavily on them for story time. Some research shows that parents reading to kids from e-books tend to interact less with them about the story itself and ask them fewer questions than parents reading to kids from print books. That’s even assuming the parent is sitting and reading with the child, and not handing the child over entirely to the device and its captivating animations and sound effects.)

The brain could be adapting to deal with digital technology on a regular basis but there’s still a place (maybe increasingly unrecognized) for mental processing that isn’t fast-paced: rumination, patience, the ability to follow the developments of a complex verbal argument. People describe our world as “fast-paced,” and in many ways it is, but not everything about the world and our way of living, thinking, and relating to others is fast-paced (or ought to be).

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Reading comprehension shortcuts

After a plane crash, where should the survivors be buried?

a. at sea
b. in their hometowns
c. it’s up to the loved ones, not a matter of general opinion!
d. why would a survivor need to be buried?

Did you realize before getting to choice D that the question was problematic?

If as a reader (or listener) you want a brief discussion of why it’s a good idea to concentrate on the text and avoid distractions, turn to this article.

If as a writer you realize that readers are going to skim anyway, and you want to reduce the chance that they’ll make comprehension errors, read the article for a few insights.

One important thing to realize about sentence processing is that as we’re reading a sentence our brains are already coming up with likely interpretations or meanings based on the sentence context and on our past experiences with language and the world at large. Sentence interpretation is an ongoing process – we don’t wait until we reach the end of a sentence to come up with a meaning for it. As we’re coming up with possible meanings, the sentence keeps unfolding, and some of those potential meanings have to be discarded in favor of new ones… that’s assuming we detect and process the words that contradict our favored meaning. When we’re tired or distracted, we might latch onto a likely meaning based on the general context of the sentence and ignore any word that contradicts it.

With the question on airplane survivors, many of us ignore the word ‘survivor’ in part because the phrase ‘plane crash’ at the beginning has already conjured up scenarios of mass death and no survivors, so we might skim over the word ‘survivor’ without truly processing what it means; the word ‘buried’ at the end seems to strengthen our initial interpretation of 100% fatalities and that the question must be entirely about people who have died.

Educational resources for kids with dyslexia

Eight sites worth a visit if you’re looking for resources – including worksheets, suggested activities and games, and other educational advice for parents and teachers – helpful to children who have dyslexia. (Updated July 2018.)

1) American Dyslexia Association Free Worksheets
Over 1500 free printable worksheets targeting different skills areas.

2) Reading Resource
Links to worksheets, suggested activities, and information on dyslexia.

3) Strategies for Summer Reading for Children with Dyslexia
Advice on encouraging reading and setting up a summer reading program.

4) Dyslexia Online
List of links introducing and discussing dyslexia, with some teaching tips as well.

5) Dyslexia Tutor
Blog with updates on research and educational developments and insights.

6) Dyslexia Classroom Resources
A compilation of dyslexia classroom resources including sites providing worksheets, ideas for activities and games, and advice for teaching strategies that could be used by both teachers and parents.

7) The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity
Includes a pages for parents and educators with advice on teaching kids and cultivating their well-being. Also emphasizes the strengths of kids with dyslexia.

8) Dyslexia-related FAQs from Reading Rockets
Contains further links to pages with teaching strategies, resources for finding tutors, and other information.