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Avoiding Fake News About Research



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    We have been told that there is fake news and not to believe everything that we read on the internet. However, how can we distinguish what is fake from real? The media has played a crucial role in the world, specifically when speaking about research. However, it is important to not only read what is given on the popular source, but to also be skeptical of claims being made without the backing of an empirical study.

    In the study conducted by Comishen, Bialystok, and Adler, they sought to show the advantages of bilingual environments at an infancy stage on the attention processes that are in the brain (Comishen, Bialystok, & Adler, 2019). The authors acknowledge the many research studies that have been conducted to explain and show how bilingual children have higher levels of processing in their executive functioning than monolingual children. However, they also acknowledge that there has not been a study conducted that looks at children before they can speak as infants (Comishen et al., 2019). They claim that differences in executive function processes in the brains of monolingual and bilingual children is due to the attentional control that infants exposed to a bilingual environment have even before they can speak (Comishen et al., 2019). To test their claim, the researchers sample included twenty, six-month-old infants of both monolingual and bilingual environments. The baby’s (participant’s) eye movement to stimuli in a screen was analyzed to compare responsiveness to patterns and timing.

    The study used two different experiments to test their claim (Comishen et al., 2019). The first experiment created the rules in which the child would be prompted to look at the stimuli depending on the different colors that popped up on the screen. (This is what I consider to be the conditioning phase of the study. The infants were conditioned to respond to a stimuli through an experimental repetitive process.) The methodology used was conducted to verify that the infants could indeed learn to expect that when a certain color showed up on the screen, the stimuli associated with it would appear (Comishen et al., 2019). It showed how there was an expectation and when primed the infants learned where to look. In the second experiment, the researchers switched the rules. The infants were shown a color and then a different stimulus would appear- different to the one that they remembered was associated with the color. Results showed that the infants who were better able to switch the rules (code-switch) and act in reaction to the unexpected stimuli the easiest, were the bilingual infants (Comishen et al., 2019). Results imply that the ability to adapt to unexpected stimuli could be part of the difference in the attentional spans and, larger, in executive functioning among infants (Comishen et al., 2019).

    The claim in the empirical article is an association. According to Research Methods for Psychology, an association claim is defined as the relationship between two or more variables, in which one variable changes with the level of the other variable (Morling, 2017). In this study, the language environment- bilingual or monolingual, is a variable used to measure the differences in attention control in infants that may lead to higher executive functioning, another variable. The types of word phrasing that are used in the article, such as “possible basis” throughout also help to show that the variables in the study are associated with each other (Comishen et al., 2019). This study cannot be a frequency claim because there is more than one variable being observed and does not study the frequency or prevalence of any one particular variable (Morling, 2017). The measurement of these two variables also led to a correlational relationship. This means that the relationship of the variables cannot be causal because there are many other alternative factors or influences that could affect a child’s attentional control and executive functions, such as temperament, health, or even luck. These variables served as an exclusionary rule in the research and infants who were fussy or inattentive were not included (Comishen et al., 2019).

    The popular news article “Babies Who Hear Two Languages at Home Develop Advantages in Attention”, published in the Science Daily website, is one of the instances in which the media got it right. The article summarizes the study conducted by a former Master’s student and professors at York University in which infants’, in a bilingual and monolingual environment, attention span was respectively compared (York University, 2019). The article details the reasoning behind infants as their participants, as in the empirical article. However, the news article simplifies the research, methods, results and implications while summarizing the information from the empirical article without misinterpreting the results of the study. The association claim that was previously found in the empirical article, was also found here. Using verbiage such as “can influence” and “may account for” show that the author understands that the research was not a causal nor a frequency finding, and leads to the interpretation that there are many other factors that may be involved in the process of attention (York University, 2019).

    Both the empirical article and the popular source article explain that the claim of the study is an association between the factors that are critical to this investigation. There is no evidence that the claim in the study is casual as there could be alternative explanations for why children in bilingual environments were able to adjust to the unexpected stimuli easier (as determined by accuracy and responsive timing) than those infants in monolingual environments. There are also two or more variables being measured which rules out the possibility for a frequency claim by definition. Both the empirical article and the popular source article examined the information and the results found in the study; however, the popular source article was able to make the research much easier and fluid to read. Though media gets a bad reputation for misinterpreting what scientists and researchers find, not all media sources are the same and these articles are the proof.

    Avoiding Fake News About Research. (2021, Aug 25). Retrieved from

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