Attention in Preschoolers: Why Scenery is Less Important than Objects

Photo: (Photo : Ozgur Kara / Unsplash)

A study comparing the attention span of adults and preschoolers found that attention in preschoolers are more distracted. Preschool children fail to focus on backgrounds and scenery. Instead, the preschool attention span is more fixated on object identification.

Picture this out:

Participants of various ages are told to focus on an object on a picture. The object is repeatedly shown against other backgrounds during the testing phase.

But, the task is to focus on the background; for example, wide scenery of mountains. The background will be repeatedly shown with varying objects in the testing period.

Adults will find both tasks manageable. But, preschool children will only be able to complete the first task. Even when the preschool kids are told to focus only on the background, they are unable to stop getting distracted by the object on the picture.

The study led by researchers from the Ohio State University revealed their findings on the bias preschoolers tend to have on paying attention to objects. Kevin Darby, lead author of the study, revealed that the preschool children showed struggle in ignoring irrelevant objects even when they are told, Science Daily reported.

Decoding Preschool Attention Span

The National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation supported the study with grants. The study participants included 80 adults and 69 preschool children. Majority of the preschool participants were around the age of 5.

The first task in the study was to remember either the scene or object in a given picture. Afterward, a series of photos are presented showing the object (car, cat, tree, or person) against different backgrounds (beach, office, or mountain), and vice versa.

Afterward, the participants were shown another set of photos and asked whether they recall seeing the same scene or object from the previous photo. From this first task, trouble with scene recognition was already evident among the preschool participants.

Show a 5-year-old a car in front of a beach scene, tell them to remember the beach, and they simply cannot follow through, the study findings revealed. They remember the car but cannot recognize the same beach scene.

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Object Identification Competing for Attention in Preschoolers

So, what is the explanation for this object-based bias preschoolers have?

Co-author of the study, Vladimir Sloutsky, a professor of psychology, revealed that the preschool attention span is better when there are no objects competing with their attention against the scenes.

The study lead author Darby revealed that object identification is developed from early infancy. Objects take up much visual space making it easy to focus on them.

Furthermore, evidence suggest object recognition develop first during brain development even before the development of scene recognition in the brain.

Preschoolers on Object Identification of Cropped, Blurred, and Pixelated Photos

In a study on object identification in preschool children and adults, all age groups were shown to correctly identify moderately-degraded objects, NCBI reported. The clarity of the objects were diminished by blurring, pixelating, cropping, and decreasing in size.

However, preschool children tend to over-estimate their object recognition ability with very degraded pictures. The findings suggest that preschoolers' knowledge of the true identity of an object can impact their current perceptions.

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