Graduate Student Investigates Effect of Screens on Children’s Learning and Memory

It’s a new age of learning for kids—this is uncharted territory

Adults are strategic about what we remember: Research shows we’re less likely to commit information to memory if we assume we can easily access it externally (think about how cell phones diminished the need to remember phone numbers). In our era of ubiquitous screens, could it be children use similar cognitive strategies?

Second-year developmental psychology doctoral student Carla Macias won a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation to investigate memory strategies in children aged 4–6.

Carla Macias
Carla Macias

The highly selective fellowship affords a three-year living stipend and allowance for education costs. Forty-two previous recipients have become Nobel laureates, and many more have become leading experts across scientific fields. Macias will use hers to further understanding of childhood development in the Internet age.  

“Media is this external memory store that’s kind of limitless,” Macias said. “You can find the answer to almost anything on the web. It’s a new age of learning for kids—this is uncharted territory in a sense.”

In preliminary studies, Macias is looking at how children perceive tablets and screens, and also running tests to determine if the assumption of future access to information determines what kind of facts children retain.

The RU-N Psychology Department’s interdisciplinary focus has been a boon to her multifaceted project: The program requires coursework in every domain of psychology, and Macias’ advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Bonawitz, challenges her to apply a computational-modeling approach to her research, Macias said. Macias is also a member of RU-N’s Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) Program, which aims to increase minority representation in biomedical research fields, and affords opportunities for conference presentation and networking with MBRS alumni.

Born and raised in New York City, Macias did her undergrad at the University of Rochester, where she joined the McNair Scholars Program, which supports low-income and underrepresented students on the path to doctoral study.

She found her calling in the Rochester Baby Lab, realizing she loved answering the questions of human cognition. Her current research could have major implications for parents and educators: Better understanding how children use tablets and computers (and how those devices shape curiosity and learning) could help adults make better decisions about when and how to have children use them in order to maximize learning.

This story first appeared on the Graduate School-Newark website.

Department