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  • 00:11

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: How big is Thomas?So big.Do, do, do, do, peep, peep.So should we go do it?Should we go do it?My name as Dr. Kathleen Kannass.I'm an associate professor at Loyola University,Chicago. [Kathleen Kannass, PhD, Associate Professor, Departmentof Psychology, Loyola University, Chicago]My program of research focuses on the development of attention

  • 00:34

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: in infancy and early childhood.

  • 00:37

    SPEAKER 1: You ready for a fun study?

  • 00:40

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: I am especially interested in howinfants and young children hold and maintain their attention.

  • 00:46

    SPEAKER 1: I know that sometimes there'svariability in how babies will act, you know?They can be unpredictable.If he starts crying, what should I do?

  • 00:56

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: Safety is the most importantethical consideration when you're doing researchwith young children.You need to make sure that the child is both psychologicallysafe as well as being physically safe.I want you to feel free that if you need to reassure him, goahead and reassure him.We don't want him to cry.

  • 01:11

    SPEAKER 1: All right.

  • 01:11

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: We don't want you to cry.

  • 01:13

    SPEAKER 1: No, we don't want you to.

  • 01:14

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: No.We don't want you to cry.OK.Well, let's go ahead and let's get started then.

  • 01:16

    SPEAKER 1: All right.Sure.

  • 01:17

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: Another important consideration,in terms of ethics, would be to have informed consentfrom the parent.When children are older, they can alsogive what we call assent or indicate their own willingnessto participate in the research study.The construct of attention is very complexand psychologists study many different things.

  • 01:38

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: I'm interested in endogenous, internal, voluntary control.That's analogous to constructs like distractibility,persistence, attention span-- things like that.Right now, we're going to be doing the habituationprocedure with Thomas.And so Thomas is going to be sitting in the high chair.

  • 02:01

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: And in habituation, you show babies a repeated stimulusuntil they learn about it and we seea decrease in their attention.So we measure how babies look at the stimulus.

  • 02:21

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: And what we're looking for in habituationis we're looking for a decrease in attentionto the stimulus over time.So initially, babies will look a very long time at the stimulusthat we present to them or the picture that we show them.And then, as they look at it over, and over,and over, they're looking will decrease.And this is an indicator of learning.Researchers both study habituation

  • 02:42

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: to understand learning and attention better in infancy,but we also use habituation as a toolto study other kinds of domains of cognitive development.So for example, we use the habituation paradigmto study categorization abilities in infancy,we use the habituation paradigm to study

  • 03:03

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: perception of physical phenomena in infancy.So there are a lot of different waysthat we can use habituation.Children and infants differ greatly from adults,in terms of being research subjects.With children and infants, you have to be, I think,more creative and innovative.With an adult, researchers often can give the adults

  • 03:25

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: a lot of direction if they're doing a task in an experiment.Or oftentimes with adults, you give them a questionnaireor a survey that they fill out.You can't set a stack of papers in front of a babyand have them fill out a survey or a questionnaire.You can't do that with a toddler or a young child.And so you have to be more creative,in terms of how you're going to get your answer to study

  • 03:48

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: a psychological construct.So the habituation paradigm is a common protocol-- a procedurethat we use to study cognitive development in infants.Hi, Mike.I'm Dr. Kathleen Kannass.Thanks so much for coming today.I really appreciate it.

  • 04:01

    MIKE: Hi.Nice to meet you.I'm very happy to help.

  • 04:03

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: I'm really interested in the developmentof attention and distractibility--how toddlers hold and maintain their attention.And we're going to be doing that in two different situationstoday.You know, Matthew, I'm going to trade you some of these toysfor your Cheerios, OK?Here, we're going to be doing the multiple object, free playparadigm.And in this task, we're going to be looking at attention-- how

  • 04:25

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: young toddlers hold and maintain their attentionin a context where they have many different toysto play with.Are you going to play with all these toys, Matthew?Good job playing.Some of the measures we obtain from this task

  • 04:47

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: include the total duration of lookingat the toys, how long the children lookat each of the individual toys-- so their individual looksat the toys-- and then also measures of inattention,as well as measures of total looking.One my areas of research is investigating distractibilityin infants and young children.

  • 05:08

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: It generally involves giving the baby or the young child,a target task to pay attention to-- giving the a baby a toyto play with or giving a child a puzzle or a task to do.And then while they are engaged and paying attentionto that toy or that target task, youpresent a distractor in the periphery.Marky, are you ready for the next game?

  • 05:29

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: Let's go ahead and play the next game, OK?In this next part, we're going to be doingthe distractibility paradigm.I'm going to give him a toy to play with.And then while he's playing with the toy,the television is going to come on.

  • 05:39

    MIKE: OK.

  • 05:39

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: Again, I'm goingto ask you to do something really hard today,and I'm going to ask to not talk with him and not play with him.Really let him do his own thing.Ready?OK, Mark, can you play with this?

