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Changing Children’s Understanding of the Brain

18 November 2013

Prof. Bruce Hood and his colleague Dr. Nathalie Gjersoe analysed the impact of a science lecture based on the 2011 Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on Bristol children from low performing schools.

In a paper, just published Changing Children’s Understanding of the Brain: A Longitudinal Study of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures as a Measure of Public Engagement, University of Bristol Professor of Developmental Psychology in Society, Bruce Hood and his colleague Dr. Nathalie Gjersoe analysed the impact of a science lecture based on the 2011 Royal Institution (Ri) Christmas Lecture “Meet Your Brain” on Bristol children from low performing schools.

Professor Hood, who gave the original lectures, wanted to know whether the experience left any lasting understanding of four basic facts about the brain including the common misconception that “we only use 10% of our brain.” Children were first assessed on their knowledge about the brain. They were then invited into Bristol University as part of the widening participation programme where they attended a lecture given by Prof Hood based on his Ri lectures which are characteristically fun and interactive. The children were then assessed again one week later and 6 weeks after the lecture. Analysis revealed a major improvement in understanding one week after the lecture that was retained at 6 weeks. This is an important finding because it demonstrates that by simply attending an engaging public lecture, children’s understanding was significantly improved indicating impact. This has major relevance to academics who are increasing involved in public engagement especially as next year, the Research Excellence Framework assessment will take place where UK higher education institutions will be evaluated for their research activity in terms of the benefit to society.

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