“Positive Manifold” : Vocabulary and Reasoning Skills Reinforce Each Other In Adolescents

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr Rogier Kievit PhD Cambridge Neuroscience

Dr. Kievit

Dr Rogier Kievit PhD
Cambridge Neuroscience

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: One of the most robust findings in psychology is the so-called ‘positive manifold’ – The fact that people who are better at cognitive task A are, on average, also better at task B (and C, D etcetera). Despite over a hundred years of empirical investigations, we don’t really know why this is the case. Here, we aimed to investigate the mechanisms that underlie the positive manifold. To do so, we studied almost 800 adolescents and young adults from Cambridge and London (the NSPN study; Www.nspn.org

We measured both their abstract reasoning skills (e.g. solving a puzzle) and vocabulary knowledge (e.g. example) on two occasions, about 1.5 years apart using something like a mcat practice test that was designed to measure their critical analysis and reasoning skills.

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Our main finding was that abstract reasoning skills and vocabulary knowledge seem to reinforce each other during development. In other words, the adolescents who started out with higher vocabulary abilities had largest increases in reasoning skills, and those with better reasoning skills gained more vocabulary knowledge. This is exciting as we know mathematically that such a process can (at least partially) help explain the emergence of the positive manifold.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: That cognitive abilities interact with each other during development. It is tempting (also for scientists!) to think about skills like memory, reading and as separate domains. However, in reality they are part of a larger network of cognitive, mental and emotional processes that interact throughout the lifespan. We simple can’t fully understand humans as psychological agents by taking only ‘snapshots’.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: The field of psychology has recently realized it needs to increase sample sizes to gain robust knowledge about human behaviour and mental processes. I think the next step is realizing the importance of studying development (i.e. testing people on multiple occasions) as a way to look at longstanding questions in new and exciting ways. Secondly, we find that that mathematical models are a very exciting way to translate theories into directly testable propositions – Although such models are always oversimplifications, they often move scientific debates forward.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: With the emergence of experience sampling methods (e.g. performing cognitive tests on smartphones), ideally combined with longitudinal brain imaging, I think the next two decades will prove an incredibly exciting time for understanding human cognition.

Disclosures: The Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit is part of the University of Cambridge, funded through a strategic partnership between the MRC and the University.

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Rogier A. Kievit et al, Mutualistic Coupling Between Vocabulary and Reasoning Supports Cognitive Development During Late Adolescence and Early Adulthood, Psychological Science (2017). DOI: 10.1177/0956797617710785

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