Jean Healy, in Endangered Minds, described how the associative capacity of children is breaking down. They cannot hold one idea and connect its meaning to another or sequence of ideas, an obvious capacity developed by the brain in response to storytelling. Children are unable to imagine the logical sequence of ideas or consequences. Every event becomes an isolated, now you see it now you don’t affair, not unlike television commercials. This diminished capacity impacts one’s ability to build up a body of knowledge of a particular subject. Recent information can be mimicked. Long term retention does not stick. All of this is the natural and predicted result of fully and appropriately nurturing each stage of development in its proper sequence compounded by technological counterfeits of process the brain is designed to produce internally.
Out of Germany come the studies that show how increased environmental stimulation causes the brain to close, to narrow its perception filters at a rate of approximately 1% per years. Over a ten year period the brain will register 10% less nuance of color, sound, taste, etc., thus requiring media producers to increase the pace, volume, explosive violence, the overall level of stimulation, which in turn, causes the brain to further limit and constrict actual sensory perception and sensitivity. The brains of our grandparents literally perceive a vastly different spectrum of sensations than today’s developing brain.
Researchers found that the ability of college freshman to comprehend semantic meaning, different from concrete meaning, has diminished. Only 50% of college freshman could think in abstract semantic concepts which had historically been assumed to open at age twelve. The rest were stuck back in their early childhood concrete language patterns. This anticipates and predicts an inability of young people to interact with abstract concepts such as the bill of rights, beauty, philosophies, and even more the abstract languages of science and mathematics. This reflects a biological failure to develop the necessary brain-structures needed to produce the internal imagery that give these abstract word-symbols meaning.
There was a study done in the late 1980’s at a big western university, now let’s see what state it was. At any rate I was there for about a week and they had made a study of their incoming freshmen to see where they stood in what we call the Pieje in stages of development centering around the development of concrete operational thinking which depends on concrete language and interacting with your world in a very viable real way at age 7, which runs from about 7 to 11 when the child is in this state of what we call concrete operational thinking. Then around 11 or 12 there opens up what we call formal operational thinking which is the ability to comprehend, understand and use Symantec language which is not concrete language, not language designating things and objects but language designating meaning, ideas or concepts. And the discovery was that only 50% of their incoming freshmen could sent in Symantec language which had always been assumed to open up at age 12, only 50% of the incoming and these are the university students, supposedly the cream of the crop of your whole state, and only 50% of them have arrived at a 12 year old stage of development. The rest of them were still back in their concrete operational stage which means a word had to have a direct physical correlation in their immediate comprehension or the word was meaningless to them, which meant also that there was no way in the world you would ever be able to explain the meaning of something so abstract as The Bill of Rights or The Constitution or The Sermon on the Mount, or more less getting into how level abstractions such as Science and Chemistry and so on. They just didn’t have this available. The neural structures weren’t there. So now we find that 50 years ago the average American child, high school student, had a working vocabulary of approximately 25,000 words. Now today that’s been reduced to 10,000 words which means that there has been a serious loss of the scope of what, the language which is what we call descriptive and they’re left only with the concrete images or language, of concrete imagery of tangible physical touchable stuff. Now unfortunately you can’t touch metaphoric symbolic thinking. You can’t touch Symantec language. It isn’t available on the sensory system. You can’t convert into a concrete language or an image the principles of Chemistry or Physics or any of that, or Mathematics or the higher ethical domains of experience. None of that is available on a concrete level but only on a Symantec meaning level. And so we have eliminated the descriptive aspects of the child’s language system and left them only with the concrete immediately physical aspects of language. And what did this do, it’s thrown them into some very severe boundaries of their own comprehension, their own ability to perceive.
Researchers looking at children who spend a great deal of time with computer games found using brain imaging that these activities bypassed the prefrontal lobes and the neocortex. The activity is essentially sensory motor. The regions controlling the fingers and thumbs got a lot of activity. Most of the brain however, was silent. The prefrontal regions control all the other brain centers. The implications are profound. Dexterity in the thumbs was drawing developmental resources from the entire higher more evolved and complex brain centers. No activity, no development in these regions. Later when more complex responses are needed there is no biological founding for these functions to express, clearly a de evolutionary pattern.
The state or play remains constant. The content, what is being played with, explored, absorbed and learned constantly changes. The same age and stage appropriate principles apply to play as to all other activities and experiences. Here Joe explore storytelling and its universal qualities, storytelling, that is symbolic and metaphoric stimulus without visuals is the primary way imagination develops and imagination is the core capacity upon which all our so called higher education systems depend.
Storytelling demands that the developing brain create a stream of inner images that correspond to the moment by moment flow of words in the story, an astonishing feat. This requires complete entrainment, complete attention. With video and computer images the inner image is externally generated, requiring very little, weak, passive attention and this inattention becomes a conditioned reflex and a major reason or the epidemic of attention deficits. Storytelling forces the brain to grow new neural connections. Visual media does not. In fact, visual, screen media bypasses the imaginative structures by bringing the image in through the much older visual system, rather than the much more evolved symbolic-metaphoric imaging we call imagination.
More on the importance of storytelling. The stories told to the very early child are completely different from those told to the four and five year old. Fairytales appear violent and scary to adults. Children love them. All this is the development of imagination using fantasy play as a modulate version of reality. This builds the later foundation upon which all critical, creative and transcendent stages depend. The more stories without images, meaning screen time the better up to age eleven.