Med thumb attention spans

Emotionally aware kindergarteners have an easier time paying attention than young kids who struggle in the feelings department, according to new developmental psychology research.

In the study, published in the German journal Kindheit & Entwicklung (“Childhood & Development,” in English), German and American researchers administered the same survey twice to 216 kindergarteners (and their parents) at 33 schools in Lower Saxony, a state in northwestern Germany.

According to a media release from Leuphana University of Lunenburg, the survey assessed children’s capacity to express and understand their own emotions, read other people’s, self-regulate their behavior and recall information while performing math problems. The latter is a task common in psych studies; it’s called “complex memory span.”

Kids who demonstrated high emotional awareness in the first survey (conducted when they were approximately five-years-old) performed better on the complex memory span task — used to gauge attentional capabilities — when they repeated the survey just over a year later.

Study researchers collected information on gender and socioeconomic background, then tested children’s language comprehension. They re-analyzed survey results to control for these factors, and the link between emotional awareness and focus persisted. Five-year-olds who could naturally sense tone became six-year-olds who could pay attention to math problems.

Most research on the development of ADHD in children looks at executive functioning, a group of cognitive skills that includes controlling impulses, tuning out interferences and a process called working memory (the ability to recall and make use of relevant information while solving a problem, debating an issue or otherwise doing something else).

This study suggests that emotional awareness, not cognitive abilities alone, plays a role in the development of attentional savants.