Twelfth International Summer School on Mind, Brain and Education

2017 September 1–7

Neuroscience of poverty

Director of the School: Antonio M. Battro
Director of the Course: Sebastián J. Lipina
Codirectors of the Course: Eric Pakulak, María Soledad Segretin
Management Assistance of the Course: Matías Lopez-Rosenfeld
Program Officer of the School: Lula Majdalani

Strauss, Sidney
University of Tel Aviv, Israel


Peer Teaching as an Intervention for Effects of Poverty
The effects of poverty on the brain and its development will be among the topics of our workshop. The story that will be told will often not be encouraging, although there will surely be discussion of the brain’s plasticity. Early intervention in the form of supplying nutrition to children, parent education to show what can be done to prevent problems, etc. are ways to address the dire consequences of poverty and not only at its extremities. I will speak to this optimistic side and suggest a simple intervention program that has children teaching each other: peer teaching. Peer teaching in schools has a 40 year history in research annals in the field of education. Cognitive developmental theory underlying peer teaching includes, among others, Piaget and Vygotsky. I present another model that could serve as a basis for understanding peer teaching: human teaching as a natural cognitive ability. Two of many supports for this claim are: teaching being developmentally reliable and the universality of teaching. As for the developmental reliability of teaching, research indicates that teaching has an ontogenetic trajectory: preverbal infants recognize a knowledge gap and act to close it; they also correct others’ errors. Both are central to teaching. Children age 3 teach, mostly by demonstration. Four-year-olds teach contingently (i.e., they adjust their teaching to their representation of the learner’s changed knowledge state). Youngsters age 5 teach, mostly by explaining. Regarding the universality of teaching, a good test is to see if teaching occurs among hunting and gathering (HG) tribes. There is controversy about that among social anthropologists. Some claim there is no teaching or that it is rare and unimportant for HG tribes. Others argue that it exists. I present data for the latter. In my presentation, I suggest that we must describe the cognitive abilities underlying teaching. Peer teaching has been tested almost exclusively in WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich and Democratic) countries. I present ideas as to its potential benefits in non-WEIRD countries.

Literature to share
• Tang, Y.Y., & Posner, M.I. (2014). Training brain networks and states. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18, 345-350. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2014.04.002
• Weible, A.P, Piscopo, D.M., Rothbart, M.K., Posner, M.I., & Niell, C.M. (2017). Rhythmic brain stimulation reduces anxiety-related behavior in a mouse model based on meditation training. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 114, 2532-2537. doi:10.1073/pnas.1700756114