  • 06:05

    MARK: TV.Look.Hey, it turned off.It's turned off.

  • 06:13

    MIKE: It's back.

  • 06:14

    MARK: It's back.Look at that.

  • 06:20

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: In my research,I often use different kinds of paradigmsthat mimic the kinds of situations childrenencounter in the real world.If you think about a young child, a young child-- and we,as adults-- live in very noisy environments.You might be working on somethingand, if you're at home, the TV might be on in the background,

  • 06:42

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: somebody might walk in and out of the room.It's the same case for babies.There is a lot going on around them.And so often in my paradigms, we studywhat we call a competitive attention context.We study situations where there is competitionfor their attentional control.And so in terms of the different measures that we gather,

  • 07:02

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: we look at how long the baby or the young childpays attention to the task when there's something competingfor their attentional control.We look at how long it takes them to orient from the task--the focal task-- to that distracting event that'soccurring over here.We also look at, how long do they pay attentionto that distracting event?

  • 07:23

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: We look at, was the child really concentrated whenthey were playing with the toy?And babies and young children make those same facial kindsof expressions that adults do when they're concentrated.They furrow their eyebrows, they mightpurse their lips a little bit.They look very, very serious.And so we look at when babies young children are concentrated

  • 07:43

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: on the toy versus when they're more casually engagedwith the toy.We also look at when they're inattentive,so we can gather measures of inattention as well.We don't see this in infancy, but later on,during the late preschool period,one thing that research has shownis that children who have attentional problemsoften shift their attention much more frequently

  • 08:04

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: among the different toys.Hi, Jeff and Mathilda.

  • 08:07

    JEFF: Hi.

  • 08:07

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: Thanks so much for coming.

  • 08:08

    JEFF: Yeah.

  • 08:09

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: A big changethat you'll notice between the toddler periodand the preschool period is that the preschoolers are much lessdistractible.And what past research has shown isthat between this period of time-- between about threeand five years of age-- we see a lot of increases in the abilityto hold and maintain their attention.When you are all done with this puzzle,I'm going to give you another one, OK?

  • 08:30


  • 08:31

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: Go ahead and get started.

  • 08:36

    MATHILDA: I'm really good at puzzles.I find where they go and I look around where they go.

  • 08:60

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: Good job, Mathilda.We have seen a lot of changes in technology in the last 10 yearsand that has affected our measures of attentionand distractibility, as well as our measuresin developmental psychology in general.So for example, people often use psycho-physiological measuresto study attention.They gather heart rate indicators of attention

  • 09:20

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: or they may use EEG to investigate attention.We also have seen new technology in eye tracking methods.So for example, there is a different kind of technologywhere you can really focus on-- you can reallyget a better understanding of exactly where the child islooking.Remember the way we play this game?We do what the dog tells us to do,

  • 09:42

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: but we don't do what the shark tells us to do.Another measure that I use in my laboratorywould be measures of inhibitory control.And we study inhibitory control alsoin ways that are ecologically valid, tryingto tap into the different kinds of situationsthat children are encountering in their everyday lives.One common childhood game would be the game, Simon Says.

  • 10:04

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: And so the inhibitory control gamesthat we use with young children are very similar to that.So for example, one of the tasks we do is the puppet task.And in the puppet task, the childlearns that they need to listen to one of the puppetsand ignore the directions of the other puppets.So they have to inhibit that response.

  • 10:25

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: Touch your feet.Touch your nose.Touch your tummy.Another part of my program of researchinvolves using these traditional measures of attentionand cognitive development and using them as, more or less,outcome measures.

  • 10:45

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: I've been very fortunate to be a partof interdisciplinary research teamsthat have looked at how attention effects cognitivedevelopment.And so these tools that we have in the laboratory--tools that help us to assess learning in infancy,like habituation, tools that help us to assessendogenous attention in toddler-hood and early

  • 11:07

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: childhood, like attention and destractibility paradigms.We have used these different paradigmsas more or less outcome measures in studiesthat look at how nutrition affects cognitive development.

  • 11:20

    MIKE: Well, it's good.I sign where you marked?

  • 11:22


  • 11:23

    MIKE: OK.

  • 11:23

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: Recruitment is actually notquite as easy as what you would think.Families are busy.People have very, very busy lives.And so we really do work very, very hard to recruit familiesto come to campus to participate in our studies.Parents of young children are an essential part

  • 11:43

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: of my program of research.None of this research would take place-- in my labor in any other lab-- without the wonderful participationof families.We really appreciate their generosityin coming in to volunteer for these research studiesand taking time out of their busy daysto help us understand cognitive development.Parents are very important for getting children

  • 12:05

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: ready to participate in the study,so that they're excited and comfortable whenthey come to the laboratory.My research really involves lookingat how children pay attention independentlyin the different contexts.And so there, parents are very helpful in really lettingthe children pay attention-- helping the children feelcomfortable, but then really kind of taking a step back

  • 12:28

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: and letting the children pay attentionin the different tasks and play with the testas they normally would at home.Hi, Natalie.

