Designing Better Digital Playgrounds for Kids

April 29, 2019

GC Professors Colette Daiute and Bruce Homer explore how to create social media, apps, and video games that enhance kids' cognitive development.

As people age, they learn to make decisions, solve problems, and perform a host of other thought processes from numerous daily interactions. Social contexts — like engaging with family and friends — comprise a key component of that cognitive development. But as digital technology has become increasingly integrated into contemporary life, digital environments now play an equally important role.
The journal Cognitive Development recently released an entire issue dedicated to investigating digital playgrounds, or “social media, apps, interactive games, and other digital tools.” Graduate Center Professor Colette Daiute (Urban EducationEducational PsychologyPsychology) co-edited it with Northwestern University’s Carol D. Lee.
In the introduction, Daiute and Lee explain that while previous research has investigated “the impacts of technologies,” their special issue is instead interested in “a detailed analysis of specific complementary digital and human capacities.” How, in other words, do digital playgrounds “facilitate foundational development processes”?  
Understanding that relationship will help develop more specific digital environments to promote cognitive development. “If we are positing that digital environments, such as videogames, are to be developmentally engaging, we researchers have to figure out just which symbols and processes can be created or adapted to serve a desired process or skill,” they write.
The subsequent articles explore executive functions, like “shifting” and “adapting,” as well as ethical questions about cheating and even “the innovation in literate communication.”
Graduate Center Professor Bruce D. Homer (Educational Psychology) also contributed a co-authored article to the edition on “hot” executive function (EF) skills in adolescents. As their brains continue developing, adolescents learn “cognitive control” in “conditions of high motivation and emotion.” Homer and his team had participants play one of two games: The first was emotionally designed to activate their hot EF skills, while the second was emotionally neutral.
They found that, as predicted, the hot game did activate participants’ EF skills, which could help future game design, and with using games and other digital playgrounds “for cognitive interventions.”
Homer previously published a study exploring how video games can help Syrian refugee children.