  • 12:35

    NATALIE: Hi, Dr. Kannass.

  • 12:35

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: Let's get started on this coding.And so what we're going to be doing hereis we're going to be looking at the multiple object free typeparadigm.And we're going to be coding for how long the child looksat the toys.An important part of the research processis looking at all these videos that we have of the childrenand gather all of our measures.

  • 12:57

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: So a big part of my job is to work with my studentsabout how to gather these measures of attention.I'm going to have you press and hold the button for as longas you see the child looking at the toys.Let's go ahead and get this started.So here he is looking away.And then when I'm interacting here,

  • 13:18

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: then you would not be coding because thatis experimental interference.And then here he is playing by himself again.And so once the interaction has stopped,you go ahead and resume coding.

  • 13:29

    NATALIE: So he's looking away.

  • 13:31


  • 13:31

    NATALIE: There we see--

  • 13:32

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: Sometimes the looks are really shortand sometimes they're longer.And of course, when they're really short,it's a little bit harder to do.

  • 13:37

    NATALIE: Absolutely.

  • 13:39

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: I teach classes on research methodsto help students understand how to do researchwith young children.And I also teach classes on developmental psychology.I always encourage students to get involved in research.

  • 13:54

    NATALIE: And then he walks away out of the screen.

  • 13:56

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: And that one walks out.Then that's part of a different kind of coding protocol.We'll have to watch everything again,and we'll do another run through,and code for inattention.

  • 14:06

    NATALIE: Right.So every video gets coded multiple times.

  • 14:09

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: It sure does.It takes a lot of time of watching the videos to gatherall of the different measures.

  • 14:14

    NATALIE: Right.And how do we make sure that what's being codedis consistent?

  • 14:18

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: That is a great question.So you will practice a lot and wewill calculate what we call reliabilitieswith coders who are already reliableon this coding procedure.And so you'll have lots of practice time of doing itand we'll compute different correlationsto check your reliability to make sure that then youbecome a trained and reliable coder of this attention data.

  • 14:40

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: The faculty at your home institutionare all doing very interesting things.Take a look at their websites, getan idea of what different faculty members are doing,and contact them, and see how youmight be able to get involved in their research projects.Gaining research skills is an essential toolfor your academic and professional future.

  • 15:03

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: So today, we've seen some very differentdevelopmental patterns of attention.We had the toddler period and we had the preschool period.And you could see, during the toddler period,the boys were really easily taken off taskby what was going on with the distractor.

  • 15:17

    MARK: TV.

  • 15:17

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: But during the preschool period,as children get older, they're much betterat holding and maintaining their attention.And that's related to increases that wesee in inhibitory control during that period as wellas increases in endogenous attention.All of those things really help children hold and maintaintheir attention.And one thing that's really interestingis that we see those-- a lot of changes between about three,

  • 15:39

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: and four, and five years of age.And in fact, some of my past researchhas shown that the type of distractor--whether the distractor comes on and off intermittently,it's periodic, or whether it's on all the time-- thatmakes a big difference in how children pay attention.

  • 15:56

    MATHILDA: You know why I love dogs and cats?

  • 15:58


  • 15:59

    MATHILDA: Because they're so cute.

  • 16:01

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: Aren't they cute?And they're nice and furry, too.Aren't they fun?

  • 16:03

    MATHILDA: Yeah.

  • 16:04

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS: There are many thingsthat I love about my job.But as a developmental psychologist,I have to really go back to-- it's very important for meto make the world a better place for children.And so I see that happening with my research.Researchers are frequently looking at,what is the broader impact of this research study?So for example, the kind of work,

  • 16:25

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: looking at attention and destractibilityin infants and young children, itcan be very informative to parents,and child care providers, as well as teachers, in terms of,how do we construct environments for young children thatare going to be the best for them to pay attention into learn the best?And then also my interdisciplinary research that

  • 16:46

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: looks at how nutrition effects cognitive development.So I see those two aspects as to really helpingto make the world a better place for children.But then teaching is an enormous part of that.As I look around that classroom of students,I see future psychologists, and I see future educators,

  • 17:07

    DR. KATHLEEN KANNASS [continued]: and I see future parents of young children.And so I really hope that when they leave my classroom,they will take away that informationand they will have learned about children and development.And that will help them to be a better psychologist,to be a better teacher, to be a better physician, and a betterparent.


Dr. Kathleen Kannass describes her research into attention and distraction in young children. She works with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to see how they maintain attention amid distraction.

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Research Ethics: Loyola University Chicago

Dr. Kathleen Kannass describes her research into attention and distraction in young children. She works with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to see how they maintain attention amid distraction.

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